Respectful Insolence

OK, even though I have said time and time again that I rarely do any posts that are strictly political in nature, mainly because political bloggers are a dime a dozen, great political bloggers are rare, and I don’t consider myself anything better than an at best passable political blogger. However, when politics intersects my areas of medical interest, I can’t resist diving in, and unfortunately, Walter Olson gave me a reason to dive in today. In fact, to some extent he killed my election day buzz about the prospects for an Obama victory and a return to a government that respects science and tries not to manipulate it.

How did he do that?

Olson pointed out an article that suggests that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is being considered for Secretary of the Interior. Yes, that RFK, Jr. You know, the one who added rocket fuel to the fire of the entire scare about mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be in vaccines as a cause of autism back in 2005, with his pseudoscience- and misinformation-filled article Deadly Immunity. He’s also one of the key boosters of antivaccination fearmongering based on the claims that mercury causes autism, and has done numerous articles, public speeches, and media appearances supporting the now scientifically discredited idea that thimerosal in vaccines is a cause or “trigger” for autism. The source, an article at Politico outlining the shape of a potential Obama Administration based on canvassing of Democrats supposedly “in the know,” lists Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the top candidates for the Interior spot.

I really, really hope that this is nothing more than a trial balloon or a bit of uninformed speculation by the sources at Politico and that Obama isn’t seriously considering a wingnut like RFK, Jr. for any position in his administration. I realize that Secretary of the Interior has nothing to do with medicine or vaccine safety, but putting an pseudoscience-boosting crank like him in any position of power in the federal government, much less at a Cabinet-level position, is not the kind of message that reassures me that an Obama Administration is dedicated to using good science as a basis for determining policy.

Say it ain’t so, Barack! If you’re elected, please, please, please, don’t pick RFK, Jr. for any position in your administration. It would be the single worse message you could send that I could think of regarding your commitment to science-based policies. The stench of his crankery and advocacy of the rankest pseudoscience would taint your administration instantly and irrevocably.

My RFK, Jr./Department of the Interior/EPA posts:

  1. Why did someone have to kill my election buzz?
  2. Say it ain’t so, Barack! Say you ain’t seriously considering Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to run the EPA!
  3. Contact the Obama transition team to tell them why Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a truly bad choice for any science-based government post
  4. My last word on RFK, Jr…for now

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    November 4, 2008

    There is simply no way in the world that this is anything like a serious proposal. The Obama campaign is doing everything right. Talking about ANY cabinet officials or similar things has not been part of their strategy, and is almost always a bad strategy. This is just some bullshit floating around on the internet.

  2. #2 Danimal
    November 4, 2008

    Apparently you missed the latest news the rainfall causes autism.

  3. #3 CP
    November 4, 2008

    I would tend to agree with Greg on this, but if you want to spread the word where it would do the most good, you might want to cross-post this piece as a diary at the Daily Kos, which is read by a lot of activist Obama supporters as well as folks in the highest levels of the Democratic party.

    It’s a great sit, though there’s not a lot of science-related blogging there (except by the main scientific contributor, DarkSyde, who does excellent work).

    So far the vaccine wars haven’t made an appearance there, but it would be a receptive audience — especially if you laid out a bit more of the history of the issue and linked to some of your awesome information-rich earlier posts on the subject.

  4. #4 megan
    November 4, 2008

    and the secretary of the Interior DOES watch over both the Park Service the Forests, etc… so he’d still be involved in lots of science decisions…

  5. #5 Joe Shelby
    November 4, 2008

    I would like to say that the Today Show finally ran a counter to the “controversy”, with their medical editor literally running roughshod over the somewhat credulous Matt Lauer in order to repeat “It’s not a controversy” until he shut up about it.

    At least they finally gave a doctor the last word instead of some crazed and ignorant parent, which they’ve done the last 5 times vaccinations have come up on the show.

    Lauer is one of those oddities – he’s incredibly skeptical when it comes to politicians and their lies, but can be very credulous over pseudo-science unless a specific business is behind a claim. And he’ll buy into any psychic’s claims if she’s cute enough.

  6. #6 Bourgeois_Rage
    November 4, 2008

    Lauer is one of those oddities – he’s incredibly skeptical when it comes to politicians and their lies, but can be very credulous over pseudo-science unless a specific business is behind a claim. And he’ll buy into any psychic’s claims if she’s cute enough.

