Categories
Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Politics Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

No, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is NOT a “vaccine skeptic.” He is antivaccine.

This week hasn’t been a particularly good week for science. It started out on Monday with news of the social media storm from over the weekend over a blatantly antivaccine screed published the Friday before by the director of The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Clinic. Then, towards the middle of the week, we learned that our President-Elect, Donald Trump, had met with an antivaccine loon of the worst variety, someone whose misinformation I’ve been dealing with since 2005, in order to discuss some sort of commission on vaccine safety—or autism (it’s not clear which). Whatever it was, there’s no way a President-Elect should have met with such a crank, much less seriously considered the possibility of having him chair a committee on vaccines or autism. It’s even a worse than that. I haven’t told you this yet, but—surprise! surprise!—apparently RFK Jr. has been discussing this commission or committee with Trump for over a month, although I take that with a grain of salt given that the only source is an e-mail from RFK Jr. to members of the Waterkeepers Alliance, which Kennedy leads, announcing that he would leave the environmental group if the commission actually comes to be:

Kennedy said Trump had “reached out to me through intermediaries” on Dec. 4, leading to detailed discussions with the transition team on the role and composition of the commission. After his meeting with Trump and staff, he agreed to chair the commission for a year, Kennedy said. However, he said he’s still waiting “to see the transition team’s detailed proposal before making my commitment final.”

Yes, there appears to have been more to this whole vaccine-autism commission than Trump’s team’s attempt to walk it back after RFK Jr. went public.

Finally, yesterday, we learned that the governor of Massachusetts signed a bill into law licensing naturopathic quackery.

As I said, it wasn’t a good week for science. So I figure I might as well finish it with a post about a pet peeve of mine that I noticed this week that drove me absolutely nuts by the time I had seen it. I’m referring to how so many of the news and commentary articles in the mainstream press referred to RFK Jr. as a “vaccine skeptic.” On more than one occasion, at least on Twitter, I had to point out that RFK Jr. is not a “vaccine skeptic.” He is antivaccine. He is a vaccine science denialist.

Just for yucks I Googled “vaccine skeptic” and “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.” to see what I found. Here are some headlines:

You get the idea.

Let me repeat myself before I explain why this trope irritates me so much. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is not a “vaccine skeptic.” He is antivaccine. He is a vaccine science denialist. He is a crank. And so is Donald Trump, as I have documented so copiously over the years.

This is a problem that is not unique to the science of vaccines. For a great many science and history denialist movements, the mainstream press incorrectly labels them as “skeptics.” It’s something the press would never, ever consider doing for Holocaust deniers (although at times they fall for the Holocaust denial spin of referring to Holocaust denial as “Holocaust revisionism”), but they routinely do it for all manner of science. For instance, it was (and in some cases still is) a problem with climate science, where those who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming, causing potentially ruinous climate change, because of human activity were called “climate skeptics” or “global warming skeptics.” It still is, to some extent, but noticeably less so than in the past. Unfortunately, the AP style recommendation is not to refer to anthropogenic climate change denialists as “skeptics” or “deniers,” but rather to “doubters” or “those who reject mainstream climate science.” I much prefer the latter to the former, the clunkiness of the construct notwithstanding, but both are misleading regarding describing what climate change denialists actually do. Deniers are not skeptics.

The same is true for vaccine deniers. We have the same problem with antivaccine activists like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The mainstream press, in its all-encompassing fetish for “balance” and refusal to do anything that resembles making a judgment on anything, refers to RFK Jr. as a “vaccine skeptic.”

Let’s take a look at his “vaccine skepticism.” RFK Jr. is so “skeptical” of vaccines that he has compared “vaccine-induced autism” to the Holocaust on at least two occasions that I’m aware. He has referred to children with autism has having their brains be gone or having their brains be “imprisoned” like prisoners in Nazi death camps. Let’s unpack that (again) for a moment. Prisoners in Nazi death camps did not survive long. Death camps were referred to as death camps (as opposed to work camps or concentration camps) because most prisoners were there only a brief period of time before the Nazis killed them, usually by gas chamber. RFK Jr. thinks this is an appropriate metaphor for autism and vaccines. And if autism is like being imprisoned in a death camp, who are the people who imprisoned them? To RFK Jr., it’s pediatricians, big pharma, and the CDC.

That’s not all, though. RFK Jr. has written conspiracy mongering articles about how the CDC supposedly “covered” up evidence that vaccines cause autism. Why? Why do you think? To protect the pharmaceutical industry, of course! RFK Jr. is so “skeptical” of vaccines that he routinely cites horrible, horrible science by the likes of Mark Geier, Boyd Haley, and the like. He is so “skeptical” of vaccines that he published what is nothing more than a conspiracy theory that the CDC had a secret meeting in 2005 to cover up evidence that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that was in several childhood vaccines until 2002 caused autism. RFK Jr. is so “skeptical” of vaccines that he has harassed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, only to be ignored because he is obviously such a crank. As Laura Helmuth put it:

The short version of the vaccine conspiracy theory (if you are stuck on the phone with RFK Jr., you will be subjected to the long version) is that a vaccine preservative called thimerosal causes autism when injected into children. Government epidemiologists and other scientists, conspiring with the vaccine industry, have covered up data and lied about vaccine ingredients to hide this fact. Journalists are dupes of this powerful cabal that is intentionally poisoning children.

