Seen on the discussion boards of that other repository of antivaccinationist wingnuttery (other than The Huffington Post), Mothering.com, a commenter by the 'nym of naupakamama exults over the possible appointment of antivaccine wingnut Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to run the Environmental Protection Agency:
We could have a strong anti-vaccine voice leading the EPA! I am so excited!
If anyone doubts that the antivaccine fringe views RFK, Jr. as one of their own, the rejoicing going on in antivaccine circles should put those doubts to rest. In more reality-based circles, including very liberal ones predisposed to like RFK, Jr.'s environmentalism, the reaction has been much more negative. This is not surprising, because RFK, Jr. has indeed drunk deeply of the Kool Aid of pseudoscience when it comes to mercury in vaccines to the point of giving rousing talks to antivaccine rallies, and he's been doing this for at least three years.
But why? Why did he take on this cause?
As those of you who've chided me that he's an environmentalist and that the EPA doesn't have anything to do with vaccines and that it's possible that RFK, Jr. can be perfectly reasonable on the environment even though he's a raging loony when it comes to vaccines. Of course, the principle of Crank Magnetism suggests that such compartmentalization is probably far weaker than RFK, Jr. supporters hope (he has shown a tendency to play fast and loose with science even with environmental issues), and there is the consideration of appearance. Even if RFK, Jr. were able to completely compartmentalize his vaccine views and his environmental advocacy, for a President-Elect who promised to be "pro-science" and to end the rampant politicization of science that occurred in the Bush Administration, appointing someone who's so willing to let his ideology trump science in such a public and dramatic fashion to a post running an agency whose policies must be based on good science would be a serious self-inflicted wound to a self-proclaimed "pro-science President."
Fortunately, as a number of you also pointed out, the reports of RFK, Jr. very well may have been a publicity campaign orchestrated by his supporters to get President-Elect Obama to consider him to run the EPA or Department of the Interior. Certainly that reports of his being considered for Secretary of the Interior surfaced on Election Day and then reports about his potentially being considered to head the EPA appeared on the day after Barack Obama's election victory is suspicious. Certainly, I hope that that's all these reports were and that RFK, Jr.'s wingnut tendencies with regard to vaccines have finally come back to bite him in the ass. People who might have been vaguely aware of RFK, Jr.'s antivaccine advocacy and all the lying and conspiracy-mongering he's done to promote the scientifically discredited notion that mercury in vaccines cause autism but were not aware just how bad it is have had their noses rubbed into RFK, Jr.'s crankery and many have been justifiably appalled. All one has to do is to watch the YouTube video of his speech to the Jenny McCarthy-led mob of antivaccinationists that descended on Washington, DC in June to spew their pseudoscience at our legislators. If my posting on this issue played any significant role at all in raising the alarm about RFK, Jr.'s pseudoscientific tendencies, I am content.
But back to why RFK, Jr. may have latched on to this particular cause.
The reason, I believe, is probably because RFK, Jr. clearly likes to see himself as an advocate for the downtrodden, people victimized by corporations polluting their land and air, people without the means to fight back. In the mercury militia, he found what he thought to be another such group. If you watch the video of his speech, you'll see that he makes a point of he mentioning that several mothers who believed that mercury in vaccines cause autism had approached them with their ideas and that they had pointed out how they couldn't get any traction from the CDC. My speculation (albeit, I think, a reasonable one) is that because RFK, Jr. correctly saw environmental mercury as a bad thing that could result in health problems, not being too savvy with regard to science he was easily seduced by the idea that mercury in vaccines could cause autism. Instead of dispassionately looking at the science to see if there was anything behind it, he looked at it from the point of view of an advocate and, not surprisingly, found the evidence he wanted to support the conclusion he was predisposed to support by his history and prior history of advocacy. Add to that RFK, Jr.'s well-documented tendency to see dark conspiracies everywhere between corporations and the government over the environment, throw in the bogus "conspiracy" over the Simpsonwood Conference, and--voilÃ !--he was an instant convert to the cult of the mercury militia.
