While I can empathize with parents and families whose children are struck by illness, it puzzles me when their energy is expended on finding someone or something to blame.

The more I read about attempts to link thimerosal to autism, the more I am struck by a sense of desperation. Numerous organizations have been created exclusively to promote the theory that thimerosal causes autism — to the exclusion of all other theories. They choose to discount epidemiological studies and elevate parental anecdotes as hard facts — ultimately to the detriment of their cause.

As the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia writes: “Unfortunately, for current and future parents of children with autism, the controversy surrounding vaccines has caused attention and resources to focus away from a number of promising leads.”

While I support efforts to investigate the possible link, it seems as if the net should be cast more widely. Instead, these activists expend their energy promoting the reports that support their claim and attempting to discredit any study that discounts their theory.

Ironically, these organizations have no qualms in describing the Institute of Medicine (IOM) as a credible resource for calling link between autism and thimerosal “biologically plausible,” but then turn around and decry the same agency as corrupt when its analysis of available research three years later concluded that existing research does not support the theory.

The bottomline is that these advocates seem to refuse to acknowledge the complexity of autism. It simply is not plausible that a single factor, like thimerosal exposure, is responsible for the rising rates we are witnessing.

At least some of the organizations are upfront about the fact that they want to document the link for the sake of litigation efforts. (See Mother Jones: Toxic Tipping Point for more information.) But, if that is the case, how are their efforts any more credible than the parties they are suing?

If these parents and advocates are truly concerned about finding the cause and, presumably a cure, for autism, why would they put all their eggs in this one basket? Is it cynical for me to believe that they are pursuing this narrow avenue of inquiry in the hope of a big payout?

* * *

To learn more about autism from organizations that are casting a wider net, check out UC Davis MIND Institute and Cure Autism Now.

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