Pub. Date:
Columbia University Press
Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure

Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure

by Paul Offit , M.D.
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A London researcher was the first to assert that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as MMR caused autism in children. Following this "discovery," a handful of parents declared that a mercury-containing preservative in several vaccines was responsible for the disease. If mercury caused autism, they reasoned, eliminating it from a child's system should treat the disorder. Consequently, a number of untested alternative therapies arose, and, most tragically, in one such treatment, a doctor injected a five-year-old autistic boy with a chemical in an effort to cleanse him of mercury, which stopped his heart instead.

Children with autism have been placed on stringent diets, subjected to high-temperature saunas, bathed in magnetic clay, asked to swallow digestive enzymes and activated charcoal, and injected with various combinations of vitamins, minerals, and acids. Instead of helping, these therapies can hurt those who are most vulnerable, and particularly in the case of autism, they undermine childhood vaccination programs that have saved millions of lives. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly shows that childhood vaccines are safe and does not cause autism. Yet widespread fear of vaccines on the part of parents persists.

In this book, Paul A. Offit, a national expert on vaccines, challenges the modern-day false prophets who have so egregiously misled the public and exposes the opportunism of the lawyers, journalists, celebrities, and politicians who support them. Offit recounts the history of autism research and the exploitation of this tragic condition by advocates and zealots. He considers the manipulation of science in the popular media and the courtroom, and he explores why society is susceptible to the bad science and risky therapies put forward by many antivaccination activists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231146371
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 03/29/2010
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 304,760
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Paul A. Offit, MD, FAAP is the chief of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has received numerous awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. An international expert on rotavirus-specific immune responses, Dr. Offit is the coinventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq, for which he received the Jonas Salk Award from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the Gold Medal from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Stanley A. Plotkin Award in Vaccinology from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. He has donated all royalties from sales of this book to autism research.

Table of Contents

Introduction1. The Tinderbox2. Lighting the Fuse3. The Implosion4. A Precautionary Tale5. Mercury Rising6. Mercury Falling7. Behind the Mercury Curtain8. Science in Court9. Science and the Media10. Science and Society11. A Place for AutismEpilogue

What People are Saying About This

David Oshinsky

No one has been more vocal-or courageous-than Paul A. Offit in exposing the false and dangerous claims of the growing antivaccine movement. Offit's latest book lays waste to the supposed link between autism and vaccination while showing how easily Americans have been bamboozled into compromising the health of their own children. Autism's False Prophets is a must read for parents seeking to fully understand the risks and rewards of vaccination in our modern world.

