P.Mean: Where to look for information in a controversial area (created 2008-08-20).

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I am currently researching vaccinations and the negative effects they may cause. My ex-boyfriend is against vaccines and I am for them. I was wondering if you could give me some references to research supporting the autism link not being caused by vaccines or actually any other theory regarding vaccines being harmful to the body. I went to a seminar and they told us there is a problem with molecular mimicry where the body may attack itself looking for a sequence similar to the disease. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Desperately seeking the truth.

I should state my disclaimer up front and early. I am not a doctor, and anything I say should not be construed as medical advice. If you have to make a serious decision about vaccinating a child, your first step should be a chat with your pediatrician.

I got interested in autism, because it is a good model of why we need to do research. Parents of children with autism have been forced to endure a lot of bad science:

In my mind, good research drives out bad medical practice, so I use autism as an example of why we need research.

There is a lot of controversy about vaccines and autism, and you can find support for just about any position that you want to take. These people are all smarter than you or me, so what can we do?

This is another pet topic of mine: what to do when the people smarter than you are in a state of vehement disagreement. We see this in a lot of areas: global warming and evolution are just two of the areas that are getting a lot of press. But we also have to make choices about education for our children, and there are many competing theories about how to best teach. We can't afford to ignore these issues, but we can't pretend that we know as much as the people who have spent their lives studying the problem. So what can you do?

For the specific issue of vaccines, I would argue that the first step is to find a pediatrician you trust and talk about these issues with them.

A good general second step, though is to find a document written by a consensus panel of experts. You don't have to believe the report and you don't have to "vet" the panel first to make sure that they are qualified. Just choose a consensus report written by a large committee with some sort of official sponsorship. The best example I have seen in vaccines is a detailed study about the possible link of vaccines and autism published by the Institute of Medicine. This report came down on the side that there is no credible evidence of a link and any proposed biological mechanisms are only theoretical.

Now, I trust the Institute of Medicine, but you will find a lot of critics of that report. Start by reading the report and then reading criticisms of the report. In my mind, the weakness of the criticisms of IOM (attacking the messenger rather than the message, for example) actually adds credibility to the report. Also, don't be afraid to check out some of the references in the report.

I wish that there was consensus in the research community, and although the folks critical of vaccines are in a decided minority, there are enough of them to provide cover for anyone who want to believe that vaccines are dangerous.

This is not much of an answer, but I hope it helps. If you are currently debating what to do for your own child (children) then I can't stress strongly enough that you need to talk to your pediatrician. If it's a more theoretical concern (as it is for me), then the IOM report is an excellent start to your investigations.

Good luck!

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. This page was written by Steve Simon and was last modified on 2010-04-01. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Critical appraisal.