Autism News Beat

An evidence-based resource for journalists

Autism News Beat header image 2

What some experts say

February 22nd, 2008 · 55 Comments · Careless sourcing, Easy marks

Citing “experts” is a double edge sword. On one hand, a knowledgeable expert is often necessary for a journalist to interpret complex science. On the other, journalists who don’t exercise discretion when deciding who deserves the “expert label” are easily played.

If one looks hard enough, it is possible to find an expert who supports virtually any idea, no matter how outrageous. Holocaust denial has long wrapped itself in the respectability of science to acquit the Nazis of mass murder.

Here’s an expert, PhD and all, who says the Earth is only 8,000 years old.

Professor J. Phillipe Rushton wrote a book which makes the case, with some irony, that white people are smarter than brown people.

Which brings us to KOKH-TV, the Fox affiliate station in Oklahoma City. General assignment reporter Phil Cross led off a piece on vaccines and autism by telling us “Some autism experts claim that an increase in childhood immunizations could be at least partially to blame for what the CDC calls an autism epidemic.” He never tells us who those experts are, or specifically what they’ve found. And I’m still looking for where the CDC called autism an epidemic. But in TV news land, a transparent appeal to nameless authority is the Swiss Army knife of rhetorical tools, handy for tackling dozens of reporting assignments.


Cross interviews Robyne Rhode, mother of 10-year-old Nick Rhode, the namesake of the pending Nick’s Law, which would mandate private insurance coverage for autism treatment. Robyne blames vaccines for her son’s autism, and says after Nick’s second set of shots at age five she “lost him completely.” Later, she tells us “Mercury is so very toxic, that even a trace amount, in my opinion, is harmful to a child.”

Some appeals to authority are downright baffling.

Cross then introduces us to Dr. Delmar Gheen, an Edmond, OK , pediatrician who thinks an aggressive vaccination schedule may be responsible for autism.

Cross and Gheen parrot the latest anti-vaccine extremist talking point that the increase in the vaccination schedule since 1983 mirrors the increase in autism.

“When you give a child a vaccine that may have 5,6,7,9 immunization issues in one day, we may have overwhelmed that child’s immune system to the point where it could cause deleterious effects,” intones Gheen.

“That’s an interesting theory. One, it’s never been proven,” says Dr. Steven Crawford, the token skeptic hauled out for these kinds of stories. About the temporal relationship between vaccine scheduling and autism prevalence, he says “Just because they happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other. They just happen at the same time.”

Cross tells AutismNewsBeat that he met the Rhode Family while covering Nick’s Law. “That’s when I learned there is much more to the topic of autism that hasn’t been covered, including the vaccination issue,” he says. “I was totally unaware of how much the vaccination schedule has changed since I was a kid.”

The Rhodes provided Cross with questionable studies, and pointed him to Dr. Gheen, rather than, say, an infectious disease expert at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Medicine.

“I did a lot of research into autism and vaccines,” says Cross. “The CDC reports say there is no link, but other studies point elsewhere. Every side has a point to make. I was trying to be fair in my coverage.”

There it is again – that reflexive urge to be fair. But fair to whom? To the viewers who need to know what legitimate scientists say? Or fair to the story’s source, who says she is working hard to “recover” her autistic son?

He says most of his research was internet-based. Were the studies peer reviewed?

“They all had their own citations, but to tell you the truth, I’ve read so many studies in the last month that I can’t name any specific authors,” he says. “I did not have access to scholarly journals or a medical library. That’s why I didn’t say vaccines cause autism.”

Cross says “Vaccines: Progress or Poison?”is not anti-vaccine. “No one in my story said ‘don’t vaccinate your children’. There are other issues,” he says. “When you have a trace amount of something in a vaccine, and you end up giving several vaccines at once, you end up giving a substantial amount. So why not just back off and spread out those vaccinations? In the first six years of life, you have a lot of time to give 36 vaccines.”

Cross says that if parents are concerned by reports like this, “they need to know that kids don’t need to get the vaccines all at once. Spreading out the schedule eliminates the concern parents have, even if that concern is not scientifically valid.”

