Poor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He went from admired environmental activist to reviled antivaccine campaigner so quickly. It began when he outed himself in 2005 with his infamous conspiracy mongering screed about thimerosal in Salon.com and Rolling Stone. Basically, RFK Jr. is a member of what we used to call the mercury militia, a branch of the antivaccine movement that believes, more than anything else, that it is the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that used to be in several childhood vaccines until 2002 drove an “epidemic” of autism. He’s still a member, too, having recently written with Dr. Mark Hyman a book entitled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: Mercury Toxicity in Vaccines and the Political, Regulatory, and Media Failures That Continue to Threaten Public Health. Not surprisingly, it was chock full of antivaccine misinformation and claims that thimerosal in vaccines caused all sorts of horrible neurological problems in children. It didn’t, nor did it cause autism. The idea that thimerosal-containing vaccines cause autism is a failed hypothesis. Just this year, he even went full crank once again and offered a “challenge” worthy of Jock Doubleday’s bizarre vaccine challenge to prove that thimerosal is safe. It was rigged, naturally. Basically, RFK Jr., his denials notwithstanding, is antivaccine to the core.

Early in 2017, when President-Elect Donald Trump and his team were working on the transition of administrations, RFK, Jr. was invited to Trump Tower to meet with him. RFK Jr., being RFK Jr., he immediately blabbed to the press that Trump had asked him to form and chair a presidential commission on vaccine safety, or autism, or…something. It wasn’t exactly clear what. Of course, those of us who were pro-vaccine were alarmed, as this seemed to signal that as President Trump would act on his oft-expressed idea that vaccines cause autism, particularly in wake of the revelations that he had met with a bunch of antivaccine activists including Andrew Wakefield while campaigning in Florida in August. Fortunately, however, the Trump administration thus far hasn’t acted on any “presidential commission” on vaccine safety or autism. Indeed, Trump has appointed pro-vaccine advocates to run both the FDA and CDC.

So I was amused to see an article in STAT News about the vaccine commission that RFK Jr. so much wants to chair. How’ve things been going on that score? Not so well, it turns out:

Robert Kennedy Jr., the environmental activist and leading vaccine skeptic, says that it has been months since he has talked with White House officials about chairing a vaccine safety commission — and that the idea of such a panel may no longer be under consideration.

“I’ve had no discussions specifically about the vaccine safety commission, probably since February,” Kennedy told STAT. “You’d have to ask the White House. It may be that it’s evolved.”

Before I go on, let me just give Helen Branswell, who wrote this otherwise excellent report, a word of advice: RFK Jr. is not a “vaccine skeptic,” leading or otherwise. He is antivaccine to the core and has been spewing antivaccine pseudoscience since at least 2005. Skepticism does not mean reflex rejection of the scientific consensus in favor of pseudoscience, but that is exactly what RFK Jr. does: Reject the scientific consensus and embrace pseudoscience. If there’s something that reporters do that really grate on me, it’s to use language like this to describe antivaxers. It gives them far more credibility than they deserve.

Of course, this is just RFK Jr. being RFK Jr. He’s publicity whoring. He wants attention. He wants you to know how important he is. Unfortunately, the Kennedy name goes a long way. Kennedy met with Dr. Peter Marks, head of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, which regulates vaccines, and other FDA staff on March 30, as he has bragged in his interview with STAT:

Well, I’ve met with high-level officials in the White House. They’ve arranged meetings for me with HHS and White House officials and agency officials. Various agency officials, including [NIH Director] Francis Collins and his deputy, Lawrence Tabak, I think. And I met with Tony Fauci, who’s at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Linda Birnbaum, who’s at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Diana Bianchi, at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH. And over at FDA I’ve met with Peter Marks, the director of [the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research] and some other officials there. I can’t remember everybody at this point, all of the people that we’ve met with.

He even met with NIH Director Francis Collins and other NIH staff, who, appropriately, pushed back:

Kennedy met on May 31 with top leaders of the NIH. Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak attended the meeting, along with the heads of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Kennedy laid out his concerns about vaccines at the meeting, presenting the information he views as supporting evidence, according to an official familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the NIH participants countered, the agency suggested in an email.

“In the meeting, NIH noted that there is strong and extensive scientific data that support the safety and efficacy of vaccines,” a spokesman said. “NIH reaffirmed with Mr. Kennedy that vaccines are among the most beneficial health interventions in history in terms of the number of lives that have been saved over decades, have been shown to be very safe, and are vital to the public health goal of preventing diseases.”