You’ll also learn that RFK, Jr. either lies or is deluded:

He spoke to one scientist (he named her but I won’t spread the defamation) who, he said, “was actually very honest. She said it’s not safe. She said we know it destroys their brains.”

I asked the scientist about their conversation. She said there is in fact no evidence that thimerosal destroys children’s brains, and that she never said that it did.

He claims that it’s a huge conspiracy and that scientists are lying:

Kennedy claims that scientists admit to him in private that they are lying about the data. When he challenged one university scientist about the accuracy of studies showing that the presence of thimerosal in vaccines had no effect on autism diagnoses, “He folded like a house of cards. Three weeks later I heard him on the radio and he was saying the same things he said to me, which I knew he knew was lying.”

As I (and Steve Novella) have noted before, it’s funny how this is all in private and no reputable scientist will actually come out and admit that he or she thinks vaccines cause autism. It’s always the same old cranks, like Mark Geier, Christopher Shaw, Boyd Haley, and the like. Surely, if so many of them believed that we were poisoning our children with vaccines, as RFK Jr. claims, one of them would have come forward over the last 15 or 20 years since the initial concern about mercury in vaccines.

RFK Jr. also thinks that Paul Offit and all the “enablers” of the vaccine-autism “Holocaust” should be in jail:

The enablers may not belong in Nuremburg, but they do belong in jail, Bobby said. “I would do a lot to see Paul Offit and all these good people behind bars,” he said, after listing Offit’s litany of lies and profit. Just to make sure people got the point, he returned to it in his speech. “Is it hyperbole to say they should be in jail? They should be in jail and the key should be thrown away.”

And here he is, ranting away at Jenny McCarthy’s “Green Our Vaccines” rally in 2008:

This basically confirms Helmuth’s description. It’s all a conspiracy! The CDC held its meeting at Simpsonwood to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests. (No, as I recall, a larger conference center was needed than what was at the CDC main campus.) “Someone” made a transcript anyway. (Yeah, that “someone” was the CDC itself, which ultimately published the transcript within a month of the meeting.) The paranoia goes on. Today, Episode #3 of Vaccines Revealed, a painfully long series of ten 1-2 hour episodes that is chock full of every chuck of antivaccine pseudoscience, paranoia, and conspiracy theories, all “revealed” through interviews with luminaries of the antivaccine movement conducted by a chiropractor named Patrick Gentempo. I signed up for short-term free access to the series, thinking I might blog about it, but I don’t know if I can manage. The first episode featured nearly an hour of Andrew Wakefield without interruption. The third episode, the link to which was just released early morning and will expire within 24 hours, features over 65 minutes of RFK, Jr. repeating “the long version” of his antivaccine conspiracy theories. I’m tough and dedicated, but even I had a hard time sitting through such concentrated crankery when I tried to watch the video very early this morning. I saved it for later, but I don’t know if I can do this. There are some things that are too much even for me, and watching over an hour of Wakefield and over an hour of RFK Jr. might be it.

The same sorts of considerations apply to RFK Jr.’s new best bud forever, Donald Trump. I’ve documented the long, sordid history of antivaccine pseudoscience emanating from our President-Elect. There is no doubt that Donald Trump buys fully into antivaccine pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Indeed, I often contrast how Trump has changed his positions on multiple occasions on issues like abortion to his seemingly unalterable belief that vaccines cause autism, a belief that he has held and articulated in public at least since 2007. As much as it pains me to have to do so and confront our President-Elects’ antivaccine views, I not infrequently point out that, compared to the flip-flops Trump has pulled off regarding beliefs in a variety of areas, Trump’s views on vaccines and autism have been remarkably consistent. He believes that vaccines cause autism and has repeatedly stated that he believes that vaccines cause autism since 2007 without doubt, equivocation, or change.

I realize that, as a blogger, I can write whatever I want, use whatever words I want to describe someone like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.—and, yes, Donald Trump. I don’t know if it’s part of the AP Style Manual or not to call such people “vaccine skeptics,” the way it used to be part of the AP Style Manual to refer to anthropogenic climate change denialists as climate science skeptics, but something needs to change. I don’t expect journalists to refer to RFK Jr., as I often do, as a “raving antivaccine crank, but he is not a “vaccine skeptic.” Skepticism implies questioning the data, yes, but it also involves ultimately accepting the science when the data support it, as is the case to an overwhelming degree when it comes to the idea that vaccines cause autism.

