Autism Crankery at Huffpo - Again

RFK Jr. writes the standard crank screed in Huffpo, and it's like a mirror reflection of the CBS news crankery that Orac takes on.

Let's see, it's a crank screed so it at a very minimum has to have four elements. The wacky idea, a bunch of inflated non-evidence, conspiracy theories to deflect criticism, and finally, notions of persecution. Let's see how RFK Jr. does.

The poisonous public attacks on Katie Wright this week--for revealing that her autistic son Christian (grandson of NBC Chair Bob Wright), has recovered significant function after chelation treatments to remove mercury -- surprised many observers unfamiliar with the acrimonious debate over the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal.

We already have the wacky idea - thimerosal causes autism and chelation cures it. This is despite the systematic reviews and Institute of Medicine Report that say thimerosal doesn't increase the rate of autism, and the complete inability of the chelators to show efficacy in a real clinical trial. Criteria one is satisfied, next, what's the inflated proof?

Many of these women tell a story virtually identical to Katie Wright's -- I have now heard or seen this grim chronology recounted hundreds of times in conversations, e-mails and letters from mothers: At 2-1/2 years old, Christian Wright exceeded all milestones. He had 1,000 words, was toilet-trained, and enjoyed excellent social relations with his brother and others. Then his pediatrician gave him Thimerosal-laced vaccines. He cried all night, developed a fever and, over the coming months, this smart, healthy child disappeared. Christian lost the ability to speak, to interact with family members, to make eye contact or to point a finger. He is no longer toilet trained. He engaged in stereotypical behavior--screaming, head-banging, biting and uncontrolled aggression, and suffers continuously the agonizing pain of gastrointestinal inflammation.

Ah yes, the anecdote. And it's plural! But the problem is the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.

After hearing that story a couple dozen times, a rational person might do some more investigation. That's when one encounters the overwhelming science -- hundreds of research studies from dozens of countries showing the undeniable connection between mercury and Thimerosal and a wide range of neurological illnesses.

This is hysterical. Hundreds of studies? That's a baldfaced lie. Undeniable connection? Well, after a week of listening to the Autism Omnibus and the pathetic expert testimony consisting of circumstantial evidence and experts that lack credibility - I'm still unimpressed. Maybe he's talking about the evidence provided by Andrew Wakefield? Or the Geier quacks? Or those great articles in Medical Hypotheses? Yes, stunning and overwhelming evidence indeed. But, as a crank he's got to deal with the fact that systematic reviews and real experts have dismissed this link as specious.

In response to the overwhelming science, CDC and the pharmaceutical industry ginned up four European studies designed to disguise the link between autism and Thimerosal. Their purpose was to provide plausible deniability for the consequences of their awful decision to allow brain-killing mercury to be injected into our youngest children. Those deliberately deceptive and fatally flawed studies were authored by vaccine industry consultants and paid for by Thimerosal producers and published largely in compromised journals that neglected to disclose the myriad conflicts of their authors in violation of standard peer-review ethics. As I've shown elsewhere [see], these studies were borderline fraud, using statistical deceptions to mislead the public and regulatory community.

The CDC and IOM base their defense of Thimerosal on these flimsy studies, their own formidable reputations, and their faith that journalists won't take the time to critically read the science.The bureaucrats are simultaneously using their influence, energies and clout to derail, defund and suppress any scientific study that may verify the link between Thimerosal and brain disorders. (These would include epidemiological studies comparing the records of vaccinated children with those of unvaccinated populations like the Amish or home-schooled kids who appear to enjoy dramatically reduced levels of autism and other neurological disorders.) The federal agencies have refused to release the massive public health information accumulated in their Vaccine Safety Database (VSD) apparently to keep independent scientists from reviewing evidence that could prove the link. They are also muzzling or blackballing scientists who want to conduct such studies.

The conspiracy has landed! And it's a doozy. The CDC, the IOM, the American Association of Pediatrics, and the Pharmaceutical companies are all in cohoots! And don't forget those bureaucrats (said through clenched teeth), you know how they're always on the side of evil. And the Pediatricians! If kids didn't get sick, they'd be out of a job! Clearly they want autism to be pervasive.

Well, we're almost done. We've gotten the wacky idea, the crazy evidence, the response to evidence by alleging a conspiracy, and all we have left is persecution. Do we have persecution?