In his interview, Kennedy claims that the Trump administration asked him to meet with these officials. Given that Kennedy is an inveterate self-promoter who’s been known to—shall we say?—stretch the truth on occasion, I wonder if his version of events is reliable. On the other hand, this is the Trump administration. it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the administration did ask him to meet with these people, and, given that, these officials could not refuse. I’m glad, though that NIH leaders and, from what I can gather, everyone else forced to meet with Kennedy pushed back at his= pseudoscience and fear mongering about vaccines. The good news is that the message I’m getting from this report and interview with RFK Jr. is that pursuing antivaccine policies—excuse me, investigating “vaccine safety”— does not appear to be a priority for Trump, which means that his appointees to key positions at the CDC, NIH, and FDA have been unequivocally pro-vaccine. For instance:

And:

Oh, how antivaxers howled with outrage!

It’s also amusing to read Kennedy as he is asked multiple times if the commission will go forward or if it might go forward with someone else leading it, every time provoking a response along the lines of, “You’d have to ask the White House”:

You’d have to ask the White House. It may be that it’s evolved. I’ve been told that the president is still interested in this issue and that he wants me to have further meetings with the regulatory agencies and with the White House. Like I said, I have not talked to anybody in the White House about the commission.

All of this leads me to believe that most of this is just Kennedy promoting himself, as he is very good at doing. Most likely what happened is that when Branswell contacted him to find out if, seven months later, anything had happened regarding the Presidential commission, he saw his chance to blow his own horn.

I do give Branswell props for pushing back against Kennedy’s misinformation, though. For instance, Kennedy claims:

We need to do double-blind placebo testing. Because particularly when it comes to injecting aluminum or mercury into babies, the consequences may be latent. In other words, they may not manifest or diagnosed to age 3 or 4. So the current protocols, which require testing for vaccines of sometimes as little as 48 hours, are not going to disclose the kind of dangers that the public and the regulators ought to know about.

The hepatitis B vaccines that are currently approved had fewer than five days of safety testing. That means that if the child has a seizure on the sixth day, it’s never seen. If the child dies, it’s never seen. If the child gets food allergies or ADD or ADHD, which don’t manifest for four or five years or aren’t diagnosed or autism, which usually isn’t diagnosed until age 4, the regulators will never see that prior to licensing the vaccine.

This bit about the hepatitis B vaccine is basically a distortion. For instance, the thimerosal-free version of EngerixB relied on clinical trials that looked at the “occurrence, intensity and relationship to vaccination of solicited local and general signs and symptoms during the 4-day follow-up period. However, that ignores all the other evidence for the safety of hepatitis B vaccination, of which there is plenty.

Here’s what Kennedy is doing. He’s ignoring all the epidemiological studies that show that vaccines are not associated with autism, a veritable mountain of evidence, and trying to argue that the FDA should assume that it might and require years and years of followup in the double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials (RCTs) used to license vaccines. This is simply impractical and, more importantly, not scientifically or ethically justified given what we know from epidemiological studies. I’m sure that Kennedy also knows that such a requirement would enormously increase the cost of doing the pre-licensure clinical trials needed for the FDA to approve vaccines.

Branswell, to her credit, pushes back:

Vaccines are tested that way all the time.

You’re wrong about that. It is not required for vaccines. So most of the vaccines — and I know this is surprising to you, and it’s shocking to most people, because journalists like yourself assume that vaccines are encountering the same kind of rigorous safety testing as other drugs, including multiyear double-blind placebo testing. But the fact is that vaccines don’t. And the reason for that is they’re classified as biologics.

I’ve read a lot of vaccine studies. And they are double-blind placebo tested.

No, you’re wrong about that. … But in any case, none of them have more than a few months of double-blind placebo testing, which will not allow you to spot illnesses like autism that aren’t diagnosed before five years. Second of all, in most vaccines, for example the Gardasil vaccine, they don’t use true placebos.

Ha! I just discussed that last one about Gardasil not using “true placeboes” and what utter BS it is. I also like how, right after saying that double-blind, placebo controlled trials aren’t required for FDA licensure, Kennedy quickly pivots to admitting, basically, “Well, yes they are, but they don’t go on years and years and years and years to detect differences in autism prevalence.” Did I also mention that, given that autism prevalence is one in 50, each such trial, to be adequately powered, would require an incredibly large number of subjects. I’ve written about this issue before in the context of epidemiological studies. Basically, to be adequately powered to detect anything other than large differences in autism prevalence between control and experimental groups would require much larger clinical trials than we have now, likely so large as to be impractical. Also, once again, scientifically it’s not justified, taken in context with the totality of the evidence.

