David Kirby admits that mercury in vaccines is no longer “the smoking gun”

Longtime readers of this blog know that my original exposure to antivaccination conspiracy theories first occurred in the context of the now pseudoscientific and discredited hypothesis that somehow the mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be used in vaccines was the cause of autism. Despite the backpedaling among antivaccination zealots such as J. B. Handley in the face of overwhelming epidemiological evidence that mercury in vaccines is in fact not detectably correlated with an increased incidence or risk of autism, there still remains a die-hard contingent who insists against all evidence that it’s mercury that causes autism. Just to refresh your memory, take a look at the Generation Rescue website in early 2007, thanks to the Wayback Machine:

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.


Here was Generation Rescue about a year and a half ago:

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.

And here Generation Rescue is 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 cause includes the tripling of vaccines given to children in the last 15 years (with unstudied ingredients like mercury, aluminum and live viruses); growing evidence also suggests that maternal toxic load and prenatal vaccines, heavy metals like mercury in our air, toxic ingredients in our water, pesticides; and the overuse of antibiotics are also implicated. Generation Rescue’s mission is to support continued research on causative factors and treatment approaches for NDs.

The only reason I bring this up is because David Kirby seems to be no longer down on the whole “mercury causes autism” thing. That’s right, David Kirby. Via Autism Vox, I found an amazing admission from David Kirby. It came in the context of a panel discussion about childhood vaccination held by Deirdre Imus. Yes, that Deirdre Imus, wife of washed up shock jock and mouthpiece for the antivaccine movement Don Imus, the one who’s regularly delivered hot, steaming piles of stupid about vaccines and environmental “toxins” on the Huffington Post. What Hackensack University Medical Center was doing hosting her pseudoscientific nonsense, I have no idea, but it did, and she brought home the stupid right from her opening remarks:

“We will lose faith in the immunization process if we don’t address this now,” said Imus, an environment and child health advocate, who moderated a panel of experts. “There’s a disconnect in vaccine safety. We are ignoring the toxicity of them, the formaldehyde, aluminum and thimerosal.”

Regular readers will recognize the “toxin” gambit here and just how dumb it is. However, Deirdre Imus, as amusing as it is to puncture her status as pseudoexpert and pseudo “health advocate,” is not what caught my attention, although I was surprised that the AAP sent a representative into the lions’ den of this rigged discussion. (Hint: It’s never a good idea for a pro-vaccine advocate to take part in any conference organized by Deirdre Imus.) Neither is the inclusion of antivaccine hack journalists like David Kirby on the discussion panel as an “expert.” That’s par for the course in antivaccine land. What caught Kristina Chew‘s and my attention, actually, was an passage buried in the middle of the New Jersey Star-Ledger article about the conference:

David Kirby, a journalist and author of “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy,” said he believed that thimerosal, which still exists in trace amounts in some childhood vaccines, was no longer the “smoking gun.” Several national studies have found no connection, and a California study found that, even after thimerosal was removed from vaccines, diagnoses of autism continued to rise.

Let me emphasize this: David Kirby, author of the book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, has admitted that mercury in vaccines does not cause autism. Remember, Kirby was one of the high priests of the thimerosal cult. His book, along with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s mendacious and misinformation-laden article Deadly Immunity, were arguably the two most significant influences bringing the message that “it’s the mercury, stupid” to the masses. Remember that David Kirby is the man who defended the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism for four years in the face of mounting evidence in the form of several major epidemiological studies that failed to find any detectable correlation between mercury in vaccines and autism.

Remember that David Kirby is the man who kept moving the goalposts as to how long we would have to wait after early 2002, when thimerosal was removed from nearly all childhood vaccines, for a fall in autism diagnoses if thimerosal was a major cause. First it was 2005. Then when there was no evidence of a decrease in autism diagnoses then it was 2007. Most recently Kirby pushed the goalposts back to 2011. Remember this is the man who went to the ridiculous extreme of blaming mercury from crematoria in California and drifting over from China as the reason why autism diagnoses in California haven’t fallen. Funny how such sources of mercury exactly compensate for the drop in exposure due to vaccines, isn’t it? My point is: David Kirby, the high priest of mercury, has recanted. I wonder what J.B. Handley and the crew of clowns over at the Age of Autism think of this? Odd that I see no mention of David Kirby’s apparent recantation over there.

Of course, Kirby will likely not be excommunicated from the Church of Antivaccination Lunacy. After all, he’s still down with the message that it absolutely, positively has to be the vaccines:

But, he said, the links between vaccines and conditions like autism are still strong and more research is needed. One area to look at is to determine which children might have a genetic propensity for a condition such as autism, for which vaccines may act as a trigger.

No, the links between vaccines and “conditions like autism” are not strong at all. They’re virtually nonexistent, other than in the pseudoscience and poorly designed studies of antivaccine “scientists.” Contrary to what he said, the Hannah Poling case is not the new “smoking gun” that vaccines can cause autism. Of course, just as Kirby moved the goalposts regarding thimerosal and autism, he’s now expanded the playing field, hoping to be proven right on just one issue:

Kirby said environmental factors also were probably involved, pointing to New Jersey’s high rate of autism, one in 94 children compared to one in 150 nationwide.

New Jersey is lousy with mercury,” he said, much of it from air pollution that is spread in rain.

But he also pointed to the “universality of vaccines” as an explanation for so many children’s contracting chronic illnesses.

As Kevin Leitch observes, this is of a piece with the way the antivaccine movement has been realigning itself to proclaim hypotheses of causation of autism by vaccines that are much more difficult to falsify than the thimerosal hypothesis:

We all know the recent makeover the vaccine hypotheses has been getting. Generation Rescue now no longer claim that autism is simply mercury poisoning for which the cure is two years chelation resulting in a child 100% neurotypical, no different from their peers. SafeMinds – an organisation dedicated to Mercury in their very name – attack MMR, a vaccine that has never contained mercury. Jenny McCarthy is now on board and gives credence to the idea that an average parent (such as myself) knows more about the sciences of medicine, epidemiology, toxicology etc etc than specialists who have spent years in their field. Whilst at the same time Ms McCarthy simply cannot keep her story straight about incidents from her book or even when her son was recovered or not.

To antivaccine zealots like David Kirby, J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy, et al, it absolutely, positively has to be the vaccines. If it’s not mercury in the vaccines, it must the vaccines themselves. If vaccines don’t cause autism, then they must cause all sorts of chronic illnesses. It’s a can’t-lose proposition for antivaccinationists. No matter how many studies exonerate vaccines as a cause of autism, clever but scientifically ignorant ideologues like David Kirby can continue to call for “more studies.”

Because it’s not any single ingredient in vaccines. It’s not the vaccine schedule. It’s not the desire to make vaccines more “green.” It’s the vaccines themselves that antivaccinationists oppose. Never forget that. Everything else is misdirection.