I once listed eight traits that define an antivaccine ideologue, suggesting that if someone has more than three or four of them he’s definitely antivaccine, his denials that he’s “pro-vaccine safety” (or, in the case of RFK Jr, even more risibly, “fiercely pro-vaccine”) notwithstanding:

  1. Claiming to be “pro-safe vaccine” while being unrelentingly critical about vaccines
  2. The “vaccines don’t work” gambit
  3. The “vaccines are dangerous” gambit
  4. Preferring anecdotes over science and epidemiology
  5. Cherry picking and misrepresenting the evidence
  6. The copious use of logical fallacies in arguing
  7. Conspiracy mongering
  8. Trying to silence criticism, rather than responding to it

RFK Jr ticks off at least seven of these eight traits. (To my knowledge, he doesn’t claim that vaccines don’t work, but I could be wrong about this one too.) In particular, he claims to be “pro-vaccine” but never says anything positive about vaccines other than occasionally conceding, almost as an afterthought, that they work in preventing disease. Donald Trump ticks off at least five or six of these traits. They are antivaccine, not “vaccine skeptics.” The press needs to start calling them that. I’d even settle for the awkward AP Style Manual construct ““those who reject mainstream vaccine science.” Almost anything would be better than giving antivaccine cranks undue status as anything more than cranks by calling them “skeptics.”

They are not. And science advocates and real skeptics are going to be in for a long four years.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

500 replies on “No, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is NOT a “vaccine skeptic.” He is antivaccine.”

You are spot on.

Anti-vaxxers love to blur the very clear line between them and us. This cannot happen, especially now. Those who attack vaccines with pseudoscience and lies cannot be allowed to misrepresent themselves to the public, even more so these next four years.

eight traits that define an antivaccine ideologue

I think a ninth trait can be added.
Insisting that vaccine preventable diseases aren’t as dangerous as they’re made out to be.

If I update that post, I’ll add that one, although I view it as going hand-in-hand with the claim that vaccines don’t work. Maybe I should think of a couple more, in order to bring the number up to an even 10. 🙂

Thank you, Orac, for your good, persistent fight. Although it is absurd to have these debates in the XXIst century in America, the reality forces us to do that.

The guy is an incult (I regret that we do not use the word more often), besides a crank and an embarrassment for his family and for the Democratic Party. Why an incult? Because in a modern society, scientific knowledge and respect for science should be part of basic culture for any person, let alone for a graduate of Harvard, an environmentalist and a member of the political elite.

The next four years will be very difficult, to be polite, which is why all of us, cultured people, who support science and scientific inquiry will have to show stronger solidarity and support for the scientific community. And be very demanding of our elected officials to do the same.

The more I watch Trump, the more I am convinced that he doesn’t believe in anything but himself. He met with RFK Jr. for no other reason than he knew it would generate headlines & allow him to continue to control the news cycle.

He literally doesn’t care what side of an issue he’s on, as long as it appears to be controversial….

I bet RFK Jr. will be waiting on the sidelines for quite a while (he shouldn’t be holding his breath)…..because Trump won’t ever “do” anything, he’ll just talk about it.

“Maybe I should think of a couple more, in order to bring the number up to an even 10. ?”

Well, here’s a candidate for that even 10: the idea that vaccination programs are corporate welfare for Big Pharma, the guys who corrupt everything and everyone 100% successfully (except for the guy selling natural supplements. he’s unimpeachable).

Orac writes,

And science advocates and real skeptics are going to be in for a long four years.

MJD says,

Orac and minions, please clarify the phrase “real skeptics”.

Using Orac’s “antivaccine ideologue” outlined in the article, it’s clear that a “real skeptic” will/must be captured by Orac’s antivaccine black hole.

In my opinion, if President-Elect Donald Trump is successful at appointing JFK, Jr for an autism/vaccine commission, it may result in healthy compromises that significantly reduce the number of vaccine skeptics.

@Orac,

For several years, I’ve whined and complained about being in auto-moderation. Now that I’m back in auto-mod, I will make every effort to make a Stephen Hawking like escape.

It is also instructive to compare this paragraph from RFK Jr.:

The enablers may not belong in Nuremburg, but they do belong in jail, Bobby said. “I would do a lot to see Paul Offit and all these good people behind bars,” he said, after listing Offit’s litany of lies and profit. Just to make sure people got the point, he returned to it in his speech. “Is it hyperbole to say they should be in jail? They should be in jail and the key should be thrown away.”

with this entry from John Baez’s Crackpot Index:

40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

RFK Jr. also ticks the entries for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieves in a theory he publicly supports, playing the Nazi card, playing the establishment conspiracy card, the Galileo gambit, as well as multiple statements that are generally considered false and adhered to despite careful correction.

A psychoceramic study of the man might be amusing if the potential consequences were not so serious.

~ RFK, Jr. either lies or is deluded:
He spoke to one scientist ( … ) who, he said, “was actually very honest. She said it’s not safe. She said we know it destroys their brains.” ~

I know anecdotes are not the same as data, but I am fully vaccinated, in addition to having had some extra stuff gratuitously “pumped” into my body like yellow fever, typhoid, Hep B, rabies… and I can assure Mr Kennedy that my brain is still functioning the way it was intended by its creator/intelligent designer and/or evolution. I know that everyone else who works alongside me in our area of research has received more or less the same number of shots, and all of us successfully went on to do postgrad work. But then… maybe things are different here in continental Europe? 😉

As one who watches this nonsense from the opposite side of the Atlantic, can I be the only one who wonders if the only reason anyone listens to RFK Jr’s rubbish is because of his name and family history?

