Hamsters, Ghosts, and Autism

Has everyone finished How to Fossilize Your Hamster? The author interview should be coming soon, and I still would like to talk to anyone who has performed any of the experiments, so let me know.

Our next book is Ghost by Alan Lightman. I probably won’t interview him because he doesn’t have email and I don’t remember how to communicate in any other way. But check it out, because it’s a fascinating look at skepticism in the face of unexplainable personal experience.

I am also going through the list of your suggestions for reading selections and will be announcing the summer book list soon. Rebecca will be filling in for me in July when I’m in Lithuania, so you won’t want to miss that.

Here’s a new book I just heard about that tears the mercury militia’s arguments to pieces:

Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure

Paul Offit, MD
Columbia University Press
September 2008

AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS will show the reader the incredible history of how greedy lawyers, doctors, and unknowing parents have helped prevent the search for the real cause of autism. As these forces conspire to blame vaccines or the preservatives used in vaccines for causing autism, the search for a real cure is hampered while millions of dollars go chasing after the wrong causes or, worse, to support misguided legal actions. Children are dying because of quack treatments that desperate parents agree to have inflicted on their children. How on earth did we get here?

In AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS, Dr. Offit carefully outlines the faulty science that allowed one British doctor to turn the world of autism on its head and allowed the return of diseases that had rarely been seen in Britain and the United States for decades. He also tells the story of perhaps the greatest fraud on the autism community: facilitated communication. By reviewing the history of how the vaccines-cause-autism movement began, Dr. Offit skewers the logic and the science of those associated with the vaccines-cause-autism front and demonstrates how, all too often, greed was the motivating factor behind “scientific” conclusions.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. My husbands just back from England and I gave him How to fossilize your Hamster for entertainment. HOpefully he’ll have finished it soon and then I’ll get my turn.

  2. I work for a non-profit that provides supports to people with disabilities (including autism). Every so often I encounter anti-vaccine people, and facilitated communication advocates. I was very lucky to have been well-versed in FC from skeptical sources prior to beginning to work in this field. FC has an allure, I wanted to believe in it.

    One angle I hope Autism’s False Prophets addresses is the whole idea that autism is on the rise — autism awareness is on the rise and autism diagnosis is on the rise, but as the diagnoses increase for autism, there has been a decrease in other developmental disability diagnoses (often what was being called Pervasive Developmental Disorder is not being diagnosed as autism).

    This looks like an interesting book and I’ll definitely add it to my reading list.

  3. Second to last paragraph typo alert : “not being diagnosed as autism” should have read “now being diagnosed as autism”.


  4. waltdakind,

    Well, that’s quoted by cut and paste, so I’m not going to correct it. :-)

    Regarding medical information in general, I find that some people are truly interested in finding help for their loved ones, and they are happy when I provide scientific information about something wooish that they’ve told me about.

    Others just have a beef with the medical system in the US or big pharma, and they are not always looking for the most effective treatment; they have a more ideological agenda.

  5. I didn’t mean to imply you had a typo — I was correcting my typo.

    I really need to take my blog commenting less seriously. :-)

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