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My Mistake and an Apology to Paul Offit

November 8th, 2009 Posted in Blog | 1 Comment

There is nothing more important to me than accuracy, and there is no place in my book, "Denialism," where I tried harder to avoid careless mistakes than in the chapter called "Vaccines and the Great Denial."  I didn't succeed, though, and I want to make sure readers are aware of that. In a section describing the origin and workings of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program I quote extensively from an article in The New England Journal of Medicine written by Dr. Paul Offit, the well-known vaccine researcher.  At one point in my narrative (which begins on page 88 of the book) however, I stopped quoting Dr. Offit in order to explain, in my own words, the meaning of some of the medical terminology he had employed. I then returned to Dr. Offit's  description of why the court was created and how it works, and should have gone back to quoting from the NEJM article, but did not. It was an accidental oversight which I will correct as soon as new copies of the book are printed. I told Dr. Offit about the mistake as soon as I realized I had made it, and, as always, he was gracious. But I also wanted to make readers aware of the error, which I regret.

One Comment to “My Mistake and an Apology to Paul Offit”

  • Thanks for acknowledging the error. The person who caught the mistake, Dan Olmsted, is a former UPI reporter and current editor of a fringe anti-vaccine website. Olmsted, it is well worth pointing out, could acknowledge a few mistakes of his own.

    In 2005 Olmsted wrote an article called “The Amish Anomaly”, in which he made the astounding and unfounded claim that autism is rare among the Amish, allegedly because they don’t vaccinate. But Olmsted’s tireless sleuthing missed the cryptically- named Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, PA, where doctors treat dozens of Amish and Mennonite children for autism. The clinic also holds a weekly vaccination clinic which, according to a pediatrician who works there, is very well attended. I wrote about the clinic here:

    When confronted with his fabrication, Olmsted said he had tried to contact the clinic, but nobody would return a call. What he won’t say is if those calls came before or after the piece ran. Who can blame the clinic director for not picking up the phone? It was obvious even then that Olmsted was auditioning for a future role as publicist for an anti-vaccine group, perhaps one led by a D-list celebrity. Jackpot!

    Olmsted also claims, in his defense, that the Amish have the wrong kind of autism (that would be the kind that doesn’t count). The argument goes “Of course the Amish have some autism, but only in children who have been vaccinated.” He offers no real evidence for this either, but in the fast-moving world of online vaccine rejectionism, the truth is a malleable thing.

    Thanks so much for your book, Michael. This is an important story, and because of smart people like you, the media narrative is slowly changing from “vaccines might cause autism” to “vaccine rejectionists are putting our children at risk.” Keep up the good work. Please. The vast majority of parents need you.

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