Kooks Who Write Books
On April 1st of this year, my physician spouse and I took our toddler to the local public library for the first time in his life. It was very exciting. I was so energized to be there with my son that, in a fit of fatherly intensity, I decided to check out the parenting section.
There, proudly displayed at the top of the heap was a book called “Conscious Parenting: A Holistic Guide to Raising and Nourishing Healthy, Happy Children.” Who doesn’t want their child to be healthy and happy, I thought. So I took a peruse.
And I was horrified. Surely, this must be an April Fool’s joke, thought I. But no. It was real. Prominently and proudly proclaimed within the book’s pages were stark anti-scientific anti-vaccine claims. Among them was the tired (and repeatedly disproven) claim that vaccines cause autism:
The link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been repeatedly and countlessly refuted. Many, many, studies have failed to show a causal link. The correlational graphs presented in this book are uncovering what we call “detection bias”: in short, you find a thing because you look for a thing.
You see, a better understanding of spectrum disorders and their diagnostic presentations has increased remarkably since the early 1970s, which coincides with the arrival of the MMR vaccine. That fact and the other inconvenient fact that signs of autism typically first present themselves around the same age as when kids get their first vaccines creates the illusion of a causal relationship between MMR arrival and autism diagnosis.
(I have no intention of arguing about this in the comments section, so please save your “breath.”)
The book goes on to offer another “gotcha” moment, pointing out that Measles deaths were dropping well before the arrival of the Measles vaccine, so vaccines are not needed:
This is the sort of amateurish observation that seems convincing to the inexpert. The reality is that thanks to advances in health care that improved treatment after people got sick (such as treating pneumonia that occurred because of measles infection), the Measles survival rate was indeed climbing. Just a few years prior to vaccination, Measles deaths were frighteningly common, with the USA logging about 500 death per year.
But while Measles deaths were coming under control without the vaccine, actual Measles cases weren’t tamed until the vaccine came on board (in the 1960s), as per this graph:
This is important because non-lethal Measles infection can result in encephalitis, blindness, extreme respiratory distress, pregnancy complications including miscarriage, and a host of other bad things. It’s not always just about preventing death. You really don’t want Measles running amok in a population, even if the death rate has plunged. That’s why even mostly accurate graphs like the Measles one are still examples of misinformation, in the sense that a focus on death alone is a bit of misdirection.
So anyway, I opted to issue an alert to the library that they were promoting a book that had potentially dangerous outcomes.
This is not a decision I took lightly. I am 100% against book banning. Books are sacred, even bad books and books written with ill intent. People should be permitted to consume whatever nonsense they desire…. but only with full transparency. I did not want this book being promoted as mainstream medical advice.
The library has a formal process for submitting a concern over one of their items. I filled out the form, but was clear to point out that I DO NOT want the book removed. I only want a disclaimed placed somewhere that this does not represent mainstream medical opinion, or something even more strongly worded. I offered to do the wording myself, if they wished.
I got my reply. It was lengthy, but included the paragraph:
“In Chapter 9, the authors cover a lot of ground on vaccines including a review of the links between vaccines and autism. The studies they reference are over a decade old, however they do provide over one hundred citations for the reader to interrogate the information further. Towards the end of the chapter, they call on parents “to make a thoughtful decision, weighing the risks and benefits….”(p.316). It does not entirely endorse one way or the other, but there is bias, certainly.“
Frankly, the citations provided were all cherry-picked from the worst possible sources, each of which I could present to my students as examples of how NOT to do study designs. It rankles me that simply having citations is considered defensible.
They also noted that the book has its own disclaimer: “…To reduce the chance of harm, the reader should consult a professional before undertaking this or any other mental, physical, or spiritual health program. The instructions printed in this text are not in any way intended as a substitute for medical, mental, emotional, or spiritual counseling with a licensed physician, healthcare provider, or spiritual advisor.”
That’s fair enough. But, frankly, it doesn’t really cut the mustard. It’s like bro podcasters talking endless pseudoscience nonsense, then saying, “Hey, talk to your doctor before doing what I’m saying you should do.” It’s a legal disclaimer to protect against liability under the law. It’s not a disclaimer intended to prevent against the actual receipt of misinformation. See the difference?
The library response concludes, “every book is not right for everyone, but individuals retain the right to choose for themselves and reach their own conclusions on the contents.” While that is certainly true, I do wonder if the same philosophy would be applied to a book about Holocaust denial or racial supremacy.
Again, to be clear, I DO NOT want any books removed. I’d just like to see a little more concern by those who offer these books to the public. Am I being unreasonable?