Marabou storks and autism

Marabou stork nightmares is a terrifying book by Irvine Welsh. It tells the story of Roy Strang, who has constructed a fantasy world around Marabou storks, in order to protect himself from the horror of the appalling things he has done. In the end, it isn’t enough and his past catches up with him. The woman he raped finds him, and then castrates and murders him.

Earlier today, I was chatting to an American friend of mine, S, whom I know through online gaming. I’ve known her for nearly eight years. In that time, S fell in love with a Swede, moved to live with him there and has had a son. She loves her boy, with all the passion and feeling that really only a mother can. That’s plain to see. Her son has severe autism and learning difficulties. He suffers from several allergies, including wheat and dairy. And, because S knows and loves her son, she can pinpoint the precise day that he went from being an “ordinary” boy to the child he is today.

It’s the day that he went to get his vaccinations.

Now, I’m aware that the finest scientific minds in the country, if not the world, have tested the vaccines-autism link and have been unable to find anything. I respect the scientific method. However, I also respect S’s opinion. Reconciling the two isn’t easy. However, the scientific method at its best can only say “we have currently discovered no evidence that there is a link between vaccination and autism”. Empiricism will always be susceptible to as-yet-unperceived causal links that, because we don’t know about them, we simply don’t think to test. We may not even know how to test them.

So you must believe me when I say that there is little that makes me angrier than people glibly claiming that S is in any way irrational or is undertaking quackery when she expresses her view that it’s at least reasonable to suspect the vaccinations as a contributory factor. You have lost your basic humanity if you argue this way. Skepticism doesn’t permit you to abandon your responsibilities towards other people. And if I catch a skeptic abusing S or any other grieving mother, you will find your scientific method protecting you about as much as the marabou storks saved Roy Strang. There’s a lot more to life than science, and that wider world demands that you treat your fellow, irrational unscientific brothers and sisters with a little basic respect.

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