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Psychology Department Speakers Series

All presentations are free and held in live stream format. Video of all lectures will be posted after each event. 

Questions? For more information, contact via email Dr. Frank Conner or phone (616) 234-3612.

2021-2022 Psychology Department Speakers Series

November 10, 1–2:30 p.m. (virtual)

The MMR Vaccine and Autism: The Story of a Medical Fraud with Lessons and Challenges for Today

Lauren Harris, PhD., Michigan State University

In 1998, a brief report was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. The lead author, a gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield, and 12 co-authors claimed to have discovered a new variant, or phenotype, of “regressive autism” in association with gastrointestinal symptoms. The subjects were 12 children from 3 to 10 years of age, nine of whom were diagnosed with autism after being given the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. The authors did not claim to have found a causal connection between the vaccine and autism, but Wakefield separately made this claim and implied that the vaccine was also responsible for the reported rise in cases of autism in Great Britain. Deficiencies in the report were almost immediately pointed out, and new, large-scale, studies repeatedly failed to show any link between the MMR vaccine and autism, but the damage was done. Following the report’s publication and Wakefield’s personal campaigning, not only in Great Britain but in the United States, where he re-located after being stripped of his medical license, there was a rise of anti-vaccine zealotry, a decline in the number of children receiving the MMR vaccine, and the re-emergence of measles where it had been virtually eliminated. In my presentation, I will begin with an overview of autism symptomology, risk factors, and incidence figures. I then will describe the report and its immediate and longer-range effects, review the new evidence, and recount Wakefield’s subsequent activities, now including campaigning against the COVID-19 vaccines. I will close by describing some of what I see as lessons and challenges for today.

Watch The MMR Vaccine and Autism: The Story of a Medical Fraud with Lessons and Challenges for Today

December 7, 1–2:30 p.m. (virtual)

Intersectional Scholarship: Resisting the Tendency to Disconnect, Dilute, and Depoliticize

NiCole T. Buchanan, Ph.D., Michigan State University

Psychological science has been slow to incorporate intersectionality, the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage, as a concept and as a framework for conducting research. This limits not only the potential for intersectionality theory, but also limits the potential impact of the research claiming to use it. In this talk, I review intersectional theory and praxis, examine resistance to fully incorporating intersectionality, and highlight how research must shift to be truly intersectional. Finally, I will issue a call to scholars to integrate intersectionality theory and praxis and to resist the tendency to dilute and depoliticize intersectionality theory and disconnect from its social justice framework.

Past Psychology Department Speaker Series videos