The news: It's 2014, and we're still arguing over whether vaccines cause autism — despite yet another anti-vaccine conspiracy theory falling apart due to lack of evidence.
On Wednesday, the journal Translational Neurodegeneration published an article by biochemical engineer Brian Hooker, alleging a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The article was a reexamination of a 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which disproved the existence of such a link. But this time, Hooker said he found statistical evidence that black boys under the age of 2 were more likely to develop autism after receiving the MMR vaccine — and he had a whistleblower to back up his claims that the CDC staged a cover-up.
"The CDC knew about the relationship between the age of the first MMR vaccine and autism incidence in African-American boys as early as 2003, but chose to cover it up," Hooker said in a statement.
Not so fast: Unfortunately for Hooker, it looks like he may have spoken too soon. Within a day of publishing the article, Translational Neurodegeneration retracted it due to "serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions."
And the so-called whistleblower, revealed to be CDC scientist William Thompson, explained that while he had concerns over CDC's transparency and shared its data with Hooker, his thoughts were taken out of context and published without his permission.
"I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives," Thompson said in a statement to CNN. "I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race."
Why are we still having this conversation? Despite there being no scientific evidence to the claim that vaccination leads to autism, the myth has persisted for years.
While new studies suggest that autism may actually start in utero, scientists still don't know the definitive cause for the disorder, which allows fear-motivated smear campaigns against inoculations to take hold. And they are effective: With the help of high-profile advocates such as Jenny McCarthy, the anti-vaccination movement has contributed to the return of dangerous, entirely preventable diseases that were previously considered eradicated in the U.S.:
The CDC is concerned. "Vaccines protect the health of children in the United States so well that most parents today have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences of diseases now stopped by vaccines," the agency said in a statement on its website. "However, our 2014 measles count is the highest number since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. We do not want to lose any opportunity to protect all of our children when we have the means to do so."
There is an epidemic in America indeed — one of fear, paranoia and misinformation.