Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting Back to Nature

It's good to get away from everything now and then. An opportunity to recharge, relax and forget about all of those things that cause stress. What better than to get out in nature for a bit to take in fresher air free, free from the cloistering atmosphere of the city? Enjoy the forests and birds. See the stars you can't see past the glow of civilization.

That's what I did this past week, which, for those paying attention, explains my recent absence from cyberspace. Five days of camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with no computer at hand and no way for work to contact me was simply amazing. I was able to experience a number of different things that no amount of photography or video can portray adequately, and even words fail to fully encompass.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Have No Voice

It's been a while since I've written about something I've read over at the Age of Autism blog. Frankly, I haven't frequented it nearly as much lately, partly because they have steadily drifted more and more into the fringe, with posts that simply boggle the mind. I will readily admit that I do admire the passion that they bring to the table, but that is no justification for the vitriol, misinformation and outright quackery they frequently promote. What drew me over there this morning was learning that an autistic adult, writing under the 'nym Autistic Lurker, had made some comments there and, as is usual with the AoA crowd, getting piled on, criticised and accused of not being who they said they were. This was on a post by Dan "I can't find the Amish autists" Olmstead titled The IACC (I Am Completely Clueless) Meets Again . The post basically amounts to a diatribe about how the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is a horrible bureaucracy (granted) that is wasting its time and money following scientific evidence rather than, as all the folks at AoA just know is true, doing research proving that vaccines did it.

If you're interested in a long, long wall of text that amounts to, "Why won't you do what a very small portion of the autism community wants you to do!?", click on the link above and take a gander. I'm not going to go into detail about it. Rather, I'm going to talk about one of the comments on the post. It's a comment that, when I read it, I was, quite literally, stunned. For several moments, I could do nothing but stare at my monitor. This was followed in quick succession by feelings of disbelief, disgust and outrage. The comment encapsulates the derogatory view that, it seems, many in the AoA echo chamber have of disabilities in general and autism in particular.

Praying, in Vain, for Exemption

In polite conversation, especially with strangers, there are some topics that you should just avoid. Anything related to politics or religion can, unless you really know your audience, produce rather, shall we say, heated disagreements. Okay, let's be real. When politics and religion come up, people can get vehemently argumentative. There tends to be such a strong personal investment in political and religious beliefs that to question the belief is seen as somehow questioning or even denigrating the individual. From personal experience, it's hard to avoid that even when sticking to the facts and avoiding personal opinion. So people tend to steer clear of such conversation topics in order to play nice, keep the peace and avoid jeopardizing friendships.

Vaccines have become a topic similar to politics and religion. Anytime I meet someone new and the subject arises (and even with good friends, on occasion), there's always this sense of trepidation. Has the person I'm talking to read something on the interwebz that they found convincing enough to distrust vaccines? How personally invested are they? If they've been fooled by anti-vaccine propaganda (which, admittedly, can be quite convincing to someone who has not been following things for a while), what arguments will they use to justify their beliefs? The rationalizations will very likely draw politics or religion (or both) into the mix, and given how intertwined are personal identity and political/religious beliefs, sticking solely to facts and reason aren't likely to sway the person. In such cases, fighting fire with fire, so to speak, might work, but it's a risky proposition, especially when using religious arguments.

The problem is that once you start bringing religion into an argument dealing with non-religious policies and topics, you get bad religion and bad policy. Take, for instance, a religiously-based list of anti-vaccine arguments [EDIT 8/12/14: updated link to a cached version of the page, as the original appears to have been taken down] recently forwarded to me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anthrax - Not Just a Thrash Metal Band

The other day, I got into a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter with some folks that question vaccines. I know, I know. Big surprise! One of those people was comedian Rob Schneider, who has recently come out as a vocal critic of California bill AB 2109, which would require parents to get informed about vaccines before they could get a personal belief exemption. Schneider chimed in with a rather bone-headed comment to me:

Or, "I probably didn't think things through, but I'm going to ask anyway."

This isn't a comment that really surprised me or threw me for a loop. I mean, I wrote about it back in November 2010 and reposted the article a little over a year later, since I noticed the argument being brought up yet again. Schneider's comment really just illustrates that he either has not really thought the question through, doesn't understand the subject, cares little to none for people around him or some combination of the above. Suffice it to say, there are very good reasons to be concerned about those who do not vaccinate.

But that's not what this post is about. Rather, it's in answer to a question asked by another person who, presumably, follows Mr. Schneider and saw my exchange with him. This person simply wondered what I thought about complications from the anthrax vaccine. This caught me off guard. I suspected there was probably a bit more behind what appeared to be a very simple question. And sure enough, there was. It wasn't just complications in general, but specifically a possible connection between the vaccine and autoimmune disorders, fatigue and hypersomnia. I had to admit that I didn't know much about anthrax vaccine, but I promised I'd look into it.

And so, here we find ourselves.