But the patronizing attacks on the mothers of autistic children who have organized to oppose this brain-killing poison is one of the most persistent tactics employed by those defending Thimerosal against the barrage of scientific evidence linking it to the epidemic of pediatric neurological disorders, including autism. Mothers of autistics are routinely dismissed as irrational, hysterical, or as a newspaper editor told me last week, "desperate to find the reason for their children's illnesses," and therefore, overwrought and disconnected.

Ironically, it is the same voices that once blamed autism on "bad parenting," and "uninvolved" moms that are now faulting these mothers for being too involved.

Persecution! We're done. He did it without mentioning Galileo, but it's still the tired "science was wrong before so it's wrong now" argument. And the people who used to blame the mothers were Freudian quacks, not epidemiologists. Nice attack on all of science though. And as far as doing another study, that's fine, but when it shows the same thing, as every other study attempting to show a link has done, expect them to move the goalposts yet again.

It's interesting reading Arthur Allen's coverage of the Omnibus and the most recent expert witness - this one for the gov'mint - clearly describing the evidence that Michelle Cedillo had numerous signs of autism long before she received the MMR vaccination.

The problem here, and elsewhere, is the post hoc ergo propter hoc argument mixed with the age-old suspicion of vaccination. The evidence is anecdotal, the epidemiology undermines the link, the papers the mercury people promote do not show a link, thimerosal has been removed (10 seconds until I hear a trace argument again) with no corresponding decrease in autism rates which should have appeared by 2006. The experts like Wakefield and the Geiers are a joke, and even the ones they're willing to trot out in court were completely unconvincing. There is nothing here but anti-vaccination denialism.

And thanks to Lab Lemming for my new moving goalpost gif!


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Sorry, that previous post was badly worded. I was asking whether there is (layman-friendly) info on the developmental regression of vaccinated and unvaccinated kids. I'd guess they're identical and that all(?) autism manifests itself as a regression - which is distressing for the parents.

This information doesn't seem to have been mentioned anywhere that I can see. Keep up the good work, you're one (two?) of my new favourite bloggers.

RFK Jr. and the tiny, but vocal, pack of anti-vaxxers fail to realize one basic implication of their conspiracy fantasy: that in order for the government-industry conspiracy to poison children to have had a chance to work, the administrations of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and son of Bush I would have had to be knowledgeable and complicit in this scheme. The unlikelihood of this enormous, complex task (and keeping it quiet) should alone embarrass anyone who is trying to defend the fantasy.

/waits for someone to try and use NAFTA as a counterexample
//nice gif, love the crank

See a review on Rett's to get info on the frustrating and heart-breaking description of real regression. imo, there are some cases of true regression and autism out there, but there's also the "my 6 month old kid was quoting Hamlet and conjugating verbs in mandarin after watching an old Jackie Chan movie and now he doesn't speak" claim. How to differentiate the two is the problem.

Ithika: All autism doesn't manifest itself through regression. My 3-year old was clearly off the "normal" developmental path at 20 months (hmmmm ... now which vaccine was that he had just received?).

It's easy to understand the seductiveness of the "vaccines hurt your baby" argument to parents whose kids regressed (meaning lost language, etc.), though. This doesn't make it true, of course, but the woeful state of the average person's scientific understanding coupled with charlatans like Wakefield, the Geiers, Kirby, RFK Jr., et al waiting at every turn to exploit their grief is a pretty potent combination.

Great blog MarkH!

Nice work Mark H. and well said AndyU.

I've seen regression, not to the degree you might see with Rett or certain neurodegenerative disorders, but regression nonetheless. It doesn't require an external trigger though it's easy to blame whatever is handy at the time.

It's not like most parents will have the opportunity to compare typical development in a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated sib, though it isn't that rare for younger sibs of an ASD child to go unvaccinated these days. Unfortunately, a typical yet unvaccinated sib will be seen as proof of a role for vaccines. Any scientist would know this doesn't qualify as proof but the opposite might be more compelling, even to a layperson. It was for me.

Are you on the payroll for J & J or Merck? Just Curious...

Did you hear Thalidomide is good for morning sickness...

Geniuses abound in the medical community!

And when they don't have a real argument, they bring out the "pharma shill" gambit. BB just posted an excellent example of that fractured thinking!

