Hard News by Russell Brown


I had a great Wire show on the b yesterday. I interviewed Scott Ryan, the Australian writer-producer-director-star of a cool little mockumentary called The Magician, in which a Melbourne hitman is tracked by his mate with a camera. It's the reality show you could never actually make.

Ryan - who plays a colourful, mildly psychotic enforcer in his movie - is actually quite a shy little chap who has never been out of Australia before. His next movie will be either a romantic comedy or a zombie flick. The interview is here as an MP3 file, and The Magician is on as part of the Incredible Film Festival at the Village cinemas at 9pm on Friday.

And then I interviewed [25-min MP3 file] the producer-director of The Future of Food, Deborah Koons Garcia. She's the widow of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, and a nice lady.

The film is a work of anti-GE advocacy, and I could tell by looking at the film's website that I'd be taking issue with her on a number of points and agreeing on others. But I didn't expect her to suggest that the rise in autism diagnoses might be being linked to GE foods. I let that one slide with the intention of coming back to it, but before I could, she raised the thimerosal-in-vaccines-causes-autism claim. Because my kids are mildly autistic, I am sensitive about this: like, why can't these people go away and find another neurological disorder to play with?

It turned out that she didn't really know what she was talking about on the thimerosal issue, but she said she'd been talking to a women at Harvard who was investigating the link. I think she may have meant Professor Marie McCormick, who actually stated in 2001 that there was no evidence for a link between thimerosal (ethyl mercury) and autism - or indeed ADD - but that it was "medically plausible" that thimerosal could cause neurological damage. (She recommended that if a thimerosal-preserved vaccine was the only one available to ward off, say, the flu, children should have the vaccine.)

Well, yes. But the brains of victims of mercury poisoning look completely different to the brains of autistics. This isn't to say that, even given the tiny amounts present in some vaccines (but in no child vaccines in New Zealand), it wouldn't be a good idea to use something other than thimerosal. Canada removed thimerosal from vaccines 6-8 years ago - ample time for autism diagnoses to plummet. They didn't. On the other hand, thimerosal has been present in vaccines since the 1930s, decades before the "autism epidemic" manifested.

The good science points quite clearly to the fact that autism has a genetic basis. This hasn't stopped some truly fucking awful science being carried to to try and prove something else. Autism Diva dealt to one study recently. There's also a new WebMD article on the controversy, which also raises - quite fairly - the question of whether this is actually any autism epidemic at all and offers an update from Harvard's Marie McCormick: " We had five epidemiologic studies. None were perfect. But all pointed in the same direction of no association [with autism]."

I enjoyed talking to Deborah Koons, and I don't doubt her sincerity. But I have to wonder how many other times she has idly speculated about causes of autism to people who might think she was well-informed on the issue.

PS: If you're in an MP3 mood, there's also Noelle McCarthy's interview with Roseanne Liang.