Snarkiness at Autism Speaks
Fox News this week has a report on the dispute between Autism Speaks founders Bob and Suzanna Wright (he's chairman of NBC), and their daughter Katie. The issue of vaccines and autism is at the center of their argument. Katie, whose son Christian is autistic, blames vaccines for the disorder. But Autism Speaks has been soft-pedaling the issue as it seeks hegemony in the advocacy world.
Autism Speaks is an upstart in this contentioius arena, but it recently merged with two other prominent groups, Cure Autism Now and the National Association for Autism Research, which are not big on the vaccine theory. NAAR in particular has focused exclusively on genetic research, which tees off people like Katie Wright who insist that vaccines and toxins caused their child's condition. Katie petulantly spoke out against excessive vaccination during an appearance on Oprah recently. An interview she did with David Kirby led Autism Speaks to issue a statement that she wasn't speaking for the group.
Autism Speaks doesn't deny that vaccines cause autism, however. When I buttonholed their spokeswoman, Alison Singer, at a conference a few weeks ago, she said more research was needed to determine if there is a link. Apparently influenced by Dan Olmsted's stellar reporting on the Amish, she proposed studying populations of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations to see whether autism rates are higher among the vaccinated. In fact, the Amish do vaccinate, and they get autism as well. But the idea of holding the grand experiment to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated groups has been around for over a century.
I've always thought it was a fascinating notion and might be a great way to lay to rest some of the vaccine craziness. The problem is that it's unethical. There's no reason other than rank speculation to think that unvaccinated kids would be healthier. And if you intentionally refused to provide basic vaccines to a group of children you'd be in violation of ethical standards that require basic medical attention for clinical trial participants. If, on the other hand, you tried comparing populations of people who refused vaccines with those who accept them, it might be hard to get well-matched controls for the non-vaccinated, who often choose that route for a variety of health reasons. On the other hand, it would probably be possible to do a small trial... but who's going to pay for study of such a speculative, baseless hypothesis?