Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Arthur Caplan's Rhetorical Plague

When I started reading this article on MSNBC.com, I saw the byline of a respected bioethics contributor and thought that I would find a well-written article detailing Andrew Wakefield's many ethical shortcomings. As I expected, the article focused on the widespread fear of vaccines caused in large part by Wakefield's false claims, as well as the "immeasurable harm" done to children by maladies that could have been prevented.

I also found something that I was not expecting to find from an author who certainly should have known better: Language characterizing autism in melodramatic and grossly inaccurate terms such as "dread disease," "epidemic," and "plague."

Given the fact that Arthur Caplan previously has written articles cautioning against eugenics and pointing out the contributions of autistic people to society, I do not interpret this language to mean that he literally views our existence as a plague or that he has an actual dread of us. Rather, I think that he might have been using the language in a rhetorical fashion to illustrate the extent of the parents' fears. That would have been fine if he had put it into the proper context, such as by stating that the exaggerated media coverage of autism caused many parents to think in such terms. But instead, he used broad, unqualified language that gave the misleading impression he was describing facts.

In recent years, as Caplan ought to know, immeasurable harm has been done to autistic people by careless journalism that encourages the public to dread us like the plague. Autistic children are being excluded from schools or put into segregated classrooms in ever-increasing numbers. Job applicants and employees often face discrimination in the workplace because they look autistic. Bullying and abuse are rampant, while the victims get the blame for not being sufficiently normal to make friends with their tormentors.

A correction of the article and a prompt apology to the autistic community are needed. Arthur Caplan can be contacted at the following address:




  • I'd suggest this change:

    "And the desire to find some reason, any reason, for what is perceived as the "plague of autism" should not blind us to the fact that the evidence clearly shows that vaccination is not the culprit.

    (Added four words, and quotation marks.)

    By Blogger Clay, at 4:56 PM  

  • I just told him he was stupid. Politely.

    By Blogger Socrates, at 5:52 PM  

  • ABFH

    Will you read my posts and blogs and give your opinions if you wish?





    Check out my posts and my new blog if you wish.

    By Blogger Cube Angel, at 9:17 PM  

  • You can comment on the article.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 9:25 AM  

  • Neurodiversity activists are not the only people to criticise Professor Caplan. I've heard an interesting bit of criticism of Prof Caplan's views on organ donation on Australian public-funded ABC Radio National, on the Counterpoint program broadcast on March 29th 2010.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 1:54 AM  

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