If he was called Elmer Phudd and came from Biloxi, would we have ever heard of him?

Pretty much convinced yourselves, eh guys.

So why is there a government agency that has paid out over $2.5 billion to victims of vaccine injury?
https://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/

Either you own your own body or the government doed.
http://www.primaryfundamentalright.org/index.php?pageName=pfrWhatIs

If vaccines work you don’t need to worry about the unvaccinated, surely? I mean that’s the whole point of them right? Unless of course they don’t work.

Yes, but isn’t it the same with you all (and us as well) hanging on every word of One Of The Royals? Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the phrase, “the royal family have always used homeopathy”, over the last 40 years.

If he was called Elmer Phudd and came from Biloxi, would we have ever heard of him?

If he were Republican and were a member of Congress, then quite possibly yes. The competition for Dumbest Republican Politician is quite stiff, and one of the leading contenders is the chairman of the House Science Committee.

I wonder if he really thinks he’s pro-vaccine and just calling for safety or if he’s aware that that’s untrue. Doesn’t make any practical difference: he’s still anti-vaccine through and through. But I sometimes wonder about what these people think.

@Nanea Taylor, I think it’s both.
He has deluded himself so much that he doesn’t realise he’s lying. I believe it’s the old case of “to be a successful liar, first deceive yourself”.

darwinslapdog

I don’t hang on every word of the Royals, though I’m not going to forget that our future king texted his then mistress now wife that he ‘wanted to be your tampon’. I do keep an eye on what Charles is up to because he has undue influence that often needs to be countered by rational people.

” it’s funny how this is all in private” – saith Orac

Yep, I’ve heard that before:
accomplished woo-meisters get SBMers admit to all sorts of malfeasance off the record and
there are secret documents ferreted away somewhere ( in Nebraska perhaps)
and the government hides data or distorts it
What else?
Research that no SB periodical will ever print,
things that doctors will never tell you etc.
I’ve heard it all a thousand times.

Mike Adams ( NN, today) mentions someone we know, Dr DG, in his latest anti-vax screed about child abusers ( i.e vaccine supporters)

Adams is now a heavy metal expert.
Right, probably likes Metallica .

A psychoceramic study of the man might be amusing if the potential consequences were not so serious.

C’mon aboard, I promise you, we won’t hurt the kiln.

Adams is now a heavy metal expert.
Right, probably likes Metallica .

I imagine it’s more along the lines of a large tuba section.

Remember, Opus played tuba with Deathtöngue (later Billy and the Boingers).

The more I watch Trump, the more I am convinced that he doesn’t believe in anything but himself. He met with RFK Jr. for no other reason than he knew it would generate headlines & allow him to continue to control the news cycle.

He literally doesn’t care what side of an issue he’s on, as long as it appears to be controversial….

I don’t think so. Not about this. He was saying the same sorts of things about vaccines and autism back in 2007, long before it could have been expected to make much in the way of headlines for him, and he’s been utterly consistent since then about his belief that vaccines cause autism.

Bernard Palmer: “So why is there a government agency that has paid out over $2.5 billion to victims of vaccine injury?”

Here is a little math story for you to work on: This is a link to the NVICP statistics, and the first table is the data from 2006 through 2014:
https://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/data/statisticsreport.pdf

Now look at that table and go to the very bottom where it says “Grand Total.” Take the first number which is the total number of vaccine doses for that time period (2,532,428,541 doses). Then run your finger along that row and find the total number of compensated claims (2310 compensations). Now here is the hard part: divide the first number by the second number.

Please tell us what that number is, and then explain what it means.

Here in Italy an online-only media, Il Post, has translated entirely (under license) the WaPo article, the first in your list.
They haven’t translated RFK Jr. as “vaccine skeptic” but as “anti-vaxxer” and “conspiracy theorist”.

Seen from abroad the health policies of your new President are very worrysome.

The Italian government has just reviewed the L.E.A. (Basic Levels of Care) granted free to all citizen by our S.S.N. (National Health Service). Some vaccines have been added, for example HPV for 11y.o. boys, anti-meningitis B for newborns, anti-meningitis booster dose for teens, and others.

I hope that the US are not going in the opposite direction.

@ #11 Bernard Palmer

So why is there a government agency that has paid out over $2.5 billion to victims of vaccine injury? . . . If vaccines work you don’t need to worry about the unvaccinated, surely? I mean that’s the whole point of them right? Unless of course they don’t work.

From the web site you linked to:

Since 1988, over 17,732 petitions have been filed with the VICP. Over that 27- year time period, 15,312 petitions have been adjudicated, with 5,143 of those determined to be compensable, while 10,169 were dismissed. Total compensation paid over the life of the program is approximately $3.5 billion.

The actual total payouts have been even greater than $2.5 billion. The average is about $700,000 per settled or adjudicated compensation, including lawyers’ fees for dismissed cases. What is your point, that someone claims that vaccines can cause no harm to anyone, ever, or that vaccines are 100% prophylactic? I don’t think you will find anyone around here painting with that broad of a brush. I advise stepping away from the straw man.

