Don Imus: He never fails to deliver the stupid when it comes to vaccines and autism

I'll give Don Imus credit for one thing. He's predictable and consistent. He never fails to deliver the stupid when it comes to vaccines and autism. True, his wife may take the stupid to hysterically malignant levels when she decides to rant about her belief in the undead myth that mercury in vaccines was a major cause of autism, but he's the calm and reliable voice of vaccine stupidity, spitting out the same antivaccination lies over and over again in that sleep-inducing mumbling drone that he calls a voice. He's only been back on the air for a month and a half now, and it's become completely obvious why the mercury militia loves him to death. Apparently, on Thursday he showed us why (thanks to the reader who sent me this transcript), as he discussed the execrable antivaccination extravaganza that the new ABC series Eli Stone appears to be:

IMUS: Just briefly about the article in yesterday's New York Times, which reported the drama "Eli Stone", is scheduled to be broadcast January 31, 2008. The article centers on a lawyer who begins having visions that cause him to question his life's work defending large corporations, including a pharmaceutical company that makes vaccines. The show suggests there is a link between Thimerosal and autism. Eli Lily is the company that developed Thimerosal, and the two companies that now make the bulk of childhood vaccines used in the United States, Glaxo Smith Kline and Sanofi Avantis, spent an estimated 138 million dollars in advertising last year on ABC. They didn't know anything about this show.


IMUS: They are, of course, freaking out. I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I would make the observation about this article, written by Edwin Wyatt....... either the NY Times is unaware of the facts, doesn't care about the facts or has an agenda. It's got to be one of the three. Mr. Wyatt writes: "Among the organizations that have studied possible links between autism and the preservative in the vaccines, are the CDC, FDA, IOM, WHO and the AAP....each of them has largely dismissed the idea that thimerosal causes of contributes to autism. Five major studies have found no link.

Well, that all sounds very powerful, except they don't tell you about the hundreds of studies from major universities that suggest there is a link. As I have said all along, one of them's right....and. of them's wrong. Why wouldn't he print that? Why wouldn't he point out all the facts? Why?

Listening to Imus, whose exceedingly disingenuous protestations of not "having a dog in this fight" are unconvincing, accuse the New York Times of having an "agenda" brings to mind the classic phrase: Pot. Kettle. Black.

In any case, the "hundreds of studies" bit is a frequently used mercury miltiia canard, a distortion bordering on an outright lie straight from the playbook of the antivaccination movement. Imus, who is either too much of a scientific ignoramus or too ideologically blinded by his antivaccination views to realize this, predictably laps this whopper up and vomits it out for his audience to lap up in turn. It's a canard that's almost shockingly easy to debunk. I just did a quick search. Did you know that if you search PubMed using the terms "thimerosal" and "autism" you get 93 hits. If you search "mercury" and "autism" you get the same 93 articles. Moreover, some of the articles are review articles, and the vast majority of both the review articles and research articles conclude that there is no link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism, with a few notable exceptions: Articles by members of the mercury militia, such as Mark and David Geier and Boyd Haley that somehow managed to slime their way into the peer-reviewed literature. (No review system is perfect.) So right off the bat, you know that the claim of "hundreds" of studies is a load of crap.

Of course, in the topsy-turvy pseudoscientific world of the mercury militia, I suppose it all depends on how you define a "study." If by "study" you mean a well-designed scientific/epidemiological study with good controls, strong statistics, and adequate power to answer a question being posed that has biological plausibility and that has passed rigorous peer review before publication, then there most definitely are not "hundreds" (or even any) studies showing that thimerosal causes autism. If by "study" you mean pieces of crap thrown together by true believers, published in lousy journals or presented at mercury militia mutual wank off "conferences," then I suppose you might be able to find "hundreds." True, a tiny handful of papers by the Geiers and Boyd Haley have made it into Medline-indexed journals, but they're virtually the only ones there claiming a link between thimerosal and mercury, sometimes with data that is only tangentially related to the question.

Obviously, Imus is simply too pinheaded to realize that quality and relevance of studies matter. The epidemiological studies failing to find a link between thimerosal and autism were methodologically rigorous, well-designed, and adequately powered to detect small differences, as has been pointed out. My guess is that these "hundreds of studies" are mainly the spew of mercury militia enablers the Geiers and Haley, published in journals not indexed by Medline (which usually means non-peer-reviewed), ideological journals like the Journal of American Physicians and Scientists, presented as abstracts at mercury militia-friendly conferences like Autism One, where the glitterati of the mercury militia come to present their pseudoscience every year, or touted as "evidence" for a linkage when they are really largely irrelevant. Bathing cultured neurons in baths of thimerosal and noting that they die, thus demonstrating "neurotoxicity" is one favored example (never mind that no one's ever shown that nonspecific neuronal toxicity and death are a contributing mechanism to autism), as is the Mady Hornig's infamous "rain mouse" study. But, no, in Imus' extravagantly ignorant world, all that matters is the number of studies, not the quality, much like how in his world all that matters is the numbers in the ratings and the number of digits on his paycheck. In such a small mind as his, good science and epidemiology can't stand against the tsunami of garbage that the mercury militia routinely publish and claim as "science."

No wonder the antivaccination movement mourned when Imus was fired and rejoiced when he was hired at WABC. No matter how much he claims he "doesn't have a dog in this fight," he's clearly one of them and one of the most famous and reliable propagandists for the movement. Jenny McCarthy may be a flash in the pan as far as blaming autism on vaccines goes, but Imus is, alas, seemingly eternal.

