More on vaccines and autism -- now with presidential candidates!

Slate has an article about McCain's pandering to the public by suggesting that vaccines and autism may be related. The editor continues to point out that Obama has also encouraged the association, and that Clinton has certainly not helped to dispel the myth. I couldn't resist responding. Here's my post:

Although I agree with Bazelon that vaccines are probably not the direct or sole cause of the rise in autism (increasing diagnoses, among other things, may in fact be contributing to the rise in numbers), I do think she misrepresents the CDC's information. Leach and Fairhead, in their book Vaccine Anxieties, phrase it best when they say that the scientists/government are arguing that the absence of evidence is the same as an evidence of absence. These are not the same thing, as Leach and Fairhead wisely point out.

I am sympathetic to the difficulty that scientists and doctors have in persuading the public that vaccines are not harmful, but I also think we need to look more closely at why parents are not convinced by the amazingly lukewarm assertion by the CDC, "there's no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines." The vaccine frenzy is related to plenty of convincing evidence that the government does not want to be accountable for harm caused to patients when pharmaceutical companies behave irresponsibly. Instead, as with the case of Ortho-Evra and the debate around "pre-emption" (which would make the FDA's approval of pharmaceuticals sufficient for excluding pharmaceutical companies from any lawsuits causing harm), it appears that corporate interests are driving government regulation of medicine more and more.
Ok....maybe not the most provoking comment, but I do think this is central to the problem of the constant resurgence of vaccine fears, and the autism fear, in particular. I am more and more convinced that the vaccine suspicion comes from a displaced sort of distrust and anxiety that is hard for people to articulate. Children and the "future" of our nation are tropes that get invoked all the time, throughout history, as a sort of infallible position. How can you argue that parents shouldn't be concerned about their offspring? If you couch a more generalized anxiety about the state of the world in the context of the "future" (think the nuclear ads of the 70s (I think, I wasn't born or watching t.v. then) with kids picking flowers), it's pretty hard to counter resistance. I may need to come back and edit this -- early morning incoherence, I fear.


So, remind me that the media aren't perpetuating misogynist images of Clinton?

As Feministe put it so well, "oh for the love of God" -- or as I prefer, "give me a fucking break". There's this cover of the New Republic. One of the commentators wisely links to the Obama cover, from January, which strangely makes Obama look kind of like GWB, unfortunately. [One of the posters enlarged the image and commented on it on her own website. Sending a letter to the New Republic, regardless of whether you read/subscribe is not a bad idea.]

The comments below the Feministe posting are insightful. As one poster mentioned, if Obama were to take a stand on this crap, it would really up my respect for him. I stopped paying attention to the primary a while ago, though I have noticed Clinton has behaved unpleasantly, repeatedly. My main quibble with Obama is his lack of substance and the frightening obsessive behavior of his supporters. I realize in order for either candidate to continue to pursue his/her candidacy, he/she must maintain that his/her presidency will be superior, but as has been stated elsewhere, more eloquently, the end result of this race threatens to be total self-destruction of the Democratic party. Though some of my friends have threatened to vote for McCain if Clinton wins, I find that an equally disturbing zero-sum approach.

Engaging with technology

At the minority women's health organization, where I am working sporadically, they have 3 webpages. One of my tasks is to work on their newest page, by providing interesting content, including, awkwardly, "affirmations". The issue of my writing affirmations for minority women will be explored at some other time.

I've been mulling over their acquisition of 3 webpages. They have a myspace.com page [which is a social networking site that has over the years expanded to provide musicians with band webpages, and also seems to be a quick way for organizations to create a public presence on one of the very popular (the most? at least at one time) social networking sites], a ".com" website, with their organization's acronym, and newly, a ".org" website, also with their acronym as the main address. One afternoon, I listened as the main office worker spoke on the phone with a woman interested in learning more about the organization's work. Lacey**, the office worker, rattled off the websites for the organization, but she misspoke and mentioned the ".com" web address twice. It made me aware of the oddness of this ".org" and ".com" domain ownership. I think I get the distinction they are making in their minds -- as the ".org" seems to be more of a general informational website, with random postings of things they find interesting. The ".com" website offers more information about their programs and includes a calendar of events.

But it is clear, that Mary**, the organization's head, intends the ".org" to become comparable to the ".com," or even supplant it in its up-to-datedness -- leaving me a bit baffled about the purchasing of web-real estate. At the same time, their interaction with the internet as a major information source and as a dissemination method suggest to me that the internet is critical to them. The web-real estate grab seems to be about expansion and staking a presence. I'm just trying to figure out what virtual-presence acquisition means.

** -- names are pseudonyms.
I have not visited SecondLife (SL) yet, a virtual community that has captured media attention over the last few years since its inception. (I have had an intense debate with my friend J and her husband about the site more than a year ago -- J's husband had spent some time on the site, and he was an advocate, while both J and I were uneasy with the implications of the virtual world. I really ought to go visit the site, it just seems that it's rife with time-sucking.) A former classmate of mine has apparently just produced/directed (am unclear about his role) a documentary about SL. There is even an autistic woman who claims that SL is an important outlet for her to communicate her autistic world to others.

I found this article about using SL as a teaching tool vaguely interesting. I have memories of "chat room" classrooms. I found them deeply annoying and unproductive. But perhaps, like many things, it's just not the medium for me. I find the "simultaneous" conversations overwhelming. I don't instant message (IM), really, either. Email seems to fulfill adequately that gap in my life. I know that there is a intangible, yet distinctive [is that a contradiction?], difference between IM-ing and emailing, but I have no problem with emailing back immediately if someone has emailed me, and I'm in front of the computer. It seems like a more efficient way to go.

Back in February, P visited me and we went to see a film about the Prater -- a carnival in the center of Vienna. Near the end of the film (it's quite long, though very visually and narratatively (is that a word?) compelling), Elfriede Jelinek, a novelist, describes the sensations of the carnival. LA Weekly references Jelinek's monologue as detailing the "strange power riding on machines designed only for their pleasure," which sounds very much like the internet and its pleasures. It made me think about how the quest for amusement in mechanical objects (and inhuman/non-human phenomena) may have been supplanted, in some ways, by the internet. This is an under-developed thought, as I really would need to see the film again to better articulate it. But it is interesting to think about how once these pleasures occurred in a public, communal forum such as the carnival, shared immediately and sought after with others, and now they occur in the ether, in abstracted digital medium.

[Though perhaps it is I who lacks imagination, maybe the carnival ride is never about shared experience, but a form of exhibitionism? Not a shared titillation but a public display or flaunting at a time when such public acts were especially outrageous? Have carnivals lost their cache because we no longer find the public forum for screaming and being frightened while enjoying it a necessary outlet?]