Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Science Blogs Book Club: Autism's False Prophets

The latest edition of Science Blogs Book Club is up. This time the selected book is "Autism's False Prophets" by Dr. Paul Offit. The discussion panel includes Paul Offit, Kristina Chew, Kev Leitch, Orac and Bob Park.

I posed some questions for the panel:

In my microbiology class, I've fended questions from students regarding whether vaccines were "safe". Most students, although educated and worldly, were unaware of the studies showing no relationship between vaccines and autism for example.

The most disturbing issues for me (highlighted in Ch. 9 of the book) is the tendency of the media 1) to report only "sexy" stories 2) seek unwarranted "balance".

It is clear that the media attention given to reports that vaccines were unsafe far outweighed reports that vaccines are safe.

Moreover, reports of the safety of vaccines were often accompanied by contradictory opinions in the interests of "balance". I liken this to the Intelligent Design controversy where some believe educators should present "all sides" of the evolution "controversy".

So, my questions to the panel are "What do we do about it?" Can we create a media whose primary objective is to inform rather than to entertain, and, if so, how can we get people to pay attention to it?

I look forward to exciting discussions.


  1. You bring up a good point. The most recent "Skeptics Guide to the Universe" podcast had on a science journalist and they talked about this very topic. I won't go into it here, but basically she says it's never really going to change and that the scientists (by blogging and engaging the public like you and Dr. Offit are doing) is the best way to make the science known.

  2. You (and she) are probably right. Entertainment sells, information doesnt.

  3. Just found (and am now following) your blog. I'm a playwright in Los Angeles, and my latest play deals with biology and ecology -- particularly the consequences of the loss of biodiversity... I'm looking forward to "listening in" on your blog, as I enjoy learning more about science and the world. (I also enjoy podcasts from the BBC's Naked Scientists.) Anyhow, just thought I'd say hello!


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