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Who carries the authority?

Posted Feb 19 2009 5:12pm

The recent Omnibus decisions are hoped by some to stem the tide of rabid anti-vaccine beliefs espoused by people who shame the name of autism advocacy. On Salon, Rahul K. Parikh says:

In the case of autism, science and reason have too often failed to reach people. And consequently they have turned to the courts. For those of us who believe in the scientific method, the autism trials have not been necessary. But judges, unlike doctors in their cold white coats, still command a great deal of respect, and so perhaps the court’s recent ruling will sink in and finally persuade parents to regain their confidence in vaccines.

Never happen Rahul, never happen. These same anti-vaxxers have already began spin campaigns not only against the legality of the verdicts but against the three Special Masters themselves. To this group, the Special Masters command no respect whatsoever and neither do their verdicts. Take this piece of rampant stupidity from Barbara Loe Fisher:

The U.S. Court of Claims special masters are hampered from considering evidence which has not yet been published in the medical literature regarding potential associations between vaccines and the development of regressive autism

I don’t see how it is possible to make a dumber statement. What she’s saying is she wanted the Special Masters to look at unpublished science. As is well known, unpublished science is not like an unpublished novel. Unpublished science means its science that has not been put through the rigour of peer review, not had its methods examined to ensure they are transparent and reproducable, not had its conclusions reviewd to see iof they are accurate and not had its data examined to see if it is usable. This unreviewed, unpublished ‘science’ is what got us to this stage in the first place. A ten year multi-million pound, dollar and euro effort to close down bad science.

So how does she and people like her get away with saying such things? Just because they can. Because people believe extremes and people believe celebrities. People believe bloggers and people believe those who have shared (or think they have) experiences. I’m not saying its right but its true. If anyone genuinely believes this ruling will shut the door on these people they’re wrong. For confirmation of that you need look no further than Rolf Hazlehurt, father of one of the kids who made up the three test cases from the Autism Omnibus.

If we win, we keep going.
If we lose, we keep going.
If we win, the going will be easier.
If we lose, the going will be more difficult.
However, the Court rules, we will keep going.

You have to understand. This is not about scientific truth – or even truth at all – to these people. Its about winning and its about pushing their antivaccine beliefs as fast and far as they can. Even as they claim to not be anti-vaccine they write emails to others clearly showing they are. One of these emails will come to light very soon I believe. Expect to see very familiar names on it.

To these people science has no authority. Doctors have no authority. The Special Masters have no authority. The only people who have authority – real authority – can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. David Kirby. Jenny McCarthy. Maybe Dan Olmsted. If one of these people were to bow to the obvious and say so publicly then we might have a very different scenario. But they won’t. They have too much invested in esposuing the anti-vaccine line.

Mainstream media have a lot to apologise for also. The red tops, the broadsheets and all those hundreds of little bitty TV channels all over the US that gave the anti-vaxxers airtime in the name of impartiality and allowed them to scare away facts and reason, they need to reverse that policy.

But more than that, scientists and doctors need to get online and blog, get on Twitter and use them. Talk to people in their own language. Screw decorum. Ask people who’ve been using their blogs to support vaccines for years what to do and how to do it. People like Orac and Ben Goldacre are prime examples.

This needs to happen because we’ve already lost one generation of kids to their loony parents. The loony parents who only recognise the authority of celebs, authors and each other in nests of email lists and blogs. If we want to give up another generation to the reach of the internet then keep on keeping on and hope that Rahul K. Parikh is right. But he’s not.

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