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Commentary

Science is not a democracy
Gilbert L. Ross, M.D., Washington Times, 6-15-07

Ross argues that the court system is the last place we should look to test claims that childhood autism is caused by vaccines containing thimerosal—a purported link that has generated a tidal wave of litigation but which has been debunked by numerous scientific studies in recent years.

Scientists years ago dismissed the alleged causal link between childhood vaccinations and autism. But a large and vocal group of advocates are nonetheless convinced there is a cause–and–effect relationship. For them and their lawyers, science is irrelevant. Their last hope for vindication: a court of law that they hope might establish—legally, not scientifically—that vaccines do indeed pose a risk of autism and other ailments.

The science demonstrating the lack of a link between children's vaccines and autism has been validated, over and over again, during the last decade. Studies confirm that autism is no more common among children who received vaccinations than among those who did not. Further, the incidence of autism has continued to rise despite elimination of mercury from vaccines.

Yet this month, despite these facts and reams of other data, the first of thousands of legal cases on this same subject began in a special "vaccine court"—actually the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. One leading advocate of a vaccine–autism link was quoted as saying these proceedings "will mark the first time ever that evidence of autistic harm [sic] from childhood vaccines is examined and cross–examined in a court of law."

Perhaps so. I find it unsettling that the safety of vaccines must be put on trial before three "special masters" in a vaccine court. What the parents of the autistic children, plaintiffs in the 4,800–plus pending cases, cannot realize (though certainly their lawyers do) is that the truth about scientific and medical facts is not, ultimately, something that can be decided either by the whims of judges or the will of the masses.



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