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Letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

March 19th, 2008 · 15 Comments · Urban legend

David Kirby is not a science writer, and his technical grasp of the vaccines and autism story is shaky at best.

And yet I was not surprised to see his op-ed addressing this very important public health issue in the Journal Constitution. In the six months that I’ve been monitoring and critiquing press coverage of autism and vaccines, I’ve seen editors and reporters played by the David Kirbys of the world. Ordinarily skeptical reporters repeatedly fall for demonstrably false claims by agenda driven activists, such as Kirby, who cloak themselves in the respectability of science, but who base their arguments on flawed data published in fringe or non-peer-reviewed journals. They incite fear in the public, especially among those who are the most vulnerable: families of individuals with autism who are desperate for information. The media owe it to the families to make responsible decisions about what to publish.

Fortunately, things are improving.

  • In 2008 The New York Time’s ombudsmen wrote in February that it’s time to “close the door” on the discredited hypothesis that vaccines cause autism.
  • In 2008 The Philadelphia Enquirer wrote, in its editorial, that “New waves of science are debunking the sturdiest of suburban myths: that childhood vaccination is linked to autism in children. This myth has been stoked by the Internet, concerned parents’ groups, high-profile advocates like Joseph Kennedy II (sic), and pop media (the topic was in the first episode of ABC’s Eli Stone ).”
  • The Wall Street Journal has published editorials and op-eds to argue, as Ari Brown, M.D. did in late 2007, that the United States should “put our energy into funding autism research and treatment, not demonizing our vaccination program.”
  • In 2007, The Washington Post wrote: “Too little is known about the nature of autism to blame any factor, let alone the vaccines that are proven to prevent many deaths and illnesses every year,” and again in 2008, wrote “Given how little is known about autism — and the fact that no science has been able to connect it to vaccines — parents should continue to protect their children against known, preventable risks: the deadly diseases that vaccines keep at bay.”
  • The Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s veteran science reporter Mark Roth knows that the science is settled, and does not reflexively seek out anti-vaccine zealots for “balance”.

No responsible media outlet would give equal time to holocaust deniers, racial supremacists, or 9/11 Truthers, no matter how many “studies” and “experts” are quoted. It’s time to show anti-vaccine zealots the door as well.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is more than a newspaper – it’s an institution, and its leadership is sorely needed to push back against the voices of fear and ignorance. Won’t you join the New York Times and other progressive, evidence-based media outlets? Take a stand for public health, educate the public on the facts about vaccines, and tell David Kirby and others that their conspiracy theories and slander have no place in your proud paper.

Journal Constitution contact information:

Editorial Page Editor – Cynthia Tucker, phone 404-526-5432,
Sr. Editorial Coordinator – Chris Kraft,
Editor – Julia Wallace, 404-526-7679,
Sr. Managing Editor/Vice President- James Mallory, 404-526-5325,

h/t: RG



15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kristina Chew // Mar 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    “agenda driven activists”—-am not sure that I would even call DK an “activist.” He has made quite a career out of keeping the mercury/vaccine theories about autism afloat.

    I would also say that Kirby’s grasp of what it is to be autistic, and of the realities of autistic children and individuals, is severely limited, if one goes by what he writes.

  • 2 Todd Dea // Mar 19, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    In 2007, The Washington Post wrote: “Too little is known about the nature of autism to blame any factor . . .

    And I guess in your opinion it would be best to leave it that way. Shame on you.

    There are too many people telling us that the sky isn’t falling. Thank god there are people like Kirby out there reminding us that it in fact, may be.

  • 3 It’s Not the Vaccines // Mar 19, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    […] Autism News Beat says it straight and simple: David Kirby is not a science writer, and his technical grasp of the vaccines and autism story is shaky at best. […]

  • 4 autblog // Mar 20, 2008 at 4:55 am

    Todd, the point of the letter is that your “sky is falling” pronouncement needs to be based on science, not on whatever conspiracy David Kirby has cooked up for us this week.

