The Anti-Vax Hijackers

On many Web forums dedicated autism, no matter the topic there is an increasing likelihood that a discussion will be hijacked by the anti-vaccine, "curebie," anti-establishment, conspiracy theorists. They are led by "journalists" and celebrities given prominence by the Huffington Post, DailyKos, Age of Autism, and other websites.

They admire discredited men and women, individuals reprimanded in legal proceedings, sanctioned by medical review boards, and disavowed by universities.

Yes, to many of us with science and quantitative backgrounds, the science is firmly established — as firmly as one can expect within medical science. And what annoys us is that self-proclaimed watchdogs and anti-vaccine hooligans, and they are hooligans, point to "journal articles" and demand other articles in response. Of course, the "journals" publishing the Geiers and most others are vanity journals, foreign publications, or minor journals of no standing — but that doesn't seem to register.

No, I'm not going to play the "show us the journal articles" game anymore. It's as absurd as people demanding the journal articles proving evolution. I do put the conspiracy theorists all together. They don't deserve a response because any response will be "part of the coverup" in their minds. The more we try to explain which journals and researchers are "legitimate" the more they will see this as persecution of Wakefield, Geier, and other discredited charlatans. That's not name calling, that's a legal and medical review board fact. The Geiers were reprimanded in a half-dozen legal cases, in very strong language. Wakefiled has also been reprimanded. That's not name calling or being unfair.

But, even citing the long list of legal and review board rulings is seen as participating in the Big Pharma, Evil Government conspiracy. That's the joy of conspiracies, the more evidence against them, the more the committed believe them.

The conspiracy theorists are gaining, because they shout the loudest. Scientists and serious journalists cannot compete against celebrities. I am not sure what researchers and medical professionals can do to overcome these voices.

I am afraid that because science is not perfect, because we always have to admit to uncertainty, because research is a challenge to explain, we will never have the pithy, simple responses necessary to "win" the autism debates. I am starting to wonder if we can even educate most people. It seems to be a losing battle, and that saddens me.

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