Letter to the New York Times Book Review
in response to What Caused the Autism Epidemic?, by Polly Morrice
(review of Evidence of Harm, by David Kirby)
To the Books Editor:
I hope I am not the only parent of a person with an autistic spectrum diagnosis who is fed up with the phrase "autism epidemic." While there are parents who have reason to believe that their own children have suffered from vaccine reactions, there are also many who don't. Although schools are facing an increase of students with autism and related diagnoses, this is hardly proof of an "epidemic." "The autism epidemic" is not a fact, but an attention-getting rhetorical device utilizing a word generally reserved for infectious disease, implying contamination, expressing and inducing fear. It is used by those who seek to bolster cases alleging individual instances of vaccine damage by attempting to convince the public that autism is predominantly caused by vaccine damage, and that most autistic citizens have been "mercury poisoned." It is used by litigants, their lawyers, a handful of politicians and PR professionals. It is also used by a handful of researchers and health care practitioners who market experimental products and services that claim to remove mercury from the body, that are not covered by insurance when prescribed for the treatment of autism, and that must be paid for out of parents' pockets. It is used by those with a preexisting categorical opposition to vaccinations. It is used by journalists who report on all of the above. "Autism epidemic" is not a scientific term; it is a product of litigation and marketing. Its sensationalistic use in relation to autism cheapens the meaning of the word "epidemic," and contributes towards popular minimization of the threat posed by vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
19 April 2005