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Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book takes the autism world's dirty laundry out of the shadows and hangs it out in the open. Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. I hope every family with an autistic child reads this book. It will save them a lot of frustration, and maybe protect their child from harm. P.S. To Matt the librarian: You complained - inaccurately - about people rating the book without having read it, and admitted you had not read it yourself, but went ahead and rated it 'poor' anyway? Way to keep an open mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a mom, I am so happy that Dr. Offit has written a clinical and scientific book to dispel this awful notion that vaccines cause autism. The American people will benefit from his knowledge and his stellar career at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Keep it up!!! The 30 second sound bites from the news room should pick up a copy and give this the same time they give the 'sensational' but untrue notion that celebrities have 'cured autisim.' The American people deserve better.
socialwrker More than 1 year ago
I am a senior therapist who works with children with autism. I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about vaccines and autism. I am both amazed and appalled by the negative reviews given to Dr. Offit, especially by those who haven't read the book. People cannot deny scientific fact yet many parents utilized anecdotes to justify why vaccines cause autism. Andrew Wakefield is being investigated, he fraudently published data and gave false hope to many parents. As a social worker who has to abide by a strong code of ethics I am deeply disturbed that a Dr. such as Wakefield would falsify data for his own financial gain and misinform his other more upstanding colleagues. Also, how can parents and DAN professional deny the sixteen epidemiological studies? One reviewer wrote that more studies needed to be done to determine if there is a link, is sixteen not enough because in my profession that is plenty. We have wasted enough time on this debate and children are suffering, as a community and population we should focus our resources on finding out the cause and working on creating more best practice methods to helping those with autism. Dr. Offit's book was very well presented and should be read by parents, siblings, students, teachers, anyone that wants to know truthful information about autism and vaccines. To respond to the reviewer who claims that Offit is biased in his opinion and he stands to make money off the patent of his vaccination and the sales of this book, you are grossly incorrect. Offit states in the prologue and author information section that he is the developer of the Rota Virus vaccine and has donated all roylaties from the book to fund autism research; if only Andrew Wakefield could say as much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing for it's clarity and readability and for the courage that is exemplifies. Dr. Offit is constantly vilified by people who think they know what they are talking about but who have their heads filled with utter nonsense that they've picked up on Internet bulletin boards and groups. The level of rank ignorance about the immune system of babies, about the immune system of autistic children in general, about all aspects of child development and autism in particular is stunning, but people don't let their mind-numbing ignorance stop them from spouting 'facts' about Dr. Offit and facts about autism and vaccines. Read this book. It exposes the insane, inane and lame history that is at the root of the belief that vaccines, vaccine ingredients and un-named 'toxins' can cause autism. This country has been totally taken for a ride by people like David Kirby, Dan Olmsted, Mark Blaxill, Lyn Redwood, Sallie Bernard and Lenny Schafer. What they along with greedy, lying, toxic tort law firms done to autistic children is monstrous and what they've done to confidence in vaccines is totally unforgivable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish more parents would just put down their "Dr. Sears books" for a minute and read this book. It is intellingently written and very helpful in this whole autism, vaccines, merucry etc. debate
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fastastic book, well written, loaded with good info
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's about time a book like this has come out. There is a lot of really questionable science/medicine in the alternative-medical side of autism. Some is downright dangerous. Kudo's to Dr. Offit for stepping forward to tell these sad stories. P.s. Matt the librarian should be aware that some people get advanced copies of books.
book-lovingPharmacist More than 1 year ago
There is so much garbage out there, written and talked about by people with their own agendas, on autism and vaccines. This is a balanced, well written book that debunks these "theories" and exposes the perpetrators for what they are- money and glory seeking false scientists who put their personal objectives before the health of children. The book is written as a time-line, so the reader must read the entire book to be informed on this issue, but anyone who puts in the time, will be amply rewarded.
mama-to-be More than 1 year ago
I am not a doctor, but I've read all the research and am staunchly pro-vaccine. It is impossible for me to imagine why doctors like Dr. Offit, a tireless researcher and bonafide expert in this field, would receive DEATH THREATS from parents! And it's ridiculous to think that the medical community is trying to hide the truth to make money off of vaccines... What about the hippocratic oath?

Why on earth would you choose to put your child's health in the hands of sanctimonious, sensationalist blowhard celebrities, when real doctors publish study after study debunking the pie-in-the-sky claims that vaccines cause autism?

VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN, PEOPLE! I am scared to death that my unborn child will one day contract measles, mumps or rubella from the blameless child of parents who believe this claptrap.
willyvan More than 1 year ago
This splendid book exposes the dangers of backing faith-based medicine over evidence-based medicine. Dr Offit is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Andrew Wakefield’s first paper in The Lancet was based on tests by his research assistant Nicholas Chadwick, who later testified that he had found no measles RNA in the guts of any of the autistic children tested. Yet Wakefield claimed that they had found measles RNA there. (See pages 173-5.) Wakefield later falsely claimed to have found measles virus in the intestines of 150 autistic children, in tests done by Unigenetics Laboratories, an unaccredited company, now thankfully defunct. 16 epidemiological studies found that vaccines do not cause autism. Even then, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail defended Wakefield, accusing ‘the medical establishment’ of ‘continuing to misrepresent the evidence’! As Offit writes, “the false alarm about vaccines and autism continues to harm a lot of children – harm from not getting needed vaccines, harm from potentially dangerous treatments to eliminate mercury, and harm from therapies as absurd as testosterone ablation and electric shock. … the feared vaccine-autism link, which has now been disproved, diverts research dollars from more promising leads.” A false alarm about thimerosal, a mercury derivative, harmed the USA’s hepatitis B immunisation programme. The number of children diagnosed with autism increased after thimerosal had been taken out of vaccines. Offit points out, “there wasn’t an epidemic of autism; rather, broadening the definition of the disability to include mildly affected children, as well as heightened awareness among parents and doctors, has accounted for the increase.” Five epidemiological studies found that thimerosal does not cause autism. Offit notes, “After examining the records of hundreds of thousands of children, investigators working in both North America and Europe couldn’t find any evidence of a relationship between thimerosal and autism. It wasn’t that their studies were poorly designed or that they had been part of a vast international conspiracy to hide the truth. They couldn’t find a relationship because it wasn’t there to be found.” The lobby opposing vaccination often accuses doctors of making money from backing vaccination, so it is worth noting that Wakefield got £435,643 from Richard Barr, a personal-injury lawyer representing parents who were suing pharmaceutical companies. Wakefield later took a US post at a salary of $280,000 a year.
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A solid dissection of the anti-vaccination movement and the search to find someone, anyone, to blame for the surge in autism. The author has encountered a great deal of recrimination, and has even had to suffer death threats, but he continues to speak out against those who would turn science on its head. An important book.
agis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(I received a copy of this book via the Scienceblogs Book Club)A brief look at the reviews of "Autism's False Prophets" on Amazon will show the hallmarks of a contentious issue; at the time of this writing the 18 reviews are either 5-stars or one (9 of each), and a number of reviews show no indication of actually having read the book. Which raises the rather important question of whether the book - Paul Offit's coverage of the vaccine/autism issue - can avoid being caught up in the stridency.It mostly does; while Offit does develop to his position - the evidence says neither Thermisol nor MMR causes cancer, and the vaccine/autism link is false - he narrates the other side effectively, and at first lets his opponents hang themselves. The dishonesty of Andrew Wakefield is particularly galling. The man falsified his research assistant's data, and failed to disclose he was paid by trial lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers - and then claimed it was only $50,000 until the real amount was revealed as $800,000. Offit does get more emphatic but it never descends into raw viciousness; which is nice when the publisher is so spooked a book tour is considered too dangerous for the author.I have a few bones to pick with his presentation, though. He chooses a sort of rise and fall format for the early parts - first MMR/autism and then thermisol/autism. So he builds up the anti-vaxers and then breaks them down; the problem is the narrative strikes me as slightly false. The evidence against thermisol, for example, started hitting well before the "high" of Hollywood calling in 2006, and comments like "But the next few years would reveal that it was all a mirage" don't fit the accumulation of evidence already there. None of this undermines the science, but a more general chronological narrative not only would have fit better, but would have reinforced the point of how evidence and public consciousness become disjointed.The later passages are smoother, though Offit doesn't seem quite sure how to integrate the pro-vaccine autism bloggers into the book. Much of the coverage of how the science is abused by the media and legal system is nothing new, but it is solid and gains some strength by resting on the case made earlier in the book. More on the issue of how casting the debate as over "damaged" kids reverberates among the actual autistic - both its insulting nature to the kids themselves, and the harm it does in getting resources to allow society to integrate them - would have been nice, but the former of the two does get handled somewhat.The anti-vaccine contingent tied the goalposts to their truck and hit the gas some time ago, as David Kirby's bizarre November 2006 blameshifting - plumes of smoke from China, forest fires, and cremated dental filings as the new source of mercury for autism - show. But for its history and capable discussion of science's imperfect integration into the public domain, "Autism's False Prophets" is a good choice for people who haven't already made up their mind.
