Taking stupid to a whole new level: TLC’s entry for the “Worst piece written about vaccines”

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I try not to be surprised by the level of stupid displayed by people working in the information industries — print, television, radio, etc. — which should give you some indication of what level of ignorance is required to make me spit out my coffee, which is what I did when I read a TLC “How Stuff Works” post titled “Why shouldn’t we vaccinate our children?

I started this post thinking I’d address every problem in the piece, but it quickly became clear that that was going to be too overwhelming. (Mary McCarthy’s evaluation of Lillian Hellman comes to mind: “Every word she writes is a lie, and that includes ‘and’ and ‘the.’”) Instead, I’ll limit myself to one of the piece’s six entries: “Vaccines May or May Not Have a Link to Autism.” What follows is the entirety of the content in that section, followed by the reality of the situation.

TLC: It’s important to point out that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that several intensive studies have found no causal link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder.

Reality: It’s false to say that the CDC “states” that studies have shown no link; that’s the same tactic birthers use when they say, “President Obama claims that he was born in the United States.” It’s also wrong to say “several” studies have found no causal link. The correct way to, um, state this would be to say, “Hundreds of extensive studies involving millions of children have shown conclusively that there is no link between vaccines and autism.”

TLC: The attention paid to reports of an increased prevalence in autism and vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines that contains mercury.

Reality: To start with, this sentence isn’t written in proper English — but I guess in addition to not feeling constrained by facts, TLC doesn’t feel constrained by writing in complete sentences. More importantly, as anyone with 0.29 seconds and the ability to use a search engine could tell you, thimerosal was removed from all standard pediatric vaccines, with the exception of some variations of the seasonal flu vaccine, in 2001. (The last children’s vaccines that used thimerosal as a preservative expired in January 2003.) Here’s a timeline detailing all of that, and much more.

TLC: Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury can lead to developmental disorders, and there is definitely mercury in thimerosal, which is found in common vaccines for diseases like rubella, mumps and typhoid.

Reality: This could be one of the dumbest sentences ever written about vaccines…which is really saying something, considering how much dreck is out there. The type of mercury that has been shown to lead to developmental disorders is methylmercury; the type of mercury that’s in thimerosal is ethylmercury. A good parallel of the difference between ethylmercury and methylmercury is that of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, and methyl alcohol, or methanol: Two shots of the former give you a buzz; two shots of the latter are lethal. What’s more, there has never been thimerosal in the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine — not before 2001 and not since. There’s also not thimerosal in the typhoid vaccine — which, incidentally, isn’t recommended in the United States unless people are traveling to areas of the world where typhoid is endemic.

TLC: However, thimerosal contains low levels of mercury; whether exposure to those low levels of mercury is enough to produce developmental disorders is what’s at issue.

Reality: As indicated above, standard pediatric vaccines do not contain thimerosal. There’s also no “issue” as to whether exposure to the amount of thimerosal contained in vaccines produced before 2001 was “enough to produce developmental disorders.” In 2004, the Institute of Medicine reviewed over 200 scientific studies that examined thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism and concluded that the studies “consistently provided evidence of no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”

TLC: It’s a good idea to speak to your physician and conduct some of your own independent research about thimerosal.

Reality: It’s always a good idea to talk to your physician — provided he’s not a dissembling quack like Bob Sears. It’s also good to be informed. But as this stinking load illustrates, there’s a lot of bad — and dangerous — information to be found on the Internets.

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Taking stupid to a whole new level: TLC’s entry for the “Worst piece written about vaccines” by PLOS Blogs Network, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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