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Salon Retracts Controversial Article by Robert Kennedy, Jr., Linking Vaccines to Autism

Salon Retracts Controversial Article by Robert Kennedy, Jr., Linking Vaccines to Autism

Back in 2005, Salon published ‘Deadly Immunity,’ an article by Robert Kennedy Jr. in which he claimed that the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, which was used in vaccines until 2001, was ‘dangerous,’ and in which he stated that he was ”convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.”‘ Yesterday, Salon‘s Editor-in-Chief, Kerry Lauerman, wrote that the online magazine has retracted the article:

The piece was co-published with Rolling Stone magazine — they fact-checked it and published it in print; we posted it online. In the days after running “Deadly Immunity,” we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.

“I regret we didn’t move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link,” says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh, now editor at large. “But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do.” The story’s original URL now links to our autism topics page, which we believe now offers a strong record of clear thinking and skeptical coverage we’re proud of — including the critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.

 

Commending Salon’s decision to retract ‘Deadly Immunity,’ Chris Mooney at the Discover blog, points out that, while Rolling Stone has removed the article from its website, it has not reported that it has done so, according to Seth Mnookin, the author of The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. His book, and the new book by Dr. Paul Offit, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, offer further proof of the harm caused to public health—to you and me—by the now-discredited study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, in which a claim of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism was made. Wakefield’s study was ‘deliberate fraud,’ as reported in a recently published series of articles in BMJ (British Medical Journal) by journalist Brian Deer.

 

One wonders what ‘articles’ and even ‘studies’ will be retracted next: Autism, Vaccines and the CDC: The Wrong Side of History, a January 2007 Huffington Post piece by Robert Kennedy, Jr., and journalist David Kirby, whose 2005 book Evidence of Harm claimed that mercury in vaccines caused an epidemic of autism?  Everything on various websites that allege that we live in an age in which autism has become ‘epidemic,’ due to vaccines or something in vaccines?

 

One thing’s for sure: The notion that vaccines might ’cause’ autism is slowly, gradually, thankfully, being debunked in public circles and being consigned to the history books as a peculiar, and harmful, chapter in the history of autism.

 

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Photo by joeflintham.

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83 comments

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9:48PM PST on Jan 25, 2011

I like how some naive people say about "Big Pharma" going for big buck (as in versus "Naturopatic" not doing it!). At least Big Pharma has strictly regulated and controlled clinical trials to prove that their medicine actually helps to save lives, and a system of recalls if something goes wrong.
But this assumption that all these clinically unproven and unregulated "natural" (just because they put this word on the label) industries doing it for the love of people, and not for the love of money? Come one!
I also wonder, what is the percentage of people who weren't saved by official medicine at least once, and who never use it. I bet pretty slim.

9:22PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"- On November 2nd, 2000, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) announced that its members voted at their 57th annual meeting in St Louis to pass a resolution calling for an end to mandatory childhood vaccines. The resolution passed without a single "no" vote. (Report by Michael Devitt)"

The AAPS is a far-right, conservative/libertarian group with only about 4,000 members (including Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Congressman John Cooksey, R-Louisiana), that opposes ALL government involvement in healthcare. In addition to mandatory vaccination, they oppose Medicare, Medicaid, abortion rights, emergency contraception, and gun control. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_of_American_Physicians_and_Surgeons for more of their assorted wing-nuttery.

9:21PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"The manufacturers of the DPT vaccine put aside $8 per shot to cover legal costs and damages they were paying out to parents of brain damaged children and children who died after vaccination. (The Vine, Issue 7, January 1994, Nambour, Qld)"

All that means is that juries, faced with of the heartbroken parents of a dead or brain-damaged child on one side of the courtroom, and a corporation with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on the other side, will nearly always award a large judgement to the parents regardless of whether the evidence shows that whatever the corporation did harmed the child in question, or that it could not possibly have done so; such cases are decided on pure emotion, not on the facts.

9:20PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"- In 1979, Sweden abandoned the whooping cough vaccine due to its ineffectiveness. Out of 5,140 cases in 1978, it was found that 84% had been vaccinated three times! (BMJ 283:696-697, 1981)"


Examining the actual article (at http://www.bmj.com/content/283/6293/728.3.full.pdf) shows that, as usual with anti-vaccination movement citations of the scientific literature, it has been misrepresented.

The cause of the increase in whooping cough in the early 1970's in Sweden was faulty production of the vaccine. "A pertussis vaccine giving 90% immunity was introduced in Sweden during the late 1940s. From the early 1960s about 90% of all infants were vaccinated and pertussis became rare. In the first years of the 1970's whooping cough returned, and since 1974 the disease has been endemic. The return of the disease seems to have been related to changes in production of the vaccine at the beginning of the decade."

The reason there was a tremendous amount of whooping cough in Sweden during the 1970's was that adults' immunization had worn off and they were catching it from unimmunized children. (It was not possible, of course, to know that the immunity would wear off after a few decades until a few decades after vaccination began.)