Unfortunately, RFK, Jr. is apparently unable to distinguish between people who are indeed downtrodden and abused by the corporations and government and suffer health problems as a result (who do need a champion) and those who think they are abused by corporations and the government but are not (who need, more than anything else, a serious reality check more than a champion). His seeing himself as a champion of the abused predisposed him to believe the pseudoscience of the mercury militia, and he hasn't looked back since he first made his splash in 2005. That RFK, Jr. does indeed view himself this way was demonstrated very well in a post he wrote for The Huffington Post last year, in which he defended Katie Wright and the quackery of chelation therapy:
The poisonous public attacks on Katie Wright this week--for revealing that her autistic son Christian (grandson of NBC Chair Bob Wright), has recovered significant function after chelation treatments to remove mercury -- surprised many observers unfamiliar with the acrimonious debate over the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal. But the patronizing attacks on the mothers of autistic children who have organized to oppose this brain-killing poison is one of the most persistent tactics employed by those defending Thimerosal against the barrage of scientific evidence linking it to the epidemic of pediatric neurological disorders, including autism. Mothers of autistics are routinely dismissed as irrational, hysterical, or as a newspaper editor told me last week, "desperate to find the reason for their children's illnesses," and therefore, overwrought and disconnected.
Many of them [mercury militia mothers] approached the link skeptically and only through dispassionate and diligent investigation became convinced that Thimerosal-laced vaccines destroyed their children's brains. As a group they have sat through hundreds of meetings and scientific conferences, and studied research papers and medical tests. They have networked with each other at meetings and on the Web. Along the way they have stoically endured the abuse routinely heaped upon them by the vaccine industry and public health authorities and casual dismissal by reporters and editors too lazy to do their jobs.
The CDC and IOM base their defense of Thimerosal on these flimsy studies, their own formidable reputations, and their faith that journalists won't take the time to critically read the science. The bureaucrats are simultaneously using their influence, energies and clout to derail, defund and suppress any scientific study that may verify the link between Thimerosal and brain disorders...The federal agencies have refused to release the massive public health information accumulated in their Vaccine Safety Database (VSD) apparently to keep independent scientists from reviewing evidence that could prove the link. They are also muzzling or blackballing scientists who want to conduct such studies.
Get out the tinfoil hats, everyone! Not only do those of us who argue for science hate mothers, but we're either part of a vast conspiracy, too "lazy" to do our research, or "muzzled" by the CDC and big pharma.
I hope that this is the last thing I have to write about RFK, Jr. for a while. The man is so prone to see conspiracies everywhere that I sincerely wonder if any time a mail order company fails to deliver its product on time to him he starts thinking that the government and his enemies conspired to intercept it before it arrived at his house. However, looking at his prior advocacy, I can now see how his love of standing up for "the people" against the powerful could have led him astray when it comes to thimerosal in vaccines. The problem is that not all groups claiming to be downtrodden are, in fact, downtrodden, and not all groups claiming a government conspiracy against them are, in fact, victims of a conspiracy. As hard as it is to believe, there are times when the government and corporations are not conspiring and are actually closer to the side of good science than "the people." The case of antivaccine activists is just one such time.
My RFK, Jr./Department of the Interior/EPA posts:
- Why did someone have to kill my election buzz?
- Say it ain't so, Barack! Say you ain't seriously considering Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to run the EPA!
- Contact the Obama transition team to tell them why Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a truly bad choice for any science-based government post
- My last word on RFK, Jr...for now
Has it ever occured to you that RFK, Jr. might have, oh, you know, maybe grown up in an enviroment where 'paranoia' was a survivial trait?
I'd be inclined to agree with you that buying into the mercury-autism connection is a big red flag for any position of serious power in the government.
On the other hand, I don't think any of us really want mercury in our vaccines (Hear much "oh! GoodyGoody Mecury, NOMNOMNOM!"?). So conflating "wants mecury out of vaccines" with "antivaccinationist" does not help your cause (not that RFK, Jr. might not be the latter, just that you don't seem to state the former could exist).
Furthermore, if you want to talk about belonging to an "evidence based community" and go through why the circumstantial evidence doesn't hold up to scrutiny, that is a service. If you want to rant about "reality based community" as though reality is defined by you (or your community) say it is, you just come off as an egotistical maniac.
