Stop the RFK Jr. appointment NOW

I would beg everyone who reads the scienceblogs and cares about science to contact the transition team in the Obama administration as Orac has requested.

It should be clear by now to readers of this blog that pseudoscience is not a problem of just the right. The left wing areas of pseudoscience are just as cranky, just as wrong-headed about science, just as likely to use the tactics of denialism to advance a non-scientific agenda. We have been dealing with the denialism of the right more because they’ve been in control. Now is the time to nip the denialism of the left in the bud so it doesn’t take root in this new administration.

RFK Jr. is a crank (Orac for more), and one of the problems with cranks is Crank Magnetism. When people have one type of pseudoscientific belief it tends not to be isolated. Instead it reflects a general incompetence in understanding science, evaluating the quality of evidence, and what constitutes good science. RFK Jr.’s crankery will not be limited to vaccines and autism. He will undoubtably become the poster boy for all sorts of left wing crankery – be it environmental extremism, toxin/radiation paranoia (we’ll never get public wifi), or his already well known anti-vax crankery.

My letter to the transition team is below the fold. Please join me in trying to prevent this terrible error on the part of the Obama campaign.

Hello,

I’m a Physician/Scientist in training at the University of Virginia who supported this campaign, the Democratic party, and environmental issues. I also write one of the top scienceblogs in the country for the scienceblogs network.

RFK Jr. must NOT be appointed as head of the EPA. He is NOT a scientist. He does NOT understand science. He does NOT respect science. He is, in fact, a crank, who believes in pseudoscientific nonsense like vaccines causing autism. And when people are cranky and unscientific in one area of belief, it is never restricted to just that area. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of science and an incompetence in evaluating the quality of data and scientific information. This is not remotely a partisan letter, this is a plea for your administration not to make a horrible error.

This is a BAD choice. Do not do this or you will alienate scientists from your campaign very early on, not to mention doctors and especially pediatricians. This man is a crackpot, and I simply can not condone his presence anywhere in government.

Regards,
Mark Hoofnagle, PhD

Comments

  1. #1 m. williams
    November 7, 2008

    Thats your opinion. I can only hope we are lucky enough to have someone like him as head of the EPA instead of some insider of the coal or timber industry. At this point you could put any idiot in the position and have better luck than what we have had for the last few decades. He may have his science wrong but thats what a cabinet is for. And undoubtedly there will be other scientific minds to keep his lack of understanding in check. But what really matters is that he is not going to bend over backwards to industry influences that would like to trade cash for trash.

  2. #2 PalMD
    November 7, 2008

    Actually, williams, what really matters is that a person in charge of a large government agency that works with science understands what science is. We already tried the “well, he’s not smart but he’ll hire smart people” thing.

  3. #3 Kagehi
    November 7, 2008

    Yeah, it almost invariably works the other way around, with people hiring those that share their opinions, and or don’t make them feel as clueless and incompetent as they actually are. Its unbelievably rare for someone to have enough respect for “real” experts, to be willing to admit they are wrong, and listen. Its impossible, when the entire career of the person to be in charge has been to babble invalid information about a subject they are about to be put in charge of.

  4. #4 lukas
    November 7, 2008

    Science over Politics at the EPA? Not going to happen, not even under Obama.

  5. #5 Harold L Doherty
    November 7, 2008

    Gee, if Orac called RFK a crank then by all means stop the appointment. Name calling is the mark of great science right?

  6. #6 PalMD
    November 7, 2008

    An ad hominem statement is not a logical fallacy if it is true. Orac’s post contains a few details, if you know how to read.

  7. #7 Mag
    November 7, 2008

    RFK Jr. and his family remained mum when it was discovered the President-elect has close associations with a man who dedicated a book to the murderer of their father.

    Enough said.

  8. #8 The Blind Watchmaker
    November 7, 2008

    Write those letters! (and be nice)

    This is serious.

  9. #9 Harold L Doherty
    November 7, 2008

    PalMd

    I gather from the gratuitous insult that you too are a great scientist.

    It is ironic that each of you, when discussing a political office, hold high the banner of science while simultaneously lowering it with cheap personal attacks.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2008

    “It is ironic that each of you, when discussing a political office, hold high the banner of science while simultaneously lowering it with cheap personal attacks.”

    So scientists can’t insult people? News to me.

    Has anyone contacted scientific and medical organizations about the potential appointment, like the American Academy of Pediatrics for instance?

  11. #11 otheus
    November 8, 2008

    I’m not sure how it’s denialism nor antiscience to look at the evidence, consult pre-eminent scientists and come to a conclusion that has not been clearly refuted. My understanding about the linkage between autism and anything else is about 0. However, I’m disturbed when I read this from RFK Jr:

    I doubted that autism could be blamed on a single source, and I certainly understood the government’s need to reassure parents that vaccinations are safe; the eradication of deadly childhood diseases depends on it. I tended to agree with skeptics like Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, who criticized his colleagues on the House Government Reform Committee for leaping to conclusions about autism and vaccinations. “Why should we scare people about immunization,” Waxman pointed out at one hearing, “until we know the facts?”

