Precipitated, I guess, by Robert Kennedy's article in Rolling Stone/Salon, The NY Times waded into the "Thimerosal in vaccines causes autism" quagmire today. And the article leaves me imagining what'd happen if the paper had gone after other polarizing subjects like, say, the Iraq war, Social Security privatization, or the religionization of politics with such unfettered harshness.
The story will only intensify the divisions between believers and skeptics. And while it makes me more skeptical of the whole Thimerosal link, the article's sheer viciousness towards Thimerosal opponents, combined with obviously played down elements of the controversy's history, and unasked/unanswered questions about Kennedy's allegations and citations of industry ties and bias, make me wonder just what the hell is up.
[Of course, my skepticism either way didn't change our own decision to have the kid immunized already. Thanks to those fringe outfits, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service, vaccine manufacturers started removing Thimerosal before the kid was born, anyway.]
While Kennedy's article gets only a single mention, and none of his charges of coverup or industry bias are addressed directly, the reports engage in a serious shock-n-awe campaign that paints the crackpot conspiracy theorists--largely parents of autistic kids and their supporters--as total wackjobs who are ignoring science.
Meanwhile, doctors and immunization officials are cowering behind the increased security that's apparently required to deal with threats from these Thimerosal crazies.
Did someone say crazy?
In a series of House hearings held from 2000 through 2004, Mr. [Dan] Burton [Republican Rep. from Indiana] called the leading experts who assert that vaccines cause autism to testify. They included a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky who says that dental fillings cause or exacerbate autism and other diseases and a doctor from Baton Rouge, La., who says that God spoke to her through an 87-year-old priest and told her that vaccines caused autism.The "most-quoted expert" of the vaccine-autism nuts is then exposed as a nut himself, working from a basement lab "with cast-off, unplugged laboratory equipment, wall-to-wall carpeting and faux wood paneling."
The mercury quacks then use unproven and apparently dangerous treatments for autism, treatments which can cost "tens of thousands of dollars" [as if any treatment regimen for a condition like autism would cost less].
There's no discussion of attempts by Bill Frist and others to limit vaccine manufacturer liability, nor of the revolving door between drug companies and the government agencies that regulate them, nor the conflicts industry funded-scientists and doctors might face. An outsider like Kennedy saw these as huge red flags, but to the Times reporters (who cover the drug industry), they're apparently a non-issue.
Finally, the impetus for this whole Thimerosal thing is dismissed in a most laughably underplayed and misleading way:
The amount of ethyl mercury included in each childhood vaccine was once roughly equal to the amount of methyl mercury found in the average tuna sandwich.A government guideline? It must be good to be on staff at the Times, becuase if I tried as a freelancer to include as deliberately vague and dismissive characterization of the origins of the controversy I was writing about, my editors would probably tell me to Google "journalism" and kick me out the door.
In 1999, a Food and Drug Administration scientist added up all the mercury that American infants got with a full immunization schedule and concluded that the amount exceeded a government guideline. Some health authorities counseled no action, because there was no evidence that thimerosal at the doses given was harmful and removing it might cause alarm. Others were not so certain that thimerosal was harmless.
In July 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service released a joint statement urging vaccine makers to remove thimerosal as quickly as possible. [emphasis added]
Even if you don't know that one of Kennedy's article's main points was that the number of recommended immunizations was increased sharply in the late 1980's/early 90's--and the volume of mercury infants were exposed to jumped along with it, as the lone gunman at the FDA noticed--you have to wonder if an urgent statement from the decidedly non-wacko AAP isn't worth a more measured consideration than the Times gives it.
But whatever. BG and I went a few rounds in the earlier comments about parents doing their own research, one of the few points on which we agree. But if you find the RFK piece too one-sided and paranoid, this Times piece is so unequivocally flawed as to raise suspicions of its own. I'm sure it'll strengthen the convictions of those who see a vast conspiracy and coverup ("See? Even the Times is in on it!"). And while this all shouldn't affect parents considering vaccinations today, it'd be nice if some more level-headed assessments of the controversy were published on the front page of the biggest paper in town.