There’s a story – make of it what you will – that Joe Kennedy the elder knew it was time to get out of the market when the shoeshine boy started giving him stock tips. By that standard, it might be time for the vaccine injury deniers to get out of the marketplace of ideas, because everybody, and I mean everybody, is convinced they have the expertise and standing to tell the rest of us why vaccines don’t cause autism, shouldn’t be debated, and on and on.
The latest to opine on this topic is Mark Zuckerberg, joining Bill Gates as a gazillionaire bootblack who may know how to make a buck but nothing about the autism epidemic, the science of vaccine injury, the role of liability protection, or other topics that you and I talk about every day. As a putative new media czar whose “news feed” includes plenty of pages that disagree with him (like ours), he ought to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he’s recommending “Immunity: An Inoculation” for his book club. When I first heard that, I decided to let it be, because people should read whatever they want, but then I saw that he is weighing in with his own personal vaccine creed:
“The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community. This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe.”
I’ve tried to ignore the book in question, but I will have more to say about it later since it seems to be insinuating itself into pop culture. Meanwhile, I’ll just say that Zuckerberg – whose father, a dentist, had his practice in their home – is way too powerful, and uninformed, to be offering this kind of cheap and easy commentary.
From creed to screed: One unfortunate aspect of the Internet – which as regular readers will agree, has been largely positive for spreading the truth about autism – is that legacy print publications, which shrink ever deeper into oblivion on the newsstand, have opened their online portals and attached their prestige to all manner of guest writers, advertorial “sponsored content,” click-throughs, partnerships and so on. (The wack-a-doodle Time online piece about printing the names and addresses of vaccine-exempting families is a case in point. Henry Luce would have had a heart attack on the spot if he weren’t already deceased.)
Anyway, Rolling Stone published a screed online by someone named Jeb Lund, who seems never to have heard of thimerosal or RS Contributing Editor RFK Jr. – or Rolling Stone’s own archive -- when he writes:
“Anti-vaxxer science is science in the same way that saying the word "FUCK" came from "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" or "Fornication Under Consent of King" is etymology. It's science the way "Catherine the Great died having sex with a horse" is history. It's shit that sounds plausible only if you're someone never in danger of double-checking it or stumbling across something like topical expertise. Christ, you could figure out most of this stuff is bullshit just by reading the questions and answers on NTN Bar Trivia at your local Buffalo Wild Wings for more than a few hours.”
Who’s studying at the University of Google now? And who manages to work intercourse (twice), taking the Lord’s name in vain, feces (twice), bestiality (once is enough) and boozy trivia games as a news source into a discussion of vaccine safety? Someone who knows his audience, I guess -- I haven’t been this convinced by a Rolling Stone piece since they reported a few weeks ago on a gang rape at the University of Virginia.
One last gem: “If you’re really concerned about autism, become an environmentalist,” wrote Emily Atkin in ClimateProgress. In theory, I endorse the idea, but her point was a bit different: While there is no link between vaccines and autism, she writes, “there is a scientifically valid cause you can get behind if you want to reduce the risk of autism, and it doesn’t mean potentially exposing anyone to measles. It’s environmentalism.
“Yes, environmentalism, the ideology that life is improved by cleaner air, land, and water. You see, while the cause of autism is still unknown, most scientists believe that it is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, particularly the exposure to heavy metals like mercury. Genetics are pretty hard to change; comparatively, the quality of our environment is not.”
I’m tempted to borrow a few of Jeb’s epithets, but I’ll just say, that is astonishingly perverse. If autism is triggered in vulnerable children when they are exposed to environmental factors, especially metals like mercury, then what about vaccine mercury (and aluminum?). Pregnant women and infants are exposed to ethyl mercury starting at 6 months via the flu shot.
But yes, Emily, mercury in the environment can in fact trigger autism, as Mark Blaxill and I demonstrated conclusively in The Age of Autism. The first three cases of autism reported in 1943 show clear links to the first uses environmental ethyl mercury via pesticides and fungicides, just as other cases in the same series point to the first use ethyl mercury in vaccines. The fact that mercury in the environment is implicated in autism corroborates, rather than conflicts with, the concern that vaccines containing mercury cause autism.
But then, there’s not really any mercury still in vaccines anyway, right? When I was on KCBS radio in San Francisco, that was the argument I was faced with.
As my interviewer later wrote in a blog post about me: “When he floated the generally-debunked claim that the vaccine preservative thimerosal was causing autism in kids, I challenged him, pointing out the fact that thimerosal is no longer used in childhood vaccines. He rebutted, saying it's in the flu vaccine-again, KIND of true, because it is used in the multi-shot version of the flu vaccine that the vast majority of people don't get-but nowhere else.
“It's a clever tactic: calmly suggest that the flu vaccine we all know and love might be dangerous, too. And it puts us in the position of having to play the "heavy," which of course only plays into the belief of many that the "mainstream media" are part of the problem. And on it goes.”
Well, around 50 million doses of the flu vaccine we know and love have mercury in it, same as it ever did, and since the CDC explicitly declines to recommend a thimerosal-free version for pregnant women and for infants, who’s spouting nonsense?
Snap out of it, my fellow journalists! You’re laying down a permanent track record that is going to haunt you for the rest of your careers and beyond, while, as RFK Jr. put it, betraying a generation of children who needed you and still do. There is no excuse for not mastering the subject and instead relying on the received wisdom of vaccine zealots and pharma shills, and becoming the intellectual equivalent of shoeshine boys.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.