    It was only after reading the Simpsonwood transcripts, studying the leading scientific research and talking with many of the nation’s pre-eminent authorities on mercury that I became convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.

    I have not seen anything in your post (or the blogs you link to) concluding that there is NO link; only that no causative correlation has been found. Therefore, while there are many other reasons for believing RFK Jr is not fit for an White House post, I don’t think his conclusion on this issue is such a reason.

  12. #12 MarkH
    November 8, 2008

    Otheus. The link has been thoroughly studied and dismissed.

    Orac has a good article addressing this and here is my history of the issue.

    I’m sorry, one of the aspects of writing a blog is expecting people to be familiar with previous writing and the general consensus here on the scienceblogs, and it’s very onerous to have to reference every single previous post when writing something new and on the fly. I hope these links are helpful.

  13. #13 Skeptico
    November 8, 2008

    otheus:

    You wrote (quoting RFK):


    It was only after reading the Simpsonwood transcripts, studying the leading scientific research and talking with many of the nation’s pre-eminent authorities on mercury that I became convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.

    And that demonstrates RFK doesn’t understand science. The Simpsonwood transcripts had to be tortured beyond recognition to be reported on the way RFK did. The technical description of what he did was “quote mine” – taking quotes out of context to make them appear to mean the opposite of what they actually meant. I explained how he did this in Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s completely dishonest thimerosal article and in Lies, damn lies, and quote mining. So he either had already made up his mind before writing his piece (which conflicts with his quote above) and bent the transcripts to show what he wanted it to show, or someone else with an wrote it for him, or he is really so clueless that he honestly didn’t understand what he was reading. You choose. Either way, he is a crank, still pushing ideas that have been discredited by virtually all experts in the field.

  14. #14 Joseph
    November 8, 2008

    Gee, if Orac called RFK a crank then by all means stop the appointment.

    RFK is not a crank because Orac called him a crank. RFK is a crank because he has demonstrably used the techniques of cranks, one example being quote mining in order to concoct a conspiracy theory. This is not a matter of opinion. It can be documented in great detail.

    But then cranks need to stick together, right Harold?

  15. #15 AnneMarie
    November 8, 2008

    The first time I met RFK Jr. was at a business conference where he was speaking about the environment. I was there to ask for his support on a project that I had spearheaded along with other concerned citizens over one of our local rivers being polluted by a major international corporation.

    When I introduced myself and started to tell him about our work, he seemed interested and asked me to sit down next to him so we could talk some more. I soon found out he wasnt the least bit interested in talking!

    While I was trying to show him the materials Id brought and a big stack of documentation of our claims against the polluter, he totally ignored what I was saying and instead started touching my leg underneath the table, playing footsies,etcWhen we posed for some photos, he totally shocked me by grabbbing my butt in front of a room filled with hundreds of people. Some of my colleagues noticed and were horrified by his brazen behavior. It was sexual harassment right in public with cameras snapping pictures of it allI was deeply offended and embarassed to be treated this way, especially in front of the people I work with daily.

    Bobby Jr. asked for my phone number, saying he wanted to talk some more about our river cleanup project. I should have known better, but our group really wanted Mr. Kennedys help and name recognition to further our cause. I tried to talk about our issue with Mr. Kennedy by phone on several occasions after that and every time he would deflect, avoid the business at hand, and instead try to steer the conversation to a sexual topic. I felt insulted and frustrated by this because the man didnt want to hear a word I had to say (unless it was about sex), and realized this was getting absolutely nowhere. So I cut all ties with him and found another environmental lawyer to help us, one who actually LISTENED to our problem and did not ask me for sexual favors in return.

    My point in telling this story is not to make Mr. Kennedys personal life an issue, but to stress the point that this man cannot have normal, routine business dealings with those of the opposite gender. Considering that many in the environmental movement are young, attractive females, I can only wonder how Mr. Kennedy will manage to avoid getting himself caught in a bitter scandal or a sexual harassment/abuse suit before his first week of being EPA director is out.

    I have been an environmental activist and a feminist all my adult life. I have also been a big fan of the Kennedys for their supposed support of womens rights issues. But now I have experienced the hypocrisy first hand and know for a fact that when it comes to Bobby Jr., ALL halfway attractive women are regarded as playthings to be seen and not heard.

    Ive been dealing with powerful businessmen and politicians in professional settings for 15 years, and NEVER in my entire career did I ever meet anyone who was so resistant to discussing business matters and who was more interested in looking at my cleavage and fondling my backside. During one meeting, Kennedy stopped me in the middle of my presentation to tell me that I talked too much!

    If Kennedy gets the EPA appointment, I can only hope that he hires an all-male staff and learns not to sexually harass every woman who walks into his office with a serious environmetal concern or complaint. Based on the way he conducted himself with me, Kennedys EPA will be doling out help only to those women who are willing to sleep with him. Those women who arent willing to prostitute themselves for their cause will be fresh out of luck.

