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Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure Hardcover – September 18, 2008

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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)

[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)

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)

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

(Roy Richard Grinker Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders)

[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)

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)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (September 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231146361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231146364
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

273 of 338 people found the following review helpful By Joseph S. on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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267 of 333 people found the following review helpful By David C. Brayton VINE VOICE on September 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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156 of 197 people found the following review helpful By watchman on September 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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100 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Barrett on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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54 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Chinari on September 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Accurate, historic events. Well written. If you have questions in your mind about this topic, READ IT!!!.
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53 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Genie Mom on October 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...for writing a science based book to combat the misinformation handed out by Jenny McCarthy, Generation Rescue,DAN!, etc. As a parent of a child with autism, I hope that all parents of newly diagnosed children with autism will read this book and stay away from the "Cure/Recovery" merry-go-round. Too many children have been subjected to years of intrusive and sometimes dangerous treatments, and too many families have gone bankrupt trying to pay for treatments, such as Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, that have no scientific basis.

The Cure/Recovery merry-go-round can be very difficult to get off, there's always something more that you should do, or you didn't do enough of, or you didn't do correctly. I encourage new parents not to even get on that merry-go-round, your child deserves more than that. They deserve treatments that have been scientifically proven, they don't deserve experimentation.

And the rest of the population deserves to be protected from deadly diseases by vaccines that have been scientifically proven, without the endless propaganda of the anti-vaccine groups.
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