Dalrymple discusses Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, by Paul A. Offit (Columbia University Press, 328 pp., $24.95).
For some reason, the immunization of children has always aroused opposition of almost religious fervor. For example, a mass movement led resistance to smallpox vaccination in Britain for 70 years and was supported by intellectuals of the stature of George Bernard Shaw, who never believed in the germ theory of disease and thought that Pasteur and Lister were charlatans. Politicians have won or lost elections on their attitude to vaccination. And the extensive literature produced by the antivaccination movement attributed virtually every human ill, from general failure to thrive to the recrudescence of leprosy, to the practice. The movement also imputed the worst possible motives to vaccinators, including Edward Jenner himself, the developer of the smallpox vaccine.