“Kaiser to look for autism’s causes in large-scale study,” read a headline in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Its subtitle could have read: “And it won’t be vaccines.”
Health reporter Victoria Colliver can’t be faulted for any factual errors in this story about what’s believed to be “the largest genetic research project ever conducted by a health organization into the causes of autism, gathering biological and other health information from 5,000 Northern California families who have a child with the developmental disorder.”
Her errors are those of omission — Colliver failed to ask basic Journalism 101 questions about Kaiser Permanente’s “hope a study of this size will reveal the root causes” behind autism, which, as she notes, possibly “results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors.”
Could one of those environmental factors to be examined in this unusually large study be vaccinations, as top scientists inside and outside governments have speculated? Colliver didn’t ask, or if she did, she didn’t bother to let her readers in on the answer, even though San Francisco and especially upscale Marin County have one of the highest rates of vaccine refusals in the US. Did Colliver ask how credible the results of this study would be, if it will in fact ignore numerous reports from autistic parents, as well as the views of the top scientists? Her article is silent on this.
But then Colliver didn’t need to ask if the Kaiser study would treat vaccines with any seriousness. The three-year study, called the Autism Family Research Bank, is funded by a $4.6 million grant from Simons Foundation, a charity that vehemently rejects any possibility that vaccines cause autism. As Simons’ website makes clear, although little is known about the causes of autism, one thing is “very clear. Vaccines do NOT cause autism,” states Dr. Wendy Chung, the director of clinical research at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.
Simons Foundation, like many others in the autism field, does not fund vaccine research, almost as a point of pride. The Kaiser study, which will analyze the health records of Kaiser members to obtain comprehensive medical information on autistic children and their parents, can thus be expected to avoid incorporating into the design of the study information that would shed light on what deleterious role, if any, vaccines might play.
Did Colliver ask what the drawbacks would have been in analyzing vaccinations along with all the other drugs the children might have been prescribed, since Kaiser’s medical records would know what vaccine each child received, and when? If she did, she didn’t like the answer, or the people she interviewed didn’t like the question, because Colliver sheds no light here, not even as to why vaccines shouldn’t be a focus of the study.
The bottom line: In an article about a major study into the causes of autism, Colliver wrote not one word about the potential role of vaccines, a controversy that is top of mind for every one of her readers.
Health reporter Victoria Colliver gets one Band-Aid for keeping her readers in the dark, but also some credit for her reference to the role environmental causes might play. That reference at least opens the door a smidgen to the need for open-minded scientific scrutiny, something the Kaiser study is unlikely to provide. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @vcolliver