This month’s issue of WIRED features a great story by Amy Wallace: “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” It’s an overview of the anti-vaccination movement in the United States, a topic that should be very familiar to anyone who reads Discover‘s baddest astronomer. At ScienceBlogs, Orac and Abel Pharmboy gives big thumbs-up to the article.
The anti-vaccination movement is a little weird — they claim that vaccines, which are universally credited with wiping out smallpox and polio and other bad things, are responsible for causing autism and diabetes and other also-bad things, all just to make a buck for pharmaceutical companies. The underlying motivation seems to be a combination of the conviction that things must happen for a reason — if a child develops autism, there must be an enemy to blame — and a general distrust of science and technology. Certainly the pro-science point of view is fairly unequivocal; like any medicine, vaccines should be used properly, but they have done great good for the world and there are very real dangers of increased risk for epidemics if enough children stop receiving them. Good for WIRED for taking on the issue and publishing an uncompromisingly pro-science piece on it.
But the anti-vax movement is more than just committed; they’re pretty darn virulent. And since the article came out, author Amy Wallace has been subject to all sorts of attacks. She’s been documenting them on her Twitter feed, which I encourage you to check out. Some lowlights:
- I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute, and a “fking lib.” I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.”
- J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent an essay titled “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug.
- Just now, I got an email so sexually explicit that I can’t paraphrase it here. Except to say it contained the c-word. And a reference to dead fish.
- In his book, Autism’s False Prophets, Dr. Offit writes about scientists who have been intimidated into staying silent about autism/vaccines. If scientists – who are armed with facts and trained to interpret them – are afraid, can it be any surprise that a lot of parents are, too?
It’s pretty horrifying stuff. But there is good news: Wallace also reports that the large majority of emails she has received were actually in favor of the piece, and expressed gratitude that she had written it. There are strong forces arrayed against science, but the truth is on our side, and a lot of people recognize it. It gives one a bit of hope.