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Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure [Kindle Edition]

Paul A. Offit M.D.
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A London researcher was the first to assert that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as MMR caused autism in children. Following this "discovery," a handful of parents declared that a mercury-containing preservative in several vaccines was responsible for the disease. If mercury caused autism, they reasoned, eliminating it from a child's system should treat the disorder. Consequently, a number of untested alternative therapies arose, and, most tragically, in one such treatment, a doctor injected a five-year-old autistic boy with a chemical in an effort to cleanse him of mercury, which stopped his heart instead.

Children with autism have been placed on stringent diets, subjected to high-temperature saunas, bathed in magnetic clay, asked to swallow digestive enzymes and activated charcoal, and injected with various combinations of vitamins, minerals, and acids. Instead of helping, these therapies can hurt those who are most vulnerable, and particularly in the case of autism, they undermine childhood vaccination programs that have saved millions of lives. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly shows that childhood vaccines are safe and does not cause autism. Yet widespread fear of vaccines on the part of parents persists.

In this book, Paul A. Offit, a national expert on vaccines, challenges the modern-day false prophets who have so egregiously misled the public and exposes the opportunism of the lawyers, journalists, celebrities, and politicians who support them. Offit recounts the history of autism research and the exploitation of this tragic condition by advocates and zealots. He considers the manipulation of science in the popular media and the courtroom, and he explores why society is susceptible to the bad science and risky therapies put forward by many antivaccination activists.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Attempting to answer the enormous frustration and unhappiness of parents "tired of watching their autistic children improve at rates so slow it's hard to tell if they are improving at all," pediatrics professor and vaccine researcher Offit explores purported causes and cures. Examining false approaches like facilitated communication ("a massive, nationwide delusion") and secretin injections ("no better than salt water"), and mistaken theories of origin (the MMR vaccine, thimerosol), Offit pleads with journalists to resist the lure of "dramatic headlines, advertising dollars, and ratings" rather than report an unconfirmed or untrustworthy study. The only worthwhile studies, Offit purports, are those meeting three criteria: "transparency of the funding source, internal consistency of the data, and reproducibility of the findings." Overall, Offit's text seems unbalanced: though he takes on the "$40-billion-a-year" alternative medicine industry, he's largely silent on the much larger pharmaceutical industry; and after 10 chapters of debunking the "false prophets," there's just one brief chapter on what is known about autism causes and cures. A thorough and convincing debunker, however, Offit will likely leave parents still hunting for information, albeit better armed to find it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Every child has a right to be vaccinated against deadly diseases. We started Every Child By Two to protect children from diseases. It didn't occur to me that I would also have to protect them from misinformation about life-saving vaccines. Paul A. Offit's book sets the facts straight.

(Rosalynn Carter, former first lady, cofounder of Every Child By Two)

Autism's False Prophets is a compelling story of heartbroken parents, understandably desperate for an explanation of autism, being taken in by false hopes unsupported by genuine science. This book goes to the heart of a question that affects every aspect of American culture and political life. Are public policies to be determined by evidence and reason or by emotions that, however intense they may be, have nothing to do with reality?

(Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason)

A definitive analysis of a dangerous and unnecessary controversy that has put the lives of children at risk. Paul A. Offit shows how bad science can take hold of the public consciousness and lead to personal decisions that endanger the health of small children. Every parent who has doubts about the wisdom of vaccinating their kids should read this book.

(Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D., St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and Nobel Laureate in Medicine for fundamental contributions in Immunology)

In his latest book Paul A. Offit unfolds the story of autism, infectious diseases, and immunization that has captivated our attention for the last decade. His lively account explores the intersection of science, special interests, and personal courage. It is provocative reading for anyone whose life has been touched by the challenge of autism spectrum disorders.

(Susan K. Klein, MD, Ph.D., Case Western Reserve Hospital, and Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Medical Center)

[A] thoughtful and readable study.

(Library Journal (starred review))

Enlightening, highly readable and... timely.

(Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.

Arguably the most courageous and most knowledgeable scientist about vaccines in the United States.

(Robert Goldberg New York Post)

[Dr. Offit] has done a huge public service by exposing the tragic and dangerous place the anti-vaccine hysteria has taken us.

(Huntly Collins Philadelphia Inquirer)

An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.

(Linda Seebach Wall Street Journal)

A good read and an important piece of work.

(Lisa Jo Rudy

More than a book about a disease, it is an ode to uncorrupted science and a cautionary tale that data alone is never enough.

(SEED magazine 1900-01-00)

[Offit] provides important insight into the fatal flaws of the key arguments of vaccine alarmists.

(Buffalo News)

A very good read.

(Dom Giordano The Bulletin)

A sobering indictment.

(Isabelle Rapin, M.D. Neurology Today)

Highly recommended.


A fascinating read... Eloquently and clearly written.

(Stan L. Block, MD Infectious Diseases in Children)

A very helpful book for both medical personnel and parents.

(The New England Journal of Medicine)

The book is a fantastic read. I recommend it to all physicians and their patients and families.

(Brian Alverson, MD Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine)

This is a powerful book which should be read by all professionals working in the area ofmedicine.

