Would you encourage people to get every vaccination offered by their doctors?
If people are worried about vaccinations, I’d encourage them to talk about their concerns with their children’s pediatricians. I certainly wouldn’t make recommendations to individuals about what they should or shouldn’t do; I do think these are decisions that should be made in consultation with doctors.
What's your verdict on the news media regarding this issue: Were they duped? Did they drop the ball in attempt for simple answers?
I think the news media’s coverage was very deficient in this issue. Initially, a lot of the coverage seemed to be based on a misapprehension that objectivity is the same thing as presenting every controversy or debate as if both sides are equally legitimate. That’s obviously not true.
What do you think of Michael Specters' book, Denialism, (I interviewed him here) and his theory that the believed vaccine myth is part of something bigger, namely people choosing to believe emotion rather than scientific fact?
That’s one of the central themes in my book. A lot of my initial thinking in this regard was sparked by Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide, which I think is an excellent discussion of the reasons we make what we think are rational decisions based on emotion or intuition.
Do you think some people's continued belief in this vaccine-autism link is due partly to us living in a culture of fear where some long for simple explanations — i.e., avoid vaccine, avoid autism — in a more complicated world?
I’m not sure it’s so much as people longing for simple answers; when it comes to autism, at least, there aren’t any satisfying answers. Autism is something about which we as a society are much more aware of than we were, say, 20 years ago — and yet we still don’t know a lot about its precise etiology, the most effective early interventions, etc. As long as that’s the case, I think there’ll be theories about the causes of autism that continue to have adherents regardless of the evidence.
Do you think those who most need to read this book — those believing in such a link — are going to? Or are they your target audience? Put another way, who IS your target audience with this book?
I hope the book is of interest to anyone curious about why we think the things we do, how we interpret the information we receive, the foundation of scientific knowledge, the history of vaccines — really anyone interested in reading non-fiction. One of the reasons I didn’t put the words “autism” or “vaccines” in the title is that it’s a book about much larger themes that uses this specific debate as a narrative framework.