As discussed yesterday, the folks over at TLC seem to have buried their heads in the sand when it comes to vaccines. Apparently, though, their love of misinformation hasn’t quite overwhelmed their desire not to be publicly ridiculed: Over the past 24 hours, significant changes have been made to their piss-poor excuse of a piece on vaccines and vaccine safety. (Of course, these changes were made without any acknowledgement to readers, which is standard practice at…well, pretty much everywhere. TLC also turned off the comments on the piece and disappeared all the comments that had already been posted; apparently, they share the inability of many anti-vaccine sites to accept criticism.)
The obvious questions are what, exactly, has changed–and do those changes make the piece any less offensive?
The answers are a lot and not really. Start with the headline. Yesterday, it was “Why Shouldn’t We Vaccinate Our Children?” Today that has morphed into “5 Things to Consider When Deciding to Vaccinate Your Child.” Some of the section headings have changed as well; for instance, the bit I deconstructed yesterday, “Vaccines May or May Not Have a Link to Autism,” is now titled, “Why Autism is Part of the Discussion”
Just as we did with the original piece, let’s go through today’s update line by line.
TLC: A debate about whether vaccines cause autism has continued to grow in the United States and other parts of the world.
Reality: This new opening sentence is, I assume, is an attempt to justify running the piece at all. This practice–passively asserting something and using that assertion as justification for your own coverage–is common in journalism. (Let me show you how it works: “Questions about whether Barack Obama was born in the United States continue to swirl.”) It’s a cowardly way to pretend like you’re just reporting what everyone is talking about when, in fact, the reason people are talking about it in the first place is because irresponsible hacks continue to give the story oxygen.
TLC: It’s important to point out that several intensive studies have found no causal link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder.
Reality: This is essentially a variation of the previous version’s opening line. It remains incredibly misleading for all the same reasons: It’s not that “several” studies have found no causal link; hundreds of extensive studies involving millions of children have shown conclusively that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
TLC: In addition, the study that first suggested a link between measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines and autism — which was published in the journal Lancet in 1998 — was later retracted, and the study and its author came under fire for deception.
Reality: This is known as a CYA clause — that stands for “cover your ass.” CYA clauses pretend that acknowledging some of the reasons the story you’re writing is total crap makes it all okay. This one is particularly lame. The study wasn’t just retracted; the editor of Lancet said, “It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false.” The author didn’t come under fire; he lost his medical license for displaying a “callous disregard for the distress and pain of children.” The accusations related to the study didn’t involve “deception”; they involve wholesale fraud.
TLC: In spite of all this, controversy continues to surround reports of an increased prevalence in autism linked to vaccines containing thimerosal.
Reality: This is essentially a reframing of the section’s first sentence. It’s also a bit nonsensical — thimerosal hasn’t been discussed in this section, and the MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal.
TLC: Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury can lead to developmental disorders, and there is a form of mercury in thimerosal, which acts as a preservative in some vaccines.
Reality: That’s like saying, “Jumping off of the roof of your house can cause death” in an effort to justify a claim that jumping off a doghouse is potentially fatal. As I discussed yesterday, the type of mercury that’s been shown to cause developmental disorders is not the type of mercury in thimerosal.
TLC: However, thimerosal contains low levels of a type of mercury called ethylmercury; whether exposure to those low levels of ethylmercury is enough to produce developmental disorders is what’s at issue.
Reality: If this is an attempt to address some of the points I raised yesterday, it’s a failure. And, in fact, that is not the issue–it’s an issue, and one that has been addressed, time and time and time again.
TLC: According to the FDA, “A weak association was found with thimerosal intake and certain neurodevelopmental disorders (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in one study, but was not found in a subsequent study.”
Reality: Apparently, TLC is hoping that by inserting some hyperlinks, it’ll be able to obscure the fact that it’s relying on out-of-date data about products no longer in use: That FDA quote is referring to studies on pediatric vaccines that were in use before 2001 — in other words, before thimerosal was removed from standard pediatric vaccines. It’s flat-out wrong to imply, as TLC does, that one study showed “a weak association” and another showed no association; over the last decade, many, many, many studies have shown no association and no large-scale, peer-reviewed studies have shown a correlation between thimerosal-containing vaccines and developmental disorders.
TLC: In the United States, thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines by 2001, and flu vaccines come in versions with and without thimerosal [source: CDC].
Reality: Another change that has presumably made in response to criticism. The placement of it makes it pretty worthless because the die has already been cast. Wanna see how this works? “Your babysitter was once accused of being a child molester.” Yikes! No way am I going to let her watch my kids! “She was later acquitted and the accuser went to jail for bribery and lying to a grand jury.” OK…but I’m still not going to let that person anywhere near my children.
TLC: If you’re concerned about whether your child’s vaccines contain thimerosal, or whether thimerosal could affect his or her development, you can speak to your physician about the risks and benefits, or request thimerosal-free vaccines.
Reality: If you’re concerned about whether your child’s vaccines contain thimerosal, or whether thimerosal could affect his or her development, you’re either a conspiracy theorist, a dedicated anti-vaccine activist, or someone who has been subjected to false and dangerous stories like this one…because with the exception of some variations of the flu vaccine, standard pediatric vaccines do not contain thimerosal.