Robert Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy) has been focused on reducing mercury exposure for some time. His advocacy against mercury led him to focus on vaccines (infant vaccines used to contain a mercury compound as a preservative). And, the main argument against mercury in vaccines is the (now totally failed) idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism.
It’s important to keep that autism is not his priority. It’s his tool to allege dangers of vaccines. He’s not out to help us out, but instead to use us to help him.
Add to this that he’s a lawyer, not a scientist and he’s from a very political family. Three are lawyers and politicians actually understand science. Mr Kennedy claims he is in that number (he’s “rabidly pro-science”), but in reality he either doesn’t understand the science or the facts are just be a political tool for him.
That Mr. Kennedy feels the need to instill in us the message that he understands science may stem from the fact that his first attempt at discussing autism and vaccines met with disaster. He published an article “deadly immunity” (because, you know, very pro-vaccine people use terms like “deadly immunity” to discuss vaccines, right?). This article was published both in Rolling Stone and Salon.com. In Salon’s Correcting our record, We’ve removed an explosive 2005 report by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about autism and vaccines. Here’s why we read:
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.”
The piece was co-published with Rolling Stone magazine — they fact-checked it and published it in print; we posted it online. In the days after running “Deadly Immunity,” we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. 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,” 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.
“I regret we didn’t move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link,” says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh, now editor at large. “But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do.” The story’s original URL now links to our autism topics page, which we believe now offers a strong record of clear thinking and skeptical coverage we’re proud of — including the critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.
“…critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mr. Kennedy’s approach nor the “science” he still promotes.
One take a moment here to discuss Mr. Kennedy’s strong record of advocating for real changes that would benefit autistics. Or we could if there were such a record. Again, we aren’t his focus. We are his tool.
So, given this long introduction, what about the claim that that the MMR vaccine contains mercury? It is in this video Mr. Kennedy produced recently. And while it may seem like a small thing, it is a clear example of misunderstanding or ignoring simple facts in order to support his argument that mercury in vaccines cause autism. Mr. Kennedy is jumping on the controversy that Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield tried to make last year about the MMR vaccine.
Now for those who have a basic understanding of the science, one will immediately wonder, “why is Kennedy latching on to this MMR story when there is no mercury in the MMR vaccine?” Not only does the MMR vaccine not contain mercury, it can’t contain mercury. The MMR vaccine is a live virus vaccine. Mercury is a preservative; it’s specific purpose is to kill bacteria (mostly) and viruses.
Let’s leave out the other huge warning flags here–such as the current MMR controversy Wakefield and Hooker tried to create is based on a huge amount of misrepresentations. Let’s ignore that and ask, surely Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t claim that the MMR vaccine contains mercury, right? Because that would mean either he doesn’t care about the facts or doesn’t understand the facts. It would suggest that sticking to very simple facts is taking back seat to political advocacy.
Why care, one might ask? Politicians have been ignoring facts for millennia. I care beause of the harm Mr. Kennedy brings to my community. I care because he is be scaring parents, especially African American parents, needlessly and convincing them to avoid a vaccine which prevents three very serious diseases. But more, he’s instilling in a new community the guilt and shame that comes with belief in the vaccines-cause-autism idea.
Given that long intro, here’s the video where Mr. Kennedy sends out his message to the African American community:
You can jump right to the point I’m discussing (6:45 into the video).
“…it proved that these vaccines, these mercury containing vaccines particularly, were causing autism”
When he’s talking about the William Thompson story, he’s talking about this study, Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan atlanta. He’s talking about the MMR vaccine.
Again, the MMR doesn’t contain mercury. Never has. In fact, it can’t. And there’s no good reason why after all these years why Mr. Kennedy would not know this. In his book “Thimerosal, let the science speak”, Mr. Kennedy on two occasions ( and ) notes that the MMR vaccine does not contain mercury.
Again, this may seem like a small thing–he got this fact wrong. So what?
There was a time when I thought that the leaders of the movements that promote the idea that vaccines cause autism were just misguided. Probably good, decent people who somehow got themselves to believe wrong ideas. It’s not that hard to believe in something false, and just because you are wrong doesn’t mean you are lying.
Well, in my opinion, that doesn’t describe Mr. Kennedy. And as I’ve noted, the consequences for my community are huge. And I don’t appreciate Mr. Kennedy what appears to be Mr. Kennedy using us as his tool.
By Matt Carey