Basically, I agree with you. But you're style of argument is hurting your case.
I don't know if it's meaningful or not, but the AP put out a "Who's Who" list of potential Obama Cabinet appointees, and RFK, JR. is nowhere to be found on it. Huffpo has the list here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/07/ap-lists-names-mentioned_n_142…
1. It's not mercury. It's thimerosal. I don't talk about sprinkling gaseous chlorine and metallic sodium on my french fries.
2. Everything is potentially toxic at different levels. Every ingredient is a compromise between risk and benefit. If you've got a better solution for the problem that thimerosal was used to solve, suggest one.
3. "Reality-based" means that we use reality as a basis, rather than using ourselves as a basis of reality. That's exactly backwards.
Ah, yes, another concern troll. Since I started my RFK, Jr. posts, I think I'm starting to understand the annoyance with concern trolling often expressed by other ScienceBloggers.
I have not come to my conclusions on the basis of little or no evidence, contrary to your insinuation. Indeed, I have explained time and time again why the mercury militia and the "Green Our Vaccines" movement are both antivaccinationist. It's because they are, and I've explained time and time again why this is the case and their protestations that they are "not antivaccine but pro-safe vaccine" are disingenuous. Here's but a small sampling of the posts I've made over the years:
Reality is not defined by me or my "community." It is best approximated by science, and RFK, Jr. is immune to science when it comes to vaccines.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmrrrrggrgrhrgrh gaseous chlorine and metallic sodium on french fries
And making ignorant statements like the one above does not help yours. A little bit of advice, do some research on the topic at hand before you start scolding others about how they are reacting to it.
I think it's ironic that he's defending these quacks who are making tons of money from autism parents. They're the real oppressors IMHO.
Becca, it's not about the substance itself, it's about its function and concentration. Mercury is also in the breastmilk that my son is drinking right this very moment, but at concentrations that are harmless.
It's also about RFK Jr's inability to engage with and interpret science. The hypothetical thimerosal / autism link has been examined and the probability that it is true, given the evidence, is vanishingly small. The enviromental protection agency will be under fire from many directions. The only way its director can defend its policies is by solid v science. If RFK Jr cant tell bad from bogus, he'll be a huge liability (the words "sitting" and "duck") come to mind.
1. So you don't believe any exposure to toxic mercury compounds is likely from exposure to thiomersal? I'm pretty sure exposure to toxic sodium or chloride compounds is going to come from my french fries (well, actually the french fries may have other problems- they are far too delicious to be entirely healthy. But the salt isn't my concern. I'm not afraid of "chemicals"- I'm catious about chemicals that we include in things solely to kill other things.).
2. It's not in most vaccines anymore. Ergo, whatever problem it solved (fungicidal or otherwise) is not make-or-break for vaccines.
3. Then argue from evidence, not from authority. The "reality based circles" comment is really totally unnecessary.
Orac- I never insinuated there isn't evidence that plenty of anti-thiomersal folks are also antivaccinationists. My point is that it is an error to assume that the former necessarily implies the later.
I like vaccines. I'd prefer not to be vaccinated with thiomersal. Maybe I *am* the only one who holds those two views.
Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM- if you're actively seeking high mercury exposure, perhaps that explains any cognitive obstacles you encounter.
I love it! RFK for EPA! RFK for EPA! RFK for EPA!
I would also like to see the NIH clean house with all these quack cancer researchers who have wasted billions of money NOT curing cancer, but feathering their own labs and nests.
We need a lotta new blood in the sciences. Double the budget, but fire the unproductive quacks, pharma-pimps, and bean-counting weasels, who have commercialized medicine and science.
This really is the dawn of a new era. I love it.
Yet another ignorant comment and ad hominem attack. Do you understand the phrase, the dose makes the poison?
Here's the problem becca, almost all high profile people who want "safe" or "green" vaccines are simply anti-vaccine. Almost everyone says they are not, but if you look at their arguments that's what they add up to. Remove thimerisol and they come out with other ingredients that are the real root cause, all the way down to what makes a vaccine a vaccine.
