It looks like the Thimerosal debate is about to bubble back up, thanks to a US Court of Federal Claims hearing that’s getting under way in DC. Autism now occurs in more than 1 of every 150 births, and the fact that the son of one of my best friends is high-functioning autistic I suppose brings it a step or two closer to home. (Another friend’s brother has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is also an autistic spectrum disorder.)
The thimerosal controversy represents, as the story linked above indicates, an odd clash between science and concerned citizens. Now, we live in a culture where science is ignored, scorned, denied and misunderstood on a daily basis, but the people raising hell here aren’t part of the Creation Museum crowd – they’re often highly intelligent and are acting on the basis of what looks like empirical experience.
I’m on record as being concerned about the issue (see items here and here, and also read Pulitzer-winner John Hanchette’s analysis here), although I’m far from convinced that there’s an actual link. As my friend Dr. Will Bower (who works at the CDC in Atlanta) notes, there’s a lack of scientific evidence for a link as well as a number of other possible confounds, so we’re a ways from having anything like a definitive answer.
It’s hard to ignore the personal testimonies of so many people who say that their children were fine right up until they were vaccinated. For instance, click here and scroll down to John Cavanaugh’s entry; John is a lot of things, but he’s not remotely hysterical – if a guy as level-headed as him is asking questions about it, I’m in favor of seeking better answers.
Anybody who reads me knows I’m a big fan of our science community, and we’re in trouble when we start voting to ignore solid research. By the same token, I imagine that best data notwithstanding, even some of the scientists testifying before this hearing are bound to have lingering questions of their own. Here’s hoping that reason that carries the day and moves us closer to a better understanding of autism’s causes.