Overall, mainstream press coverage of autism spectrum disorders improved in 2008, as more major media outlets bravely recognized that deadly childhood diseases are a bad thing, and it is a good thing when we can prevent them. And there seemed to be a growing recognition that “overwhelming scientific consensus” is not the same as “according to Jenny McCarthy.”
Unfortunately, some news coverage experienced signs of developmental regression, including incomprehensible script talk and ratings-driven self stimulation. The most tragic examples are hereby recognized with the first-annual Ashley Award for Credulity in Science Journalism.
The first envelope please.
In the category of Most Uncritical Repetition of Urban Myths by a Local News Celebrity, the first Ashley goes to Steve Wilson of WXYZ in Detroit, for Some Vaccines Still Contain Mercury.
It’s tough to beat Wilson for sheer tenacity as he packs 16 false and misleading claims into 7 minutes of wasted air time, for a nonsense/minute ratio of 2.3. Examples include:
- The Amish “generally shun” vaccines, and autism is rare in their population.
- Eleven scheduled pediatric vaccines still contain as much thimerosal as ever.
- Boyd Haley is a leading vaccine researcher.
- The feds conceded that vaccines caused autism in Hannah Poling.
What Wilson fails to mention: No respected medical body or government institution has ever found a connection between vaccines and autism.
Bonus points: Wilson attempted to defend himself to a critical science blogger by repeating the same false and misleading anti-vaccine talking points.
• • •
The award for Creating an Illusion of Balance to Overcome Unequal Evidence goes to the eponymous Ashley Reynolds of KOMU-TV for Combating Autism from Within, an hour-long paean to medical quackery and child abuse.
Reynolds’ unflinching assault on reason and best available evidence combines shameless voyeurism with jaw-dropping credulity, thus setting the standard for the year’s most notable anti-vaccine propaganda. Anti-vaccine zealots returned the favor last May by inviting Reynolds to join a media panel with the same folks who think the Amish don’t vaccinate.
What Reynolds fails to mention: Dr. David Ayoub, whom Reynolds positions as a leading vaccine expert, openly states that the World Health Organization, Bill Gates, and the Rockefeller Foundation, use immunizations to sterilize poor women in Third World Countries.
Bonus points: A pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine wrote that he was “utterly horrified” at KOMU for “promoting a fear that endangers children.”
• • •
A late, late entry from Deborah Kotz at US News and World Report snags the Clear Conflict of Interest award, for this clear case of unclear attribution:
What’s worse, the lead author, Paul Offit, who heads the vaccine education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, clearly has a conflict of interest. He’s one of the patent holders of RotaTeq, a vaccine against rotavirus that’s on the AAP’s vaccine schedule. That means he stands to lose money if parents shun RotaTeq.
Kotz works with Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the NIH and outspoken vaccine critic, and current medical editor at USN&WR. So clearly Kotz has a conflict of interest when reporting on vaccines.
Just kidding. See how easy that was?
What Kotz fails to mention: Offit clearly has no conflict of interest. He assigned the rights for RotaTeq to his institutions and the institutions have sold future rights to another group.
Bonus points: Information on the RotaTeq patent is clearly public and clearly accessible to anyone clear on the concept of responsible journalism.