Personally I would rather have scientists that get down and dirty studying vaccines and safe levels of various ingredients telling me what is safe than people who have no formal background in the subject.
I recommend you swear off honey. It's full of antibacterial agents the bees put in.
I believe there's a chance of very small exposure, but that's true for breathing. There are safe levels of exposure, and life isn't nearly as frail as alties would have people believe. Zero exposure is a ridiculously difficult bubble boy goal. Safe exposure is what we make the effort to stay within.
2. It's not in most vaccines anymore. Ergo, whatever problem it solved (fungicidal or otherwise) is not make-or-break for vaccines.
True, but that was a forced compromise. They had to replace it with something else, possibly less optimal because anti-vaxxers made thimerosal a boogie man for the sake of ideology. Risk, benefit, and cost should be based on science and economics, not fear mongering.
3. Then argue from evidence, not from authority. The "reality based circles" comment is really totally unnecessary.
It's not the premise of the argument. Orac's done plenty of argument from evidence. What it amounts to is whining about us being a little too self-flattering while we make arguments.
Ben Gorman said "I would also like to see the NIH clean house with all these quack cancer researchers who have wasted billions of money NOT curing cancer, but feathering their own labs and nests.
We need a lotta new blood in the sciences."
RFK, jr is a lawyer. He is a lawyer with no background in science, and has such a closed mind that he refused to correct concepts he postulated that were shown to be false.
The "lotta new blood in the sciences" should actually have a solid educational grounding in basic science.
Do you live in a cave somewhere without any access to science news? Do you just come to Scienceblogs when google leads brings them during searches on your favorite subjects? Have you missed the introduction of vaccines that help prevent cancer (HPV and HepB)? Did you miss that the survival of children with leukemia has increased dramatically in the last few decades ( http://seer.cancer.gov/publications/childhood/leukemia.pdf ... and this is ten years out of date!)? Did you miss this recent story:
Did you know that Orac is a cancer researcher?
Compounds aren't 'toxic' or 'non-toxic.' They're 'toxic at doses of x.' Do you have any evidence whatsoever that the mercury compounds used in vaccines are toxic at the doses involved?
In theory, you are correct. It is possible that there are anti-thimerosal folks who are not antivaccine. You are incorrect that there are "plenty" of them however. In fact, in the more than three years that I've been in this fray, I have yet to see one. So, while in theory one can argue that you can't automatically assume a person who is anti-thimerosal is antivaccine, given the rarity of such people (so rare that I have yet to find one), operationally these days it is a pretty safe bet that anyone spouting anti-thimerosal canards is, in fact, antivaccine.
In fact, at the risk of being called on Godwin's Law, let me propose an analogous situation, one I discussed at great length a long time ago:
Scratch an anti-thimerosal activist, and you will damned near always find an antivaccinationist.
I changed my mind about defending RFK Jr. and sent a note to the transition team explaining to them that, only a few weeks ago, RFK said to me personally (and a crowd of hundreds) that the CDC was part of a conspiracy with pharmaceutical companies to hide the dangers of vaccines. He said this even after praising the CDC in other parts of his speech. Ridiculous!
Honestly, I believe that RFK Jr. would do a good job as head of the EPA or especially the Dept. of the Interior, but I'm now convinced that he doesn't deserve the job just for the sole reason that he is a jackass about vaccines. If you had heard his speech that I heard, you may be less vigilant against him. He really has a clear understanding of where Bush went wrong, and a desire to correct those wrongs. But, that is beside the point, as I already mentioned.
Lighthearted point of information: I'm under the impression that 'wingnut' is shorthand for 'right-wing nutjob,' and is always used to describe wackos on the right. As a lefty I personally shy away from epithets typically directed at liberals, but I think you may want to go with 'moonbat' in this instance.
On a similar note, it's possible that there are some people who really are in favour of 'green' vaccines, rather than truly anti-vaccine. But as long as such people are unwilling to consider the possibility that vaccines do not cause autism, they'll always be anti-vaccine in practice, if not in principle.
So do a lot of other people in this country, but most of them would never be considered for a cabinet position. Why should RFK Jr. be any different from them?
