Thursday, January 29, 2009

Personal Stakes

I can wear a number of hats concerning this issue. I'm diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, so I have a personal interest. I'm a science nerd, especially concerning neuroscience, so I wear the hat of somebody interested in the facts of the case. I'm also a political wonk, with a particular interest in how science translates to policy.

My opinion comes down to this: we're using the science to clear the B.S. explanations for why this happens out of the way. It's difficult, because taking a real world issue like this and plopping it down in a lab is impossible. You get likelihoods more than absolute laws and rules. It's not even clear here that Autistic conditions necessarily have to have just one cause or kind of cause, any more than heart conditions can be explained by just one etiology. There could be metabolic disorders, environmental exposures, genetics involved, and what for one person might be a good treatment could be useless or worse. For some, there may not fundamentally BE a treatment, other than learning to live with the pathology at hand.

Was it wise to investigate the Vaccine connection? By all means. But nobody has found any indication that Thimerosal or anything else in them is causing the epidemic increase. Even worse, the numbers have risen as vaccines with this mercury-based compound have been phased out. Simple inductive logic tells you that A cannot be the sole cause of B, if B continues to increase as exposure to A decreases.

If a negative relationship had been discovered, we would have been obligated in good conscience to change how we produce and use vaccines. But it has not, and until we've used the B.S. detector of science to clear away the misleading hypotheses, targeting vaccines as a cause is not only bad, but potentially counterproductive. Measles and other illnesses we vaccinate for are known to have potential neurological complications. From a speculative point of view, we could even pose infectious diseases as potential causes, but from a purely factual point of view, having a child dealing with the after-effects of such neurological complications is no picnic.

I understand the impulse people have to fight for their children. I understand that it can sometimes seem like corporations are just out to cover their asses. But at some point, we have to humble ourselves before the facts, and let the unsupportable explanations drop.

We need to know more about what can cause autistic disorders, not become fixated on explanations for personal and emotional reasons. With limited resources and the scientific uncertainties that come with investigating phenomena beyond the lab, we must sometimes make the difficult choice to look beyond our preferred explanations, and seek out the right ones, because the truth, preferred or not, is all that can set us free here.

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