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Shawn Vestal: Science faces tall order in educating Mike Fagan

Shawn Vestal
Shawn Vestal

Dear Science: Could you send Mike Fagan a memo?

Like, a very long memo? One that mentions a bunch of the studies about the repeatedly disproven “link” between autism and vaccines? You don’t have to send them all – no one has time for that. But maybe 100 or so examples of actual scientific research?

While you’re at it, Science, could you include a sliver of global warming research for Fagan, a member of Spokane’s City Council and, inexplicably, the board of the Spokane Regional Health District? Just a tiny fraction of what’s out there – or maybe one of the massive summaries of the research, to save him time?

I know such a memo could be very long, Science, but could you also include a very basic, grade-school level explanation of what exactly you are and how you work? The whole shebang – from hypothesis to peer review?

Fagan could really use that. If only he had ears to hear it. He recently took up the matter of vaccine safety in an all-caps post on his Facebook page. Like climate science, he said, the answers are still out there somewhere, mysterious, waiting to be discovered. “Only science will tell,” Fagan wrote.

He later told the S-R, “Until I see media coverage otherwise, the science leads me to believe that the comeback of these diseases is because of the influx of illegal aliens. Do I get vaccinations now? No, I don’t. … What I tell people is, get your vaccinations at your own risk. Buyer beware. Do your due diligence.”

What science leads him to believe this? Where has his diligence duly led him? Fagan did not return my call Tuesday seeking a citation or two.

I don’t get it, either, Science. All the people who ignore you pretend to revere you. All deniers – of evolution, global warming, vaccines, fluoride, etc. – cloak themselves in the mantle of science while denying science.

Example: Fagan peddled a research article that claims to find an autism link in a “re-analysis” of data. The article has been retracted, and a co-author admitted that significant data was omitted. The editors said they “no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings.”

You might explain, Science, that this is part of what you do – correct mistakes, retract dishonest work. It’s a due diligence thing. Your memo might include some of these pieces of actual, real scientific research – drops in a massive ocean of research:

• The Journal of Pediatrics, 2013: “Increasing exposure to antibody stimulating proteins and polysaccharides in vaccines is not associated with risk of autism.”

• Pediatrics (a different journal), 2010: “On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes.”

• Pediatrics, 2011: “Measles-Containing Vaccines and Febrile Seizures in Children Age 4 to 6 Years.” (A study of more than 715,000 children found no increase in febrile seizures among vaccinated children.)

• The Lancet, 1999: “Autism and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine: No Epidemiological Evidence for a Causal Association.”

• The journal Vaccine, 2001: “MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association.”

• Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2007: “MMR-Vaccine and Regression in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Negative Results Presented from Japan.”

There are far too many of these studies to list. They just go on and on. Last summer, a team of Australian researchers at the University of Sydney published a “meta-analysis” of vaccine research in the journal Vaccine.

The researchers wrote: “Five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children, and five case-control studies involving 9,920 children were included in this analysis. The cohort data revealed no relationship between vaccination and autism. … Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.”

While you’re at it, Science, you might also take up some of the “research” that vaccine opponents cling to and draw a distinction between the many, many studies that follow the scientific method on the one hand, and the vague, hypothetical, correlation-not-causation-based “evidence” presented by vaccine opponents on the other. Example: A website devoted to exposing the “truth” about vaccine safety, Vaccine Choice Canada, lists bullet points of scientific evidence regarding vaccines and autism.

They are: 1) a study noting the correlation between an increase in vaccination rates and an increase in autism, and suggesting that there “may” be a connection requiring study; 2) two studies about environmental factors versus heredity in autism that do not mention vaccines; and 3) a “theoretical review” of possible causes of autism.

Please explain in your memo, Science, the vast imbalance between these whispers, suggestions and overstatements and the mountain of research on the other side.

When Fagan says that the science will tell, he is wrong. It already has.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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