Nice cranky driveby BB. I am a student working at a University. The fact that you think that there is a grand conspiracy of people on the payroll is a bit pathetic though.

The thalidomide is also a great reference, because you see, medical science made an error and didn't recognize a teratogen - it then corrected the error and removed it from the market. It's actually a bit of the opposite of the example you'd want to cite, because they didn't conspire to hide the evidence instead they detected a problem - corrected it, and removed the drug from the market. The implication of the crank is that medicine was wrong before - therefore it's wrong now (and I'm conspiring with J&J to hide the truth)!

That's some nice crankiness there Lou.

I like it when a troll falls on his face, whether or not he realizes it. Bringing up all the nasty errors of the past only serves to show just how hard it is to cover up stuff, given all the massive safeguards things like peer review presents.

The quacks, however, want all the power of a doctor with none of the responsibility or accountability. In short, what the quacks want is a situation that happens to be conducive to cover ups.

And, prenatal Thalidomide exposure is associated with autism. Go ahead and ask how we know that? Maybe compare the number of moms who took Thalidomide while pregnant to the number of children who've received thimerosal containing vaccines over the greater part of a century.

By notmercury (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Wow Mark you are a student and already the god complex... nice.. your arrogance is so refreshing...

Look I am not saying that Pharmaceutical companies are intentionally poisoning children. But the way you just disregard the fact that a substance that is 49% neurotoxin is not relevant is astounding.

I truly believe that a percentage of the population for whatever reason cannot handle the toxic load of the mercury / virus itself. Hopefully one day there will be a big "ah ha" and the questions about autism will be answered.

Until then I suggest perhaps that you should not take your professor's word as gospel and disregard another person who is living with Autism because there is no MD after their name.

None of my professors have ever commented on mercury and autism. They don't even need to, it's a joke.

You attack me calling me arrogant and suggesting I have a God complex, and saying I'm dismissive.

We're the ones with data showing that the thimerosal doesn't cause mercury, that removal of thimerosal doesn't change rates, that long history with measles let's us know that it causing autism is completely inconsistent with the disease, and the alleged autism epidemic.

We're the ones that are arguing from knowledge, it's the mercury crowd that ignores science, attacks expert opinion, doesn't believe in scientific rigor for their treatments, doesn't believe that they should have to submit to the same peer-review and level of evidence of mainstream science etc.

Who is more arrogant?


What was he supposed to do?

You raised Thalidomide as a parallel example, and a moment's research would have revealed 1) the lack of a world-wide conspiracy, and 2) the scientists and medical community you so revile work quickly to get a dangerous product off the market--the opposite of what you seem to say is happening with mercury.

If you're unwilling to do very basic research before posting, why would you expect, even for a moment, that you would be taken seriously?

By Michael LoPrete (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

A slightly off topic question.

Do you know of any recovered cranks?

Once a person goes down the denialism spiral and attains crank status, does the crank ever grow or snap out of it?

Does the crank ever admit that he was mistaken and make an apology?

Or is he so tightly wound that there is no way out?

"CDC and the pharmaceutical industry ginned up four European studies designed to disguise the link between autism and Thimerosal. Their purpose was to provide plausible deniability for the consequences of their awful decision to allow brain-killing mercury to be injected into our youngest children. Those deliberately deceptive and fatally flawed studies were authored by vaccine industry consultants and paid for by Thimerosal producers and published largely in compromised journals"

I think even under NYT v. Sullivan standards, that's defamatory. I hope someone sues the crap out of RFK, Jr. Of course, he'll only claim that as further evidence of persecution, but since we know he'll cry persecution no matter what....

Thanks for this coverage.

If RFK Jr. really and truly believes this fantasy, why wouldn't he call out his uncle to set the record straight? After all, he's accusing the pharmaceutical industry of poisoning millions of children and the CDC and FDA of helping to cover it up. It's one of the biggest conspiracies ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public.

Ted is in a position to address this grevious wrong. His career would go out on one huge high. His efforts would further balance his historical legacy, which will always contain a consideration of culpibility in the death of a young woman. A man his age must think a lot about his legacy. And yet Ted has remained silent.

BB said: "But the way you just disregard the fact that a substance that is 49% neurotoxin is not relevant is astounding."

BB, whenever I see anyone make this statement, I immediately know that the person is scientifically illiterate at the high school level. You see, the 49% refers to the percentage of molecular weight of the one single Mercury atom in a molecule of thimerosal. It a fact that has no signifciance. If this was chemcially important, then Sodium Chloride would be highly toxic.