    I don’t watch Lauer, so I don’t know where he falls exactly, but he sounds like Bill Maher.

  7. #7 Ticktock
    November 4, 2008

    I challenged RFK Jr. on his autism claims after his lecture in Cincinnati. He is still a nut about that stuff, and he was definitely an ass about the subject.

    However, after hearing his speech on the environment and the lobbyist controlled government, I believe Barack Obama couldn’t find a better person for the Department of the Interior.

    Please check your logic when you let a man’s sacred cow stain his overall reputation. RFK Jr. might be a jerk in regards to vaccines, but he knows his shit when it comes to national parks and environmental issues. The two have nothing in common.

  8. #8 Ahistoricality
    November 4, 2008

    Politico wrote Here is the list of names being widely discussed in Democratic circles, compiled with the help of ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Politico’s Ben Smith. Some of the names are more likely than others, but all are being seriously considered by Obama advisers. Some of the sources would be involved in decision making, and some were making educated deductions.

    There’s no way this list should be taken seriously. It’s rumors and guesswork.

  9. #9 Umlud
    November 4, 2008

    Orac – imho RFK Jr. would be a good candidate for the Interior Department because he actually wants to protect the (erm) interior of the country. I’m not up on the reason why you are having an apparently knee-jerk reaction about his supposed nomination, but there are other issues out there than whether or not there is a link between mercury species in vaccines and autism. As a person who works primarily in freshwater systems – on issues of water quality, water quantity, aquatic ecology, hydrologic connectivity, water policy, and water law from a conservation and restoration perspective – I think that RFK Jr. would be a strong candidate for fresh water protection in this country.

    Is RKF Jr. a scientist? No. He’s a lawyer, but that shouldn’t mean that his profession alone would be a bad move for science-based policy. Furthermore, even if he were appointed, I don’t see how the post of the Sec. Interior would impact your research, or how he might use the position to talk about vaccines and autism – except in the possible case of citing it in some case with the BIA. (I would hope, though, that he would have enough professionalism to refrain from making policy statements about areas not covered by his department.)

    Would it be the worst message Obama could send regarding his commitment to science-based policies? I don’t think so. Appointing Jenny McCarthy as the head of the FDA would be, though, much closer to that “worst” message. (Appointing Dr. Mantombazana ‘Manto’ Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang as head of the FDA would be even closer than the appointment of Ms. McCarthy.)

  10. #10 Orac
    November 4, 2008

    Please check your logic when you let a man’s sacred cow stain his overall reputation. RFK Jr. might be a jerk in regards to vaccines, but he knows his shit when it comes to national parks and environmental issues. The two have nothing in common.

    I’m sorry, but when someone is this far off the reservation, science-wise, on one issue, I seriously distrust him on others, and in fact he’s shown signs of crankery when it comes to environmental issues, not to mention having a tendency to fly off the handle and label those who disagree with him as “traitors” or compare them to Hitler and Mussolini:

    http://www.walterolson.com/2006/01/crimes_of_ego.html

    Amusing quote:

    His villains, a long list, include the “sleazy scoundrels” of the Bush regime, business execs with “reptilian hearts,” “crooked scientists” whose research fails to confirm his own notions and sinister policy experts who dabble in “the occult art of cost-benefit analysis.”

    There’s a rich market for Bush-bashing books these days, but Kennedy’s jackhammer style leaves one yearning for Michael Moore’s suavity, Molly Ivins’ balance and Paul Krugman’s lightness of touch. If you find it novel and illuminating to compare today’s highly placed Texans with Hitler and Mussolini, then RFK Jr.’s your man.

    More RFK fun:

    http://commonsblog.org/archives/000189.php

    Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that RFK Jr.’s any less a crank when it comes to the environment than he is when it comes to vaccines. He certainly seems as unconcerned with the accuracy of the “facts” and “science” he presents in favor of his arguments for environmental action as he does with the “facts” and “science” he trots out to justify his belief that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.

    There’s also this: He would be at every Cabinet meeting. Any time vaccine health policy came up, he would have the ear of a President Obama, not to mention the chance to grandstand for the media. Finally, there’s also the matter of appearances. Castigating Republicans for being anti-science is all well and good, but by appointing a wingnut like RFK, Jr. Obama would leave himself open to the charges that he politicizes science, just from the other direction.

