The latest this weekend is the goalpost-moving from David Kirby, which based on the egregious misinterpretation of the Hannah Poling case, represents the new front of anti-vaccination denialists in their war on reason. In the never-ending quest to pin autism on vaccines no matter what the evidence, the anti-vaccine denialists now are trying to make autism a mitochondrial disorder in order to fit their latest imagined victory. Despite the obvious fact that the disorder in the Poling case was a pre-existing genetic dysfunction that was possibly aggravated by vaccines, Kirby has decided to add to the confusion by now suggesting that this was a “concession” by the government of a causative link between vaccines and autism.
This post from Kirby is joined by this article from Barbara Fischkin which has the audacity to blame autism on thimerosal:
These people were poisoned. One of the culprits is, no doubt, the mercury preservative that was put willy-nilly into so many vaccines.
Let’s be clear. The thimerosal-autism link is one of the clearest examples of a failed hypothesis that I can think of. It was extensively studies, and roundly disproven by the fact that 6 years after it’s removal autism diagnoses continue to increase (A longer discussion for why this is). Even Kirby won’t support this nonsense, yet the HuffPo will gladly let other cranky celebrities and other morons write whatever the hell they want about science as if they have any idea what they are talking about.
This is an example of something we here at denialism blog have been talking about lately. Liberalism is no protection from anti-scientific thinking. In fact, if there is a unifying theme of denialism, it is that any extreme of ideological thinking leads to the necessary denial of fact. When one considers the causes of denialist worldviews, one sees again and again some form of fundamentalist belief. Fundamentalist religion leads to the rejection of evolution. Free-market fundamentalists are the leading source of anti-global warming denialism. On the liberal side, a mixture of technophobia and neo-luddism leads to paranoid suspicions about everything from GM crops causing non-existent illnesses to fear of harmless radio technology such as wifi to the fear of vaccines and medicine innovations exemplified by the HuffPo cranks and the evidence-based medicine/HIV/AIDS denialists like Mike Adams and Gary Null.
All overvalued ideology ultimately represents a threat to scientific or rational thinking. Science doesn’t respect political values or preconceived notions about how the world works. Liberals may side with global warming science because it fits with their preconceived paranoia of corporations and technology, and conservatives may love evidence-based medicine because it protects Dick Cheney from the Grim Reaper but it’s clear no matter what the ideology, whenever there is a conflict between science and politics there is always a constituency that favors rejection of fact to maintain a fixed belief.
Medicine is no exception. Conservatives don’t generally object to medicine, but are happy to lie about contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell science or the evil FDA regulators when it conflicts with their pro-life or fundamentalist free market agenda. Liberals don’t object to object to being put together after car accidents either, but their anti-corporate and anti-authority ideology leads them to dream up all sorts of paranoid conspiracy theories that fit with altie-woo and luddite denialism.
I believe public policy should be informed by the evidence first, and ideology should always play second fiddle to what can be demonstrated by the facts. When that order is reversed you are playing a dangerous game. Huffington Post, by supporting this denialist claptrap is risking its reputation on writers who are little more than kooks. I think they should follow the model of Daily Kos. The scientific standards for what appears on the front page is consistently top-notch. The diaries, which are essentially a free-for-all, are monitored for the presence of 9/11 conspiracy nonsense and other kinds of embarrassing crankery which damages the ultimate goal of the website. I would hope that Huffington Post could learn from this and understand the importance of standards for inclusion of posts on their site. These kooks will bring them down, because, dammit, lot’s of us out here in the real world think science is important. I would also hope that contributors to Huffington Post who care about science will realize that Huffington Post shouldn’t get a pass just because they might happen to be right on global warming or evolution. These types of posts from pseudoscientific crackpots are an embarrassment, and the inclusion of these kooks undermines the legitimacy of the site as a whole. If there are people who care about making HuffPo sound like a source of legitimate opinion and analysis, they should take a stand, now, before it’s too late.