Avoiding hyperbole while writing about a possible medical catastrophe is no easy task, but David Kirby has created a fine balance of investigative and personal detail in Evidence of Harm
. Combining stories from the parents of autistic children with reports, speeches and studies from researchers, pediatricians and government officials, he creates a picture that is as terrifying as anything dreamed up by Hitchcock.
The topic at hand is determining whether high levels of organic mercury present in an inexpensive preservative used in vaccinations can cause either autism or autism-like symptoms. Kirby's in a delicate position, searching for the truth between frantic parents (he focuses on the founders of political action group Safe Mind) and the self-protective pharmaceutical industry (the author thanks the nameless person who placed a pro-Eli Lilly litigation rider into the Homeland Security Act of 2002). He's also honest enough of a reporter to admit to the temptation of deciding mercury is the culprit behind a range of disorders, even in light of some inconclusive test results. The ultimate truth isn't clear, and Kirby is direct about each of the reasons his sources have for their biased opinions.
While some of the straight research reports will likely to go over the head of anyone not well versed in the terminology, the book is never dull--there is a continual urgency in the material that resists pedantry. However undecided the experts, readers will likely land firmly in one angry camp or the other. Jill Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The first serious journalistic account of a highly controversial topic, Kirby's book addresses the front-page question: has a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal, commonly used in children's vaccines, caused a national epidemic of juvenile autism? Following the development of the debate through the eyes of a handful of impassioned parents who formed the political action group, Safe Minds, Kirby, an experienced writer for the New York Times, crafts an engrossing David and Goliath story from this controversy, one in which the giant is an amalgamation of big government bureaucrats and corporate pharmaceutical lobbyists. Whether the association between thimerosal and autism is real remains to be seen, as Kirby points out. The evidence, presented here in excruciating detail but clouded by the parents' editorializing, is inconclusive but suggestive. Readers inclined to believe the parents' case will be convinced that there has been a big conspiracy; readers inclined to be skeptical will likely view the parents as self-serving proselytizers who spin each piece of evidence to suit their forgone conclusions. Walking the middle line, Kirby acknowledges that "each side accuses the other of being irrational, overzealous, blind to evidence they find inconvenient, and subject to professional, financial, or emotional conflicts of interest that cloud their judgment." And though Kirby clearly sympathizes with the parents' tragic experience of autism in their families and their inherent desire for justice, and though he occasionally demonstrates a lack of understanding about the politics of scientific publication and the wording of scientific articles, his book remains one of the most thoroughly researched accounts of the thimerosal controversy thus far. This is the book for medical professionals and concerned parents to read. It's accessible in its handling of medical topics and compelling in its recounting of the parents' fight to advance their agenda in the face of both political and scientific roadblocks.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.