Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

“The Autism Myth Lives On”

It’s rare that the mainstream media gets it right about vaccines and autism, and when they do I feel obligated to point it out. Such is the case with Sam Wang’s article The Autism Myth Lives On. It’s well worth reading, even though it’s a couple of months old. (How I missed it when it first appeared, I don’t know.) Wang even nails some of the reasons why this myth persists:

Although her [Jenny McCarthy’s] concept of evidence is flawed, I don’t blame her. The error highlights how our brains are wired to think. Like the authors of the 1998 study, she concluded that two events happening around the same time must be linked. They used the principle that coincidence implies a causal link. But there was no coincidence for her son: He was born in 2002, after thimerosal was removed from vaccines.

The problem is compounded by “source amnesia,” in which people are prone to remember a statement without recalling where they heard it or whether the source was reliable. Presidential candidate John McCain might have fallen prey to source amnesia when he repeated the vaccine-autism myth last month. Recollection is more likely when the “fact” fits previously held views; parents might already dislike vaccinations based on their kids’ reaction to shots. But when it comes to a complex issue such as autism, such errors of reasoning hinder us from distinguishing real causes from coincidences.

Actually, I do blame McCarthy, because she’s been told time and time again where she’s wrong, but it doesn’t sink in. After a certain point, it’s not just normal human cognitive quirks anymore. It’s willful ignorance, or, as I like to call it, the arrogance of ignorance.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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