Even the zealots can’t defend this hypothesis any more

One amusing little tidbit that came out of my recent post about how the mercury militia tries to intimidate scientists who are willing to speak out against the antivaccination wingnuttery is that the Generation Rescue website, home of J. B. Handley and his merry band of mercury militia chelation junkies, has undergone a makeover. Gone is the dogmatic site that proclaimed that autism and autism spectrum disorders are all “misdiagnoses” for mercury poisoning. Here now is a kinder, gentler Generation Rescue site, although it’s still chock full of the same looniness that you’ve come to expect from Mr. Handley and his crew.

Let’s take a look. Here’s Generation Rescue before the makeover:

Generation Rescue believes that childhood neurological disorders such as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD/ADD, speech delay, sensory integration disorder, and many other developmental delays are all misdiagnoses for mercury poisoning.

When you know cause, you can focus on cure.Thousands of parents are curing their children by removing the mercury from their children’s bodies. We want you, the parent, to know the truth.

That’s pretty clear and unambiguous, indeed amazingly so for such a kooky site, don’t you think? It’s the mercury, period, and chelation is the cure!! At least, that was Generation Rescue then. Here’s Generation Rescue now:

We believe these neurological disorders (“NDs”) are environmental illnesses caused by an overload of heavy metals, live viruses, and bacteria. Proper treatment of our children, known as “biomedical intervention”, is leading to recovery for thousands.

The cause of this epidemic of NDs is extremely controversial. We believe the primary causes include the tripling of vaccines given to children in the last 15 years (mercury, aluminum and live viruses); maternal toxic load and prenatal vaccines; heavy metals like mercury in our air, water, and food; and the overuse of antibiotics.

Whoa! (If I could picture it adequately here, I’d give that look that Jon Stewart does on The Daily Show when doing a double take.)

J.B., what happened to the clarity of vision, when it was all mercury in the vaccines that caused the “autism epidemic” and chelation was the cure? It was only just a couple of years ago that that was the party line! What’s with all this new stuff and use of the softer, fuzzier term “biomedical intervention,” instead of chelation? It couldn’t be, perhaps, that the accumulating epidemiological evidence that the mercury in the thimerosal in vaccines is unrelated to autism and that removing thimerosal from childhood vaccines has not led to a drop in the number of new cases of autism and ASDs, either in California, Canada, or Denmark, now could it? When the likes of J.B., whose single-minded focus on mercury in vaccines as the cause of all evil and whose willingness to threaten and bully anyone who disagreed with him made him notorious even among cranks, start handwaving about prenatal vaccines and “maternal toxic loads” mercury in the “environment,” or live viruses, you know he’s actually starting to hedge his bets. You know that it’s actually sunk into even his single-minded consciousness that the thimerosal hypothesis is no longer scientifically tenable, although he can’t resist gamely trying to argue otherwise elsewhere on the site.

If there’s anything else that I’ve seen lately that indicates to me that even the most diehard members of the mercury militia are starting to realize that the evidence is now inarguably against them, seeing Generation Rescue soften its “it’s the mercury, stupid!” stance and start making vague statements about “toxic loads” and “live viruses” is surely one of the most amazing bits of evidence that it’s really happening. Sure, it was no real surprise when David Kirby started bobbing and weaving around the question of mercury in vaccines as the main causative factor of the “autism epidemic” as his self-imposed deadline for seeing a drop in the number of new cases of autism after the removal of thimerosal in vaccines came and went with autism rates trending upward at the very same rate as before. After all, Kirby is nothing if not an opportunist, and he’s smart enough to see the writing on the wall, even if he can never admit it or apologize for the role of his book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy, in stoking antivaccination hysteria two years ago. However, seeing Generation Rescue back away from blaming autism primarily on mercury is huge. When I see that happening, for the first time since I discovered this issue, I have hope that this antivax pseudoscience about thimerosal will finally die the death it so richly deserves.

That’s what Generation Rescue gets for backing a testable hypothesis. Sadly, however, they’ve learned how to make their ideas about environmental causes of autism so vague, encompassing vague altie concepts like “toxic loads” and other components of vaccines, that they’re now practically untestable, guaranteeing that the pseudscience can continue to flow for years to come.