Oh, and the evilllllllll FDA did not approve Thalidomide.

Please go back to school.


"A slightly off topic question.
Do you know of any recovered cranks?
Once a person goes down the denialism spiral and attains crank status, does the crank ever grow or snap out of it?"

This exact question came up a few weeks ago and I know Mark H is thinking about a post on this- not to steal his fire- but we've all been teenagers, so in a way we're all recovering cranks!

Thanks for the great insight Probe. How about you have a little Thimerosal cocktail and then see if it has any "signifciance". (whoops this illiterate person with a Master's Degree realized that your genius intellect can't even spel dat goot)

Take a little swig and "probe" a little harder for spell check.

Mercury is completely safe. wink wink nudge nudge

I truly believe that a percentage of the population for whatever reason cannot handle the toxic load of the mercury / virus itself. Hopefully one day there will be a big "ah ha" and the questions about autism will be answered.

In honor of BB, can one of the more graphically competent commenters come up with something along the lines of this; basically a giant, floating, evil syringe with the words "I want to believe" underneath?


Anonymous people claiming to have degrees in unspecified topics from unnamed universities hardly seems like an effective argument from authority, even if it is a logical fallacy.

He spelled one word incorrectly and you attack that rather than respond to substance of his or any other post. It's his misspelling versus your absent substance. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

By Michael LoPrete (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

A master's? Well, according to baby boy geier, a BA in History ought to qualify you to do telephone consults and hold down little autistic girls and boys to inject them with Lupron. You know, for fun. I guess a master's means you could hold 3 down for every two for him.

By Bright Chapper (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Thank you!

I saw this piece on HuffPo and was hoping someone would give it a fisking.

Re: former denialists

There's a great quote on the front of from one such person, Winstone Zulu. Pithy as all hell.

I nearly choked when I read the bit about looking at home-schooled or Amish children . . . I can't speak to the home-schooled children, but if you don't think that the Amish have children with autism or other neurological disorders, swing by a genetics clinic in a state known for Amish-rich areas (or Mennonite, or Ashkenazi Jew, you can really pick your flavor here). Vaccination, schmaccination - look at the pedigrees for gigantic clues about the heritability of many of these disorders.

By ctenotrish, FCD (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

BB, please read what the final outcome was for this person who ingested a large quantity of thimerosal:…

Now after reading this please tell us a couple of things:

1) How many vaccines does that amount equate to?

2) What was the final outcome?

While you are answering questions: Please tell us how many American women received thalidomide while pregnant?

BB, surely a person of your caliber, .177 is it, can understand how a speck of metal can barely put an eye out in one form and be just plumb toxic in another.

By notmercury (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

LOL, notmercury. Was that a triple entendre?

BB: Thanks for the great insight Probe.

You were obviously in need of some.

BB: How about you have a little Thimerosal cocktail and then see if it has any "signifciance". (whoops this illiterate person with a Master's Degree realized that your genius intellect can't even spel dat goot)

What a maroon...when all else fails, you need to resort to whining about spelling. Ran out of facts, eh?

BB: Take a little swig and "probe" a little harder for spell check.

Ooooohhh....I have had multiple vaccinations, for things you have never had to worry about, on the same day. No problem.

BB: Mercury is completely safe. wink wink nudge nudge

You have already demonstrated a profound lack of knowledge of basic chemistry. Now, you demonstrate the fact that you need to use fallacious logic to argue your points.

At no time did I say that "mercury" is safe. However, safety is dependent on several factors, e.g. dose, chemical composition, etc.

Let me suggest the following:

I hope these help.

Hey Hoofnagle, Need a little more money for college? This sure would beat blogging for Pharma!


August 1, 2006


THE FOLLOWING OFFER is made to U.S.-licensed medical doctors who routinely administer childhood vaccinations and to pharmaceutical company CEOs worldwide:

Jock Doubleday, director of the California 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation Natural Woman, Natural Man, Inc., hereby offers $80,000.00 to the first medical doctor or pharmaceutical company CEO who publicly drinks a mixture of standard vaccine additives ingredients in the same amount as a six-year-old child is recommended to receive under the year-2005 guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (In the event that thimerosal has recently been removed from a particular vaccine, the thimerosal-containing version of that vaccine will be used.)