"1. It's not mercury. It's thimerosal. I don't talk about sprinkling gaseous chlorine and metallic sodium on my french fries."
While I am not an antivaccine/thimerosal loon, that statement is highly misleading. Most organomercury compounds are MUCH more toxic than metallic mercury and mercury salts, which are relatively non-toxic. Read about dimethyl mercury and Karen Wetterhahn if you don't believe me.
Quickly, as I'm short on time...
If you are a crank in one area of science, even if its not an area you actively work on, it tends to smear your reputation in other areas, including the subject matter you do work on. The reason is you're not following the process expected of weighing all the evidence, etc., that's expected of scientists. You're also expected to pull up if you are venturing past your own area of expertise, too.
Those working under someone should have respect for their leader/boss. Given his promotion of a cause not backed by the science, and more importantly not shifting his stance as more evidence comes in, wouldn't it be hard for anyone with a decent science background will, no matter what he takes on--?
I think a deeper point about what post to give him is hinted by his not shifting stances as evidence came in. I'm not in a position to judge him personally, having only hear of him via the WWW, but I get the impression of someone who support a cause doggedly, but is not the type of person to weight evidence. With that in mind, would he be better in a position where the mandate is set in advance by others, and his job is the execution of it, but kept away from positions that would require him to weight options himself--?
Uh, I was talking about one specific compound versus metallic or ionic mercury, which many alties try to conflate. Different compounds should be treated according to their toxicity, not just the scary elements that make them up. I'm saying thimerosal should be talked about as thimerosal.
When I'm talking about table salt, I don't talk about the dangers of various unrelated sodium and chlorine compounds.
I am still trying to figure out how Becca reads RFK Jr.'s rants and comes to any other logical conclusion that he's an anti-vaccine wignut. They're basically the same talking points - almost to the word - of every other wacky anti-vax interest group out there. I can't imagine any reasonable person would find that to be just "coincidental".
I would only offer one opinion about RFK, thoroughly apart from his whacko views on vaccines/autism: his speaking voice is actually horrifying to listen to.
It literally causes me physical, empathic pain to hear him negotiate a simple sentence. Did he inhale mustard gas as a child? Or main-line Camel no-Filters? What the heck is wrong with his vocal cords?
Hello, and welcome to my (actually almost related) comment.
Orac, have you looked at all at the vaccination 'controversies' concerning pets? A person I know says that yearly vaccinations are just ways for vets to milk money out of people concerned for their dogs or cats health. I've been trying to research it, but I can't find anything skeptical about the issue, which either means that it's accepted by scientifically minded people, or that actual scientists are too busy worrying about saving humans from dying from measles to worry about dogs.
The anti-vax stuff about pets seems to run along to same lines as the anti-vax rhetoric about humans... any pointers? Is my friend wrong and hurting their dogs, or am I projecting nuttery into the world of veterinary medecine?
My feeling upon hearing about Kennedy's possible appointment to head EPA was that it seems too much like a Bush-style appointment--long on ideology, short on qualifications.
That is horrifying news (if confirmed). If anyone gets rabies because some fool thought it was OK not to vaccinate their dog, said fool should probably be brought up on charges--at a minimum sued.
At this point, the evidence that thimerosal has nothing to do with autism is so overwhelming that the people who are still hanging onto the thimerosal notion tend to be even crazier than the straight antivaccinationists.
Rabies is deadly in almost 100% of human cases. Once symptoms are noticed in a human it is too late to do anything.
Rabies vaccinations are required by law in almost every state, with no exceptions allowed. If a dog bites a human, in almost all cases it is the victim's decision whether or not to euthanize he the dog, because that is the only 100% certain way to diagnose rabies or you can quarantine it and observe for symptoms and hope for the best.
I can assure you that having been in that situation waiting those 14 days because you wanted to be nice and not have someone's pet put to death is very hard.
Bottom line, if your friend's pet bites anyone, even in a brief trip outside or gets in a fight with another pet he will be held liable. The absolute easiest he will get off is a fine and required vaccination of the pet, along with all quarantine costs. He could face having the dog put down against his will and a nice hefty personal injury suit.
