I've been trying to formulate this post in my head for a couple of days, but all the little bits of it are flying around up there and I can't get them to settle. Here goes.
Earlier this week I read a news story online about the Lancet retracting the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield potentially connecting the MMR vaccine with autism and bowel issues. For those of you not familiar, this study has been a source of serious controversy for a good few years now, with Dr. Wakefield having been accused of professional misconduct, both in how he obtained the data for his paper and in failing to disclose that he was being paid by lawyers representing parents of autistic children who were potentially looking to launch a lawsuit. He has denied the charges. Ten of his 12 co-authors have published retractions, essentially removing themselves from the whole thing. Is he a guilty scumbag who falsified data and took kickbacks? Is he the innocent victim of a smear campaign headed up by a pharmaceutical industry that has a whole lot to lose in all this? Or do the facts fall somewhere in between? I have absolutely no idea.
I don't know why I still do this to myself, but after reading the article, I scrolled down and started perusing the reader comments. There were hundreds of them. It's a very hot topic, especially for those of us with children on the spectrum. But there was very little talk about the actual article. You know, the part about the doctor who maybe, possibly, probably screwed things up badly enough to have his work completely discredited?? What everyone really seemed to want to do was debate the vaccine theory.
I have my own very strong, controversial opinions on this theory so I understand that desire to convince people one way or the other. In moments of serious irrationality (WHO? ME?!), I have posted articles, opinions and lord knows what else on facebook for all my family, friends and casual acquaintances to be thoroughly alienated by. I have no problems with people sharing what has worked for them. God knows, at this point, that's about all we've got. But when you're talking to someone who has her very own little human petrie dish at home, feeding her new data every day about the puzzling, mysterious, baffling conundrum that is autism, you're unlikely to change her mind. She already knows. Very few of us are just sitting on the fence waiting to be enlightened. And to try to convince the mother who watched helplessly as her child regressed after a vaccine that it was a mere coincidence--or to inform the mother who knows in her heart that it's entirely genetic that the numbers don't add up--is self-righteous and a waste of breath.
It isn't that I don't want the whole world stepping up and shouting about this at the top of its collective lungs. Something that, in the span of less than 30 years, has gone from an incidence rate of 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 110 is something we should all be setting aside our bickering for, and demanding answers to. Research needs to be done, and it needs to be done thoroughly. We don't need guesswork. We need answers. And we need help.
And if what Dr. Wakefield is accused of turns out to be true, it doesn't matter what side of this issue any of us sits on. He's set back progress either way, and done ALL of our children a grave disservice.