November 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This week’s readings further emphasized how although scientists have ample evidence against a link between vaccines and autism, uncertainty still persists within media and the general public. With the many different organizations, reports, acts, etc. that have emerged with regard to the debate of autism, many different opinions have been generated by policymakers and the public on how to deal with different concerns in relation to vaccines causing ASD. On one hand, there are scientists/experts that have tried to persuade people that vaccines are not the cause of autism, but parents and media sources seem to be torn. After reading chapter 8 of Offit as well as Kerr’s study, it would seem as though the media and parents would be holding on to the claim that vaccines/thimerosal is linked to autism because there is no other strong claim being made as to its cause. Therefore, as long as a claim is being made as to the cause, then there is always a potential to at least attempt to find a preventative cure. If the link was completely taken off the table, then media would lose valuable stories and profit, and parent’s hope of finding a cure would severely diminish.

Chapter 8 in Autism’s False Prophets focuses on a lawsuit made to determine whether Michelle Cedillo’s autism was caused by the MMR vaccine. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act states that if parents think their children were harmed by vaccines then they could sue for compensation. In Michelle’s case, petitioners argued that prior to receiving the MMR vaccine Michelle’s development was normal and she was very social. However after the MMR vaccine, she developed a severe fever and there was a loss of acquired skills. However, the defense presented by Eric Fombonne (leading expert on autism) and Stephen Bustin (PCR expert) proved that Michelle had symptoms of autism months before the vaccine was given to her. Further, Bustin proved that the use of Wakefield’s study by the petitioners would be to no avail because Wakefield put results in his study that his colleagues had stated were false positives/all negative. In essence, this chapter provided knowledge of scientific experts in the field of autism to disprove the theory that vaccines/thimerosal are potential causes of the disorder, and how that knowledge is applied to court cases like Michelle’s.

In Kerr’s study, the question being asked was how/why activists continue to mobilize around the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines triggers or causes autism. Using surveys, interviews, and documents, Kerr focused on the changing boundaries of legitimacy of knowledge, credibility, and authority in mainstream medicine. The conclusion was that the most consistent theme is uncertainty that can be caused by many factors. For example, although scientists have evidence that prove there’s no link, they must use qualifiers in order to protect their reputation if others tried to prove them wrong. Activists on the other hand have no need to use qualifiers and have the ability to make bold direct claims. Also, the fact that each side must be presented in media sources is misleading and makes people think there is uncertainty when in fact there is not.

So comparing the scientific expert’s opinions presented in the Offit chapter and the prevalence of uncertainty found in Kerr’s study, why do you think that parents and activists are still debating whether vaccines cause autism? Do you think that people’s different experiences with autism as well as different messages projected by organizations heavily  influence what is in the media, and what could be done to mitigate this uncertainty?

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  1. While I believe that the path dependence theory describes the patterns of public opinion about vaccines and autism, I do not think that it tells us why this is. The path dependence theory essentially says that once an idea/belief/concept is in motion, it is very hard to revoke it or change it on its public opinion course, or as Professor Pasek said, “It’s harder to un-scare people than to scare them.” With this in mind, I believe that the true roots to this pathway are the hope and answers that vaccines provide. As you stated in your blog post, these claims of autism being caused by vaccines provide bold claims that do not need scientific backing to be accepted, whereas scientific claims cannot offer this. It is much more simple and hopeful to accept that vaccines are the cause. This provides a step to fixing autism, which helps people feel like something is being accomplished. They could then take another step and continue to make progress. Of course, the problem is that the first step, which has been taken for granted by some, is made out of straw and will collapse when stepped on. Yes, I do believe that people’s different experiences with autism as well as organizations influence the media.


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