Steven Salzberg has attacked Robert F Kennedy, Jr. in Forbes for even raising the question of vaccine safety, but how can vaccine safety be credible if every critic is mechanically censured? Salzberg writes: 'Robert Kennedy is obsessed with the notion that vaccines cause autism. He's particularly obsessed with the discredited idea that thimerosal, a preservative used in some vaccines, causes autism. Now Kennedy is about to publish a new book on this topic, and he's promoting it both in the press and, as described in today's Washington Post, in the halls of Congress. He's recently had personal meetings with U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders to try to convince them to take action based on his claims. Why is it that a scientifically unqualified anti-vaccine advocate can get a private audience with a U.S. Senator? Because he's famous, that's why." Meanwhile Salzberg himself showed himself to be woefully lacking in factual mastery when responding to the congressional autism hearing in November 2012. AoA re-publishes UK editor John Stone's critque of Salzberg on that occasion.
By John Stone
One of the few public responses to the Congressional hearing into autism by a vaccine programme advocate was from Steven Salzberg, professor of medicine and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University Medical School on Forbes.com. While Prof Salzberg’s blog was open to comment he has unfortunately not only ignored serious criticism but most disturbingly - for a senior scientist and academic - correction of basic facts. Here are a few points, some taken or adapted from my comments.
(1) Salzberg criticises Congressman Burton:
“Bang bang, two false claims in 10 seconds. First he claims that mercury from vaccines “accumulates in the brain”, a statement with no scientific support at all … Unfortunately, some quack doctors have experimented with chelation therapy on autistic children, despite that fact that it can cause deadly liver and kidney damage, and one of them caused the death of a 5-year-old boy in 2005.”
However, Burton had presumably read the Burbacher paper (NIH funded). Here is ad extract:
““There was a much higher proportion of inorganic Hg in the brain of thimerosal monkeys than in the brains of MeHg monkeys (up to 71% vs. 10%). Absolute inorganic Hg concentrations in the brains of the thimerosal-exposed monkeys were approximately twice that of the MeHg monkeys. Interestingly, the inorganic fraction in the kidneys of the same cohort of monkeys was also significantly higher after im thimerosal than after oral MeHg exposure (0.71 ± 0.04 vs. 0.40 ± 0.03). This suggests that the dealkylation of ethylmercury is much more extensive than that of MeHg.”
We really have to ask whether Salzberg can truthfully state that there is “no scientific support at all”. Here, by the way, is a two part list of 90 peer review studies condemning the safety of thimerosal.
Salzberg is also deeply misleading or worse regarding chelation and autism citing a 2005 case and a contemporary report . Subsequent to that report it transpired that the child had been administered with the wrong chelating agent and this was not in any way representative of chelation therapy for autism (and in seven years there are no more cases he can cite). A senior academic ought to know better than to cite an out-of-date and provisional journalistic report, when a later one would have given a different story. He has taken no steps to correct his article in either respect.
Salzberg then goes on to refer to Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet 1998 paper as “fraudulent” failing to acknowledge that earlier this year an English High Court judge exonerated Wakefield’s senior co-author, Prof John Walker-Smith. Re-examining the GMC finding he could not find evidence of misreporting, no evidence that the investigations were inappropriate (i.e. the children were genuinely sick) or unauthorised, or that the paper had been commissioned by the UK’s Legal Aid Board, and this was uncontested by the GMC. It remains anomalous that charges against Walker-Smith’s colleagues Wakefield and Simon Murch have not been reversed on these matters but then we are dealing with corrupt and politicised institutions.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services have acknowledged a causal connection between vaccines and autism. At the time of the Hannah Poling case CDC director (now head of Merck’s vaccine division) Julie Gerberding told CNN:
“….. if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.“
The HHS told Sharyl Attkisson on CBS news and David Kirby in Huffington Post:
“We have compensated cases in which children exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.”
Tragic to report that the media have become amnesiac about these statements, and Stephen Salzberg’s memory seems to need further jogging too.
The premise of Salzberg’s article is farcical: that whatever products government and industry choose to foist on us, we must always be good little children and do what we are told, and without any questions. In the case of vaccine culture we are faced with the even greater threat to the population that products in the US are more or less compulsory (and getting more so) while the manufacturers have no liability. The truth is that Coleen Boyle has been a ‘public servant’ in this business for 30 years or so, and if she can’t stand up to awkward questioning there is “something wrong”, yet she is painted as a victim by Salzberg. You expect someone in such a position to have a confident, competent manner, but the problem is not just her demeanour it is the content.
Of course, it is the problem with Salzberg too. How can you answer credibly such a range of scientific and political issues with a “four legs good, two legs bad” approach? Once you have surrendered that much intellectual and ethical freedom (as so many have) you have created a culture in which things are simply bound to go wrong, and individuals are going to be hurt by the machine.
Salzberg’s defence of the vaccine programme and the machinery behind it is neither intellectually adult or responsible. If you are not frightened of the questions why not let people ask them? Instead his reaction is along the lines shut everyone up, stop them asking questions, ignore all inconvenient facts, insult anyone who disagrees…
Salzberg’s blog could not be a better indication of what is wrong with vaccine culture. I am not against vaccines per se. It is not an ignoble project in itself to wish to prevent infectious diseases. I am against a culture where all the counter evidence, much of it published in scientific journals, much of it just the experience of ordinary citizens, is blithely swept aside in an act of scientific and social suppression. The unwelcome news is that the “cruise missiles and drone helicopters” of the war on disease often hit the wrong the target, and the more cruise missiles and drone helicopters you unleash the greater the risk.
Also, my bigger concern about indemnity (or effective indemnity) for manufacturers, is not that people have no opportunity to be compensated but that there is little sanction on manufacturers to get it right and every incentive to foist defective products on a captive market – you can argue till you are blue in the face what is “avoidably” and what “unavoidaby” unsafe (to which the answer is entirely subjective), but “unsafe” is the operative reality.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.