Genetics is the darling of the biomedical research industry. For diseases ranging from cancer to skin disorders, investigators have been busily at work for decades trying to identify the conditions’ underlying genetic causes. However, these same investigators—and the reporters who communicate their findings to the public—are often strangely incurious about the role of environmental toxins as triggers of disease. A story about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) published in October 2017 by the news website Vox furnishes an example of this genetics-as-the-explanation-for-everything perspective. Vox senior health correspondent Julia Belluz (a self-described “evidence enthusiast”) interviewed a small sample of five reportedly “cutting-edge” autism researchers, all of whom focus on autism genetics. Belluz is willing to entertain the idea that environmental factors such as “air pollution, pesticides, antidepressants and viruses” may contribute to autism, but she categorically dismisses the possibility of any association between ASD and the dozen or so vaccines (containing 16 distinct antigens) currently included in the childhood vaccine schedule in the U.S. Belluz states, “Vaccines are the wrong explanation for autism, and we should let the idea go.” This attitude is frankly disingenuous (or worse), given what we know about the neurotoxicity of vaccine ingredients such as aluminum and the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosal (still used in flu shots).

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