Dave @ 14, rarely do I click youtube video link, but I tried the one you provided.
Brought a smile to my face, which sent the cat running from the room.

@Orac, another addition, the antivaxer confidently informing one and all that polio still exists in the US, but is called EV68.
Despite the utterly different genetics between the two viruses.

Old Rockin’ Dave: Love that video. Applause!

MJD: Since everyone else has you on ignore, I’ll bite. I’m bored and have nothing better to do.

A real skeptic has room for the possibility they are wrong, and are delighted when it is conclusively proved they are wrong because it means a wonderful new discovery has taken place. That’s a big of an overgeneralization, but the basic idea is simply that.

A lot of people thought the idea of tetonic plates and a single continent was lunacy when it was first proposed. Ditto germ theory. Florence Nightingale did not believe in germ theory when it was first proposed; her Notes on Nursing’s recommendations on light, fresh air, and cleanliness were right for the wrong reasons. But she wasn’t a loon, she came around quickly when she saw the numbers and the statistics (were you aware that she is not only the Mother of Modern Nursing, but the Mother of Modern Statistics?).

Antivaccine loons can never be skeptics because there is no room in their world view that vaccines could possibly be safe. In fact, every time the evidence pulls them further and further away from a particular claim, they double down and invent new reasons why vaccines must be unsafe. That’s why we went from thimerosol to aluminum adjuvants to formaldehyde as the villain of the week when it comes to vaccine manufacture.

Orac: if you need something else for your list, how about the fact most antivaxxers will say, “and I vaccinated my kids.” Funny how many seem to claim that. I actually believe RFK Jr when he claims it; he can afford the best health care and to risk “spreading out the shots”, leaving his kids at risk for exposure.

I’d also say in response to MJD’s post, good compromises? Really?

Argument to moderation fallacy much.

Although most people don’t compromise enough, there are times when there should be no compromise at all. There are times when one side of an argument is absolutely, completely wrong, and should be aggressively marginalized.

There is no ethical compromise between “saving as many children from childhood diseases as possible” and “letting some kids die because their parents are afraid of shots.”

The first time a mother told me her child became autistic the very night he was vaccinated, I didn’t believe her. I dismissed her. That is something I will always regret.

I’ll suggest it’s not cause for major worry that RFKJ is labeled ‘vaccine skeptic’, based on how J. Q. public likely takes the meaning and inference of the term. That is, it doesn’t denote ‘skeptic’ in any of the philosphical senses, * just a “doubter” in the broadest descriptive sense. It’s connotations are not necessarily good or bad. To the extent ‘skeptic’ alone deviates from neutral in value, it skews slightly to the negative. But where the connotations fall in the end depends on the context – which will, of course, be interpreted differently by different people. But for most folks, in the case of vaccines, I think ‘vaccine skeptic’ is more of a subtle dig than a subtle endorsement.

The first definition of ‘skeptic’ popped up by Google is vale-neutral: “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.” The value that will attach then depends on how valid the reader takes the questioned thing to be. To call someone a ‘gravity skeptic’, would be to call them a nutjob. Part of the insult is that the use isn’t just literal ‘correct’, but a form of amplification by understatement. In such a reading, it’s just as nasty as ‘denier’ but in a different direction: being so mentally muddled as to doubt the undoubtable is in some ways worse than just being totally wrong-headed about it.

The difference is that ‘skeptic’ can be read different ways, while ‘denier’ is unmistakably pejorative – which is why it’s unproductive to expect news reports to adopt the term, however true and warranted it might be. It violates the the news canons of ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity’ – which become the norm in the early 20th century not out any commitment to ‘reason’, but to make newspapers an effective vehicle for mass market advertising. ‘News’, as opposed to opinion, must appear to be non-partisan. Thus, the front page stories can only report, “Donald Trump said yesterday that….” instead of “Donald Trump lied yesterday that…” even when the latter is unquestionably true. More to the point at hand, news organizations have gone through many contentious battles over the terms used to designate different political positions, ultimately settling on using whatever groups chose to call themselves. Thus, in ‘news’ pieces, you will never see “anti-abortion” or “pro-abortion”, only “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice”. Regular news consumers intuitively understand that, in the realm of politics, euphemism is the rule in headline terminology. So no, you won’t be seeing ‘anti-vaxer’ used in news stories, either.

Realistically, you can only expect a news editor to employ the most brief, descriptive, non-partisan, noninflammatory terminology. The only plausible alternative I can imagine an editor using for RFKJ is ‘vaccine critic’. Would you find that objectionable? (…even if you would prefer stronger language). Well, I think ‘vaccine skeptic’ is more or a less a synonym for ‘vaccine critic’, except it’s shaded more towards the pejorative (between the lines, as they say).

The reason for this, I think, is that ‘vaccine critic’ makes clear literal sense, and ‘vaccine skeptic’ doesn’t. What does a ‘vaccine skeptic’ doubt? The actual existence of things called vaccines? That the shots actually vaccinate? Really, it’s an odd term to denote ‘someone who thinks vaccines cause autism’. In contrast to the far more straightforward choice of ‘vaccine critic’, it carries some subtextual pull of the silliness or non sequitur of its literal meanings.