Translation: If my story is misleading and causes unwarranted fear, it’s no big deal. Parents can just change the vaccination schedule to include more visits to the pediatrician’s office.



55 responses so far ↓

  • 1 HCN // Apr 22, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Okay, I asked you how much METHYLmercury is in vaccines. Did you miss that?

    You had lots of papers that were on METHYLmercury, obviously you must know now that they have absolutely nothing to do with thimerosal (which is no longer in pediatric vaccines, even the influenza vaccine is available without thimerosal).

    You did say: “Again, I really don’t care if you do or do not believe Thimerosal which is 49.9% ethyl-mercury is safe. ”

    I think you need to take a chemistry course. There is only one mercury atom in the molecule. Because it is so heavy, it counts for almost half the molecular weight of the molecule. It is NOT almost half mercury. This claim is close to saying that table salt is dangerous because over half is a dangerous gas (the chlorine atom is heavier than the sodium atom).

    Here is an explanation on the molecule:

    Here is a case report of someone attempting to commit suicide by overdosing on thimerosal: … he recovered completely.

  • 2 HCN // Apr 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Mrs. Rohde turned into a clueless spammer after I posted this study that showed what actual medical cost savings are due to the vaccine program (in billions of dollars):

    and then after I said this:

    2) You actually work for a hospital or company that makes money supplying hospitals with supplies, and it works to your advantage to have more kids put into the hospital rather than prevent diseases.

    With a little Googling of her uncommon last name, and unusual spelling of her first name, it turns out she DOES work for a hospital. She is the “Business Continuity Planner” for a hospital. Draw you own conclusions.

  • 3 autblog // Apr 22, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    If a drug company hired me to discredit anti-vaccine zealots, I would post irrelevant studies from junk journals appended with run-sentences, confusing syntax and lots of misspelled words. But why would a drug company pay me to do what so many people are already doing for free?

  • 4 Robyne Rohde // Apr 22, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    By golly guys, you found me… Whew! The Internet is a powerful tool, especially when someone uses their real name instead of an alias (right, HCN and autblog?). I do not work for a hospital of any kind. How very sad to think anyone would like to see more sick children in the hosptial, but this is the way sick minds think.

    Is there anything else you would like to know about me? Mom’s favorite color? I can’t tell you how impressed I am at your ability to google my name especially since the things we have been doing in Oklahoma have gone out on the AP wire. You will find numerous stories about my family and my precious son, Nicholas ….You see, my husband and I are known throughout Oklahoma and somewhat in the mainstream autism community throughout the US….because of the initiatives we, together with Oklahoma’s parent community and our legislature are doing to better the lives of these children and their families.

    Take care, I wish you only the best and hope you find peace in your world and I hope your children live long and happy lives. And we can leave on a upbeat note. We can agree to disagree.

    Robyne Rohde, Mommy to Nicholas, Nick’s Law-Oklahoma

  • 5 HCN // Apr 22, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Okay, you are someone else… now please tell me how much METHYLmercury are in vaccines?

    Your list of papers included lots of stuff on METHYLmercury, so you obviously think that is a vaccine component. Back it up.

    Yes, we may agree to disagree… You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.

    So far you have not presented anything that shows vaccines cause anything more than a sore arm, and some very rare adverse events (no, vaccines do not cause autism).

    Actually, vaccines have helped reduce the incidence of mental retardation:

    You end with ” I hope your children live long and happy lives”…

    How about you help us with that? I’ve seen my child as a sweet baby boy on a respirator. Even as a young adult his heart condition makes him more vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases.

    Make sure that the next time it is time to update your tetanus vaccine that you get the Tdap. Plus make sure that measles, mumps and rubella do not return by ignoring the GenerationRescue “delayed vaccine” schedule that does not include vaccination for those diseases at all.

    It is all in your court. Please make sure no more babies die from pertussis and Hib. Please make sure that kids don’t suffer the severe neurological deficits, including deafness and blindness, from measles, mumps and Hib.

Leave a Comment