Flu Vaccination GrippeNearly a year ago, the British medical journal Lancet retracted an article it published, back in 1998, which linked autism with the MMR vaccine. The Wakefield study was known to have been flawed before then; the Lancet retraction was merely one more nail in its coffin. (The most recent nail — and perhaps its final one — was a more recent finding that the study was fully fraudulent and not merely “flawed.”)

Something similar has been happening at a different media outlet, the online magazine Salon. Back in 2005 it (and its then-partner, Rolling Stone magazine) had presented an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr claiming that vaccines were dangerous and that an entrenched corporate/government conspiracy had been working to prevent people from knowing about it.

I’ve already blogged about RFK Jr’s wingnutism. And Salon, to its credit, almost immediately began backtracking from the story, releasing a long series of corrections and emendations, hoping to reel it back in.

But the antivax nutters refused to let up, and continued to milk the original paranoid RFK Jr article as “proof” that vaccines caused autism and that a conspiracy was afoot to hide this.

Well, Salon finally followed Lancet‘s lead, and formally retracted that story. Salon Editor in Chief Kerry Lauerman explains this decision (WebCite cached article):

In 2005, Salon published online an exclusive story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that offered an explosive premise: that the mercury-based thimerosal compound present in vaccines until 2001 was dangerous, and that he was “convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.” …

At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” [cached] further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.

If you really want to read RFK Jr’s drivel, it’s still available as a WebCite cached article, and it’s also still hosted at RFK Jr’s own Web site (cached).

I have no doubt that “true believers” in the antivax movement will not be fazed by any of these retractions. If anything, they will further convince them that the conspiracy they’re so convinced is in play, has been at work, and forced the retractions. In other words, these retractions will actually confirm, rather than undermine, their nutty beliefs. (The mechanism by which this sort of thing is one I’ve blogged about before.)

P.S. It’s not clear what Rolling Stone has done with this story. I cannot find it on their site. It’s as though it never had existed. Hmm.

Hat tip: Boing Boing & Retraction Watch.

Photo credit: Daniel Paquet.

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  • Vaccines have proven important to the eradication of diseases such as smallpox and polio. However, there are legitimate questions as to whether the USA is over-vaccinating children, and there is evidence that vaccines contribute to autism in some children. So this is my suggesion to all parents having autistic child that as there is no evidence of mercury poisoning in autism, they should avoid ineffective and dangerous 'treatments' such as chelation therapy for their childre

    • To be honest, I find the "there are questions" protest to be cavernously empty. Either there's evidence vaccines are harmful, or there isn't. The phrase "there are questions" (when used about anything) is typically employed by people who dislike something or have some wild theory, but cannot or will not cough up any compelling evidence that it's bad or that their theory is true.

      This phrase has been used in a lot of places and by a lot of folks, most of them cranks and wingnuts. "There are questions" about whether or not Barack Obama is an American citizen, for example. "There are questions" about whether or not G.W. Bush won his election in 2000. "There are questions" about whether or not NASA astronauts actually landed on the moon. "There are questions" about whether an extraterrestrial spacecraft landed near Roswell NM in 1947.

      I could go on at length this way. Hopefully you see my point, and why it pegs the needle of my personal B.S. meter when people use that phrase. I don't find it impressive.

      As for autism and vaccines … there is no link between them. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nichts. Aon cheann. Nihilo. No matter what language one uses or how one chooses to say it, the link does not exist.

      See e.g. the following:

      And they're hardly the only places to look.

  • lovely

    If parents see warning symbols of autism, they must see their pediatrician for showing. Tests can involve individuals to rule out other likely What Causes Autism of warning sign, like a hearing test, as well as blood testing for lead in the blood.

    • Of course if parents suspect something isn't right with their children, they ought to consult professionals. That goes without saying. (I should point out, though, that parents suspecting something's wrong, doesn't automatically mean something is truly wrong. That's not to say it shouldn't be checked out.)

      But with that said, the link you provided is to a guy who claims to cure autism using homeopathy. The problem with homeopathy is that it's a cure for nothing. Except, perhaps, its peddlers' poverty. Autism should be dealt with by true professionals employing valid, tested techniques. Homeopathy, sadly, doesn't fall into that range. It's not based on valid science, nor has it been demonstrated to work, beyond what one finds via the placebo effect.

      Autism is a serious matter, which deserves serious attention. Using it as fuel for a phony anti-vaccine campaign, is not appropriate. Nor should it be used by cranks or hustlers selling phony remedies.