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Frontline on “The Vaccine War”

April 26th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Narrative

“Next time on Frontline, a movement against childhood vaccines.”

Not “Frontline explores the controversy”, because among real scientists there is no controversy. Not “a movement for safer vaccines”, because the proponents of such a movement would respect scientific consensus over misguided ideology.

Frontline, as usual, is calling it like it is. Editors, watch and learn.



14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sullivan // Apr 26, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    And to think early on Generation Rescue was telling people about this upcoming episode.

    They seem to have honestly thought that their story is well enough thought out that they could convince a tough show like Frontline that Jenny McCarthy gives out accurate information.

  • 2 ANB // Apr 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Add Jon Palfreman to GR’s hit list. He’ll be joining Trine Tsouderos, Amy Wallace, Gardiner Harris, and other journalists who value evidence over spin.

  • 3 David N. Brown // Apr 26, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I think JB Handley shouldn’t be allowed to speak in media, ditto every other AoA member or contributor. Since they believe in suppressing speech they don’t like, I say return fire in kind. I would be willing to let Jenny on the air, but only to set her before a (metaphorical) firing squad of critical thinkers who point out all the contradictions in her stories and the evidence in her own testimony that Evan was showing autistic symptoms BEFORE his shot.

  • 4 Harold L Doherty // Apr 27, 2010 at 5:12 am

    “among real scientists there is no controversy”

    This site purports to employ an evidence based approach to autism issues. Where is the evidence in support of what appears to be pure opinion on your part?

    Dr. Julie Gerberding had joined Dr. Bernadine Healy in stating that comparative studies of autism rates amongst vaccinated and unvaccinated children could and should be done.

    Professor Irva Hertz-Picciotto ” is an internationally renowned environmental epidemiologist who received her BA in mathematics, MA in biostatistics, and PhD/MPH in epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley. During 12 years on the faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and since her arrival at the University of California, Davis in 2002, she has published widely on environmental exposures, including metals, pesticides, PCBs, and air pollution, and their effects on pregnancy and early child development. She is also a foremost expert in epidemiologic methods. ”

    Dr. Hertz-Picciotto stated at scientificblogging that:

    “Much attention has focused on vaccines as potential causes of autism. Several different hypotheses have been proposed. No rigorous study has demonstrated a link either with the MMR vaccine or with vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal. Nevertheless, the studies of thimerosal have been noted to have methodologic problems that would have reduced the ability of these studies to validly test the theory, underscoring the need for stronger science on this question. ”

    And of course you know who Dr. Jon Poling is. Dr. Poling is a clinical and academic neurologist, and father of a child who received a settlement in the vaccine court and who called for more study of possible environmental factors, including possible vaccine connections.

    By all means disagree with these people but do not pretend that there is a solid wall of consensus that the little understood etiology of the various and complex autism disorders has been determined by science to exclude any possible vaccine connections. There is no such consensus. And this and other sites and commentators have not provided evidence of such consensus. All you do is bash those you disagree with and bash Jenny McCarthy.

    ( BTW I missed the comments about ABA as an evidence based autism intervention endorsed by the AAP, the US Surgeon Genereal and the MADSEC Autism Task Force to name a few authorities. I keep looking for such a comment on this evidence based autism site ).


  • 5 Chris // Apr 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Harold, you are arguing from authority. The key point you missed was that there is no controversy from scientists who are experts in vaccines, immunology and do not have vested interests.

    I’ll be sure to not have a mouthful of coffee the next time I check here, because Harold will probably tell me Poling does not have a conflict of interest.

  • 6 Sullivan // Apr 27, 2010 at 11:06 am


    I would disagree somewhat with your statement. I would put it that there is no scientific controversy on the question of whether vaccines are a primary cause of autism.

    Dr. H-P is generally a good sort. I appreciated how she distanced herself from the MIND Institute’s press release on one of her study. Good thing, since the press release was not supported by her paper.

    She points out that no rigorous study has suggested a link between MMR and/or thimerosal and autism. Without evidence of a link, there is no controversy. What does exist is a very loud parental base calling for validation of their hypotheses. That is not a scientific controversy.

    Consensus is not unanimity. If one wants to find a person who disagrees with a given idea, one can. That doesn’t disprove consensus.

    What is very clear is that the rise in autism rates, especially in California (where Dr. H-P is and where she gets much of her data), is not primarily caused by MMR, thimerosal or vaccines in general.

    Dr. Bernadine Healy will have some credibility in my mind after someone shows me where she apologized for working with TASSC, discounting the effects of second hand tobacco smoke. People who argue from authority would do well to pick authorities who have credibility.

    Can a vaccinated/unvaccinated study be done? The answer is yes, if it is a retrospective study. One researcher has proposed how and has volunteered to run it. To my knowledge, no one has taken Prometheus up on his proposal.

    Back to Frontline, Jenny McCarthy, Generation Rescue and the rest are getting off easy tonight. Frontline will stick to the facts and the facts are that so far, these people have not caused major outbreaks in the US.

    So far and major being the operative words.

    But those groups should take a long, hard look at this episode and question, “what will this look like if 1,000 people get the Measles in the US and people die”. The blame will, rightfully, be put at the feet of people like Jenny McCarthy, JB Handley, Barbara Fisher and the rest.

    I hope they get lucky. Not for their own sake, but for the sake of those who would suffer from their poor judgment.

  • 7 Joseph // Apr 28, 2010 at 7:27 am

    @Harold: If you’re going to rely on arguments from authority, you automatically lose. That’s because you can’t just cherry-pick authority. You have to consider the body of expert opinion as a whole.

