Early in Dr. Paul A. Offit's new book, "Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure," he describes a threatening letter he received from a man in Seattle. "I will hang you by you neck until you are dead!" it read. The FBI deemed the threat credible, assigning Offit a protective officer who, for the next few months, followed him "to and from lunch, a gun hanging at his side." He then recalls a suspicious phone call from a man who recited the names of Offit's two children and where they went to school: "His implication was clear. He knew where my children went to school. The he hung up." These days, the hospital he works in regularly screens his mail for suspicious packages.
Such stories usually come from pro-choice physicians on the front lines of the abortion debate. But Offit is no obstetrician. Rather, he is a baby doctor -- the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The threats against him and his family have come not from antiabortion advocates, but rather from anti-vaccine crusaders who believe that vaccines cause autism. Offit, it turns out, has been targeted by them because he helped to develop a vaccine that prevents rotavirus, a serious gastrointestinal infection in children, and because he has been staunchly pro-vaccine in a time when there are many doubts about their safety.
Monday, 22 September 2008