27 May 2009

The importance of alternative ideas

There’s an article on PLos Biology concerning why so many people in the U.S. think vaccines causes autism, when there is no good scientific evidence that they do. I was interested in it, since it’s one of several lightning rods where public mistrust of scientific evidence comes into full light. The article, alas, is not very helpful in proposing a way forward.

It does talk a bit about how people that researchers prove that vaccines don’t cause autism, which is not something that research can really do. Look at what I wrote myself above: I wrote “no evidence.” I guess many people interpret that as, “no evidence at all,” not “tested and failed.”

But maybe, maybe two new papers hint at a way out. Perhaps one of the things that works in favour of the “vaccines cause autism” publicity is that the causes of autism weren’t well understood. Maybe some people just can’t live with an unknown cause, so they say, “You don’t know what causes autism, so you can’t say that vaccines don’t cause it.”

Maybe as research on autism continue, and we understand the actual causes of it better, the arguments for vaccines being responsible will start to lose steam. Coincidentally, two new paper in Nature (here and here) that start to do just that. Both link autism to genes involved in brain development.

No comments: