Dr. Paul Offit is the Hillary Clinton of the autism world. Or is he? It seems really unfair that a well-respected pediatrician and infectious disease expert who has devoted his career to saving lives is the recipient of the vitriol that places like Age of Autism and people like its editors and followers heap on him, all because he has the courage to stand up to their intimidating tactics and speak out honestly about vaccines. He's one of the first to admit that vaccines have caused damage; he writes openly and honestly about the live polio vaccine causing polio, about Cutter laboratories. 

He writes eloquently of the role that concerned parents and consumers can have in calling for safer vaccines, in more vaccine research to minimize the unfortunately occasional severe side effect (like the Sabin polio vaccine had in infecting six to eight kids per year in the US with polio rather than preventing the disease (page 58 of Deadly Choices).

Offit writes that if parents are looking to advocate on vaccines, pushing growing vaccines in "mammalian cells rather than avian ones. Although this procedure wouldn't be easy, it's doable. But, absent a public outcry, pharmaceutical companies have had little incentive to make the change and public health agencies haven't insisted they do it. Again, it's a perfect situation for an advocate" (page 59).

So why is Offit constantly vilified by the likes of Age of Autism? Why is it so easy for so many to get the facts wrong? In an earlier post, I noted the tendency of people to rely on the claims of others (like Age of Autism) rather than looking at the evidence for the claims. 

For two years, Age of Autism has consistently written outright falsehoods regarding Offit; even when there is every reason to believe they know their information is bad, they continue to dispense it. This week, Age of Autism has felt the need to launch multiple attacks on Offit.

Offit has never passed himself off as an autism expert, despite repeated allegations by Age of Autism editors and commenters that he has done so. Today at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, Offit responded to the notion that he is an expert on autism (he is a pediatrician and is likely to be more an expert it on it than Wakefield ever was):

"That's a fair question. But I would argue that Jenny McCarthy is also not an autism expert. Nor is J.B. Handley, nor are any of these other celebrities that you see on TV. But I have read the research on the subject since 1940; I'd say that I've read as much if not more than anyone else who is also "not an expert." And as a scientist and clinician, I can form opinions that are reasoned and well-informed. 
I'm never going to be an autism expert. The first thing I say when people ask me, "what do you think causes autism?" is that I'm not an autism expert, but I can tell you which studies are compelling. And I *am* a vaccine expert. 
I don't represent myself as an autism expert, and I think people like Jenny McCarthy need to be upfront about that as well. They're experts in their own children, they're not experts in autism."

You'll never see the folks at AoA or their true believers evaluate this; Wakefield remains a saint, even though it's clear he was dishonest and fraudulent, even though there is no doubt that he took a sizable amount of money from lawyers seeking to get money for MMR adverse effects. Wakefield, because he's "helping" autistic kids (how has never been explained; he's not licensed to practice medicine and was not legally allowed to see patients). No, the truth is that Wakefield fed parents what they wanted to hear and offered them false hope. He catered to their need for answers and someone to blame and he basked in the parents' adoration. He still does. Wakefield is not the only one to profit from desperate parents. The list of folks profiting off of them is pretty high. Let's not leave out Boyd Haley. Or the Geiers. Or any of the regulars who frequent the woo conventions and sell MB-12 pops and supplements and the hope of a cure.

Blaxill pulls new numbers out of his sorry hide to keep rallying his troops that Offit's made money on vaccine invention. His numbers aren't right, of course, and they're irrelevant to the question of whether vaccines, specifically the MMR or thimerosal cause autism. The answer appears to be a pretty conclusive no. And the rotavirus vaccine has never been implicated, hinted at, etc. by this crowd of woonuts. 

Handley this week feels the need to call Offit a lunatic and a liar and whip his followers into a frenzy. The Colbert Show page at facebook is awash in anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists.

Offit donated the royalties of Autism's False Prophets to the Center for AutismResearch (CAR) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The royalties from his new book go to the Autism Science Foundation. He's not profiting on his books. He's not out attacking people's wives either and insisting they're anonymous bloggers who are fathers to a child with autism.

Handley writes frequently about the hungry lie, but the truth is that Offit is not a part of that hungry  lie. Neither is Trine Tsouderos. Or Amy Wallace. Or Sanjay Gupta. Nor are Matt Lauer, Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos.

One need look no further than the antics of the writers, editors, and frequent commenters of AoA to see that there is an insatiable hunger to attack anyone who speaks out about the science on autism and vaccines. One doesn't need to go further than people who think the vaccine program is a eugenics program, that the world governments and pharmaceutical companies, and mainstream science have all conspired to bring one lone wolf, saint Andy, down.

Paul Offit is not a saint, and he doesn't need to be put on a pedestal. He's a man with strong convictions, who works to save the lives of infants around the world from a disease that takes 500,000 a year. In his own words, he speaks out against vaccine misinformation not because there is profit it in it, but  "Because it's the right thing to do. Because children are getting hurt by all this misinformation. It's the reason I went into pediatric infectious diseases in the first place -- because kids get hurt." 

Don't take my word for it, though, and for gods's sakes, don't take Blaxill's, Olmsted's or 
Handley's (because I'm not sure they could find the truth if it gave them a lap dance). Go read Offit's interview at TPGA. Watch him on Colbert. Read his journal articles and his books.

NECSS 2009 - Paul Offit from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.