Brandon Wall of the Chicago Sun-Times dug up the full video of that Barack Obama campaign appearance in Pennsylvania in 2008, and it’s fascinating to see the complete context of his remarks about autism and vaccines — because it makes it extremely clear that he was not saying the “science was inconclusive” about a link between autism and vaccines, but that the “science was inconclusive” on the causes of autism.
I’ve transcribed the full answer Obama gave to the audience so you can see, in context, that his entire point was about more research being needed into what causes autism, so that special education funding could be increased where it was truly necessary.
This settles the matter, as far as I’m concerned. The media sites that tried to use this as “balance” for the Republicans who’ve been spewing anti-vaccination nonsense were simply wrong.
I’ve cued up the video to start at the section in question.
Obama: Right there.
Questioner: Actually, this is to go along with the education, um, and you being on the Daily Show tonight.
Obama: That’s very important, yes.
Questioner: Well, Jon Stewart hosted a Night of Too Many Comedians and the focus was autism. With an increase in autism, I myself suffer from dyslexia, students with disabilities. When I was in high school my high school didn’t want to send me to an alternative school where I could learn. They told me I was old enough to drop out, because they didn’t want to lose that money from the state. How are you going to fund special needs students?
Obama: Well, my goal is going to be to fully fund special education. We’ve never met that funding goal. The federal government promised, when the IDEA was first passed, special education mandate was first passed, that it would get 40% of, the federal government would fund 40% of total special ed funding. It’s never gone above 18%. So then local school districts end up being severely burdened by the whole thing. And, you know, I think that we’ve gotta give local communities more help, and the federal government’s gotta take a role in providing more help.
We’ve also gotta recognize that if we diagnose, if we do a better job diagnosing kids early, then we can save them a lot of grief, and improve outcomes a lot more quickly. And so, setting up early screening that’s more effective than it is right now, I think is gonna be really important.
The final issue, you mentioned autism, that’s an area, that’s an example where our investment in basic research and basic science has to drastically increase. I was mentioning earlier investments in infrastructure, one of the things I left out was investment in basic science and technology. I mentioned in terms of energy, but the same is true on, you know, the biotech, and the genome sciences… huge opportunities for us to figure out what are the sources of diseases, how can we prevent them, or at least intervene more quickly.
And autism, I think, is a prime candidate where we’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Nobody knows exactly why. There’s some people who are suspicious that it’s connected to vaccines and triggers, but… (pointing to his right) this person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it. Part of the reason I think it’s very important to research it is those vaccines are also preventing huge numbers of deaths among children and preventing debilitating illnesses like polio. And so we can’t afford to junk our vaccine system. We’ve got to figure out why is it that this is happening so that we are starting to see a more normal, what was a normal, rate of autism. Because if we keep on seeing increases at the rate we’re seeing we’re never going to have enough money to provide all the special needs, special education funding that’s going to be necessary.