I’m happy that nothing much has come of the “presidential commission.” I’m also happy to see RFK Jr. remains no more believable or competent at spreading antivaccine misinformation than he’s ever been. I am not, however, happy to see that he’s still meeting with federal officials in charge of public health, medical research, and vaccine approval. As long as that’s still happening, we pro-science public health advocates need to stay frosty.

Comments

  1. #1 Narad
    August 27, 2017

    Can anyone say “predatory publisher”?

    Not in the Beall sense.

  2. #2 Vaccine Papers
    August 27, 2017

    ‘In other words, diseases can cause schizophrenia and autism, and vaccines, by preventing these diseases, LOWER the risk of getting them.”

    Not if the method of prevention also triggers the causal mechanism: inflammation.

    And thats what aluminum adjuvant does.

  3. #3 herr doktor bimler
    August 27, 2017

    Nevertheless, here is a new paper reviewing the relationship between aluminum and neurodisorders by Fry of U of Arkansas. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11011-017-0077-2.pdf

    Frye &c cite (inter alia)
    Siniscalco D, Cirillo A, Bradstreet JJ, Antonucci N (2013) Epigenetic Findings in Autism: New Perspectives for Therapy. Int J Environ Res Public Health 10(9):4261-
    4273.

    Siniscalco is (alas) a medscammer, and his CV at Frontiers documents an impressively wide range of autism-cure and autism-detection scams — including stem-cell injections and the GcMAF grift.

    In this particular citation he collaborated with Jeff Bradstreet, familiar to RI readers, a broad-spectrum autism exploiter who never saw a scam he didn’t want to steal.

    But mainly I was wondering about this other Diniscalco citation in Frye &co:
    Siniscalco D (2015) Commentary: The Impact of Neuroimmune Alterations in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Front Psychiatry 6:145.
    doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00145

    The DOI leads nowhere. The link to it within the Frontiers archives is equally defunct. Is this an unannounced retraction, or simply Frontiers incompetence?

  4. #4 herr doktor bimler
    August 27, 2017

    It’s a 2012 study of mice by Hong end Wei et al.
    The mice were injected at birth with an adenovirus to over express IL-6,

    Ah, another specimen of “autistic mice” junk science.

  5. #5 Narad
    August 27, 2017

    Is this an unannounced retraction, or simply Frontiers incompetence?

    I’m guessing the latter. PMC has the published PDF.

  6. #6 Narad
    August 27, 2017

    ^ Then again, it is seemingly pointless semi-English. Why anyone would cite it is beyond me.

  7. #7 TBruce
    August 27, 2017

    Does RFK Jackass have any credibility left with the environmental movement? Here he is sucking up to the Tangerine-in-Chief, completely ignoring (and therefore passively condoning) Trump’s actions in destroying established climate science. In other words, he’s trading any influence he might have combatting a world-wide threat, for support for his pet delusion. He has become a pathetic joke.

  8. #8 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    August 27, 2017

    Can anyone say “predatory publisher”?

    Not in the Beall sense.

    According to this –
    https://www.springeropen.com/get-published/article-processing-charges/springeropen-prices
    They charge somewhere around $1K -$2K, or there about, depending on which server journal you want your content posted on. That’s about right in line with the place that last ripped-off MJD, IIRC.

  9. #9 Chris Preston
    August 28, 2017

    Since Orac refuses do anything about the inappropriate comments from PGP

    You could do something about that yourself. Stop posting and save us all the trouble of skipping through your senseless comments.

  10. #10 Narad
    August 28, 2017

    According to this –
    ht[]ps://www.springeropen.com/get-published/article-processing-charges/springeropen-prices
    They charge somewhere around $1K -$2K, or there about

    One might also note that Metabolic Brain Disease is not on that list. Yes, they’re going to charge you out the ass to make a paper open-access, but it’s not a “predatory journal” for any reasonable construal of the phrase.

  11. #11 herr doktor bimler
    August 28, 2017

    Then again, it is seemingly pointless semi-English. Why anyone would cite it is beyond me.