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I just about spit my drink on my keyboard when I saw that "no dog in this fight" bit. Imus is so submerged in the mercury mom BS, it's a wonder he doesn't need a scuba set to breathe.

Even the more extreme anti-thimerosal groups can't put together more than a handful of studies to suggest a link between autism and thimerosal exposure. Why aren't there hundreds of studies hosted at or SafeMinds?

I'm starting to think that Don's cowboy hat was made using the old mercury method for manufacturing felt.

By notmercury (not verified) on 26 Jan 2008 #permalink

I had left my Sirius receiver at work the other day, so I turned on the radio for the five minute drive to work and was subjected to the inane ramblings of Imus' "better" half, this time on the subject of aspartame, a subject similar to the mercury/autism debate for the number of nuts it attracts, even though the scientific research argues against the contentions that aspartame is dangerous to any but PK patients.

Can we guess what side of the argument she was on? She used all of the tactics you've described here -- speaking as though her opinion was generally accepted by EVERYONE but the major corporations, that there were "hundreds" of studies that supported the notion that aspartame is a dangerous chemical, right up there with -- well, right up there with thimerosal. What a self-important, arrogant boob.

Your blog has greatly decreased my ability to tolerate such blatant bs. I shut the radio off and finished the drive to work in blessed, blessed silence.

Any guesses as to when the Imustards wil show up?

Related to this issue, the latest issue of Skeptic magazine published a letter from an "Aspergers Syndome patient" which repeats the same bits we've all seen - especially the mercury-excretion hypothesis and the conspiracy theories. Sad.

Any guesses as to when the Imustards wil show up?

They appear to have disappeared for now. Maybe my Google Juice just isn't strong enough and my posts don't appear high enough on their searches.

By major universities no less. Except for Hornig et al. and (more recently) DeSoto & Hitlan, I can't think of papers linked to a university that argue in favor of an association. BTW, the only published epidemiology (if you accept it can be called that) hinting at a causal association is by Geier & Geier. There's nothing outside of that. And the stuff by Geier & Geier, you know, suffers not only from methodological deficiencies, but severe credibility issues as well.

Joseph, you mean the Geier's house in Silver Spring isn't a major university?

Well, you know, the Geiers' basement has a lab as good as anything at NIH, so it's practically a given that their library doubles as a prestigious research university.

One of the problems with the Internet is the accessibility of studies to people (including reporters) who have no idea what they're reading, and have no idea that they have no idea.

I'd say the issue is less the access and more the terrible quality of American science education- and it may be notable that the existence of Imus is living proof that it's hardly declined from a glorious peak. Which is depressing of course, but not surprising.

Probably our biggest educational problem across all disciplines is that we teach people a limited slate of facts, and few or no logical or analytical principles.

I never realized Google was the final word for everything. I googled my friend's name and got zero hits. Therefore he must not exist?
Must be true if it's on the internet (or not, as the case may be).

When the facts aren't on your side, you can't argue the facts. So, you can either make up your own facts out of whole cloth, or nitpick the facts in an attempt to raise doubt over their veracity.

Or, you can compare your opponent to Hitler.

At present, I've not really encountered or read about a strong, anti-vaccination movement outside of the US. This may just be my ignorance about the anti-vac idiots. However, it certainly seems as though the US has the lions-share of these morons.

Does anybody know of any of these nutters outside the US? And can anybody provide me with a viable hypothesis as to why America is disproportionatly represented in the anti-vac idiocy?

You've obviously never heard of the anti-MMR movement in Britain, have you? It's just as strong as anything you'll see in the U.S.

Hello Chris, The U.K. is the birthplace for antivaccinationism beginning in the late 19th century and is still going strong. The U.K. was also the epicenter for Wakefield's, since refuted, MMR-autism link and his coined medico-quack term, 'autistic enterocolitis'. There are pockets of anti-vax movements in the EU such as the Steiners in Northern Germany. Australia is also not lacking in anti-vax wingnuts such as Hilary Butler and Viera Scheibner whom are, fortunately wallowing in relative obscurity save their own lofty opinions of themselves. Happy Googling, same BS, different place.

There is a powerful psychology at work with the anti-vaxers. The core group are people whose children have autism or some other kind of developmental handicap or they have children who died in infancy. They feel a need to blame it on somebody and so they blame vaccinations. After all, their child had a vaccination -perhaps several- and their problems started after that . Who can argue with somebody who saw it happening to their child before their own eyes?

These people don't get much support from society and it is very stressful and can be very expensive to deal with a chronically ill child. They band together for support and they sign on to lawsuits against the vaccine manufacturers. When Wakefield's lawsuit was thrown out, well it had to be a conspiracy, what else could it be?

If you go to some of the anti-vax forums like Jabs in the UK, it is really sad to see how these people react. If you politely challenge any of their assumptions, you will be told that you are "denying the reality of their experience" and "how would you like to have to look after an autistic child?" and "I will bring my child over to your house and you can change his diapers" and stuff like that.

If you even post anything positive about vaccinations, like evidence that they have saved lives, the administrators delete the post and possibly cancel your registration. You will never reach these people, but the sad thing is the worried parents looking for information go there and are told all kinds of nonsense, some of it dangerous, like you should never give your kids antibiotics because it wrecks their immune system.

Many of these people are educated some even in health care professions, like doctors and nurses. It s just that their personal experiences have been so difficult that their emotions overwhelm any scientific training or logic.


Re: your comment:

"Well, you know, the Geiers' basement has a lab as good as anything at NIH..."

Wasn't that what the New York Times said about them? I wonder if they meant the original NIH; the one-room laboratory that was created in the Marine Health Service in 1887.