2007-06-30 Science on Trial

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Science on Trial
2007/06/30 00:01

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The article seems very level-headed and convincing, but I am suspicious. The author (Grinker) does not cite a single source, for one thing; he mentions many other sources which disagree with his conclusions, but does not cite them either. He also does not mention whether or not they have sources supporting their arguments (if they don't, surely he would mention this to further bolster his position -- so perhaps they do). He basically attacks the credibility of those who suspect a link between vaccines and autism by planting the suggestion that they are no better than believers in witchcraft, without actually addressing (or even describing) their arguments. It's basically argument by ridicule, toned down for a more sophisticated audience.

The most solid thing Grinker says is that "the vast majority of scientists and physicians" and "the recognized experts on autism, vaccines and immunology" all believe that a link is not possible; this, at least, is checkable (though I'm not immediately sure where to look). If true, it would be the most valid form of argument from authority, as these are the people who should know whether such a link makes sense -- but there's still the possibility that the experts are overlooking something (we don't yet understand exactly what causes autism, so they are trying to "prove a negative" rather than advancing a more plausible alternative -- never a good position to be in), and I would like to see the actual arguments they give for why there can't possibly be a link.


I wasn't able to find the RFK article on Huffington, but it looks like it was probably a reprint of this article on Rolling Stone:


Quotes like this one seem to undermine Grinker's claim about the near-unanimity of scientific opposition to the link theory:

«According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines -- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children.»

This is the argument which comes up over and over again, and I have yet to see any "anti-link" arguments which actually address it. Grinker doesn't even mention it. Possibly he is avoiding drawing any attention to it because he doesn't care about resolving the issue based on facts, and just wants to convince the reader of his opinion?

Looking further, however, we find this in Wikipedia: Tom Verstraeten

Apparently Verstraeten issued another report in 2003 which contradicted the link he thought he had found earlier. Why doesn't Grinker mention this?

Further Reading