    Why Siniscalco paid Frontiers to publish his vapid praise also escapes me. If you check the paper he’s commenting on, he turns out to have also reviewed it; perhaps he thought his glowing review was so cogent, it deserved a wider readership.

    The second reviewer of “The impact of neuroimmune alterations in autism spectrum disorder” was Hongen Wei, of Shanxi Medical University. Who was also the sole reviewer of Siniscalco’s Commentary. It all gets rather log-rolly and incestuous.

    Siniscalco has a history of this. He reviewed a notorious Frontiers paper by his business colleagues Bradstreet, Pacini & Ruggiero (on diagnosing autism by incompetent use of an ultrasound scanner and Photoshop), then paid Frontiers to print his review as a fulsome Comment on the paper (which was reviewed by other close colleagues from the same circle of grift).
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/EF08BD817D82C7611935C13CB44FAA

  12. #12 Vaccine Papers
    August 28, 2017

    “It’s a 2012 study of mice by Hong end Wei et al.
    The mice were injected at birth with an adenovirus to over express IL-6,

    Nothing about aluminum that I could see.”

    Other researchb shows that aluminum adjuvant travels into the brain, causes microglial activation in the brain, and increases IL-6 production in the brain.

    Aluminum adjuvant >> inflammation + IL-6 in the brain >>autism

    This is where the science is at today. But the pathological skeptics will be the absolute last to understand what has been discovered.

  13. #13 Narad
    August 28, 2017

    ^ Three grand, to be specific.

  14. #14 Julian Frost
    August 28, 2017

    @Vaccine Papers:

    Not if the method of prevention also triggers the causal mechanism: inflammation.

    Citation needed that inflammation is a causal mechanism for schizophrenia and autism. Citation needed that vaccines cause the type of inflammation that according to you results in autism and schizophrenia.

  15. #15 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    August 28, 2017

    Oh, almost forgot.
    Citation needed that vaccines cause MORE inflammation than the diseases they prevent.

  16. #16 herr doktor bimler
    August 28, 2017

    creative writing is more persuasive than crude insults.

    My goal is always to combine the two in a single comment.

  17. #17 Chris Preston
    August 28, 2017

    Nevertheless, here is a new paper reviewing the relationship between aluminum and neurodisorders by Fry of U of Arkansas.

    Gerwyn Morris!!!

    Oh happy memories of Gerwyn proving he knew next to nothing about biology during the XMRV fiasco.

    That was around about the same time as the cyanobacteria cause ME fiasco.

  18. #18 herr doktor bimler
    August 28, 2017

    Wait what, Gerwyn a.k.a. V99 a.k.a. umpteen other sockpuppets, who had a self-diagnosis of ME/CFS and self-taught expertise in microbiology, and had very strong views about the aetiological role of a viral contaminant, largely expressed in the safe environment of friendly bulletin boards? That Gerwyn Morris?

    If I am following Morris’s oeuvre correctly, XMRV causes autism, and mercury contamination causes autism, and aluminium causes autism. Is there anything that doesn’t cause autism?

  19. #19 Chris Preston
    August 28, 2017

    That Gerwyn Morris?

    Indeed that Gerwyn Morris. He has managed a quite impressive oeuvre since he took up writing ‘scientific’ papers in 2013. He has managed to determine the causes of bipolar disorder, autism, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cancer and of course chronic fatigue syndrome. Worked out what Coenzyme Q depletion does, the dangers of the Zika virus and identified new drug targets. All without managing to conduct a single piece of experimental work.

  20. #20 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    August 28, 2017

    Im talking about YOUR claim that aluminum adjuvant is neurologically safe and does not cause autism.

    Do try to keep up Dan:

    There is no evidence that aluminum adjuvants are neurologically safe. All the evidence we have strongly indicates that Al adjuvants cause brain damage and autism specifically.

    What is your reason for rejecting all the papers by Shaw, Exley, Gherardi and Crepeaux? In scientific discourse, papers are fair game if they are peer reviewed and published in competent journals. Thats the case with papers by these scientists.

    Sigh, this is what happens when you have amateurs trying science. Peer review and the publisher are no guarantee of quality. Their methods are poor and results are dodgy. But you’d know that if you knew how to parse a study and have an obvious bias.

    Nevertheless, here is a new paper reviewing the relationship between aluminum and neurodisorders by Fry of U of Arkansas. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11011-017-0077-2.pdf

    Whoop de do a review by a person who cosies up to the AutOne crowd and cites all your crap scientists and “research”.

