Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Geraldine Dawson Disappoints

In a New York Times, letter to the editor Dawson writes:

The latest British Medical Journal paper about autism and vaccines, which provides evidence that the initial report linking autism and vaccines was fraudulent, and the media coverage that ensued, miss an important point: Until science discovers the causes of autism and explains its dramatic increase, parents will continue to reach their own conclusions and desperately try a wide range of treatments, whether there is evidence to support them or not.

The answer is not to look to the past and look for blame, but rather to look to the future. We need increased research financing directed toward rigorous science that can provide the answers that parents are looking for and deserve. Until this happens, we will continue to wallow in controversy, and people with autism and families will continue to struggle with autism on their own.

Geraldine Dawson
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks
New York, Jan. 13, 2011

I do not agree with Dawson about “missing the point”. The BMJ article deals in part with the foundations of the vaccine etiology of autism movement, not its continuing trajectory. To advocate that an author call for more research in an article devoted to indentifying fraud feels like a patent absurdity. Frankly, it feels agenda based.

Also, I do not think better research would resolve the issue. I think even if damningly conclusive research were to come out tomorrow on all the issues Dawson raises, the hard-core of vaccine etiology advocates would roll on with lots of accusations of giant conspiracies. And I think a lot of the soft-core people would drink the cool-aide and stay with them.

Dawson talks about missing the point. I think this is ironic, because the obvious point Dawson misses is the vaccine etiology of autism movement may roll along in spite of all the science in the world.

Finally, I do not appreciate the way Dawson says “The answer is not to look to the past and look for blame”. Wakefield committed fraud, a very deliberate act where he knowingly misled others. And this led to harm. To advocate that we ignore this misconduct so as to better focus on upcoming research is contrary not just to ethical standards, but to scientific standards as well. Frankly, this is outrageous. I do not see scientific integrity as a priority for Dawson, and given her current position this disturbs me.


Blogger LIVSPARENTS said...

Maybe someone should tell Ms Dawson that AS is actually looking to the past, or at least they should be if they want to find out where the much autism increase came from:

I really would love to get my mitts on the presentations that will happen on Feb 1. You wonder if they found out that increases were mostly due to diagnostic substitution and more diagnosis driven by educational requirements, would AS trumpet the news... or downplay it so as not to hurt their donation revenues?

10:24 AM  
Blogger Michelle Dawson said...

Thanks for blogging this. I agree with your first and last paragraphs.

Dr Dawson (no relation!) also falsely characterizes and insults, en masse, the parents of autistic offspring.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous sybrand said...

Of course we should look to the past... Des-daughters, Thalidomide, Vioxx...

In the Merck trial in Australia, Merck revealed how they were determined to deal with doctors who dissented from the use of Vioxx, or considered Vioxx unsafe. And those internal memos talked about how they would discredit them and neutralize them and the last internal memo to be read out had the following line, referring to those doctors, 'We may have to seek them out and destroy them where they live."

We have to seek them out. Merck, GSK, Pfizer, wherever they live...

7:58 AM  
Blogger M.J. said...


I think you may be missing the point of what Geraldine Dawson is saying. I don't believe that she is calling for better research into the specific issue of vaccines and autism but rather saying that there is a need for better research in general.

Autism research has been stuck in the "its genetic" model for far too long and that model has failed to turn up any real answers. Sure there have been very small groups found with possible genetic problems but, for the most part, the results have been very disappointing.

It is long past time to start looking at the underlying biology of the disorder and come up with some real treatments that can help correct whatever the underlying problem is instead of trying to search for something that most likely doesn't exist.

As a parent of children who have autism, I have had to go looking for things that can help mitigate the disabling symptoms of their disorder. I try to stick as closely as possible to "mainstream" but there are times that the mainstream simply has no answers.

As a parent, I can't simply throw up my hands and say "there is not enough evidence to support the use of this treatment in autism", it is my responsibility to try and help my children. It doesn't help me at all to tell me what "science" has decided that autism isn't - I need to know what it is and how to treat it.

That is the problem that Geraldine Dawson is talking about.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Hi Sybrand,

Your post didn't look like spam so I let it in. I am praying that you do not start hawking Viagra or World of Warcraft gold.

That being said, I do not understand how your information is topically relevant. You are welcome to explain.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Hi MJ,

Dr. Dawson said “The answer is not to look to the past and look for blame”

To be honest I do not see any means around this statement. It is pretty clear that she is not simply calling for better research.

“instead of trying to search for something that most likely doesn't exist.”

Whether the cause is genetic or environmental or some intertwining of the two, is currently unknown. Who knows how it will play out? It could well be some obscure 3rd factor. In the absence of real knowledge I would like to see us keep our research broad and that includes genetic research.

Also, maybe a lot of the qualified/talented researchers also believe in the logic provided in your above quote. Perhaps they have different beliefs about what most likely doesn’t exist.

Thank you MJ,

10:11 PM  
Blogger M.J. said...


"To be honest I do not see any means around this statement. It is pretty clear that she is not simply calling for better research."

You are right, she isn't simply calling for more research. She is asking for the negativity to stop AND for more research to be done to find the causes of autism. That first part is as important as the second because until the community stops tearing itself apart it will be hard to move forward.

Rational discussions are impossible in the face of zealotry or absolutism.

"Also, maybe a lot of the qualified/talented researchers also believe in the logic provided in your above quote."

Perhaps I should have been clearer. I think research has already proven that there is not a singular "autism gene", at least not in the same way as conditions like Rett Syndrome. Rett syndrome has a known genetic mutation that is thought to cause the majority of the cases as well as a known biological problem to go with it.

Similar research into autism has shown that there is not a single mutation that causes even a significant minority of cases (excluding fragile-x) and, if anything, the genetic causes are very complex or there are going to be tens or hundreds of mutations involved.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...


Thank you for your comments and clarifications. While I was drafting a response, I realized that there were some things I had on my mind for quite a while. My response will be in the new post. Your comments on this matter are welcome there.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

This thread in now closed.

3:06 PM  

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