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Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure Hardcover – Illustrated, September 18, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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., Salon.com
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, About.com
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Hardcover : 328 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0231146361
- ISBN-13 : 978-0231146364
- Product Dimensions : 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Columbia University Press; Illustrated Edition (September 18, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #862,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book is mostly a story of experimental treatments, a discussion of the MMR vaccine and it's surrounding controversy, and mercury and it's potential. There are emotional appeals by the author flanking this primary content, with the book beginning with how Dr. Offit feels like a victim, and concluding with how Autism isn't that bad.
I do have to admit that I was very disappointed based on why I read the book. I read this book hoping that it would provide evidence for vaccines being a false prophet, but instead found a book which merely attacked well known public controversies on a single vaccine and a single ingredient. The only thing of interest was the proposed cause of Autism being genetic, but the poor referencing of the associated studies was careless.
This carelessness is my reason for the rating. The author routinely fails to to cite many statistics, direct quotes, or claims made throughout the book.
AFP also has several chapters on the media's role in creating the vaccine scare. The basic message is that the media/politicians and general public are scientifically illiterate. However, it's important to note that the MMR (and then thimerosal-mercury) link could have been true when it was first proposed back in the late 1990s- no one really knew at the time. Thankfully,the data was available (esp. in countries like Denmark that have extensive medical records) to quickly prove that the hypothesis was wrong. Furthermore, thimerosal was removed from vaccines- starting in Europe first- and yet, autism rates continued to climb.
The key difference with other science "wars" is that sufficient data was available to resolve the debate. In the case of AGW (where crude climate models and proxies are the bane of climate science) and in particle physics where there's zero experimental evidence in favor of string theory and the multiverse, but also insufficient data to reject those theories, the debate continues and likely will for the foreseeable future. Science works and can be trusted- but only when the evidence is there to back it up.
UPDATE (04-05-2020): I'm taking off 4 stars because I now realize how deceptive this book is after reading "How to End the Autism Epidemic" and "Age of Aluminum".
Top reviews from other countries
I strongly recommend this great read.
Andrew Wakefield's first paper in The Lancet was based on tests by his research assistant Nicholas Chadwick, who later testified that he had found no measles RNA in the guts of any of the autistic children tested. Yet Wakefield claimed that they had found measles RNA there. (See pages 173-5.)
Wakefield later falsely claimed to have found measles virus in the intestines of 150 autistic children, in tests done by Unigenetics Laboratories, an unaccredited company, now thankfully defunct. 16 epidemiological studies found that vaccines do not cause autism. Even then, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail defended Wakefield, accusing `the medical establishment' of `continuing to misrepresent the evidence'!
As Offit writes, "the false alarm about vaccines and autism continues to harm a lot of children - harm from not getting needed vaccines, harm from potentially dangerous treatments to eliminate mercury, and harm from therapies as absurd as testosterone ablation and electric shock. ... the feared vaccine-autism link, which has now been disproved, diverts research dollars from more promising leads."
A false alarm about thimerosal, a mercury derivative, harmed the USA's hepatitis B immunisation programme. The number of children diagnosed with autism increased after thimerosal had been taken out of vaccines. Offit points out, "there wasn't an epidemic of autism; rather, broadening the definition of the disability to include mildly affected children, as well as heightened awareness among parents and doctors, has accounted for the increase."
Five epidemiological studies found that thimerosal does not cause autism. Offit notes, "After examining the records of hundreds of thousands of children, investigators working in both North America and Europe couldn't find any evidence of a relationship between thimerosal and autism. It wasn't that their studies were poorly designed or that they had been part of a vast international conspiracy to hide the truth. They couldn't find a relationship because it wasn't there to be found."
The lobby opposing vaccination often accuses doctors of making money from backing vaccination, so it is worth noting that Wakefield got £435,643 from Richard Barr, a personal-injury lawyer representing parents who were suing pharmaceutical companies. Wakefield later took a US post at a salary of $280,000 a year.