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Robert F. Kennedy appears on the surface to be a hero of the progressive cause. He righteously railed against the voter suppression being planned by the RNC on Morning Joe, and he defended against the baseless attacks lodged at ACORN when they were at their peak on Faux News and being parroted by the MSM.

He's also been a great proponent of environmental protection, and has written two books on how the government does not do enough to protect out planet.

Unfortunately, Robert F. Kennedy is also dangerously anti-science and legitimizes a conspiracy-theory issue that has been strenuously fought against by the scientific community time and again.  Kennedy believes autism is caused by vaccines, which has become a dangerous rumor believed by low information parents and parents of autistic children.

The debate has become religious in that proponents of the theory claim that a certain chemical once included in vaccines, "thiomerisol" causes autism, and refuse to accept any evidence from scientific studies showing there to be no link.

Washington Post:

As a result, a growing number of parents are hearing these rumors and are refusing to vaccinate their children.  Some even believe vaccines never worked in the first place, and outbreaks of Polio and other once conquered diseases are re-appearing in American cities among children.

Vaccination theory is reliant upon the idea that not everyone necessarily needs to be vaccinated in order to stop a disease from spreading. After all, there is always the chance a vaccine may not be 100% effective. Only a large enough majority of vaccinated individuals needs to exist to halt the spread of the virus.  When parents refuse to vaccinate their children, it puts an entire population at risk of getting the disease, even those who have been vaccinated.

From the WaPo article:

In Britain, public doubts about the MMR vaccine pushed the measles immunization rate from 92 percent in 1996 to 81 percent in 2003, and led to a tripling of measles cases. In the United States, MMR immunization has held steady at about 92 percent from 1998 through 2002.

And recently the idea has been gaining favor among misled parents in America, especially those who have children with autism that doctors have little solutions for.

That's why it's troubling to see interviews like this where Joe Scarborough once again takes his own confused idea of reality and legitimizes it for the American public:

A few things:

  1. Thermisol has been removed from vaccines to appease the autism-vaccine link proponents:

In the case of thimerosal, the underlying biological mechanism was thought to be that some children are unusually sensitive to mercury, a known neurotoxin, even though the amount in shots is minuscule. (Since 2000, thimerosal has been taken out of all routinely given childhood vaccines.)

  1. Since 2000, the number of reported autism cases has not decreased.
  1. Autism-Vaccine link proponents continue to claim vaccines are the cause of autism even though the crux of their original theory was taken off the table in 2000.

It's also plainly laid out by the Freakonomics blog on NYT:

and an article from NYT explains more:

It's astonishing that the same kind of blindness to science that prevents the wingnuts from admitting global warming is real prevents Robert F. Kennedy from looking at these studies and realizing he is mistaken.  As head of an office of science like the EPA, Kennedy might put the same kind of ideological lens we loathed in the Bush administration over realistic science concerning climate change and other serious pollution issues.

I hope someone in the Obama administration realizes Kennedy's ideological viewpoint, and puts someone in charge with a long history of academic experience and skepticism against rumors.

Originally posted to Mangala on Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 11:25 AM PST.

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