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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kennedy Report Sparks Controversy

Reprinted from RollingStone.com website:
Kennedy Report Sparks Controversy
Intense reaction from medical establishment and leading news organizations
By THE EDITORS of ROLLING STONE

"Deadly Immunity," our story about the link between mercury in vaccines and the dramatic rise in autism among children [RS 977/978], sparked intense reaction from the medical establishment and several leading news organizations. The story, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- part of an ongoing collaboration with Salon.com -- documented the government's efforts to conceal alarming data about the dangers of vaccines.
What is most striking is the lengths to which major media outlets have gone to disparage the story and to calm public fears -- even in the face of the questionable science on the subject. In a segment on World News Tonight titled "A Closer Look," ABC pointed out that Kennedy is "not a scientist or a doctor" and dismissed his extensive evidence as nothing more than "a few scientific studies." The network also trotted out its medical editor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, to praise the "impeccably impartial Institute of Medicine" and to again state that Kennedy is not a scientist.

The New York Times, in a front-page story on the subject, devoted only one line to Kennedy's article, which it said accused public-health officials and drugmakers of "conspiring" to hide the data on autism -- a word that our story neither used nor implied. (The Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed attacking the article, was even more misleading, using the word "conspiracy" four times.) The Times then went on, for more than a full page, to portray concerns over vaccines as nothing more than the misguided fears of parents who suffer from "scientific illiteracy," unable to understand the medical studies that prove immunizations to be safe. It depicted studies reviewed by the Institute of Medicine as definitive without even bothering to address the host of serious questions raised about their validity: conflicting diagnoses of autism, mixed-up data from HMOs and research skewed to exclude many sick kids.

Rolling Stone and Salon fact-checked the article thoroughly before publication, insisting on primary documentation for every statement in the story, and posted links to the most significant materials online to enable readers to judge for themselves. The final article contained six errors. These ranged from inadvertently transposing a quote and confusing a drug license for a patent to relying on a figure that incorrectly calculated an infant's exposure to mercury over six months, rather than citing the even more dangerous amount injected on a single day. (The mistakes were corrected online as soon as they were discovered and can be viewed in detail at both RollingStone.com and Salon.com.)

It is important to note, however, that none of the mistakes weaken the primary point of the story. The government's own records show that it has failed to do the science necessary to put to rest reasonable concerns about vaccines. If the scientists had simply done their job rather than covering their tracks, there would be no controversy today. Instead, the government cannot even provide a definitive figure of the number of cases of autism among American children -- a number obviously critical to any serious scientific investigation -- and yet expects the public to believe that it has ruled out any link between vaccines and an illness it does not even track.

"Science," as one doctor in our story insisted, "is best left to scientists." But when the scientists fail to do their job, resorting to closed-door meetings and rigged studies, others in society have not only a right but a moral obligation to question their work. In the coming years, further research may indeed demonstrate that mercury in vaccines is not responsible for the rise in autism. For now, though, we can only raise a very real and legitimate alarm -- and hope that the government's well-documented mishandling of its own research did not needlessly jeopardize the health of hundreds of thousands of children.

Posted by Cy


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