Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave a speech tonight in Cincinnati on “Our Environmental Destiny“. You might be familiar with RJK Jr. as the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the son of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, but you may not know that he is a prominent trial lawyer, an avid environmentalist, a political prophet against corruption, and… an antivaccination activist.
I don’t want to take anything away from RFK Jr.’s speech, which provided an intelligent, passionate, and honest challenge to the Bush administration. He spoke about how republicans use rhetoric to sneak in laws that are the opposite of what they are named; the “Clean Skies” bill made our skies dirtier, the “Healthy Forest” bills made deforestation easier. On those issues, and many others I’m sure, I agree with RFK Jr. But, his stance against vaccines, as documented in his fallacious Rolling Stone (Salon.com) article, is doing as much to harm children than any other corruption he opposes. He didn’t mention vaccines during the lecture, but I challenged him during the Q&A, and he was, unsurprisingly, ready with his token responses.
But before I get to my question, I’ll share with you some notes that I took during his speech.
1. He talked a lot about mercury pollution in our rivers, lakes, atmosphere, and fish. He talked about the quantity of mercury in our bodies, and how we have more mercury than ever before. He talked about the mercury in breast milk. Doesn’t his admission of the pervasiveness of mercury in our environment kind of nullify his argument that the micro quantities of ethylmercury in vaccines cause autism?
2. He mentioned the CDC positively several times during his lecture, but he castes them as a shill for “Big Pharma” when it suits his argument against vaccines.
3. Every argument he made against corporations corrupting the environment was followed by an example of how he pursued litigation against that corporation with his law firm. It shows to me that his weakness is exposing corruption for personal gain, rather than for the good of humanity. I guess that point is arguable, but personal benefit via litigation is one of Offit’s main arguments against RFK Jr. in Autism’s False Prophets. So, the connection immediately jumped out at me.
So then I get to ask my big question:
You have said with certainty that the vaccine preservative thimerosal is scientifically linked to autism, and yet the rates of autism have increased despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines five years ago. Do you retract your claim?
For his answer, I will be paraphrasing because I was shaking so bad that I couldn’t write anything down. I get nervous when I challenge key note speakers named Kennedy. You’ll have to forgive me.
He dodged the question. His answer implied that he doesn’t retract his statement. He said that mercury is stil in 60% of vaccines. I quickly stopped him and clarified that it is not in childhood vaccines, to which he had to admit that he was talking about the “flu” vaccine (non-mandatory and irrelevant). He then went on to echo the quote mining he did in his article when he misrepresented the “secret” meeting in Georgia with members of the CDC. He also started going on that the amish aren’t vaccinated (many are), and that they don’t get autism (some do).
I’ve called out RFK Jr. for saying that there are “hundreds and hundreds” of studies that link thimerosal to autism, so when he started going on about all the studies I asked him “Where are these studies? I looked all over your site and couldn’t find one study that linked thimerosal to autism.” He assured me that the studies are listed, but they must be buried deep in the site, some kind of bonus Easter Egg that you have to click in the right place perhaps. What RFK Jr. didn’t say to the audience is that these studies he refers to link methylmercury to neurological problems, not vaccines to autism. There is quite the difference in the statement that methylmercury in high doses causes neurological problems and that micro quantities of ethylmercury causes autism. Because what RFK Jr. didn’t say is that thimerosal has been removed from vaccines in various international countries for decades with no reduction in autism.
At this point, he was on a roll, and I was not about to be the next “Don’t Tase me Bro” so I kept quiet. Until, he subtly insulted me by saying that “someone would have to have their head in the ground not to see that there is a link between autism and vaccines” and looking directly at me after the statement. He started bad mouthing the CDC and saying that they were in the pocket of “Big Pharma”. To which I responded that he mentioned the CDC positively several times in his speech. He fumbled a response saying that he doesn’t believe “all” scientists are bad and evil… only when it suits his argument, I guess.
At that point, we were both cut off because the owner of the Cincinnati Zoo wanted to get in a few words before the VP Debate. Anyway, I’m proud to represent the skeptic community on the important issue of vaccines, and I hope I did more good than harm by giving him a soapbox.