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An evidence-based resource for journalists

Autism News Beat header image 2

Why is that?

March 16th, 2008 · 7 Comments · Critical thinking

As CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is well positioned to educate a distracted public on important health matters. But on his blog, Gupta takes a pass on setting the record straight on vaccines and autism, and opts instead for the safer “he said she said” narrative that infests small market news reporting.

“First of all, it seems as if parents bring up concerns about vaccines, they are automatically portrayed as anti-vaccine. Why is that? Is it possible to completely believe in the power and benefits of vaccines, but still have legitimate and credible concerns?”

One would think Gupta could follow this paragraph by listing real concerns, or sharing the criteria scientists use to separate legitimate concerns from hysterical nonsense. Instead, he shows just how out of touch he is with this important story by inviting anti-vaccine zealots and others to comment, with predictable results:

I believe the very 1st vaccine sets up a child for immune problems. I chose not to vaccinate my baby after my other daughter had 8 seizures after her 4month old shots. I did not want to pick and choose which diseases I thought my baby would be at most risk for and vaccinate for only those. I felt that keeping her immune system in-tact from the beginning was the safest approach. At age 5 my “never-vaccinated baby” has never had a sick visit!

As a medical doctor with a very loud megaphone, Gupta should take his oath to “First, do no harm” doubly serious. Yet his comment section is laden with the types of misinformation and logical fallacies that journalists are supposed to sniff out and correct:

Chickenpox is basically a nuisance disease, and innoculation for it is justified more in terms of lost productivity for parents that mortality – Dadfourkids

As for the vaccines, after hours and hours of research, I get my daughter the vaccines that are for serious illness which are actually a threat to HER. – Ann

Our bodies were created with the perfect internal pharmacy with everything necessary to create and maintain perfect health. If monkey blood, sheep blood, formaldehyde and other foreign substances were necessary for health, then our creator would have made them a part of our biology. – Julian Vail

My beautiful bouncing baby boy had become a walking vegetable. If I new (sic) then, what I know now; I would not have him vaccinated. – Zurama Johnston

It is also misleading to say trace vaccines are safe by saying the mercury is “essentially out”. Vaccines with 3 to 10 times the concentration of liquid hazardous waste, with no proof of an established “safe dose” can in no way be left out of the conversation. – Tim Kasemodel

I want to give Gupta the benefit of the doubt here, and believe that he was inviting anti-vaccine activists to reveal their true nature. But he waffles a week later, in a blog entry called The Myths of Autism, when he says he hopes to address the myth that “thimerosal in vaccines is the main cause for autism”. Does Gupta think that thimerosal is a secondary cause? If so, what is his evidence? Does he also reject the hypothesis that television is a main cause of autism?

Gupta’s blog entries are mere throat clearing for ABC’s World Autism Awareness Day coverage on April 2. ABC is promoting a very special Larry King Live interview that day with noted Google PhD Jenny McCarthy and journalist manqué David Kirby, who will be misrepresenting, well, everything.

In the autism wars, truth is the first casualty. Why is that, Dr.Gupta?

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sheryl // Mar 16, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    I think you are off the mark here. Gupta has been brilliant in allowing a true discussion. yor entry demosntrates nicely antiquated journalism. The idea of using a megaphone to talk at people is old news. furthermore, the news of the week was the Poling case, where the federal Government conceded that vaccines contributed to autism. Not worth of discussion? Shame on you “Autism News Beat.”

  • 2 Kerry Maxwell // Mar 16, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    federal Government conceded that vaccines contributed to autism.

    FALSE!
    FALSE!
    FALSE!

  • 3 Ms. Clark // Mar 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Gupta really sounds clueless. He’s a doctor not just a flack for CNN. Doctors aren’t supposed to say things, like, “AIDS, caused by HIV or not? You decide!” “Cigarette Smoking: A pleasant diversion or deadly habit? Who knows?” But this is the tone Gupta uses about vaccines and autism. It’s irresponsible.

  • 4 Club 166 // Mar 16, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Gupta is a neurosurgeon by training. As such, he should have a fair amount of education in neurology, and know that he is FAR over the line by allowing such half truths and garbage to be reported by him.

  • 5 autblog // Mar 16, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Sheryl, the government did not concede vaccines contributed to autism. But if that was the case, then you would have a point.

  • 6 Joseph // Mar 17, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I think the Poling case is worth of discussion. In fact, it’s being discussed every single day in the autism blogsphere. But it’s ridiculous to make more of it than what it is: An isolated case of a child with a rare mitochondrial disorder, whose autistic profile might have some relationship to an adverse reaction to vaccines, which could’ve been an adverse reaction to any number of other stresses.

  • 7 Doc Strange // Mar 21, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Larry King Live with Drs. McCarthy and Kirby?
    Should be an unparalleled intellectual discussion! And a heated debate, I’m sure…

    I’m relatively new to the media coverage of the autism-vaccine nonissue, but Larry seems to be a bit one-sided in his coverage, much like Imus.

    How does one go about persuading CNN to have a dissenting voice of reason and scientific rationale on this “very special episode”, i.e., a parent of a child with autism who does not believe vaccines cause autism, and/or a run of the mill not-in-the-pocket-of-big-pharma or working-for-the-evil-CDC medical professional?

    I guess they leave the Fair & Balanced up to Fox News!?

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