Monday, November 23, 2009

Bruce Springstein Speaks for Autism Speaks: Who Speaks for Science?


Autism rocks.

Bruce Springstein performed for the Fifth Annual Autism Speaks concert on November 17th at none other than Carnegie Hall.   So did Jerry Seinfeld.  No less than David Gregory of NBC News' Meet the Press emceed the event. 

If you're impressed now, take a look at the committee for the fundraiser:

Jamie Foxx, Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, Conan O'Brien, Seth Rogen, Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Glenn Close, Celine Dion, Will Ferrell, Edie Falco, Troy Aikman, and Harry Smith.

And some of the "honorary co-chairs":

Sir Elton John, Senator Al Franken, Donald and Melania Trump, Ambassador Nassir Abdul Aziz al Nasser and Mrs. Muna Rihani Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the United Nations.

Perhaps this comes as no surprise given the resumes of the couple who founded Autism Speaks in just 2005:
...Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation and RAND Corporation. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and is also Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater (from the media page at AutismSpeaks.org).
Who doesn't want to solve the mysteries of autism?  Find the cures, the causes, the prevention and treatments? 
 
But this is an organization still tied to the false notion that childhood vaccines play a role in autism.  Oh, come on, look at all the good Autism Speaks has done.  The $131 million raised for research.  Can't we support the other aims of the autism organization without agreeing about that one issue? 
 
Oh, that one little false belief....
 
With significant consequences.  Parents refusing to vaccinate their children against not only miserable diseases but also the H1N1 flu.  I'd argue it's also rallied an increasing distrust of health authorities and mainstream science.  Just ask Michael Specter whose new book, Denialism, documents this trend. 
 
It was just back in February that Alison Singer, a mother of a daughter with autism and also an executive vice president at Autism Speaks renounced the vaccine hypotheses and resigned from the organization as I reported on this blog.  Singer stressed the media's role in perpetuating the vaccine link in an interview with Newsweek's Claudia Kalb:
I think the media has to start to change. In our culture, we love celebrities. We need to listen to experts and not actresses. The media culture, feeling compelled to give both sides of an argument has lent a legitimacy to the anti-vaccine movement that is very over-weighted. They're a small number of people with very loud voices. The vast majority of parents of children with autism are very supportive of the importance of vaccines. I've had hundreds of emails in last 24 hours from parents supporting me. The media need to show both sides to make it look like both sides are equal. One side is backed by evidence, one side is not.

Ah.  The conflict of media and science.  The problems associated with trying to portray both sides of the story.  When one is just plain wrong. 

But isn't just the media.  Singer points the finger at the experts, including scientists:
I think the government needs to be more vocal and I think scientists have to be more vocal. Scientists are an interesting group. They are very reluctant to speak to the media. There needs to be change in that culture. Scientists need to be more comfortable speaking out about the good science being done. I think when we see the scientists speaking out more, we will see a change.

I think we need this woman to take on more than just autism.  How about all the parenting issues where we see a disconnect between the media and the science?  Somehow I just can't see Bruce taking the stage to renouce the exaggeration of breastfeeding.  Or the relative safety of BPA.  What if we had a Hollywood and Wall Street chorus singing and shouting their respect for the scientific process?  For the glory of what we've already learned and will continue to learn from those under-paid and under-funded (under-appreciated?) biologists, neurologists, psychologists and the like toiling in the dark basement labs or in the real world, in homes, psychiatric institutions, hospitals, and schools.

Only thing is, we can't use the word "science" in the title.  Can anyone come up with a catchy name for this cause?   Which celebs could we recruit?  Any science-friendly politicians?  Any actors who were premed before finding the stage?  Doesn't Reese Witherspoon have doctors in her family?  Or is it the blonde girl from Heroes?

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