Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Dear Mr. Colbert,
We are writing to express our delight with your coverage of a very important topic, vaccines and autism spectrum disorders (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/svsc0q/preventable-diseases-on-the-rise---paul-offit , April 28, 2014). We also commend your choosing Dr. Paul Offit as your guest. Dr. Offit has made a great contribution to correct the misinformation about and promulgate the safety of vaccines, among other ways, through his seminal book, “Do You Believe in Magic?”
There is clear scientific evidence negating the link between autism and vaccines, and we thank you for standing on the side of science and giving this topic invaluable time on your late night television show. You have contributed in a most significant way to the dissemination of the facts—and not the misinformed speculation— to the more than one million viewers of your program. They hopefully will, in turn, share correct information with their communities and help eventually erase the controversy that led to a crisis in the public confidence in safe vaccines. There have been reports of vaccination rates decreasing from the safe 95% to 80-60% in some regions of the world, and consequently also of the return of deadly diseases previously controlled.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and its causes and treatments have been frequent topics in the mass media for a long time; however, unfortunately, sensationalist presentations still make up the majority of the news. Vaccines and the strongly disproven link to ASD garnered media focus following the publication of the only study suggesting the link in 1998. The study was later retracted by the publishing journal and the author found guilty of dishonesty by the General Medical Council (Dyer, C., 2010).
The retraction generated considerable short-term media attention, which subsequently dwindled, even though new peer-reviewed studies replicating the evidence of no link between vaccines and autism were being published. This surprisingly did little to change the course of the phenomenon of misinformation transfer.
As you mentioned, 29% of Americans believe that autism is caused by vaccines and we, the scientific community and concerned families, need the support from public figures like you to disseminate the facts and help revert the damage caused by the propagation of the vaccine-autism link myth. Mass media is one of the most important allies we as a community of scientists, practitioners, and parents have in our fight against pseudo-science, misinformation, and sensationalistic reporting. We now celebrate adding Stephen Colbert to our science-friend list.
Daniela Fazzio, PhD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Dyer, C. (2010) Lancet retracts Wakefield’s MMR paper. British Medical Journal, 340:c696, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c696
Offit, P. (2013). Do you believe in magic? The sense and nonsense of alternative medicine. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Retracted—Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A, et al. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 1998; 351: 637-641.