(Michael Fitzgerald Social History of Medicine 1900-01-00)

Paul A. Offit is one of the most respected scientists and clinicians in a field of vital importance to public health.

(Patricia M. Rodier BioScience)

[This] book doesn't just show that the anti-vaccine activists are wrong; it attempts to explain why, in our culture, they tend to win.

(Jason Fagone Philadelphia Magazine)

Detailed but easily readable... should be required reading for any parents who are considering denying vaccination to their children.

(Communication: The Magazine of the National Autistic Society 1900-01-00)

Arguably the most detailed and thorough history available of the current anti-vaccine movement.

(Roy Richard Grinker Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 1900-01-00)

[A] must-read... it will keep pediatricians and pediatric neurologists awake over the nightmarish possibilities of pseudoscience in the 21st century.

(Roger A. Brumback, M.D. Journal of Child Neurology 1900-01-00)

The vast range of professionals who may be enriched, professionally, by the book's contents extends to: psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, neuroscientists, speech pathologists, pediatricians, primary care physicians, geneticists, virologists, immunologists, vaccine experts, nurses, infectious disease experts, internists, gastroenterologists, epidemiologists, public health professionals, special education teachers, bioethicists, biochemists, biologists, biostatisticians, endocrinologists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, pharmaceutical industry professionals, health policy makers, journalists, politicians, and trial lawyers.

(Leo Uzych Metapsychology)

Seeking to help readers realize the truth about Autism, Autism's False Prophets is a much need read, not to be missed.

(Midwest Book Review 1900-01-00)

Product Details

  • File Size: 2879 KB
  • Print Length: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (March 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003COZL2I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,489 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
256 of 314 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Please don't read it" - say anti-vaxers September 18, 2008
If you look at all the negative reviews of this book so far, you won't find any indications that the reviewers have actually read the book. You will also note they urge readers not to buy the book. Once you read the book, you'll understand why.

Despite what others have said, the book didn't read like a "smear-fest." The closest it comes to that is the use of the word "quackery" in one place. What Dr. Offit has done is provide a well-referenced historical account of the activities of a sub-group of the autism community in the last decade.

If you are someone who tries to keep reasonably up to date with the political going-ons of the autism world, you might be thinking, "I won't learn much from this book." But you'd be wrong. There are many interesting tidbits of information you probably haven't heard of before; such as David Kirby's interaction with Curtis Allen of the CDC (page 151). There's also a lengthy discussion of the meetings and thinking that led to the decision to remove thimerosal from pediatric vaccines.

Perhaps there is some information the book is missing. For example, you won't find a discussion of Dan Olmsted's negligence in his Amish reporting. More could've been said of JB Handley's bullying tactics and his failed prophecies ("autistic children will be cured within 2 years"). There's no mention of John Best, a fringe but prominent member of the anti-vax movement.

This is understandable, though. A book is insufficient to air all the dirty laundry of the anti-vaxers. You'd need a whole encyclopedia for that.
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254 of 314 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book September 30, 2008
I just read an article about Jenny McCarthy--yes, that Jenny McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy has a child with autism and she is convinced that a vaccine caused her child's autism. She now considers herself an expert because she attended the "University of Google" (her words, not mine) and that she is right because "because there is an angry mob on my side" and "until [someone] walks in our shoes, [he/she] really has no idea."

That's right...because there is an angry mob on her side, the consensus of scientists that attended real schools and obtained real master and doctorate degrees in things like epidemiology and medicine, is wrong.

Dr. Offit faces a very challenging opponent and he did it with an exceptionally calm and rationale analysis of vaccines, why they are safe and more importantly, why the quacks and anti-vaxxers are wrong. And he did it in a style that is very readable by the lay person.

When Dr. Offit starts laying out damning facts against the anti-vaxxers, you will be left agape. For example, Dr. Wakefield took $800,000 from a plaintiff's attorney and used it to fund his studies and never disclosed where the funding came from, he never obtained informed consent and when he ran his studies past IRBs, they were anything but medically qualified. Just astounding. Of course, the results of his studies have never been duplicated and any physiological basis for his hypothesis has been debunked.

Yet, there are people who flock to Dr. Wakefield and give him lots of money for unproven and dubious-at-best treatments and cures. Very, very sad.