    It’s not that hard to find a scientist here or there who is sympathetic to creationism, for example. So it’s meaningless to cite one or two persons who have a particular opinion.

    Opinion that is not backed up by data is a very weak form of evidence, regardless of who the opinion comes from.

    That’s why I generally avoid arguments from authority. The only arguments I find compelling are arguments from data and analysis (be they from raw data or from published data.)

  • 8 BA // Apr 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Palfreman also did an expose on facilitated communication for Frontline in the 90’s. It was excellent.

  • 9 Dedj // Apr 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Harold isn’t even arguing from authourity.

    In order to do so, one must present an arguement.

    Harold routinely fails to do this, even after criticising others, and even after express requests. His posts here are merely cut and pastes.

    Curiously, Harold fails to mention the numerous teams of significantly more reputable and/or relevantly qualified people that his ‘experts’ disagree with. Somehow, he fails to even mention them, much less why he disagrees with them. All we get are cut and paste posts.

    Pathetic and hypocritical behaviour from a person who goes around berating and insulting others for their knowledge and understanding.

    Harold – you still have unanswered questions in the ‘A Cure for Austism’ thread over at RI. I know you have no excuse for not having answered them, as I know you have been there since then. You best get to them, if you want to maintain any form of integrity.

  • 10 Dedj // Apr 28, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Also, Harold fails to mention the incident where he dismissed the research into autism and smiling from a team of experts, purely on the basis of his own personal experience with one child only.

    Don’t go around criticising others for lacking a scientific basis for their opinions, when you are clearly guilty of cherry-picking what and who to believe.

    I am sure others can come up with other examples of Harolds misbehaviour.

  • 11 catherine t. // Apr 30, 2010 at 7:33 am

    If anyone doubts the vaccine relationship to autism, then just check the autism stats on Amish children who traditionally do not receive vaccines . This population of nearly autism-free children should provide more than a clue. The autism profile is quite different that of our innoculated ‘child population’.

    As to the claim that thimerosol has been removed from all child-proscribed vaccines; that is simply not the ‘whole’ truth. Many still contain ‘mercury’; and it may just depend on where a particular vaccine is manufactured as to whether thimerosol is present – or how old it is.

    The ‘MO’s here should certainly give rise to questions regarding another potential culprit. Hepatitus B vaccine is now routinely given to newborns. This vaccine, as reported, does contain thimerosol. (Would question, however, the ‘wisdom’ here; even it it did not.) This innoculation does require ‘parental consent’; and so can be refused. In many cases it is; but would offer, not often enough. It is hard to reconcile any judgment behind this protocol.

    Also keep in mind; that children today, receive far more innoculations and at earlier ages than did their parents; and all these protocols should be questioned as to their ‘authentic merit’.

  • 12 Chris // Apr 30, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Wow, is that long discredited “Amish don’t vaccinate and don’t have autism” story still going around?

    Newsflash, catherine t… it is false:

    Even accounting for any trace of thimerosal left over from manufacturing the level dropped almost a decade ago. Even Sallie Bernard could not find any for research in 2001:

    Try to get up to speed with some more recent data.

  • 13 autblog // Apr 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Catherine, thanks for your comment.

    The notion that the Amish don’t vaccinate their children is an urban myth with little support. The one study I know of (Yoder and Dworkin, 2006), surveyed an Amish population in Illinois and found that 90% of the children were up to date on their shots, or had received at least some of them. American’s largest population of Amish is in Lancaster County, PA, where the Clinic for Special Children holds a weekly vaccine clinic. The clinic also see dozens of children who present with symptoms of autism. I wrote about it here:

    A CDC spot check of doctors’ offices in Jan., 2002, found less than 2% of scheduled vaccines still contained thimerosal. Given the turnover rate of vaccines, very few if any were still left by the end of the year. True, the CDC says that trace amounts of thimerosal still exist in some vaccines, but “trace” is defined as too small to measure by traditional tests, but assumed to be present. Please keep in mind that mercury is ubiquitous on our planet – it’s in the food we eat and the water we drink, and has been since the earth cooled. There is simply no evidence that thimerosal in trace amounts as found in some vaccines is causing widespread harm. If an infant was unable to secrete hg, then he would have larger problems than vaccines, since he would be getting the metal in breast milk, baby foods, and the air he breathes.

    The HepB vaccine does not use thimerosal as a preservative. It is given at birth because an infected mother can easily transmit the virus to her child via the birth canal. It is possible for a mother to be infected and not know it, and the test for hep B is not 100% reliable. Also, some women will lie when asked about risky behaviors – others may be unaware of the sexual activities of their partners. There is strong evidence that vaccinating newborns has reduced the rate of hep B infections in children, but the disease can take decades before symptoms appear, so it’s too early to see a dramatic decline in the prevalence of the disease.

    Today’s children receive more vaccines than their parents – this is true. But today’s schedule contains fewer antigens than the old schedule. The smallpox vaccine alone carried over 2,000 antigens. Today’s schedule adds up to about 150. Recombinant DNA technology has created vaccines that are more targeted to the bodies immune system, and also use fewer antigens. So vaccine safety improves with each passing year.

    Vaccines are continuously monitored for safety, and the rate of serious vaccine injury is miniscule. Your child’s chances of serious injury are far greater from a car accident while you drive him to the pediatrician’s office, than for the shots he receives upon arrival.

    Thanks for your question. I hope I cleared some things up for you.

    – Ken Reibel, Milwaukee

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