    Of course, Bushs EPA has operated in much the same way – but at least the favors being traded are financial rather than sexual. Nonetheless, corruption is corruption. Kennedy does not belong in a position of power inside our government. He should not be placed in a position of public trust.

    PS – I should also point out that Mr. Kennedy is married with six children. I feel sorry for his wife.

  16. #16 Natalie
    November 10, 2008

    Mag,

    Yeahno. The book in question is dedicated to political prisoners. I guess if you consider Sirhan Sirhan a political prisoner, than it’s dedicated to him among others. Personally, I don’t, and I doubt Bill Ayers does either. Thanks for playing, though.

  17. #17 Anthony Henry Smith
    November 11, 2008

    The job at the EPA calls for someone with a keen sense of both ethics and science. Kennedy is not that person.

    The following letter was written in support of Robert H. Boyle (founder of Riverkeeper and author of The Hudson River, A natural and unnatural history) and others who resigned from Riverkeeper rather than support R. F. Kennedy, Jr.’s compromise of the principle that ethics must never be separate from science.

    This letter was first published in the Putnam County News and Recorder, Cold Spring, New York, on August 30, 2000 and they have carried it on their website ever since for which they have my thanks. (AHS, 2008)

    Letters:

    Supports Former Riverkeeper Board Members’ Action
    Editor,

    The Fishkill Ridge Caretakers, Inc. supports Robert H. Boyle, former president of the Riverkeeper, Inc. and former Riverkeeper, Inc. board members John Fry, treasurer, Nancy Abraham, Kathryn Belous Boyle, Pat Crow, Theresa Hanczor, Robert Hodes, Ann Tonetti and Alexander Zagoreas in the action they have taken in resigning from Riverkeeper in opposition to the hiring of a convicted environmental felon to serve in the position of staff scientist on the staff of Riverkeeper.

    In issuing this statement of support, The Fishkill Ridge Caretakers wishes to emphasize that ethics cannot be separated from science and that the environmental movement will prosper best in an atmosphere of demonstrated personal responsibility and earned mutual respect.

    We encourage individuals as well as environmental organizations to join us in similar expressions of support for the principled stand taken by Boyle and fellow board members in their defense of the ethical integrity of the environmental movement here in the Hudson River Valley.

    Boyle and 8 of the 22 Riverkeeper board members resigned from Riverkeeper, Inc. in protest of the hiring of William Wegner. For eight years Wegner operated a ring of smugglers who stole bird eggs directly from the nests of protected cockatoo species in Australia. Wegner and his ring then smuggled the eggs by air to the United States. Birds that hatched and survived were then sold for as much as $12,500.00 each. A federal judge accepted Wegner’s plea of guilty to charges of conspiracy and tax fraud and sentenced him to five years in prison. The judge also found that Wegner had attempted to obstruct justice by committing perjury at the trial of a co-defendant Wegner paid a $10,000.00 fine.

    Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has stated that everyone deserves a second chance and notes that he himself had been given a second chance in that he had once been convicted of a drug offense.

    We note, however, that Kennedy’s offense was essentially a victimless crime while Wegner’s offense was a crime against the environment, the people of Australia, the people of the United States and against the birds. In order to avoid detection during the flight, smugglers flushed newly hatched chicks down the plane’s toilet

    Although Wegner has been convicted and served his sentence, nothing he or anyone else can do will correct the damage he has done or make his victims whole again.

    Wegner’s prison sentence seems to have done little to improve his ethical sense. The resume Wegner submitted to Riverkeeper accounts for his period of incarceration without referring to the fact of the incarceration itself Wegner describes work he performed and omits the significant information that he performed this work while he was serving time as a prison inmate.

    Kennedy overstepped his position as attorney for Riverkeeper when, in November of 1999, he hired Wegner. Boyle terminated Wegner after learning of the hiring and upon review of Wegner’s resume, court records and media accounts. The matter came to a climax at a board meeting on June 20th when Kennedy insisted that Wegner be rehired over Boyle’s objection.

    While we hope Riverkeeper continues to work to produce changed human beings who think and act differently in regard to the Hudson River and all that pertains to it, we also recognize the primary mission of Riverkeeper is not the rehabilitation of Wegner or of those like him.

    Sincerely,

    Anthony Henry Smith
    Fishkill

    (for The Fishkill Ridge Caretakers)
    (Fishkill Ridge Community Heritage, a separate organization, has also supported this letter from their beginning.)

  18. #18 Mag
    November 13, 2008

    “Natalie”-

    Re-read the comment. Yeah Ayers does consider him a political prisoner and named in the dedication.

    No I don’t consider him any such thing-

    off your meds?

  19. #19 Max
    December 13, 2008

    Posted by Annemarie Nov 8.o8

    grabing your butt………
    He surly can not help it,
    it run s in the Family

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