Today for work, I went to scope out the “Green Our Vaccines” autism awareness rally on the steps of the Capitol. A little background: In spite of repeated scientific evidence disproving the purported link between autism and vaccinations, many parents still blame the vaccines for the devastating condition their family has to live with. Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative in MMR and other vaccines, has been targeted in the past. Thimerosal was removed as of 2001; autism incidence rates continued to rise. (Now it appears that aluminum is the fashionable suspect, but that’s another story entirely.) As I am interning at the American Academy of Pediatrics, they asked me to go over and see just what was going on.
I expected a lot of rhetoric and a lot of emotion at this rally; that was kind of the point, after all. The speeches took a two-pronged approach: “We are not anti-vaccines, we just want to spread them out more” and “There is a big government cover-up.”
The cover-up allegation was really not so surprising — as the saying goes, you can’t spit in DC without hitting either a lobbyist or a conspiracy theorist — but what really struck me was that they had expanded their conspiracy net to include Big Pharma, the media, and physicians.
Here’s the clincher: Robert Kennedy, Jr. stepped up the microphone and rehashed a Salon.com article of his, in which he completely misrepresents a CDC conference in 2000. Skeptico does a solid analysis of the article. In his speech today, RFK Jr went over the same old points: that everyone is sleeping with everyone else and the pillow talk is all about how best to screw over the American public. He then “quoted” from the transcript of the CDC conference with one of the participants, whose name I didn’t catch, saying “There is no way to massage the data to eliminate the link [between vaccination and autism].”
Whoa! I thought. That’s some damn serious accusation, Senator. That’s fraud. So when I got back to the office, I did what any self-respecting scientist would do: went back to the source. In this case, the transcript of the Simpsonwood conference. It’s massively long, so after the first ten or so pages, I took advantage of the Handy-Dandy Finder in Adobe Reader and looked for “massage.”
No hits. So how’s that for fraud?