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Tuesday, July 2, 2024

RFK Jr. is a Bad Person

  In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrongA leading anti-vaxxer is presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  He has repeatedly compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.  Rolling Stone and Salon retracted an RFK article linking vaccines to autism.

He is now running for president as an independent

Joe Hagan at Vanity Fair:

His work at Waterkeeper, the environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting waterways and drinking water (distinct from Riverkeeper), had centered around mercury levels found in migratory fish. When Conor, his first son by Richardson, suffered from allergies to peanuts and soy, Kennedy went looking for answers, and found a suspect: mercury. He told Cooney, the babysitter who also worked at Kennedy’s environmental project, that Conor’s allergies “were likely because of the shots he got when he was a baby because they had mercury in them.”

By his own telling, Kennedy met mothers around this time who insisted he read research alleging that autism is caused by mercury in the MMR vaccine. The idea of vaccines causing autism had just entered the mainstream after Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, published a 4,000-word paper in the medical journal The Lancet attempting to link vaccines to autism in children. His 1998 claim, simultaneously speculative and sweeping, became a cause célèbre in Hollywood circles, fanned by actors Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. Oprah Winfrey publicized their claims on her TV show.

It was just the kind of cause Kennedy was attracted to—counter to prevailing wisdom, with a huge payoff in heroism and public glory. His friend Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, agreed, along with the editors of Salon, to co-publish a story Kennedy wrote about vaccines, which echoed Wakefield’s research. It took five years for Wakefield’s research to be debunked and The Lancet to retract his paper, which prompted Rolling Stone and Salon to pull Kennedy’s story in 2011.

By then, however, the damage had been done, and Kennedy was now linked up with a fellow anti-vax crusader named Del Bigtree, a former TV producer with no scientific background or medical training. Bigtree, who had been a producer on a TV show called The Doctors, began cultivating a following through books and TV appearances, and held anti-vax rallies in places where skepticism was already strong, like Hasidic Jewish communities. In the next few years, Kennedy and Bigtree would both appear publicly with Wakefield, publishing books of unfounded conspiracies and trolling CDC officials at public events, haranguing Anthony Fauci, the leading immunologist for the government.