Goodbye and good riddance to organized quackery’s best friend in Congress

Here’s a rare bit of good news on the regulatory front. It turns out that Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) has finally decided to retire:

So Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is finally retiring, after two decades in Congress. He’s got a notable record of craziness, having doggedly pursued President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal while knowing full well he’d had an affair himself and even fathered a child out of wedlock. He famously claimed to have shot up a “head-like object” (likely a melon or a pumpkin) to try to re-create the alleged “murder” of former Clinton deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, who committed suicide. But Burton doesn’t get enough credit for what may be his lasting legacy: helping turn Americans away from life-saving childhood vaccines.


Yes, Dan Burton is antivaccine through and through, dating back to long before I first became interested in vaccines and combatting the antivaccine movement because he believes that one of his grandchildren became autistic as a result of receiving a childhood vaccination. In fact, I didn’t know about some of his activities more than ten years ago, for instance, his frequent use of Congressional hearings, in particular the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, to try to push government health organizations to find a link between vaccines and autism. Indeed, he frequently used and abused his power to do things like interfere with the Autism Omnibus Proceedings.

However, Burton’s support for quackery goes much, much deeper than just his die-hard antivaccine views. While Stephanie Mencimer is quite right to point out that Burton supported Andrew Wakefield and then later pivoted effortlessly to the view that mercury in vaccines is the cause of autism, she has no idea just how deep Burton’s support for quackery went. In fact, Burton was neck deep into a number of other forms of quackery, for instance the use of chelation therapy for cardiovascular disease. Indeed, Burton was a driving force behind the highly unethical and pseudoscientific TACT trial, as Kimball Atwood described:

For years, Burton was the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Government Reform. Hearings of that committee, particularly during the 106th and 107th Congresses, were littered with pitches for implausible medical claims and diatribes against immunizations and other rational public health measures. Together with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the creator of the NCCAM, Burton and a few other congressmen have managed to scare NIH scientists and administrators away from their proper concerns with scientific and ethical issues. Thus Richard Klausner, the former director of the National Cancer Institute, eventually caved to the pressure, as reported in Part IV of this blog. So did Claude Lenfant, the former director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (bullied here by Burton; caved here).

It’s not for nothing that Steve Barrett of Quackwatch has referred to Dan Burton as “organized quackery’s best friend in Congress.” At least he was back in the day. These days, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is giving Burton a run for his money, shilling for the supplement industry in Utah. On the other hand, Burton was one of the forces, along with Senator Tom Harkin, to produce the abomination known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), as well as for passing the DSHEA.

Basically, for his entire tenure in Congress, Dan Burton waged a war on medical science, promoting quackery and antivaccine views wherever and whenever he could. He’d wheel and deal, and when that failed he’d bully government officials to get his way, which was to promote the formation of NCCAM, win funding for unethical trials of quackery, and attack the government vaccination program at every turn because he mistakenly believed his grandchild became autistic due to a vaccine. If you have any doubts, consider this: Burton brought Dr. Rashid Buttar before his committee to testify and was a driving force behind winning government funding for a trial of Nicholas Gonzalez’s cancer quackery, which ended up showing that Gonzalez’ woo was worse than useless for treating pancreatic cancer.

No, most mainstream journalists have no idea, no idea at all, just how bad Dan Burton is with respect to science and medicine. That’s why I say not only goodbye to Dan Burton, but good riddance.