Anti-immunization activists sometimes allege that whooping cough is a mild disease. In this study, 22 out of 174 adults were unable to work for more than a month.

9:18PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"In 1977, Dr Jonas Salk, who developed the first polio vaccine, testified along with other scientists that mass inoculation against polio was the cause of most polio cases throughout the USA since 1961. (Science 4/4/77 "Abstracts" )"

In the 1950's and early 60's, thanks to near-universal vaccination beginning in 1955, the number of polio cases in the U.S. had dropped from a high of over 58,000 in 1952 to 121 cases in 1964. The polio virus was essentially extinct in the wild; of the very few cases that did occur, most came from the extremely rare (1 in 750,000 vaccinations) reversion of the virus used in the Sabin (oral live-virus) vaccine to a form that could infect the nervous system. For that reason, most industrialized countries now use the somewhat more expensive Salk (injected, inactivated virus) vaccine, which never causes the disease.

9:18PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"In 1871-2, England, with 98% of the population aged between 2 and 50 vaccinated against smallpox, it experienced its worst ever smallpox outbreak with 45,000 deaths. During the same period in Germany, with a vaccination rate of 96%, there were over 125,000 deaths from smallpox. (The Hadwen Documents)"

Walter Hadwen was a late-19th and early-20th century campaigner against both vaccination and the germ theory of disease itself. As he passed away in 1932, his claims regarding the efficacy of the original smallpox inoculation, even if they could be verified, would have little relevance to any of the issues surrounding modern vaccination methods -- quality control has improved somewhat since the 1870's, at least for the regulated pharmaceutical industry (the unregulated world of "nutritional supplements," of course, is another matter entirely).

9:12PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Julie R. wrote:

"No FDA official has ever stated that scientifically-valid safety testing has ever been conducted on the vaccine / adjuvant combinations now being distributed across America."


False. See http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Testimony/ucm114923.htm ("Prior to licensure, each vaccine undergoes a rigorous review process to establish its safety and effectiveness. FDA considers all vaccines currently available to be safe and effective." --William Egan, Ph.D, Acting Office Director, Office of Vaccine Research and Review, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration). Not the only counterexample, of course, but it only takes one to demonstrate the falsehood of a blanket statement like that.

8:06PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Re: Deborah H.'s comment: Professor Chew "whole-heartedly believes that vaccines don't cause autism and blogs about it repeatedly" because she is aware of the fact that every study that has attempted to replicate Dr. Wakefield's results *without* falsifying the data as he did has found no correlation between vaccination and the development of autism. That "there are plenty of families out there that do believe vaccines damaged their child" is irrelevant; this is not a question of belief, but of fact... and the fact is that parents refusing to have their children vaccinated represent a threat to public health.

No vaccine is ever 100% effective -- their efficacy at preventing epidemics stems partly from the fact that the 3% or 5% or 8% of people who *don't* respond effectively to a particular vaccine (i.e. develop an immunity to the disease in question) are still protected by virtue of the other people around them being immune and thus not exposing them to the disease. The more individuals in a population go unvaccinated, the greater the risk not only to them, but also to the fraction of vaccinated individuals who are still susceptible. Vaccination is thus an issue of *public health,* not a private decision for parents to make without worrying about the risk to children other than their own of leaving their own unvaccinated.

3:15PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

I see the kooks are out in force. I wonder how many of the believers in the disproven vaccine-autism link also believe that global warming is a hoax? After all, the global warming denialists have at least as much evidence on their side as the anti-vaccination flakes and frauds. I'd guess not many, though, since which particular anti-science lie a kook embraces and which scientific facts he or she actually accepts depends entirely upon the kook's ideology. Right-wing kooks reject the overwhelming evidence of evolution and anthropogenic climate change; left-wing kooks reject the overwhelming evidence of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and sometimes of evidence-based medicine in general (as opposed to superstition-based "natural," "holistic," "homeopathic" quackery).

There probably aren't many young-earth creationists in this thread, either, but I'd bet that a fair number of the people posting in defense of Wakefield and RFK Jr.'s lies about vaccination are also passionate believers in Peter Duesberg's lies about HIV and AIDS. Raise your hand if you've seen "House of Numbers" and think that it's a documentary instead of a flagrantly dishonest propaganda piece cut from the same cloth as Ben Stein's "Expelled" and Martin Durkin's "The Great Global Warming Swindle."

8:59AM PST on Jan 23, 2011

This author is obviously passionate about vaccines and autism since her son is autistic. But I don't understand why she whole-heartedly believes that vaccines don't cause autism and blogs about it repeatedly. Even if she doesn't believe so in the case of her son, Charlie, there are plenty of families out there that do believe vaccines damaged their child. And it may not just be the heavy metal preservatives, but the viruses themselves entering the bloodstream directly instead of through the mucous membranes the way a person would normally contract the disease. I find this author's posts (and underlying messages) repetitive and tiring.

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