Does Doctor Rand Paul believe vaccines cause autism? Well, let’s see exactly what he said on the topic (video after the fold):
I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.
Really, Rand? You’ve heard of cases. Seems like you and my wife have something in common. As I like to say, I believe in evidence-based medicine, while she believes in anecdote-based medicine.
Of course, it’s not all that dangerous that my wife has this blind spot. She’s neither a doctor NOR a US Senator. You, however, should think before you open that hole on the front of your face and let words fall out. The world holds you to higher standard.
90% of your interview was extolling the virtues of vaccines. You make a great point about freedom. Vaccines ARE voluntary, which seemed to be a surprise to the anchor. We as parents must carefully weigh evidence and do what we believe is right for our children. I’ve argued as such here on this blog.
But this one sentence is going to be used as evidence that vaccines cause autism. Your position as a Senator and as a doctor are going to be used to give this idea credibility. Oh, and if you now come out and publicly try to distance yourself from this, the conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers out there will view that as only damning you further.
And you base this on what? Anecdotes? Anecdotes from parents who are reeling from the emotional sting of realizing their perfect little child is facing a neurological disorder and the terror of what that will mean? Parents who wonder “why” life is unfair–and who is to blame? These parents are vulnerable, and some of the subcultures in the autism community will have them quickly believing that vaccines, antibiotics, and frankly anything sold by a pharmaceutical company is evil, and delivering them into the hands of pseudoscience hucksters selling hyperbaric oxygen treatments, chelation, and homeopathy as the solution. As the father of a child with autism, I’ve watched it happen. I don’t tend towards hyperbole in this area, but the behavior of many of these groups is remarkably cultlike.
I’m not sure what Sen. Paul truly believes as it relates to vaccines and autism. But he’s now entered the debate, and on the wrong side. He did so without evidence; merely anecdote.
On Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a prospect for the 2016 Presidential Election, put forth his opinion on vaccinating children. It wasn’t Dr. Paul’s finest moment.
In light of the recent measles outbreak in California, Dr. Paul was asked about the disease, and the ant-vaccination movement, on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. He stated that while he felt vaccinations were a “good idea”, he felt that parents should have the option to decline them:
“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”
Dr. Paul noted to Ms. Ingraham in his interview that he believed vaccinations should be optional. In the same show, Ms. Ingraham stated that she didn’t believe measles was “that big of a deal“.
Later in the day, in a CNBC interview, Dr. Paul used anecdotal evidence to state that parents were justified in their skepticism:
“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.
This coincides with fellow GOP hopeful Chris Christie, who explained that while he vaccinates his children and believes they are a good thing, believes parents deserve more input:
He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.” He said they believe doing so is an “important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health.”
“But,” Christie added, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Mr. Christie made greater input into vaccinations for parents part of his campaign for Governor of New Jersey in 2009.
Some of these public statements of support for anti-vaccination proponents can be explained as a matter of timing: earlier in the morning, an interview the Today Show did with President Obama made clear his thoughts on the matter: there are no reasons not to vaccinate:
“I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the president explained.
Anti-vaccination proponents – often called “anti-vaxxers” – believe that vaccinations for many diseases once viewed as eradicated can cause mental defects, with autism being the most commonly referenced, due to the amount of mercury in the vaccinations. More fringe elements of the anti-vaxxer movement believe that the government intentionally puts mercury in vaccinations as a passive form of population control.
However, most anti-vaxxers, if I’m putting this bluntly, are not very smart. They read a few articles on Infowars, see Jenny McCarthy speak for twelve seconds, put on their finest tin-foil hats, and let loose their ridiculous, half baked ideas, just before their diatribe about chemtrails. These people are clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But what’s truly harmful is to have people like Senator Paul – a DOCTOR, for heaven’s sake! – and Governor Christie (a successful lawyer) giving oxygen to these people by enabling their nonsense.
The argument being made is that parents should have the liberty to do whatever they want with their children. However, that argument ends at my child’s body. This isn’t something like school choice, or even a voucher program that would use tax dollars in religious schools against the wishes of secular parents. Not vaccinating a child against measles puts that child’s life in danger before they even know what measles are. They also put other children at risk, particularly other children who either are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated due to other health concerns.
It’s one thing to argue that a parent – or even a mature minor has the right to put a child at risk if they believe the treatment is worse than the disease; I’m sympathetic to that argument to an extent. But a measles epidemic has been cut loose for the first time since “Leave It To Beaver” was being taped, and it’s affected a lot of people. Parents affected who willingly did not vaccinate their children should be held liable for the damage they have personally caused.
It’s easy to call the anti-vaxxer issue a bipartisan one – thank the “Whole Foods crowd” for that – but this is a problem that is disproportionate among hardcore, anti-government right wingers, who have been raised into a froth into believing that anything involving the government, or Barack Obama, is a bad thing. Such constant pandering – particularly by grifters like Sarah Palin and others – replaces education with nonsense because to them, these “facts” are education. Due to this, they distrust anything that goes against their worldview. “The CDC!? Liberal media fascists!” If President Obama said the sky was blue in a speech, that would be the tinder that starts a purple sky movement.