The mixture will not contain viruses or bacteria dead or alive, but will contain standard vaccine additive ingredients in their usual forms and proportions. The mixture will include, but will not be limited to, the following ingredients: thimerosal (a mercury derivative), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), phenol (a disinfectant dye), benzethonium chloride (a disinfectant), formaldehyde (a preservative and disinfectant), and aluminum.

The mixture will be prepared by Jock Doubleday, three medical professionals that he names, and three medical professionals that the participant names.

The mixture will be body weight calibrated.

Because the participant is either a professional caregiver who routinely administers childhood vaccinations, or a pharmaceutical company CEO whose business is, in part, the sale of childhood vaccines, it is understood by all parties that the participant considers all vaccine additive ingredients to be safe and that the participant considers any mixture containing these ingredients to be safe.

The participant agrees, and any and all agents and associates of the participant agree, to indemnify and hold harmless in perpetuity any and all persons, organizations, and/or entities associated with the event for any harm caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, to the participant or indirectly to the participant's heirs, relations, employers, employees, colleagues, associates, or other persons, organizations, or entities claiming association with, or representation of, the participant, by the participant's participation in the event.

The event will be held within six months of the participant's written agreement to the above and further elaborated terms.

To the list of potential candidates for the $80,000 Vaccine Offer, 14 members of the CDC's 2006 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) have been added, as follows:

Jon S. Abramson, M.D.
Ban Mishu Allos, M.D.
Carol Baker, M.D.
Janet R. Gilsdorf, M.D.
Harry Hull, M.D.
Susan Lett, M.D.
Tracy Lieu, M.D.
Dale L. Morse, M.D.
Julia Morita, M.D.
Kathleen Neuzil, M.D.
Patricia Stinchfield, N.P.
Ciro Valent Sumaya, M.D.
John J. Treanor, M.D.
Robin J. Womeodu, M.D.

In the event that any of the above ACIP members' terms expire and they are replaced by new members, the new members will be added automatically to the list of potential candidates for the Vaccine Offer.

This offer, dated August 1, 2006, has no expiration date unless superceded by a similar offer of higher remuneration.

Contact Jock Doubleday:


By Anonymous (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Kent Hovind has -- well, had (but maybe he pays in cigarettes now) -- a standing offer to anyone who can prove evolution to him. Nobody in the scientific community ever took him up on his challenge!

Obviously therefore evolution is a farce.

By minimalist (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Did all these wingnuts nick the idea from James Rhandi's paranormal challenge(which only asks that a demonstration meet scientific standards of scrutiny and the claimant reasonably pays costs)?

By Lucas McCarty (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

I was asking myself, who's this new person named BB? But the style betrayed her. I think it's very likely to be Sue, queen of the anti-vaccionistas.

Thank you for your well-written comments on autism and vaccines. It's nice to read the voice of reason. I was extremely glad that you brought Andrew Wakefield into the discussion. It is good to see someone in the U.S. shine a light on this shady character.

As a mother of an autistic child I am very concerned that Andrew Wakefield is being allowed to practice his so-called *therapy* here in Austin Texas. He is an extremely controversial person who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (UK pounds) to falsify research and scare UK parents into not giving their kids vaccines. Wakefield fled the UK and now lives here in Austin Texas where he gives young autistic children colonoscopies at an alternative clinic called "Thoughtful House" and calls it 'therapy'.

An excellent UK investigative journalist, Brian Deer, has reported some disturbing information about Wakefield.

I do wish more reporters here in the US would start questioning the behavior and ethics of Wakefield so he might stop preying on desperate parents and their disabled children here in the United States. Thanks for doing your part to help.

Dawn in Austin

Why did Veterinarians get rid of Thimersol in vaccinations for animals long before the Doctors and the medical community got rid of thimersol in vaccinations for humans????

Why can't there be a well-designed, non-corporately funded randomized trial comparing the combined MMR with the 3 monovalent shots? The research purporting to show that the combined MMR is "safe" have serious conflicts of interest and methodological flaws. How tough would it be to do a trial where half the kids get the MMR & 2 placebos while the other half gets the 3 separate shots? Then compare the two groups to see whether or not there is any difference in autism rates.

I don't know whether the combined MMR contributes to autism but there have been enough questions raised about it to warrant caution.