GeekGoddess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, the anti-science crowd (or scientifically illiterate) will not be persuaded by any of the studies, scientific data, or research. Over a dozen high-quality studies were done to determine if Wakefield's original assertion was correct, and not one of the studies confirmed his published papers. When someone states "I know what I believe, and nothing will make me change my mind" - you aren't able to reason with them or get them to even look at the evidene, whether it be false science to do with medicine, or believe in a deity.
FrozenFlame22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am a somewhat crunchy mother of an autistic 6 year old. When I joined autism support groups to better help my son, I was confronted with a dizzying array of treatment options, many of which sounded offbeat or just plain dangerous. Many of the other parents of autistic children were strongly encouraging me to stopping vaccinations for all of my children. I took two months to read everything I could about both sides of the debate regarding vaccines and any possible link to autism, and I could have saved all that time by starting with this book.Offit outlines the history of the vaccine issue in a way that is easy to read and understand. He gives detailed and pertinent examples of similar issues in recent history. I found it facinating to see how the anti-vaccine movement soon had a life of its own involving not only vaccines, but also chelation and the gluten-free/casein-free diets. While the focus is on the vaccine debate, Offit does explore these other very risky and dubious treatments.This book has been extremely valuable to sort through what I have been hearing and where these ideas may have come from. Having read Autism's False Prophets, I now feel like I have made an informed decision about vaccines and I can give a solid and educated answer regarding other fringe autism treatments. Every parent with an autistic child should read this book before engaging in time consuming, difficult, and expensive treatments.
mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book expressly written to encourage all and sundryto abandon hope and simply follow so called science blindly and withno question. The author simply tears into other researchers and the mediawithout giving any data as to why in most cases. He simply says they are wrong, this study or that study is right. He basically says, I know everything about this topic that there is to know and this is the only book you need to read. I will tell you what to do.A very common mistake that is made, is that so called Anti-vaccine people do not believe in any vaccines. In most cases this is not the case. The truth is that celebrities and non celebrities , parents and teachers and interested parties often believe that vaccines need to be changed and the schedule modified. Why give 3-5 vaccines at one time? Why use materials to preserve that can be harmful, or at least be questioned. Find a better way. These are our kids. Fewer doses.Something I learned while working for the holistic veterinarian that I worked for for years, was this. Research does not look at length of time that a product is going to remain in the system and be beneficial. For instance ..You know the flea product you use on your dog? When they research the product. They check to see .. is it going to work for one month? two? Three?This is how far they might go. But even though their own research shows that the product is still working at three months, they will recommend that you use it every month.Actual research has been done by schools of veterinary medicine. I believe it was begun by Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences years ago. Other research followed.Vaccines can and do cause harm in some cases. Some veterinarians have changed their vaccine procedures and time table to reflect this. I used to have a lot of bookmarks from researching this on my own, I don't think I do anymore.. but interested parties can find the information.Further, very often the vaccine given was developed for a form of the diseasethat no longer exists in that form. Diseases are like fashions. They change often. It would be impossible for drug companies to keep up. No one mentions this.There was a study done at one time on an island. I can't remember which one or where. I do not have a link to offer so feel free to not believe me. But anyway, there were a lot of stray dogs on this island. Many were rounded up and tagged. Each was given a single dose of ( killed ) rabies vaccine. Five years later, researchers rounded up many of the dogs and titered them. Each was still protected by that single dose. Many states mandate a rabies vaccine be given yearly. ( other states have a 2-3 year mandate) . This is the state, folks, not a medical research facility.When a dog/cat is given a vaccine.. do you know the same amount of vaccine is given to a teacup poodle as is given to a st bernard?I believe it is the same with humans..While it may not be prudent to stop all vaccines for people or animals. It is certainly prudent to question them. It is certainly prudent to at least give thought to modifying the schedule. It is certainly prudent not to buy into scare tactics. They are not much different with vaccines than they were after 911. Few of us actually went out to buy plastic and duct tape, but we cheerfully dump 2-3-5-types of vaccines into a 25 pound child at one time. The same doctor who does this will tell you to only start your baby on ONE food at a time in case there is a sensitivity. They tell you this about food but in the next breath tell you it is absolutely safe to dump chemicals in your baby willy nilly. This makes no sense. All research is flawed in that there are always exceptions, and it is most often affected by what the researcher is trying to prove. No one wants to do a study to prove wheat he does not believe. IMO.
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