Many people continue to doubt the evidence for climate change, evolution, and vaccine safety, even though the scientific consensus on these issues is rock solid. Among the most troubling evidence-resistant theories is the long-debunked yet persistent myth that vaccines cause autism—a completely unfounded belief–leading to general doubts about vaccine safety, with dangerous public health consequences.
The scientists estimate that environmental factors common to twins explains 55% of susceptibility to autism, whereas genetics accounts for only 37%.
Learn more about the origins of the debate over vaccines and autism and what the current theories are from author of The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin, at tonight's Down to a Science.
Concerned by the increase in the number of children who are starting kindergarten without all their vaccines, public health officials in the Bay Area will look into the possibility of tightening the system that allows parents to opt out from mandatory immunizations.
February was a big month in the debate about the possible role of vaccines in causing autism, a subject we covered in last year's TV story, Autism: Searching for Causes and several blog posts. The claim-–that there might be a link between the immunizations children receive and the onset of autism–-has recently taken some hard hits.
It's challenging to report on an illness such as autism, which scientists and doctors are only beginning to understand (the disease was described in the 1940s) and over which there is so much debate. There is even disagreement around the question of whether or not there has been a real increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism in California.
In California today, 37,000 people, mostly children, receive treatment for the most severe form of autism. This is a sevenfold increase from 15 years ago, prompting officials to call the situation a public health crisis. Northern California autism researchers are studying everything from saliva samples to carpet dust in hopes of cracking the mystery.