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Duly Noted

Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012, 12:19 pm

Anti-Vax Attacks: Congress Edition

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Everything is a travesty with you, Congress. Last Thursday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing to rehash long-discredited claims that vaccines cause autism.

The bullshit was bipartisan. Reps Dan Burton (R) and Dennis Kucinich (D) joined forces to argue for the discredited claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism. Phil Plait of Slate writes:

In the latest hearing, Burton sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theorist, to be honest, saying he knows—better than thousands of scientists who have spent their careers investigating these topics—that thimerosal causes neurological disorders (including autism). He goes on for some time about mercury (as does Rep. Dennis Kucinitch (D-Ohio) starting at 21:44 in the video), making it clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. For example, very few vaccines still use mercury, and the ones that do use it in tiny amounts and in a form that does not accumulate in the body.

Talking about the danger of mercury in vaccines is like talking about the danger of having hydrogen—an explosive element!—in water. It’s nonsense.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Bill Posey (R) took a page from the Jenny McCarthy playbook, and asked a CDC expert why her agency hasn't tried vaccinating some kids and not others and comparing their autism rates.

As Steven Salzberg notes in Forbes, it would be unethical to prospectively deprive children of life saving vaccines just to see what happens. Furthermore, there's no reason to do such a study because the link between autism and vaccines has been exhaustively studied and discredited at every turn.

On the bright side, Posey's question suggests that the concept of a control group is taking hold even among the nation's dumbest people. Score one for the skeptics movement. Now, if only we could put the vaccine denialism to bed.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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