A move away from anti-vaccine propaganda at the Huffington Post?

Almost three months ago, a writer named David Kirby wrote a 3,800-word piece for The Huffington Post titled “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away.” It was not an impressive piece of reporting. As I wrote in Scientific American at the time,

By obscuring the difference between anecdotes and evidence, fomenting unfounded fears, and disguising tendentious tracts as objective analyses, he might be influencing public opinion, but he’s not helping the search for verifiable truth.

I was not the only person who came away from Kirby’s piece dismayed. At Forbes, Matthew Herper expressed amazement that Kirby’s piece had gone through the what The Huffington Post‘s senior health editor, Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, termed “vetting” by a medical review board, and at Respectful Insolence, Orac unpacked how the piece marked “the resurrection of David Kirby as an anti-vaccine propagandist.”

Indeed, after spending the better part of year focusing about food safety issues, Kirby seemed to have signaled a renewed commitment to keep this issue alive, regardless of the supporting evidence (or lack thereof), or the consequences of his obfuscations; in fact, at the end of the piece, Kirby promised that it was merely “part one of a two-part series.”

As the weeks went by, I kept waiting for Kirby’s further explanation of why the autism-vaccine “debate” won’t disappear. It appears that shoe has finally dropped in the form of a piece titled “Government and Many Scientists Agree: Vaccine-Autism Research Should Continue.” Kirby’s latest effort isn’t an article as much as it a list of quotes and journal articles; in fact, he’s used variations of this same list in previous Huffington Post contributions. (The list includes studies from places like Folia Neuropathologica, which is “the official journal of the Polish Association of Neuropathologists.” It is also cites studies such as one that examined the “plasma fatty acids” of 26 Saudi Arabian children with autism and another that draws conclusions from a comparison of nine children with autism with 1,258 children without an autism diagnosis.)

The contents of Kirby’s compilation of “evidence” isn’t surprising; what did get my attention is where the piece appeared: On Kirby’s own web-site and not on The Huffington Post. Over the years, Kirby has practically made this subject his HuffPo beat: plug in “Kirby autism vaccines” into the site’s search engine and you get 5,120 results. Is it possible that Kirby’s jeremiads have even become too dogmatic for a site with a long history of publishing dangerously ignorant dreck?

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4 Responses to A move away from anti-vaccine propaganda at the Huffington Post?

  1. Jerry says:

    This paper covers the main cause of autism. In the paper it’s refered to as “mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits, and movement disorders”. I’m sorry folks but that is autism. You can dress this pig up any way you want. It’s still a pig. This is why people fear the MMR vaccine. When are public health officials going to come clean?

    Pediatrics. 1998 Mar;101(3 Pt 1):383-7.

    Acute encephalopathy followed by permanent brain injury or death associated with further attenuated measles vaccines: a review of claims submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

    Weibel RE, Caserta V, Benor DE, Evans G.

    Source Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation, National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, Health Resources and Services Administration, Public Health Service, Rockville, Maryland 20857, USA.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVE: To determine if there is evidence for a causal relationship between acute encephalopathy followed by permanent brain injury or death associated with the administration of further attenuated measles vaccines (Attenuvax or Lirugen, Hoechst Marion Roussel, Kansas City, MO), mumps vaccine (Mumpsvax, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), or rubella vaccines (Meruvax or Meruvax II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), combined measles and rubella vaccine (M-R-Vax or M-R-Vax II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), or combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (M-M-R or M-M-R II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), the lead author reviewed claims submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

    METHODS: The medical records of children who met the inclusion criteria of receiving the first dose of these vaccines between 1970 and 1993 and who developed such an encephalopathy with no determined cause within 15 days were identified and analyzed.

    RESULTS: A total of 48 children, ages 10 to 49 months, met the inclusion criteria after receiving measles vaccine, alone or in combination. Eight children died, and the remainder had mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits, and movement disorders. The onset of neurologic signs or symptoms occurred with a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9. No cases were identified after the administration of monovalent mumps or rubella vaccine.

    CONCLUSIONS: This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a rare complication of measles immunization.

    I’m sorry, 1:100 is not so rare

  2. Matt Carey says:

    Much of Mr. Kirby’s arguments rely on circular reasoning. Here is one of his section titles from his recent post:

    “Risk of Neurotoxicity from Thimerosal is Plausible, at Least for Susceptible Infants”

    The question isn’t whether it is plausible, the question is whether there is a susceptible group. So far there isn’t evidence of such a group.

    The second question is whether neurotoxicity would result in autism. As Peter Hotez states in the film “Loving Lamposts”, even if you exposed an infant to very high doses of mercury, the result wouldn’t be autism. Patricia Rodier, a professor at Rochester and one of the few people to have studied both autism and mercury toxicity, discussed the problems with the hypothesis (that autism looks like mercury poisoning) at length for the Autism Omnibus hearings

    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2008/05/rodier-on-bernard-et-al-and-environmental-causes-of-autism/

    Mr. Kirby plays the game that we see all to often: claim that there is the possibility of a small susceptibility group, too small to be picked up by the large epidemiological studies, while denying or ignoring the results of those same epidemiological studies.

    Those studies are clear: neither MMR nor thimerosal are responsible for the large increases in autism prevalence estimates reported in the past 20 years.

  3. Pingback: Pre-mature optimism about a Huffington Post shift away from anti-vaccine rhetoric | The Panic Virus

  4. Chris says:

    Jerry:

    The medical records of children who met the inclusion criteria of receiving the first dose of these vaccines between 1970 and 1993

    So in the more than twenty year span they found less than fifty who had an adverse reaction to the measles vaccine and/or MMR (which came out in 1971). That is not a one in a hundred ratio.

    Now how does that compare to what happened between 1982 and 1992? That is when more than 150 actually died from measles,/a>.

    By the way, what evidence do you have that any measles vaccine causes autism?

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