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Trump’s Anti-Vaccine Views Rooted in Media's Fake Science

2017-01-12 | Robert Goldberg
Donald Trump has been vilified as anti-science for asking Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – who has been peddling the long discredited claim that vaccines (or ingredients in the shots) cause autism—to chair a commission on the connection.  

Trump is not the only celebrity who buys into the vaccine-autism link.  But he is also going to be President.   Asking Kennedy to chair a panel to ‘study’ the issue who claims drug companies are covering up what he called a vaccine holocaust for the sake of profits is troubling.  

But Trump is not alone in his unscientific anti-vaccination views.  Dozens of celebrities and politicians have continued to promote unfounded assertions about vaccine safety for years.   And we can thank the same media outlets that now are condemning the president elect for vaccine denialism for promoting fake science peddled by what infectious disease expert Paul Offit calls autism’s false prophets.  

From 2005 to 2011 CBS aired nearly a dozen stories that included extremist views of vaccines and autism.   In 2015 Kennedy cited a CBS Atlanta segment that reinforced the claim that the government was covering up the truth about vaccine dangers. The Huffington Post, which pontificated about Trump’s anti-science views yesterday has been the soapbox of anti-vaccine types – Kennedy included --  for several years. 

But the irony does not end there.   Recently, Kennedy has been claiming that recent research  links industrial exposures of lead, mercury and arsenic to the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).   But he is not alone,  dozens of mainstream outlets have published these claims –– as settled fact.  

For instance the Fox News website published uncritical article about the connection headlined: “Number of chemicals linked to autism and other disorders doubled in past 7 years, study shows.”

The piece quotes Dr. Philip Landrigan, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City the co-author of the study: “the increase of later diagnoses of these disorders tracks very nicely with increased production and release into environment of synthetic chemicals over last 40 or 50 years,” Landrigan said. 

Except that, the amount of heavy metals, fertilizers and air pollution in our food, water, air, consumer goods have been falling for 20 years.  Moreover, as Emily Willingham, the co-author of "The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child's First 4 Years notes about claims air pollution cause autism: “ You can see an overall decline, sometimes steep, something that doesn’t fit with the increased autism prevalence over the same period, whether you consider the mounting numbers an “epidemic” or a more accurate reflection of primarily stable values over time. Turn to some of the world’s most air-polluted cities, and you will fail to find autism rates that correlate.”   The same goes for chemicals alleged to cause autism. 
Why is claiming vaccines (or how we administer them) cause autism anti-science but asserting that climate change and pollution have the same impact is unchallenged?

Asking if the president-elect’s views on vaccines and autism are based on fake science is more than fair.  But the same questions should be raised when media outlets run uncritical stories claiming (declining) pollution levels damages infant brains. 

We all choose the information that confirms our view of the world.   Science is shaped by the exact opposite impulse. 

The media did not report on the science of vaccines decades ago and it isn’t doing so now. Removing preservatives from vaccines was intended to calm fears, but it only led to more concern and less immunization. 

Our children have been endangered by this hijacking of science.  In 2013, 87 percent of pediatricians surveyed said they encountered vaccine refusals from parents of their patients, up from 75 percent of pediatricians who said the same in 2006.

After Andrew Wakefield’s claims about vaccines causing autism were finally retracted: The British Medical Journal observed: “The damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession.”

Mr. Trump’s trust in Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a product of this fake science.