Special Education

Autism Researcher Resigns From Position with Advocacy Organization

By Christina A. Samuels — July 01, 2009 1 min read

Dr. Eric London, who served on the scientific-affairs committee of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, announced yesterday he plans to resign from that position because of the organization’s stance on vaccines as a possible cause of autism.

London was a co-founder of the National Alliance for Autism Research, which merged with Autism Speaks in 2006. In his resignation letter, London said he was stepping away from the New York-based Autism Speaks because it continues to push for research into an autism-vaccine link, and that his continued participation would lend support to an organization “whose scientific agenda and positions I can no longer ethically support.”

The arguments which Dr. Dawson and others assert—that the parents need even further assurances and there might be rare cases of “biologically plausible” vaccine involvement—are misleading and disingenuous. Through its website and other communications, Autism Speaks has been influential and contributory in encouraging parents’ doubts. By preferentially investing and advocating for the use of limited financial resources on the “biological plausibility” argument, the organization is adversely impacting the advancement of autism research.

The “Dr. Dawson” London refers to above is Dr. Geraldine Dawson, the chief science officer for Autism Speaks.

Parents and some scientists assert that the rise in autism identification in recent years is connected either to a mercury-derived preservative in vaccines, or certain types of vaccine, like the one for measles, mumps, and rubella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta say there are no proven links between preservatives, measles vaccines, and autism, though cases are clearly on the rise.

This is the second major defection from Autism Speaks, which has grown to become a major player in autism advocacy. Alison Tepper Singer announced in January that she also was leaving the organization for the same reasons London cites—the organization’s inappropriate, in her opinion, focus on vaccines as a cause of autism.

Tepper has created her own advocacy group, the Autism Science Foundation. London serves on the ASF’s scientific advisory board.

Edited 1:43 p.m. I contacted Autism Speaks for a statement and got this response:

Autism Speaks is currently pursuing a broad program of research, including studies on both genetic and environmental risk factors and the development of new treatments. We believe that our broad agenda will ultimately provide answers to the cause and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. We wish Dr. London well in his new endeavor.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.