Book review: Autism’s False Prophets

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

The scientific and medical community, finally, has got its pants on.

Every few days a parent in my practice is reluctant to get vaccines for their child, because, “they say” that vaccines are bad. It’s been on Oprah and The Today Show, part of the media circus that has created a controversy where in fact none exists.

Dr. Paul Offit’s new book, Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, is here to set the record straight. It’s a wonderful book that tells a compelling story about parents who really care for their children, scientists who make up data, a media concerned more with ratings than truth, and entertainment and government figures only too happy to cash in. Entangled in this are the children, whose futures are being manipulated for grandstanding and money-making.

I’ve read every study about this issue, and just about every article from the popular press. Offit’s book is unique in that it retells the story of autism from its description by Leo Kanner in the 1930’s. By retelling the story of autism research and treatment, Offit illustrates how quackery and baseless theories of autism’s cause and treatment have been around since the beginning, and how science has slowly been able to learn more and more about autism despite the loud and misleading shrieks of the charlatans. Bringing us into the current day, there is great reason for hope for children with autism. Though there is currently no “cure,” there are effective treatments and an ever-improving knowledge of the root causes. Unfortunately, some autism advocacy groups are so intertwined with the “anti vaccine” movement that they’re rejecting any study of other, far more promising areas of research—research that’s much more likely to help their own children. The media and the quacks are manipulating loving parents, and it’s a shame.

As an example: the entire “theory” that MMR causes autism is founded on a single study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, in which he claimed to have found evidence of the vaccine in the intestines of eight autistic children. That’s it: that’s all of the evidence that there has ever been. But since the study was published, some other things have been revealed: Dr. Wakefield accepted almost a million dollars from attorneys representing parents of the children in his study, who were seeking evidence to use in a lawsuit against the vaccine manufacturers; his own research assistant, who actually ran the tests, testified that all of the data he collected showed there was no evidence that the vaccine was present in the gut tissue (in other words, Dr. Wakefield published fake data); ten of the other authors of the paper requested that the paper be withdrawn when they realized how the research was done; no other lab, anywhere, has been able to reproduce the results—and it’s been tried in labs around the world dozens of times; and, over a dozen high-quality, very large studies published since, involving millions of children, have completely and unquestionably shown no relationship between MMR and autism. Yet Dr. Wakefield and some of his cronies continue to make plenty of money milking his theories, and seem incapable of facing the truth.

For parents concerned about vaccine safety, Offit’s book is a reassuring breath of fresh air and clear thinking. It’s clearly written, entertaining, and very well referenced. Not only does he explain the science well, but also covers the psychology—why are we so prone to believe things that don’t really make sense? He retells stories of several families touched by autism, and how they’re trying to help other families cope and understand. In fact, the book is dedicated to these families, and all royalties from sales of the book are being donated to autism research.

The book Autism’s False Prophets by Paul Offit, MD is available at Amazon and elsewhere. Please read it.

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One Comment on “Book review: Autism’s False Prophets”

  1. Holly Says:

    Thank you, Dr Roy, for confirming what many of us were sure of and have a hard time convincing others. I will definitely be sharing this post with mommy friends and suggesting this book.


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