Chuck Norris outdoes Jenny McCarthy on vaccines

Believe it or not, sometimes I rather miss Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. Although McCarthy is still nominally the head of the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue, she’s really faded to a rather low profile over the last year or so. Indeed, the last time I even remember her spouting off about vaccines was way back in January when she defended Andrew Wakefield and, even more amazingly, during Autism Awareness Month (April) this year I don’t recall seeing her on the major media anywhere. It used to be an annual thing that she’d show up on Larry King Live! or some other TV show. True, it’s possible that I missed it, but I do have Google Alerts set up for various sets of words to flag the vaccine/autism manufactroversy, and I don’t recall anything popping up. Otherwise, I probably would have blogged about it. As for Jim Carrey, ever since he and Jenny McCarthy broke up as a couple, he’s disappeared completely from the vaccine-autism scene, no doubt because he never had any real interest in it on his own and jumped on the bandwagon because he was dating Jenny McCarthy. It’s a shame in a way, because his sheer idiocy on the issue provided fodder for some of my best material.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view), it appears that there’s someone to step into the breach, someone to lay down the swaths of intensely flaming anti-vaccine stupid in a way that only Jim and Jenny could do, like so many firebombs during World War II, with about the same effect on anything resembling science, reason, critical thinking or intelligence. But who? Who could this new neuronpenic person be willing to jump right into the anti-vaccine fray in such an amusingly brain dead fashion? It turns out that we’ve met him before, believe it or not. In fact, it was only a little more than a month ago, when I used this luminary of right wingnuttery as demonstration that certain forms of anti-science (anti-genetically modified organisms, for instance) thought to be more common on the left are actually quite common on the right as well. Still don’t know who? Click to jump below the fold, and you’ll soon see:

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(Thanks to my reader, who did the Photoshopping. I stink at Photoshop.)

Yes, indeed. We’re talking about everybody’s favorite martial arts master turned 1980s movie action hero turned 1990s TV action hero turned right wing icon so far to the right that he writes for that repository of conspiracy-mongering nuttiness, WorldNetDaily, otherwise known as WorldNutDaily. I should have known after his anti-GMO anti-global warming denialist screed from five or six weeks ago that it was only a matter of time before Chuck tried to take a roundhouse kick at vaccines as in the picture above. There was no way he could be into so much anti-science nonsense and not be drawn to the ultimate anti-science, the One Anti-science To Rule Them All, anti-vaccine nuttery. And drawn to it he was in two articles that are basically slightly different versions of the same screed. The first was published on Friday and entitled Link between autism, vaccines ‘biological certainty’, and the second version, The venom in feds’ vaccinations, followed on Sunday. I’ll mostly stick with the latest version, as there’s no real substantive difference between the two. Both are a litany of anti-vaccine talking points that were old when Evidence of Harm was just a gleam of money in David Kirby’s eye and Andrew Wakefield hadn’t even been approached by trial lawyers to do his infamous Lancet study. I mean, seriously. You can tell that ol’ Chucky is a total newbie right from early on, when he buys into the myth of the “autism epidemic” and even quotes the National Autism Association on that score.

It doesn’t take Norris long to dive straight into conspiracy central:

According to the CDC’s website, however, “to date, the studies continue to show that vaccines are not associated with ASDs. … The most recent and rigorous scientific research does not support the argument that thimerosal-containing vaccines are harmful. … Is thimerosal in vaccines safe? Yes.”

But PR Newswire reported recently that the Coalition for Mercury-free Drugs exposed a federal cover-up between the CDC and vaccine researchers. Despite the fact that the CDC received an email from CoMeD in 2002 that revealed a causal relationship between the removal of thimerosal from vaccines and a decline in the rate of autism, the CDC encouraged the publication of a study in Pediatrics that ignored certain data and misled the medical community and public by insinuating that thimerosal in vaccines does not increase the risk of autism.

Almost inconceivably, the study in Pediatrics actually purported that autism rates increased after thimerosal was removed.

