The New York Times has an article today about a government-sponsored conference that is exploring whether there could be a link between mitochondrial disorder, vaccines and autism. It was prompted by the Hannah Poling case. The conference is indeed news, but it’s the kind of article that generally makes me wince even as I know I have to read it.
It’s hard to find an article on vaccines today that doesn’t think it has to “teach the controversy” on the subject of autism. Generally, local health officials and pediatricians are quoted on the importance and timing of vaccinations. Who is quoted depends on where the article is written. Then their statements are offset with scare tactics by one of the same half dozen doctors, attorneys, leaders of parents’ groups, and former Playboy bunnies who are quoted in all of these articles.
Except this article.
Parents and a small group of doctors have offered a variety of scientific explanations in recent years to try to explain why they think vaccines may cause or contribute to autism. Among the first was that the measles vaccine caused a low-level measles infection that affected children’s brains. The science underlying that theory has since been discredited.
The next theory was that a mercury-containing vaccine preservative, thimerosal, poisoned their brains, causing autism. Multiple studies have failed to find any relationship between thimerosal exposure and autism, and nearly seven years after the preservative was removed from childhood vaccines, autism rates seem unaffected.
There’s more, particularly on the new theory that mitochondrial disorder has something to do with any perceived link. A relative of Hannah Poling is quoted as looking for answers, a second case is listed as possibly being related, but reason and science and consensus always get the last word.
This is how to write about “controversial” science.