Oct
03
2008

Fears of autism being caused by poorly worded headlines

Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.
Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.Courtesy paul+photos=moody
Let’s be careful how we put our words together, everybody.

I mean, when I get dressed in the morning, I know that I want to get underwear, socks, pants, and at least one shirt onto my body. However, if I were to forgo all rules of dressing order and arrangement, I might give off the wrong message: i.e., I’m crazy, and possibly dangerous to be around.

Why would I take any less care with my precious, precious words?

Because I’m pretty lazy, I don’t generally read most (any) of the articles on science that I come across every day. Instead, I read only the headlines. Or, better yet, I have them read to me—that way I can rest my head on my desk while I’m taking in the news. It’s very important, then, that all headlines are clearly worded. Otherwise I could dictate a Science Buzz post that is even more factually inaccurate than my posts normally are. That’s dangerous territory.

Survey confirms parents’ fears, confusion over autism.”

I looked at that headline, saw the word “vaccine” in the body, and thought, “Oh, snap! Vaccines do cause autism?” Because, that’s what parents’ are afraid of, after all.

Nope. The existence of parents’ fear and confusion over autism is what has been confirmed here. The actual connection between vaccinations and autism remains non-existent.

A recent study found that a significant percentage of parents still believe that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine can cause autism, or are at least uncertain and fearful that such a connection does exist. This is despite the fact that scientists can establish no connection between early childhood vaccines and the development of autism.

The fear that early childhood vaccinations lead to an increased risk for autism originated from a 1998 study that linked autism to a particular mercury-based preservative in the MMR vaccine. It was later revealed that the study was based on bad research, and it was retracted by most of its authors and disowned by its publisher. In 2001, manufacturers of the MMR vaccine began removing the preservative from their vaccines anyway—and that’s probably not a bad thing, but it hasn’t led to any decrease in the occurrence of autism. And people are still worried about the vaccine anyway.

This confusion wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the better-safe-than-sorry attitude towards not having children vaccinated has led to a resurgence in diseases that had essentially been eradicated in areas where the vaccine is available.

Science Buzz has had a lot of conversation on this subject already, and, if you’re interested, I’d recommend you check out some of the other posts on autism and vaccinations.

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