Some of the responses are in the form of book reviews and direct reactions to specific accusations. But some are - and have been - less civil. In fact, Offit's new book begins with this statement: "I get a lot of hate mail."
The introduction goes on to describe stalkers who have literally threatened Offit's children, and more than one credible death threat.
Why is Paul Offit receiving threats of physical violence? He himself is not a violent man. Nor are the most prominent spokesmen for the opposition point of view (that vaccines cause autism). People like David Kirby and Dan Olmsted are writers, not vigilantes.
But somehow, between the angry barbs tossed back and forth on TV, YouTube and the Internet, someone is getting the message that violence might be the best way to end the autism/vaccine controversy. And I'm morally certain that Offit is not alone in his receipt of threatening hate mail.
Obviously, there are folks out there who are true believers. These folks are willing to take their beliefs way beyond anything intended by the writers and researchers of the autism/vaccine debate. These are the sorts of people who fight, not through activism, demonstrations, books or blogs, but through firebombs and death threats.
There are, of course, vast differences of opinion in the autism world. The question of vaccines as a possible cause of autism is clearly a flashpoint for serious dispute. But given the intensity of feelings that are being displayed right now, it seems to me we're heading toward something more dangerous than a war of words. It's this kind of intensity that led, not so long ago, to the death of at least one doctor performing legal abortions.
What do you think about the high-octane debates now surrounding the issue of autism and vaccines? Is there any way to bring the conversations back down to a civil level? Are we really pumping up parents and activists to the point where physical harm could occur? Share your thoughts.