Anna Kirkland, LAPA Fellow; University of Michigan

Ruling That Vaccines Don't Cause Autism: Credibility Struggles at the Vaccine Injury Compensation Court

Mon, 02/21/2011
4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance
Event Category: 

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Anna Kirkland, for a discussion of ""Ruling That Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism: Credibility Struggles at the Vaccine Injury Compensation Court."  Her commentator will be Keith Wailoo, WWS and History. 

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Library Lounge at the Bendheim Center
for Finance
, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Professor Kirkland writes: "Eight years of litigation in the vaccine compensation court have just ended with rulings that vaccines did not cause autism. The rulings reflect an overwhelming expert consensus, though vocal vaccine critics remain unconvinced. How did the vaccine court judges come to see that vaccines don't cause autism? How exactly did the case against vaccines lack credibility? The legal process in the vaccine court turns out to be a particularly fascinating place to watch the construction of credibility. The petitioners used the vaccine compensation process to generate scientific research and spent years developing experts whom they hoped would be convincing enough under a low burden of proof. They didn't get the evidence or the experts they needed, and even the court process seemed to shift beneath them. When the autism cases concluded, the court as an institution was transformed and the credibility field for the autism and anti-vaccine social movements was profoundly rearranged."

Anna Kirkland is an associate professor of Women's Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan. She earned her J.D. (2001) and Ph.D. (Jurisprudence and Social Policy, 2003) from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research has focused on the construction of the legal categories that receive civil rights protections in various jurisdictions of the United States as well as the ways in which ordinary people understand and negotiate their identities through the law. Her first book, Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood, was published in 2008 by New York University Press. Professor Kirkland has also published work on fat acceptance advocates and their perceptions of law, fatness as disability, transgendered plaintiffs who win their cases, transgender discrimination as sex discrimination, and the moral, racial, gendered, and political features of the "obesogenic environment" account of population weight gains. With Michigan colleague Jonathan Metzl, Kirkland edited the forthcoming volume Against Health: Has Health Become the New Morality? (New York University Press, 2010). While at Princeton, she will work on a second book examining vaccination law, politics and activism. The new research focuses on the Autism Omnibus Proceedings before the federal vaccine compensation court, in which the Special Masters found that vaccines did not cause autism spectrum disorder in children. Kirkland is also studying movement opposition to the rulings, state-level vaccine controversies and regulation, and the interaction between vaccine safety advocates and policymakers at the federal level.

Keith A. Wailoo is jointly appointed in the Department of History and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research examines a wide array of issues in public health, scientific and technological innovation in medical care, medical specialization, and the role of identity, gender, race and ethnicity in health and disease thought. His books include: How Cancer Crossed the Color Line (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2011); The Troubled Dream of Genetic Medicine: Ethnicity and Innovation in Tay-Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) which received the Association of American Publishers book award in History of Science; Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health (University of North Carolina, 2001); and Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth Century America (Hopkins, 1997) which received the Arthur Viseltear Award from the American Public Health Association. Dying in the City of the Blues received numerous awards: the Lillian Smith Book Award for Non-Fiction work elucidating questions of racial justice and inequality, the William H. Welch Medal for best book in the history of medicine, awarded by the American Association for the History of Medicine, the Susanne Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship, the American Political Science Association Award for Best Book published in the area of Public Policies, Social and Legal Dimensions of Ethnic and Racial Politics in the U.S., and the Community Service Award by the Sickle Cell/Thalassemia Patient Network. He is currently at work on a history of drugs, drug policies, and drug controversies, and completing a book on the history and politics of pain medicine in America.