    No, RFK Jr.’s a kook and should not be appointed to the Cabinet for scientific, policy, and political reasons. It would be a disaster. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that the commenters who call this rumors and guesswork are probably correct; however even seeing his name mentioned in the same breath as “Cabinet post” gives me the chills, even in a speculation-driven article.

  11. #11 Patrick Caldon
    November 4, 2008

    Apparently you missed the latest news the rainfall causes autism.

    I thought autism was a rare side-effect of being born.

    On radio some time ago I heard an interview. The speaker was making the point that in the 1970s when the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis was in vogue, it was a thinly veiled way of blaming the parents for the child’s condition — sending the parents on a guilt-trip for the way their children turned out.

    He noted the profound similarity of the refrigerator-mother proponents to the vax-autism proponents. The vax-autism people have noticed that pretty much all children who have autism had vaccines. The refrigerator-mother people noticed that pretty much all children with autism had mothers.

    I just wish I could remember the name of the speaker or the radio show.

  12. #12 KiltedDad
    November 5, 2008

    Jay Inslee (Mr. Apollo program for Energy) would be a great choice, without all the anti-vax nonsense. Let’s all push for Jay.

  13. #13 wolfwalker
    November 5, 2008

    Olson pointed out an article that suggests that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is being considered for Secretary of the Interior. Yes, that RFK, Jr.

    [snigger.wav]

    You elected him, suckers.

    Now you get to enjoy the consequences.

  14. #14 Natalie
    November 5, 2008

    Wolfwalker, I thought he stole the election. Or are you just looking to bash the man for whatever reason you can find?

  15. #15 sophia8
    November 5, 2008

    Patrick Caldon: It was Leo Kanner – the medic who invented the term ‘autism’in the 30s – who first put forward the idea that emotionally cold parents were the cause. Later psychologists, notably Bruno Bettleheim, embraced it as part of the general “blame the parents” atitude prevalent in the 60s; Bettleheim first used the term “refrigerator mothers”, I believe.

  16. #16 Bronze Dog
    November 5, 2008

    You elected him, suckers.

    Now you get to enjoy the consequences.

    I saw Obama as a compromise from the start. We have the right to criticize the hell out of ‘our’ guy if he does something wrong, and we should.

    Still far better than what would have happened with McCain and Palin in office. I’d have fear for our way of life, not merely some altie cranks in the cabinet.

  17. #17 Manduca
    November 5, 2008

    Anyone who’s had an autistic child can tell you the causation works the other way – the child’s autism causes the parents to be “cold”. There’s no point in trying to cuddle a child for whom physical contact is torture.

  18. #18 thingsbreak
    November 5, 2008

    Orac,

    While very few cabinent positions have already been decisively decided, I can say to you with 100% confidence that this is bullshit. Kennedy isn’t even on the shortlist.

    I would put money on Inslee now that Schweitzer has been reelected.

  19. #19 Clare
    November 5, 2008

    I’d heard that RFK Jr. was up for EPA head…

  20. #20 Tlazolteotl
    November 5, 2008

    Jay Inslee (Mr. Apollo program for Energy) would be a great choice, without all the anti-vax nonsense. Let’s all push for Jay.

    I agree, I feel much more comfortable about Rep. Inslee (and more comfortable with the idea that he would recognize and promote good science over ideological crap). Criminy, we’ve had ideological incompetents in charge of making science and environmental policy for eight years straight already. You would think Democrats would be the last people on earth to want more of the same.

  21. #21 isles
    November 5, 2008

    Thingsbreak, I surely hope you’re right. I’m sick to my stomach to think of someone as credulous as RFK Jr. taking a Cabinet position. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that people at that level should be intellectual heavyweights, or at least have a functioning BS detector.

  22. #22 Orac
    November 5, 2008

    This has not passed my notice. Stay tuned. I’m really afraid that RFK, Jr. is being considered for a Cabinet post or to head the EPA.

  23. #23 Catherina
    November 6, 2008

    http://www.spiegel.de has Kennedy as head of EPA – fun times ahead

  24. #24 Mike McKeown
    November 6, 2008

    RFK Jr is also a major opponent of the wind farm on Nantucket Sound.

    He is nominally a proponent, but in reality he is just a NIMBY, or as his uncle puts it, “That’s where I sail.”

  25. #25 navi
    November 7, 2008

    Kanner put forward the idea, but he was taken out of context, if I remember correctly. It was something he considered in one of his writings but not necessarily a major cause. You are right that Bruno Bettleheim popularized it, though….