In the end, labels used in news stories will tend to be open to interpretation to a degree that parsing their meaning won’t get you very far in critical analysis. Those nine different stories Orac linked with heads calling RFKJ a ‘vaccine skeptic’ could have nine different shades of value associating the term with either sensible criticism or its antithesis. since most readers skip out of news stories a few paragraphs in, the best gauge of ideological framing is probably taking an overall impression of the headline and the first three paragraphs as a totality. [Which I don’t have time to do, not that you’d find any write-up I’d offer here worth the bandwidth :-). ]
________

* BTW, in classical philosophy, ‘skepticism’ does not signify “the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity” (Brian Dunning), but, in contrast, “it’s impossible to know the truth about anything’, (Academic Skepticism), or “one should refrain from making truth claims” (Pyrrhonic Skeptisim)… http://tinyurl.com/zyn7gqc

#18 Jazzlet

I thought Charles The Odd is to be bypassed? The Royal Family would be ridiculed should he be made King.

So let’s see, the Presidential Commission on vaccine safety chaired by RFK Jr. will include the following panelists:

Suzanne Humphries
Sherry Tenpenny
Russell Blaylock
Andrew Wakefield
Tetyana Obukhanych
Neil Z. Miller
Dan Olmsted
Mark Geier
J.B. Handley
Mike Adams
Jenny McCarthy
Barbara Loe Fisher
and for balance:
Bob Sears

Who am I missing? Oh yes, the father-of-the-year:

http://patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/01/13/father-who-let-his-child-die-of-meningitis-is-once-again-promoting-harmful-alternative-medicine/

@Dangerous Bacon:
As long as Canadians are eligible, how about:
Christopher Shaw
Lucija Tomljenovic
Lawrence Solomon?

Take them…please.

Dangerous Bacon ask (#35),

Who am I missing?

MJD says,

Orac should be on the list to bring balance. Although Mike Adams probably wouldn’t show if Orac was part of the autism/vaccine commission. 🙂

“The first time a mother told me her child became autistic the very night he was vaccinated, I didn’t believe her. I dismissed her. That is something I will always regret.”
Chelsea, autism involves a distinctive set of structural changes in the brain caused by an alteration in the mechanism by which some structures are developed and pruned away.. This simply doesn’t happen in the course of an afternoon, or even an afternoon and an evening.

@Dangerous Bacon #36: Dr. Mercola is a shoe-in for your list. His latest warning about vaccines is titled “Meningitis Vax Tied to Bell’s Palsy Risk”.

#24, #27, #29

Bit scary eh? Bet you didn’t know that website existed, did you? Not to worry. I except we’ll find out a lot more once Mr Kennedy gets busy. Looks like the games up guys. Soon you’ll all have to get real jobs.

Um, no Bernard. If Kennedy “gets busy” spreading his AV lies more publicly to terrify greater numbers of parents out of vaccinating, I will sadly be *busier* at my job keeping children healthy –treating more cases of pertussis, flu, chickenpox, rotavirus and quite likely cases of measles and meningitis (or admitting them to the hospitalist as is more likely today). Then the morbidity and mortality of these preventable disease outbreaks will be on Kennedy’s hands and yours. Vaccines work so well people have forgotten what these diseases were like. Luddites like you, Bernard will remind them in the most contemptible way.

You mean a website detailing a public program, in existence for more than 30 years, who’s information is public, has been public, and is advertised on every single VIS given before every vaccination in the United States?

And I thought anti-vaxers studied?

Dear Chris,
I’m glad you see yourself as a saviour for children. In my mind there is no greater task than that of tending to their well being. And though it may seem paradoxical that is why I am on websites like this ttrying to get the so called intellectual classes to open their eyes enough to see how much misery their myopia is causing.
Most vaccines are probably unneeded. MMR is dangerous in its present form. Autism is endemic and the medical profession is to blame. As simple as that. Hopefully Kennedy will will let some light in and soon.
Some 35 years ago I discovered that by laying a baby on it’s stomach could activate the facial trigeminal nerves that in turn initiated a ‘Diving Reflex” where the tongue became a sea water valve totally blocking off the airways. I did this by experiments on myself. Very scarey. Not being a medico it took me a long time to convince those in charge that a cold pillow/bedsheet was a possible hazard. The petechia in the windpipe helped and Tasmania became the first state in world to advocate putting babies to sleep on the backs. Crib death almost disappeared overnight.
Unfortunately I believe SIDS victims are in a state of extreme hibernation and are possibly alive until their autopsy. I call this cold air ‘drowning’ . I also think there is a strong possiblity that many autistic children are in a form of diving reflex ‘drowning’ possibly caused from either the pain of the jab or the ingredients which sends them into a ‘surface’ hibernation. Again the presence of petechia could prove /disprove this idea. As you know autism symptoms are similar to a near death drowning. This is why I think an oxygen/helium air mixture as used in deep water diving might help recovery.
Anyway, if you had not called me a Luddite we would not be having this interesting conversation. For me that is.

