Anna Merlan, 06/20/2019, JEZEBEL
It seemed virtually inevitable that I would be thrown out of AutismOne, a yearly conference that has been accused of being a hive of anti-vaccine sentiments, bad science, scaremongering and worthless products. The conference has, after all, ejected several science bloggers who have previously attended, as well as a Chicago Tribune journalist, a filmmaker, and a representative from the California Department of Public Health. Also, I did not have a press pass.
I will spare you the suspense: I was thrown out of AutismOne. Specifically, I was politely taken out of a lecture by an ex-police officer working security, stripped of my attendee badge, and accused, wrongly and at some length, of working with a journalist for NBC. They also gave me my money back.
“We don’t want you to do a hacked-up job,” explained the ex-police officer, guiding me hastily towards the exit.
In truth, and this has been the case for a long time, AutismOne doesn’t want journalists to do any job at all. It isn’t like most scientific conferences—designed to publicize new information—but a place for people in an often secretive world to catch up with one another. There’s a generalized distrust of the media from most of the speakers and many of the attendees, a conviction that the press can never be trusted to accurately report on vaccines and their purported connection to autism and other disorders.
There’s a reason for that: the connection between vaccines and autism is one that doesn’t actually exist. Despite its claim to be a scientific conference, for decades, it’s been a place where baseless medical treatments are promoted and discredited “experts” are given a warm welcome.
Maybe that’s why I felt a healthy dose of déjà vu. In my brief time at the conference—and while watching hours of livestream videos after I was asked to leave—I encountered many of the same fringe characters and claims I’ve seen at other conspiratorially-inclined conferences around the country.
PHOTO CREDIT: By CDC Global – Measles is no joke, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76594880