Autism: San Francisco Chronicle’s errors of omission

“Kaiser to look for autism’s causes in large-scale study,” read a headline in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Its subtitle could have read: “And it won’t be vaccines.”


Health reporter Victoria Colliver can’t be faulted for any factual errors in this story about what’s believed to be “the largest genetic research project ever conducted by a health organization into the causes of autism, gathering biological and other health information from 5,000 Northern California families who have a child with the developmental disorder.”

Her errors are those of omission — Colliver failed to ask basic Journalism 101 questions about Kaiser Permanente’s “hope a study of this size will reveal the root causes” behind autism, which, as she notes, possibly “results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors.”

Could one of those environmental factors to be examined in this unusually large study be vaccinations, as top scientists inside and outside governments have speculated? Colliver didn’t ask, or if she did, she didn’t bother to let her readers in on the answer, even though San Francisco and especially upscale Marin County have one of the highest rates of vaccine refusals in the US. Did Colliver ask how credible the results of this study would be, if it will in fact ignore numerous reports from autistic parents, as well as the views of the top scientists? Her article is silent on this.

But then Colliver didn’t need to ask if the Kaiser study would treat vaccines with any seriousness. The three-year study, called the Autism Family Research Bank, is funded by a $4.6 million grant from Simons Foundation, a charity that vehemently rejects any possibility that vaccines cause autism. As Simons’ website makes clear, although little is known about the causes of autism, one thing is “very clear. Vaccines do NOT cause autism,” states Dr. Wendy Chung, the director of clinical research at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.

Simons Foundation, like many others in the autism field, does not fund vaccine research, almost as a point of pride. The Kaiser study, which will analyze the health records of Kaiser members to obtain comprehensive medical information on autistic children and their parents, can thus be expected to avoid incorporating into the design of the study information that would shed light on what deleterious role, if any, vaccines might play.

Did Colliver ask what the drawbacks would have been in analyzing vaccinations along with all the other drugs the children might have been prescribed, since Kaiser’s medical records would know what vaccine each child received, and when? If she did, she didn’t like the answer, or the people she interviewed didn’t like the question, because Colliver sheds no light here, not even as to why vaccines shouldn’t be a focus of the study.

The bottom line: In an article about a major study into the causes of autism, Colliver wrote not one word about the potential role of vaccines, a controversy that is top of mind for every one of her readers.

Our rating

Health reporter Victoria Colliver gets one Band-Aid for keeping her readers in the dark, but also some credit for her reference to the role environmental causes might play. That reference at least opens the door a smidgen to the need for open-minded scientific scrutiny, something the Kaiser study is unlikely to provide. Email: Twitter: @vcolliver



  1. johndstone says:

    Ah, the permanently naked emperor!

    It is asking precisely the wrong question. The genetic studies get ever bigger just because they don’t find anything and they end up crunching ever more tenuous data. But the fundamental question is – if there is environmental harm – what is doing the harming. According to any normal medical practice this would be the first question rather than working out which genes are susceptible and blaming them.

    If the cart is pulling the horse precisely how far will we get?


  2. Journalists need to grow a pair for god sakes. The whole blackout around vaccines is Kafkaesque


  3. Amazing how these researchers know the outcome of the research before they start – Its Not Vaccines. This kind of research gives science a bad name.


  4. The latest scandal on and as to the mainstream research regarding causation of autism. Even though they are claiming to genetic/environmental links in their larger scale study, the vaccines and autism connection will not be, and will be refused to be explored (as in off the table)! And THIS is the corruption of the science, and the studies they claim to?

    Where are the physiologically safety studies regarding the current vaccine schedule? Where are the safety studies regarding giving a small child from 5 to up to 9 vaccines in a single day and office visit? That as well when now more and more vaccines are being combined in one single vaccine shot and dose. Where are the studies regarding the safety of vaccine aluminum adjuvants? Where are the studies in regard to the risk of known vaccine contamination issues? Those studies do not exist; so why are they yet refusing to look at the vaccine issues in this articles study?


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