(Dammit, my Return key isn’t working again, pardon the overly-long single paragraph format.) I have a wild hypothesis: One thing we know about ASDs is that they include the sense of being constantly overstimulated or overwhelmed or overloaded with stimuli. So: start with a kid who is already showing subtle signs of ASD, and who will probably be diagnosed a little later regardless of anything else. The plain physical pain of getting their shots is overwhelming to the kid, and pushes him/her over the threshold into overt ASD behaviors, which the parents immediately notice and attribute to the shots, but for the wrong reason. If this is correct, then the simple expedient of using a topical anaesthetic should eliminate that problem entirely, and also eliminate much of the upset that all kids have about getting shots. (I have early childhood memories of the pain of getting shots and dreading going to the doctor because more shots. Anecdotes != data, but in any case it’s certainly testable that children who are given a topical anaesthetic won’t get upset & cry when they’re given their shots.)

I didn’t see (44) before I posted (46). Suffice to say they are not the same thing, and I’m highly “skeptical” (in the correct sense of the word) about “diving reflex” and “drowning response” as causes for ASDs, not to mention the idea that autism is like a near-death drowning. The latter should produce a near-death experience (NDE), so if that was even remotely correct, we would see folks with ASDs talking about light and love and oneness etc., same as other folks who have had NDEs. But we see no such behavior. In any case the mechanism that I’m suggesting may account for the anecdotes, is entirely different (extreme response to pain) and trivially easy to test (local anaesthetic).

Whoa. We haven’t had as nutty a commenter as Bernard around here in a long time. SIDS victims are in a state of extreme hibernation and are possibly alive until their autopsy? That’s a whole new level of crazy that I haven’t seen in quite some time.

@ # 41 Bernard Palmer

. . . Bet you didn’t know that website existed, did you? . . .

There is a web site you might find useful; it is called Google . You can use it to search for many things, even on specific web sites. I suggest you use it for this one, using the terms “Vaccine Court,” “VICP,” and “Vaccine Injury Compensation.” You could also use the search function of this site itself. Failing this and just spouting stuff increases your chances of making a fool of yourself in public.

P.S. Please be advised that trying to post making claims based on the VAERS database (https://vaers.hhs.gov/) is very likely to have the same result

Oh, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…. Of course I have known that webpage existed for years. Which is how I came up with that little math story problem in the first place.

I see you are one of the many anti-vaxers who do not know how to divide the number of total vaccines given by the total compensated claims. Either you don’t know what I mean when I said “divide the first number by the second number”, or you have no idea there is built in calculator in any device that can access the internet.

“MMR is dangerous in its present form.”

Which MMR in which country? The one used in Australia could be different from the one in the USA. When the UK first introduced MMR vaccination in 1988, they used three different ones.

Now, the USA has been using the same MMR since 1978. So where is the data showing autism increased in the 1980s due to that vaccine?

Most vaccines are probably unneeded. MMR is dangerous in its present form. Autism is endemic and the medical profession is to blame. As simple as that.

Except for the part where one, y’know, defends one’s assertions.

This is why I think an oxygen/helium air mixture as used in deep water diving might help recovery

In that setting, the use of the mixture is to offset nitrogen narcosis:

Except for helium and probably neon, all gases that can be breathed have a narcotic effect…

Narcosis results from breathing gases under elevated pressure, …

The cause of narcosis is related to the increased solubility of gases in body tissues, as a result of the elevated pressures at depth

The precise mechanism is not well understood, but it appears to be the direct effect of gas dissolving into nerve membranes and causing temporary disruption in nerve transmissions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_narcosis

Well, Bernard Palmer, there is another medical use which may be more in line with your thinking:

Heliox, a mixture of helium and oxygen, has a density that is less than that of air. Breathing heliox leads to a reduction in resistance to flow within the airways, and consequently to a decrease in the work of breathing (WOB), particularly in disorders that are characterized by increased airways resistance. Beneficial effects have been observed in patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiolitis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia and upper airways obstruction. Until we have conclusive data that attest to the efficacy of heliox in such conditions, its use will remain controversial. Meanwhile, it appears wise not to incorporate heliox therapy into routine practice because of technical complications and high costs.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC137275/

Unfortunately I believe SIDS victims are in a state of extreme hibernation and are possibly alive until their autopsy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbE8E1ez97M

This is me.

“Palmer is also the designer owner of CashRamSpam, the world’s first money based spam free email system.”

Good L-rd, that was a dumb idea even for 2003.

Oh, Bernard, Bernard, Bernard! Oh, dear!
“As you know autism symptoms are similar to a near death drowning. This is why I think an oxygen/helium air mixture as used in deep water diving might help recovery.”
Have you actually met any, you know, …autistic people? Or does your knowledge of autism come from watching “Rain Man” on a loop? Or have you sucked it out of your thumb? I’m on the autism spectrum. My 60+ years of living with my form of autism is nothing like a near-death experience, of which I have had a few (choking, anaphylaxis, and, yes, near drowning).
The development of autism involves characteristic changes in the way that the growing brain develops and prunes away its components. The way it plays out pretty much rules out overnight change to autism, and there is growing evidence that signs can be seen at 6 months of age, and good reason to believe that it is not only congenital but may have a hereditary component.
The use of heliox mixtures in diving is due to the way that changing pressure affects the solubility of nitrogen in the blood and has nothing to do with whether one is diving, working in a bridge caisson, or doing anything that risks going from a high-pressure environment to a low-pressure one too quickly. or do you think babies in the crib turn autistic because they have the bends?