Tell him to stop being cheap. Not everyone values the life of a pet like I did.
I thought RFK Jr was gay? He should know people on immune surpressants. Why haven't they spoken to him?
Annie, according to wikipedia he has been married twice and has six children. Two by his first wife (ages 20 and 24), and four by his second wife (age range between 7 and 14).
It also says he has a BA in Political Science, and law degree. Despite the word "science" in his Bachelor's of ART degree, it has nothing to do with real science.
The videos here explain how all vaccines cause autism.
All over the anti-vax kooks' hands...
GordonS, Adding to all the those other comments, vaccines greatly improve the quality of life for pets, such as Feline Leukemia Virus, which is heartbreaking to watch.
I have seen an issue with a cat vaccine where it, in exceptionally rare cases, was linked to a very nasty cancer. Vets started giving the shots as far down on he leg as possible so they could, so if the cancer did occur, they would probably be able to save the pet with amputation. The vaccine has since been adjusted and it isn't an issue anymore.
Some idiot pretending to be Sarah Palin posts "The videos here explain how all vaccines cause autism."
Almost makes me pity the governor of Alaska, because people think that they could post all sorts of stupid things and claim to be her. Any who... the video is all about the grand discoveries of Dr. Moulden, who was eviscerated here:
Here's more new science news on a genetic factor that may be linked to autism.
This has NOTHING to do with metals or mitochondria. Basically, there's a variant of myosin that moves stuff around in neurons so they can encode memories in response to input. Mice that lack this protein do not form memories properly. If the protein isn't working right due to mutations, it could cause all sorts of neuropsychiatric problems. One of the problems they suggested was autism.
Tiki, RFK Jr.'s speaking voice is strained because, like Diane Rehm, he has spasmodic dysphonia.
The anti-vaccination in pets movement is more nuanced, imo. Dogs (and cats) have good immune systems, thus many vaccines ough to protect for longer than thge current vaccine schedule. Bordetella vac every 6 months? Bet my dogs still have adequate titers after a year. But the sad truth is that the USDA (governing body for pet vaccines) does not require titer data (as would the CDC and FDA for humans). I've asked the USDA about it. Titering costs more than the vaccine where I live, so I pay the $15 per dog at Petco and get the vaccines. part of the movement seeks to gather titer data to make a more rational vaccine schedule. Many pet owners don't comply because of cost and because the veterinarians insist on doing a full exam before administering the 6 month Bordetella booster.
Now, there are 3 year rabies vaccines but if you live in a state that requires yearly rabies vaccines (TN, eg), you have to vaccinate yearly. So law must catch up to reality.
I suppose there may also be less interest in developing longer lasting vaccines for pets because, well, they're pets. Considering, though, that there are high levels of rabies in wild animals in parts of the US and that rabies is such a terrible disease, it seems to me that i tmight bei n our best interest to work on a longer lasting rabies vaccine. With a longer lasting vaccine, some sort of catch-vaccinate-release program could actually be effective.
The rabies vaccine may be effective for 5 years (give pet high enough titers in actuality) but USDA licenses for 3 years. Why TN makes you revaccinate yearly, I do not know. My own state must have changed recently too because my dogs used to get 3 year vaccine but their licenses only allows for a 2 year vaccine. Law can be rewritten, and pet titers montiros to give USDA good data to change vaccination schedules for pets. If USDA did so, maybe state laws would change.
I don't think catch and release for wild animals will work, considering that a major vector of rabies is bats, and in that case, the virus is shed in the droppings. Where I live, other vectors include squirrels, raccoons, and skunks; I live 15 miles from New York City. That's too many animals to catch, vaccinate, and release.
Re RFK Jr.
Well, the framing twins, Mooney and Kirschenbaum finally commented on this issue, after being inundated with emails. Their comment was pretty lame and it is not at all clear that they oppose such an appointment. As the author of a book lambasting the current Rethuglican administration for its poor science appointments, it would seem that Mr. Mooney should be equally critical of bad Democratic appointments,.
While I haven't read the paper, as a person with an ASD myself I have no experience suggesting that a failure to form memories properly plays a role in such disorders.