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The Sciences

Vaccines win their day in court again!

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A special court set up as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has ruled that there is no evidence that thimerosal -- a preservative used in vaccines, but removed from virtually all of them years ago -- causes autism. Yay! Last year, this same court ruled that evidence presented by families claiming their children were harmed by vaccines was insufficient to show that vaccines cause autism. In fact, one judge said that the families were misled by antivax physicians. This new ruling is a good one. Medically and scientifically, it's been known for some time that thimerosal does not cause autism. This graph makes it pretty clear:

autism_thimerosal.jpg

Since the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines, autism rates have increased. The antivax movement has frothed and railed about this, but as usual reality is firmly against them. I suggest you read Australian skeptic Maggie's take on this topic as well. As a parent myself, I have sympathy for parents of autistic children, I really do: no parent could deny the strong urge to defend and protect their child against all threats. But because we are so strongly emotional in cases like this, we have to be ever-more vigilant about using logic, evidence, and rationality, lest we react to a problem that doesn't exist. The parents who brought their cases to this court are, I suspect, well-meaning and desperate for answers. But the respite they seek will not be found in an imagined link between vaccinations and autism. This movement is doing serious damage in two ways. One, it's scaring parents unreasonably into not vaccinating their kids, putting these children and others at risk for contracting preventable diseases. But second, this whole debacle is distracting researchers against looking for the real causes behind autism. In other words, these people are fighting against their own cause. We need real answers about autism, and the antivax movement is wasting tremendous resources that could be far, far better spent looking at the reality of the situation. Instead, they rail against phantoms, and the real victims are children, theirs and everybody's.

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