The press release to which Norris is referring is this one, which has been wending its way through the anti-vaccine blogosphere over the last couple of weeks. Fortunately for you (and unfortunately for Norris), I’ve already looked at the e-mails in which, according to Norris and the press release report that one of the investigators wrote “but the incidence and prevalence are still decreasing in 2001.” Check out the original e-mail and you’ll see that there’s nothing there that really tells us much of anything. Indeed, it’s impossible to tell exactly what the correspondents are saying. There are only two brief e-mails, and much of the e-mails are redacted with black marker. They appear to consist of an exchange between Marlene Lauritsen, who’s second author on the paper, and Kreesten Madsen, the first author. It’s cryptically mentioned that the incidence and prevalence are “still decreasing in 2001,” but the sentence immediately following it is redacted. Most of Madsen’s reply to this e-mail is also redacted. What does this mean? Who knows? What I do know is that this is old news. I can’t figure out why the mercury militia has decided to exhume the rotting corpse of this old bit of conspiracy mongering and release it as a press release again.

And Chuck Norris fell hook, line, and sinker for it.

Let’s put it this way. Let’s for the sake of argument assume that the Danish study actually was somehow falsified. It wasn’t, but assume for the moment that it was. (Norris also falls for the conspiracy mongering about Poul Thorsen that nearly every anti-vaccine group was engaging in last year, spurred on by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and company.) Even if it were, that would not show that thimerosal in vaccines cause autism for the simple reason that there have been several other well-designed studies since then with large numbers of subjects that find the same thing that the Danish study did: There is no correlation between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. You could completely eliminate the Danish studies and the scientific and epidemiological evidence would still show that there’s no correlation between vaccines and autism. Not that that stops Norris from not only mentioning Poul Thorsen as though he were evidence of the utter corruption of the CDC but to add this chestnut:

And just last week, Dr. Kimberly Quinlan Lindsey, a top CDC official, was arrested and charged with two counts of child molestation and one count of bestiality.”

What does this have to do with the science failing to find a link between vaccines and autism? Nothing. It’s pure ad hominem, poisoning the well. Even if all the allegations were true, it would have no bearing on whether or not the science is correct. Indeed, it’s so blatantly obvious that it’s even more idiotic than I would have expected from Chuck Norris. On the other hand, he (or his ghostwriter) did write this:

To regress, the latest correlation revelation between vaccines and autism will fly in the face (or at least may cause some confusion) because of a 2011 August report from the Institute of Medicine, the nation’s bastion of authoritative health and medicine advice, just cleared children vaccines as autism culprits.

But the truth is, as the NAA reports, “There are over 1,500 studies and papers documenting the hypoallergenicity and toxicity of thimerosal (ethylmercury) have existed for decades,” with most recent research revealing commonness of speech delays and tics. The NAA added, “Recent studies have confirmed the association between the use of thimerosal and autism has moved from ‘biologically plausible’ [in 2001] to a ‘biological certainty.'”

I wrote about the Institute of Medicine report soon after it came out. It was an excellent summary of the copious evidence looking at vaccine safety as it relates to vaccines and whether they cause chronic health problems or neurodevelopmental disorders. Particularly ignorant is the claim about “most recent research” causing speech delays and tics. This is pure cherry picking of the results of this study from four years ago. Basically, that study was consistent with random findings. There were a few findings, such as tics, that appeared to be associated with thimerosal-containing vaccines, and there were a few findings that appeared to indicate thimerosal improved neurodevelopmental outcomes. As I said a while back, if anti-vaccine activists are going to insist that the correlation, for example, with increasing mercury exposure and poorer performance on the GFTA-2 measure of speech articulation test (the speech delay that Norris talks about) is real, then it must also accept the findings of a beneficial association between mercury and improved scores on the identification of letters and numbers on the WJ-III test (another finding in the study), There is a priori no scientific reason to reject the second finding if you accept the first.

Of course, no one is claiming that thimerosal has beneficial effects on these particular test outcomes; the most reasonable conclusion is that thimerosal has no effect and what the investigators found was simply random noise, noise that goes away when multiple comparisons are corrected for. Norris is just too scientifically unsophisticated to realize that, or he just doesn’t care about how wrong he is. When the authors of the study concluded that their results do not support a causal relationship between thimerosal and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, that was the correct interpretation, not Norris’ regurgitation of anti-vaccine talking points.

Poor Chuck. Methinks he got so used to being the hero in his many movies and then for several years as Walker, Texas Ranger that he’s built up an inordinate amount of confidence in his ability to come to conclusions about science. Now, he’s the arrogance of ignorance personified. In his twilight years, he’s been reborn as an all-purpose right wing loon, for whom no position is too out there. In retrospect, it was probably inevitable that the siren call of the anti-vaccine would draw him in. One wonders if he takes the term “mercury militia” a little too seriously.

You know, in the end, I think I like this version of Chuck Norris better. At least he’s more amusing than the real thing:

And probably more intelligent, too.