    Very little. Less than 1%. Flarend 1997 found that Al excretion was 6% and 22% for AlOH and AlPO4 at 28 days. See also Movsas 2013, which found no detectable Al increase in blood or urine.

    Let’s take a look at the whole passage given your propensity to cherry-pick:

    Cumulative urinary excretion of aluminium (Figure 2) indicates that the body is able to eliminate the aluminium absorbed from the adjuvants. The cumulative amount of aluminium eliminated in the urine during the 28 days of the study was 6% of the AH adjuvant dose and 22% of the AP adjuvant dose. Aluminium from both adjuvants was still being excreted at a steady rate at day 28.

    You fail to understand that aluminium adjuvants are not immediately absorbed. Now why don’t you tell us the tissue distribution Dan? You keep avoiding answering that.

    There are several studies on IL-6/IL-17 and autism, providing evidence of causation.

    examples:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22326556

    http://www.jneurosci.org/content/27/40/10695

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26822608

    Anyone can see how you abuse irrelevant literature to support your case. It’s really obvious and pathetic.

  21. #21 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    August 28, 2017

    Aluminum adjuvant >> inflammation + IL-6 in the brain >>autism

    This is where the science is at today. But the pathological skeptics will be the absolute last to understand what has been discovered.

    I find it truly amazing that not only can aluminium cause all manner of pathologies according to Dan the Vaccine Papers man yet no documented pathologies occur with what aluminium grifters claim aluminium does.

  22. #22 herr doktor bimler
    August 28, 2017

    Indeed that Gerwyn Morris. He has managed a quite impressive oeuvre since he took up writing ‘scientific’ papers in 2013.

    PubMed says the first Morris-Maes paper was 2012 (in our old friend Med.Hyp.):
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22951418
    There was chatter in the ME/CFS bulletin boards that this was one of the papers that Maes had written and was shopping around for someone to co-author (after he had shifted his CFS practice to Thailand in search of a less rigid regulatory environment). Then a whole sequence of Morris-Maes papers, often in Metab Brain Dis.

    In the context of the XMRV story, I knew that Mikovits had co-signed off and accepted the conclusion of the “XMRV = contaminant” joint paper; then rescinded her acceptance, in pursuit of a permanent grifting position in Alt-Med circles as Persecuted Maverick Scientist, Brave Enough to speak the truth. Until just now I didn’t realise that she had teamed up with Heckenlively to write sign a book-shaped object.

    And Gerwyn turns up in the References as Heckenlively’s main informant! Huzzah!

  23. #23 Chris Preston
    August 28, 2017

    Yes Mikovits disappeared down the rabbit hole pretty quickly. Mind you, the options she had (all of her own making I should add) were not stunning. She could admit to egregiously faking her results and be forever unemployable as a scientist, completely disappear from view and hope everyone forgot about her, or do the brave maverick grifting thing. She showed her true quality of judgement when she hooked up with Heckenlively though.

    Morris was a major disciple of XMRV even well after it had been debunked and one of Judy’s few remaining supporters, so no surprise he has a star billing in the novel Plague.

  24. #24 herr doktor bimler
    August 29, 2017

    Mikovits seems to be a regular at all the Autism Scamborees, with her new retconned back-story as Erstwhile Insider who was Forced Out of Science when she could No Longer Hide the Truth.

    There’s a copy circulating of her presentation to Reinwand’s “4th International Congress on Integrative Medicine”. At least she has learned not to put faked Western Blots in her PPTs.

  25. #25 dingo199
    August 30, 2017

    I see that RFK Jr’s World Mercury Project have published their responses to claims for the $100,000 challenge.
    There were not many submissions, but every one was batted away, usually by saying the submissions were not eligible, or with the weasel conclusion “This study does not prove it is safe to inject mercury.”
    https://worldmercuryproject.org/news/entries-for-the-challenge/

  26. #26 Brian Deer
    August 30, 2017

    Is there any study that proves anything is safe?

  27. #27 Denice Walter
    August 30, 2017

    I learned that RFK jr resigned from Riverkeeper** (Spectrum News March 2017) in order to devote more time to the Mercury Project- also he will also be on the West Coast.***

    ** I used to get invites to soirees/ benefits for them where he would appear
    e.g. Have cocktails at a Georgian Manor with an antivaxxer!
    ( they didn’t really say that)
    *** poor California