Journal “Nature” calls ASF a “Voice for Science”

The e-mail that ended one career for Alison Singer, but started another, arrived as she was cooking dinner for her daughters one evening in January 2009. Singer was preoccupied. At a committee meeting she was due to attend in Washington DC the next day, she and others were set to vote on a plan that would direct much of the United States’ spending on autism research for the next year.

Singer, who had her laptop perched on the kitchen counter, immediately noticed the e-mail from another committee member — a mother who was convinced that vaccines had caused her son’s autism. The message proposed last-minute language for inclusion in the plan, endorsing more research into whether vaccines can trigger the disorder of communication and movement. Singer knew immediately that this would cause her serious difficulties. Having read the literature and talked to numerous scientists, she was convinced that no studies supported a link between autism and vaccines. But she was also the top communications executive at Autism Speaks in New York, autism’s most prominent research and advocacy group. The organization supports vaccine-related research, and Singer knew that her bosses would expect her to vote for more studies of vaccines as a possible cause of the condition.

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