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Blaming Autism Parents: The Self Described Science Bloggers

Posted Jun 30 2011 5:36am

Harriet Hall, MD,  photo by Sgerbic 

There are a number of so called science bloggers on the internet that routinely attack any criticism of, or concerns about,  vaccine safety. Because of the belief by many parents of autistic children that their child's autism is in essence a form of vaccine injury, parents of autistic children are routinely attacked, ridiculed and mocked by self described science bloggers and authors on the internet.  Any scientific study is used as a pretext to attack the "anti-vaccine contingent" code for for autism parents (medical persons who ask questions about vaccines and autism such as Dr. Bernadine Healy are simply ignored) who feel their children's autism resulted from, or was triggered by, vaccine injections.  A blatant example of this type of "science" blogging can be found in the comment by Harriet Hall MD,   Autism and Prenatal Vitamins , on the blog titled Science-Based Medicine .

In Autism and Prenatal Vitamins Dr. Hall, also known as the " SkepDoc " embraces the recent study by Schmidt et al. published in Epidemiology on May 23, 2011, entitled “Prenatal Vitamins, One-carbon Metabolism Gene Variants, and Risk for Autism.”  That study as summarized by Dr. Hall, "found that mothers who didn’t take prenatal vitamins were at greater risk of having an autistic child, and certain genetic markers markedly increased the risk. There was a dose/response relationship: the more prenatal vitamins a woman took, the less likely she would have an autistic child."

The good Doctor does report some weaknesses of the study: "A weakness of their study is that it depends on patient recall long after the fact. Also, it did not attempt to gather any diet information." I am just an ignorant parent of an 15 year old son with autism (and a neutral in the vaccine autism controversy) but it seems to me, as someone who is also a lawyer, that evidence based on memories long after the fact, with no record of other sources of vitamins ... diet ... are not just weaknesses. It seems to me they are serious weaknesses in the study.

It would also be interesting to see the actual questions asked about prenatal vitamin consumption long after the fact  to see if they were in any way "leading" questions.  As a humble, but active, litigation lawyer I have to be conscious of such questions in a courtroom or tribunal proceeding since leading questions contain the answers being sought by the person asking the question. They suggest the "correct" answer to the person being questioned. The risk of such questioning arising in a study based on memories of long ago events which do not account for possible competing factors .... diet ... seem to this humble small town lawyer to be quite substantial.

I describe myself as a neutral in the vaccine autism war. I do not know what caused my son's autistic disorder.  I do accept the prevailing view that autistic disorders likely result from the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. I believe that the well known fact that autism research funding has been overwhelming directed towards genetic research has limited our understanding of possible environmental triggers. I also believe that vaccine autism connections have not been thoroughly studied despite the Offit Offensive rhetoric to the contrary.  Specifically, Dr. Bernadine Healy pointed out that more study is needed on the possible impact of vaccines taken by pregnant women, particularly when they contain thimerosal.

I welcome research like the vitamin study commented on by Dr. Hall and hope that more studies are conducted on the possible role of prenatal vitamins in causing or triggering autism. Presumably such studies might confirm, refute, modify, or clarify the results reported in this initial study. What I do not welcome is the tendency of intense vaccine safety defenders like Dr. Harriet Hall to use any such study as a launching pad to attack autism parents and to deter any further examination or study of possible vaccine autism connections. Having provided a clear and comprehensible summary of the prenatal vitamin-autism study that even this  autism parent can understand Dr. Hall apparently felt the need to attack autism parents and defend vaccine safety even though the study had nothing to do with vaccines:
"How will the anti-vaccine contingent react to this new study? It was convenient and satisfying for parents to be able to blame vaccines and accuse the evil medical establishment of causing their children’s autism. Now will those parents accept that at least part of the responsibility lies with their own genetic contributions and the mother’s actions prior to pregnancy? That’s not as palatable a thought, but it’s more realistic."
Dr. Hall's comment amounts to a confession of some important points:
1) The "anti-vaccine" contingent is simply a code for autism parents. When she and other vaccine safety defenders talk about anti-vaccine persons, when they attack or criticize them, they are simply attacking parents of autistic children.
2) More than just attacking the views of autism parents Dr. Hall makes it clear that, in her mind at least, the causes of autism disorders rest with the parents ... their genetic contributions, their actions, even their actions prior to pregnancy.  
Autism can not, in Harriet Hall's opinion, result from the contributions of vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them, the doctors who inject them into patients, including pregnant women, the manufacturers of jewelry, children's toys and common household items containing mercury, lead, arsenic, or any other known environmental contaminants in our air or water supplies. 
No, what Dr. Harriet Hall has been quite honest about, to her credit,  is the need of many medical professionals to blame parents in the vaccine autism debates and deter any further investigation of possible vaccine autism connections. 
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