Dr. Offit also discusses how science is perceived in society. A lot of people simply don't "believe in" science and how science is done. Dr. Offit analyzes this later in the book and it is hardly comforting.
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151 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book! September 22, 2008
Fascinating and readable. "Autism's False Prophets" traces the histories of the MMR-autism and thimerosal-autism controversies, and discusses the science in clear, layman's language. I found the book very difficult to put down: it's a wonderful (and enlightening) read for anyone interested in autism, vaccines, or scientific controversy, and its "Science and Society" chapter should be required reading for any parent (or any person) researching vaccines or other medical decisions.
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95 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Autism Quackery Unmasked September 21, 2008
Dr. Offit presents shocking details about the people and organizations who have been trying to scare parents into not immunizing their children. I was startled by the amount of money lawyers paid to doctors and other scientists who were willing testify in court that vaccines cause autism. Parents who are frightened about immunization should find this book reassuring.
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35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a Father within the Proximate Orbit of ASD September 30, 2009
In 2000, just after the birth of our first son, I sat in a McDonald's parking lot, listening to an NPR report on the possible "casual relationship" between mercury (in vaccinations) and autism. I was understandably concerned, but as one thing drives out another, I did nothing about it. He subsequently had his immunizations and was fine. Our second son very early in life expressed moments of odd impulsivity which, as the years went on, turned into full-blown out-of-control impulsivity. Someone mentioned Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID)--labeled by some medical professions as "not a real dysfunction" and labeled by other medical professions as expressions of some other disorder. After researching that, we were convinced--whether the symptoms were in isolation or part of something greater--our son was hyposensitive to vestibular and tactile inputs. (We've tried many experiments to help him process experiences in something of a more standard manner.) When our third son was born, our second son was too young for us to see his SID as being part of the "mostly normal range" of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And so the idea that immunizations might have played a part in our second son's disorder (dysfunction?) only came back to the fore as we've recently added a little girl to our family. I began to research as extensively as online medical journals would allow, and read books on the subject. It is with this background that I was recommended to, and read carefully, Autism's False Prophets. Know that I approached this topic as one suspect of the role of thimerosal in neurological disorders, specifically autism.

Autism's False Prophets is, as best I can find, a thorough treatment--background, history, scientific evidence and explanation--as I can find on the topic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars See yourself in others Vaccine prophet!
Profit: "An overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly shows that childhood vaccines are safe and does not cause autism. Read more
Published 6 days ago by
3.0 out of 5 stars Good summation of the "other" side
I really like the info in this book. However, I absolutely can't stand (and I see it on both "sides"), the straw man arguments. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Charlotte J. Markward
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
An intellectual and historical account of the fraud behind the autism-vaccine scare. If you have kids, are planning to have kids, know somebody who does, or are just interested in... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Trevor
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the topic
Offit is a well-respected and passionate advocate for children's health. He is also a gifted writer and educator...I could not put this book down.
Published 2 months ago by ANANYA
4.0 out of 5 stars Relatively well balanced approach to unfortunate trends in autism...
I was pleased with the following aspects of the book: Although largely justified in his other works Offit's language (never profane or vulgar mind you) and voice was less... Read more
Published 2 months ago by A student of History
5.0 out of 5 stars Literally a Must read!
This is one of the greatest books I have read in ages. Dr. Offit does a wonderful job of condensing moderately difficult topics into clear and concise arguments. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Laurie
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but what is the state of today's knowledge?
The book is largely a rant against those that believed (perhaps still believe) that immunizations cause autism. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Renne Lohoefener
5.0 out of 5 stars Trust Dr. Offit over Jenny
A riveting, at times heartbreaking, book that seeks to refute the widespread belief that childhood vaccines cause autism. Read more
Published 10 months ago by BT Invictus
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book in every way
This is the best book I've read about vaccine controversies and the debates surrounding autism by pretty much any criterion I can think of. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Dorit Rubinstein
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Addition to Any Collection on this Subject
Dr. Offit takes the reader through a detailed look at one of the most important subjects of our time: autism. Read more
Published 11 months ago by S. Herlihy
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More About the Author

Paul A. Offit, M.D., is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. An expert in the field of vaccines, he is a recipient of many awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland Medical School; the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Disease Society of America; and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. His books include the recent Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Visit his website at

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Topic From this Discussion Why are people who have **not read the book** "reviewing" it?
C. Clark is a mom of a child in the autism spectrum. If you didn't know that, it means you're out of touch with the autism community, and you also didn't read the book! Either way, how does that matter? It's ridiculous to suggest that only parents can have opinions about matters that potentially... Read more
Sep 29, 2008 by Joseph S. |  See all 8 posts
Paul Offitt is the epitome of bad science and risky medicine.
Dr. Danger, I'm afraid you are misinformed. The vaccine which was co-invented by Dr. Offit (RotaTeq) has a sterling safety record and has already saved many thousands of infants from hospitalization, some of which would likely have died without the vaccine.

I would ask you to substantiate your... Read more
Sep 13, 2008 by wisarc |  See all 6 posts
Evidence-based medicine saves lives
I don't know about kicking their dogs, but I do think it's an interesting psychological phenomenon - that people get so attached to a belief they like, they'll cling to it even as the evidence against it becomes overwhelming. It's just too bad that in the case of autism, the consequences fall on... Read more
Aug 30, 2008 by wisarc |  See all 6 posts
Why have some reviews been deleted?
that's actually not true -- unfavorable reviews were deleted as well
Sep 16, 2008 by KimNY |  See all 2 posts
Paul Offit is afraid of honest science
Basic reading, M. Morrison.

"On the basis of data from areas of environmental contamination, in 1997, the EPA revised its mercury intake guidelines; it is now the most conservative guideline, and is one fourth the intake guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Five points... Read more
Aug 24, 2008 by wisarc |  See all 6 posts
Does this book discuss behavior-modifica... and aversives therapy? Be the first to reply
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