“As you know autism symptoms are similar to a near death drowning. This is why I think an oxygen/helium air mixture as used in deep water diving might help recovery.”

Speaking in a squeaky Donald Duck voice is NOT RECOVERY.

I have a question – When is it acceptable for a public figure to express skepticism about the safety of vaccines?

I would say anytime it’s fact-based.

“We shouldn’t be using the oral polio vaccine when there’s a safer alternative and we haven’t had polio for years” would be good in 1995. “We need to remove gelatin and use a safer stabilizer”, and so forth.

The vaccines cause autism claim is not, -6 this point, fact based. It’s thoroughly debunked.

@Dorit It seems to me that with this criteria you are limiting the acceptability of skepticism statements to experts. Few non-experts can express their skepticism in such specifics. Probably not your intent, but it would have that effect.

@Beth, when discussing brain surgery, I’d restrict any conversation in regards to performing it upon me and my family to a neurosurgeon who specializes in brain surgery.
Indeed, when discussing treatment for my hyperthyroidism, all discussion of treatment was restricted to myself and an endocrinologist.

At work, discussion is initially restricted between myself and management in regards to network and system security. I bring end users in before we consider implementation of security measures to ensure that we don’t unintentionally hamper business operations.
End users may influence implementation of security measures, they may not, as one has to assess the threat vs the nature of impact of protective measures and balance the two to create proper protection of the entire enterprise.
That’s just as true in medicine.

Beth, John Salamone was a parent, not a an expert. Dorit was relating what really happened when the OPV was replaced by IPV.

Mr. Palmer: your fascination with child pornography is . . . chilling, to say the least.

Please quit pretending your obsession with vaccines has anything to do with child welfare. You’ve made it quite clear you don’t give a damn about children.

Asking legitimate questions is fine – but when evidence (mountains of evidence, in fact) is provided that answers those questions, then continuing to pursue said “questions” is not appropriate.

I can only hope Bernard isn’t a parent and if he is, his children have gotten far away from him at an early age. Good grief what a sicko.

While numerous media sources fell for the “vaccine skeptic” description of RFK Jr., at least the Columbus Dispatch got it right. They ran an editorial yesterday titled “Vaccine panel could do harm – Especially with anti-vaxxer at the helm”

Excerpt:

“Perhaps a commission on vaccine safety is a good idea, if only to reassure fretful parents who have been misled by ignorant conspiracy mongers. Debate over vaccine safety has spread like a case of measles since Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, published fraudulent research in 1998 liking a common childhood vaccine to autism. This false claim has been debunked — repeatedly.”

“Ideally, shouldn’t such a panel be led by credentialed scientists and not self-proclaimed experts? Celebrity is no substitute for knowledge, fact and sound reasoning. Just who might Kennedy put on such a commission? Fellow anti-vaxxers Britney Spears and Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen?”…

“Trump himself has expressed support for the theory of an autism-vaccination link. But Americans had hoped that the real-estate magnate and developer would know what he doesn’t know and turn to experts. The possibility of a vaccine conspiracy theorist like Kennedy is alarming.”

Chris – I said few not none. And I was specifically asking about public figures. Someone who’s opinion is likely to make the first page, like RFK, Jr. It seems to me that Orac and most commentators here find skeptical opinions about current vaccine safety to be completely unacceptable in any publication for the general public. This is probably not the case. Hence my question regarding what circumstances would be acceptable.

Orac and most commentators here find skeptical opinions about current vaccine safety to be completely unacceptable in any publication for the general public.

Neither Orac nor the commentariat have veto powers over publications, and are not in a position to accept or otherwise, so I don’t know what you’re on about.

Beth: I can’t presume to speak for others. But I’ll speak for myself.

I find allegedly skeptical opinions about current vaccine safety based on long debunked conspiracy theories to be unacceptable in any publication whatsoever. I have a problem with falsehoods being presented as fact under the false flag of skepticism.

Real skepticism reflecting a potentially genuine concern, say for example a specific manufacturer was producing a vaccine with poor quality assurance controls (as happened with an influenza vaccine a few years ago leading to a shortage, or with privately compounded steroids in another case), are another matter entirely. But so called vaccine skeptics don’t go that route because they begin with the presumption that vaccines are to be treated with suspicion regardless of how they are made. That’s why we’ve jumped from one ingredient to the next as “contamination”: from thimerosol to aluminum to formaldehyde. There is nothing in a vaccine that makes these people happy, so there’s no point in indulging such idiocy any further.

Robert Kennedy is anti-thimerosal, that much is certain.

But who isn’t really. Not even the most die-hard vaccine promoter can justify it: not Dorit Reiss, not Paul Offit, ect, ect.

They all end-up looking like anti-scientific Eli LIlly apologists.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: