Anti-vaccine activists believe that the vaccine-autism canard is a majority view among affected parents. “If I wanted to find parents who had autistic children and who believed their child’s autism was impacted by vaccines,” notes one such activist, “I could just open my window and yell, because these parents are everywhere in my neighborhood and town! Worse, our numbers continue to grow.” It’s a touching anecdote, but as is the case with most anti-vaccine claims, is unsupported by data.
None-the-less, the American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned by such destructive rants because, as Mark Twain once quipped, “A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” The nation’s media have been particularly slow getting its boots on, as witnessed by the one-sided odes to autism quackery and pseudoscience that pass for science writing.
So it’s important to recognize the AAP’s appeal to rational parents to actively promote vaccines, while debunking the stubborn urban legend that vaccines cause autism. Here’s an email from Susan Martin, AAP director of media relations:
As part of our ongoing response to media stories regarding autism and vaccines, the AAP communications department is compiling a list of parents who support the AAP and are available for interviews. We are looking for two types of parents who could serve as spokespersons:
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders who support immunization and who do not believe there is any link between their child’s vaccines and his or her autism.
Parents of children who suffered a vaccine-preventable illness. This could be a parent who declined immunization, whose child became ill before a vaccine was available, or whose child was ineligible for immunization.
We are asking for your help identifying parents who would be good spokespersons. They do not need to be expert public speakers. They just need to be open with their story and interested in speaking out on the issue. We will contact candidates in advance to conduct pre-interviews, to offer guidance on talking to reporters and to obtain a signed waiver giving us permission to release their name.
If a parent were placed on our list, we would offer their name and contact information to select media. We hope to build a list of parents from a wide range of geographical areas.
As the Jenny McCarthy and “Eli Stone” stories illustrate, this issue is likely to recur in the national and local media. The AAP is committed to doing all we can to counter such erroneous reports with factual information supported by scientific evidence and AAP recommendations.
The anti-vaccine groups often have emotional family stories on their side. The ability to offer a reporter an interview with a similarly compelling parent who is sympathetic to the AAP’s goals is a powerful tool for our media relations program.
Please contact me if you have any questions or to suggest a parent to interview.
Susan Stevens Martin
Director, Division of Media Relations
American Academy of Pediatrics
The AAP’s call has set off much much hand wringing and spittle spraying, and even a dead-baby joke by one anti-vaccine type, which Orac covers here.
It must be discouraging to pediatricians when popular media give equal time to a destructive myth that was debunked years ago. “Science has shown– repeatedly–that there is no support for this theory,” Sullivan correctly notes at GMWM. “Why then should any media outlet need to give the vaccine/autism crowd equal time?”
Indeed, Clark Hoyt, the New York Times reader representative, covers this topic today. He looks at three science stories covered recently by the Times and asks “When does fairness demand that a newspaper walk down the middle in a scientific dispute, and when does responsibility demand that it take sides?”
Regarding autism, Hoyt concludes the media’s door seems to be closing on the autism-vaccine debate. The tipping point came last month when ABC aired Eli Stone, a dramedy about a lawyer who successfully sues a vaccine maker for causing a boy’s autism. Edward Wyatt, a Times culture reporter, skewed evidence-based in his review, and Hoyt offers this insight:
Wyatt’s article made clear that there is a debate but did not give equal weight to the two sides. The Times has not since 2005, when two reporters investigated every scientific study and thousands of documents from parents convinced of a link between autism and vaccines, and came down pretty clearly on the side of the scientists.Wyatt said he relied on that report and read extensively about autism when he got the first hint of what the “Eli Stone” episode would say. “The show seems to portray it as, ‘No one knows,’ ” he said. “My conclusion was that that is not the case.”
Indeed, the door on this controversy seems to be closing, but the Centers for Disease Control is conducting one more study, expected to be published next year.
As I’ve written before, the controversy only exists in the fevered imaginations of a minority of grieving parents, and in the nation’s media. At some point, an idea becomes so discredited that it is no longer deserves equal time. Holocaust denial, 911 Truth, racial supremacy, and creation science have all been shown the door by the majority of popular media. It’s time for the vaccine-autism urban myth to join them.