We expect “I’ve heard it causes brain damage!” to come from the wingnuts. But coming from Doctor Paul, a very intelligent man, calls into question his sincerity, his respect for the American primary voter – part of me thinks “he can’t believe that shit, can he?” – and his qualification to hold the highest office in the country.1
1 – I’m not holding Governor Christie to so strong a flame because I feel his statements, and clarifications, exhibit more nuance than those of Dr. Paul, who is no stranger to some real whoppers in his time.
Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.
Williams notes that at 60, Seinfeld is still “figuring out who he is. For example: in recent years as he’s learned about autism spectrum disorders, he sees it in himself.”
Seinfeld confirms that, saying, “I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum.”
“Why? What are the markers?” asks Williams.
“You know, never paying attention to the right things,” says Seinfeld. “Basic social engagement is really a struggle.”
Seinfeld goes on to explain, “I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”
This is a bit of a pet issue for me, as for years–as soon as I figured out what it was–I’ve believed I have Asperger’s Syndrome*. I’ve never put in the effort to seek an official diagnosis (although I’m getting closer to doing so for several reasons), but knowing the heredity nature of ASD, and then having a son with autism, I’m pretty sure of my self-diagnosis.
Seinfeld sparked a nerve. Several people have suggested that a self-diagnosis isn’t really sufficient (although quite a few autismadvocates point out that self-diagnosis is usually the method for diagnosis in adults–usually it is what spurs someone to seek an official diagnosis). Others suggest that a millionaire comedian can’t possibly be autistic. Others are concerned that fitting someone who is as successful as Jerry Seinfeld into the spectrum, with what assuredly must be a relatively mild form of autism, devalues the much more severe autism that many of their children face.
I know. I get it. It’s hard to see someone as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and think that he has issues with social communication. After all, how can someone who connects with so many people through his art be considered autistic?
But really, it’s not all that far-fetched. I know this won’t sound like something that you’ve heard before, but comedy is possibly one of the most natural places for some folks with high-functioning autism. I say this for two reasons:
Comedy, for many people who are considered “misfits”, is a defense mechanism. It’s the “if I make them laugh they won’t beat me up” mentality. This is NOT a new statement about comedians.
Comedy is usually predicated on seeing things differently than most people. Most people don’t find regular life funny. They just find it to be regular life. But our human experience in society is riddled with absurdities. I firmly believe that people on the spectrum, who can be over-literal and don’t often understand the subtlety of social interaction, can take an “outsider’s” view of regular life.
For me, comedy is a highly intellectual affair. I love looking at jokes and trying to pick apart why they’re funny. I’ve worked hard to develop my sense of humor, largely through understanding other people, not through the normal method of picking things up naturally. As such, I absolutely hold that “outsider’s view” of comedy. The old Seinfeld trope, “What, is the deal, with that?” is the “outsider’s view” in a nutshell. He’s looking at everything we see every day, but through a completely different prism than we’re used to.
Nor is autism a sign that someone cannot be successful. There are autism success stories all through society. Recently someone had suggested that Bill Gates fits many of the symptoms of autism, and he’s certainly no slouch. In fact, I like to think I’m one of those success stories. I honestly have trouble with social interaction. Yet I have a job that absolutely requires social interaction and relationship-building. In fact, I’m a manager of other people in my career. Many autistics don’t have successful romantic relationships. I’m married to a beautiful woman who is WAY out of my league.
But it’s hard. Really hard, sometimes. I am where I am because I challenge the hell out of myself. I try to take those things where I know I’m not good at something and brute-force my way into making myself good at them. There are instances where it’s terrifying. At a recent conference, I knew I needed to approach a woman who was a marketing manager for a company we work with to discuss something that my company needed. I had to summon the courage to start a conversation with her, completely unprompted and without an introduction (EEK!!!). I forced myself to do it.
For most people, that isn’t an existential victory. The fact that it is, for me, is a sign of my Asperger’s.
As for that beautiful wife who is WAY out of my league? If she hadn’t approached me at a bar 13 years ago, I could very well still be single. In fact, one of the most important developments of our marriage has been my realization that I’m on the spectrum, and her acknowledgment of it. It’s extremely difficult for her to relate to me on several levels, but at least we both understand now where some of those blind spots are for me. It can still be difficult, but at least we’re now on the same page about the fact that we’re completely not on the same page!
My success, or Jerry Seinfeld’s much larger success, shouldn’t be taken as devaluing the much more severe autism that many people face. What we’ve faced is an uphill climb, not a roadblock. I understand the concern of parents who have children with more severe autism, because I’m one of them too. My son, at 5, would still likely be considered non-verbal, even though he’s making progress. I desperately want him to have a chance in his life for the success I’ve had, but the largest fear I have in my entire life is that his autism will be a roadblock, not an uphill climb. A parent who hasn’t had to face that fear is a parent that I envy.
I view Jerry Seinfeld as a welcome addition to the wide range of the autism spectrum. There’s a saying in our ranks that if you’ve known one person with autism, you’ve known one person with autism. We’re all different. Jerry may or may not be autistic. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if he thinks he’s one, he probably is. A millionaire comedian isn’t typical when it comes to autism. But the key is that when you’re talking about autism, typical goes out the window. That may be why we call it a spectrum » Read more