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June 27, 2005
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has helped to put this issue right back on the front pages again. I spoke a lot about thimerosal in vaccines, and its putative link to autism, back in late 2002, which is when the controversy last flared to this degree. (I've put those old posts over into the Autism category on the right for reference.)
I've read Kennedy's Rolling Stone / Salon article, and it's quite a piece of work. Kennedy is no stranger to exaggeration and to outright misrepresentation, and he's in typical form here. (Try checking out the corrections that have already run, and be sure to check back for updates. A keyboard macro that says "Salon and Rolling Stone regret the errors" would come in handy, no doubt.)
I'd like to refer everyone to the Blissful Knowledge blog and to Orac for thorough coverage of this issue. These folks have done all the heavy lifting, and there's a lot of stuff to lift here. I'm in debt to them.
The short take-home? There is still no persuasive evidence linking thimerosal to autism, no matter what Robert Kennedy tells you. But this story will take years to die - ah, what am I talking about? It never will. The New York Times ran an excellent article last weekend by Gardiner Harris, making just that point. There are people who will live the rest of their lives convinced that thimerosal has caused thousands of cases of autism, no matter what amount of evidence piles up to the contrary.
I remember reading posts on this on Blissful Knowledge back in late 2002, when I was writing mine. My children, 4 and 2 years old at the time, have been fine since then. But the author of that site discovered a year later that his own son was autistic, a diagnosis that causes me physical pain each time I just hear about it. As a parent, I cannot imagine what it must be like to deal with the reality, and I have deep sympathy and respect for those who have to. I hope that my profession can eventually do something to help. I do not think, based on the evidence we have, that my profession is to blame.
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