  • 5 Joseph // Mar 20, 2008 at 10:14 am

    David Kirby had told us that with the removal of thimerosal from routinely recommended pediatric vaccines, we would see a reduction in rates of autism last year. That prediction obviously failed, and late excuses followed of course. Now he’s saying that if we postpone certain vaccines, autism rates will fall. How long do we have to put up with these crappy predictions from a know-nothing “journalist”?

  • 6 Patrick // Mar 20, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Spin, Spin, Spin. Once again I am tempted to think that maybe his ulterior motive is to get remunerated for his own features of Autism?

    One nice juicy fallacy of thought for him to wriggle out of, if he knows that VICP plaintiffs are responsible for outlining their theory of damage, then why oh why state “It was a tantalizing admission but did little to explain just how the vaccines had aggravated the disorder or caused autism.” when as a VICP observer he already knows it was the job of her care and legal team to get this explanation/theory on the table?

    Perhaps he should consider how lucky they were just to get the testing done (by Repondents?) that her original care team had overlooked.

  • 7 Prometheus // Mar 20, 2008 at 11:13 am

    I have to wonder why so many people – like Todd – feel that there is something wrong, that “[t]here are too many people telling us that the sky isn’t falling.”

    What if the sky isn’t falling? Wouldn’t that be a better explanation for the number of people – and people with the education, training and experience to know – say that “the sky isn’t falling”?

    Or does it make more sense that a handful of “maverick” doctors and scientists – not to mention journalists with no discernible skill in the sciences – are right and everybody else is wrong?

    Some people just aren’t happy unless there’s a conspiracy to denounce.

    Todd is also using a “straw man” argument – I seriously doubt that when the editors of The Washington Post wrote “Too little is known about the nature of autism to blame any factor.”, that they were advocating a halt to any research into autism.

    However, if the Chicken Littles of the world manage to convince Congress that vaccines are the cause of autism, then we can expect research into the real cause(s) of autism will be severely curtailed – due to lack of funding. After all, why keep looking for “the answer” when you already have it?

    Fortunately, the real autism researchers haven’t bought into the “received knowledge” of vaccines-cause-autism and are still looking for the cause(s) and treatments.


  • 8 Lynne // Mar 20, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Hmmm – Henny Penny convinced her friends the sky was falling, and it got them killed. I’m not sure that was the right metaphor to make your point. Although, I personally think it is apt.

  • 9 Landru // Mar 20, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Todd! This just in: I gave my kid a teddy bear and he turned out autistic! Stuffed animals cause autism!

    Do please understand, Todd, that disagreeing with roundly discredited hypotheses does not mean that anyone isn’t interested in hypotheses that remain potentially valid.

  • 10 Prometheus // Mar 20, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Lynne’s post persuaded me to re-read the Chicken Little story. Boy! What a good metaphor it is for the vaccines-cause-autism “movement”.

    For those who don’t remember the story, the basic plot is:

    [1] An acorn hits Chicken Little (or Chicken Licken, in my old version) on the head.

    [2] He thinks that the sky is falling and runs around telling his friends and neighbors.

    [3] Foxy Loxy takes advantage of the panic to entrap a number of Chicken Little’s friends with intent to ingest them.

    [4] There are a number of variations on the ending, some “happy” and others decidedly carnivorous.

    You see, this is exactly what’s happening! Various uninformed or obsessed people have mis-interpreted the data (e.g. acorn for sky falling) and are running around drumming up panic in a (for the most part) well-meaning attempt to goad them into action.

    Meanwhile, other less scrupulous persons are taking advantage of the panic in order to make money or gain political influence.

    The ending of this story is in the future. I suppose it is our actions that will determine whether that ending will be happy or not.


  • 11 LJ // Mar 20, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Also check out the blog on the AJC about this topic…there’s not a whole lot of good logic going on over there.

  • 12 Webster // Mar 21, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    The Todd school of thought is that we have to do something even if it is meaningless. Blame autism on this until we have a new that to blame it on. How about we not waste time and money placing blame until we establish where to place it. And how about we focus on services for those among us who need help.

  • 13 Prometheus // Mar 24, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Webster, you are too right!

    I see the same habit of mind in politicians. When confronted with a problem, the automatic action is to do something.

    Unfortunately, they often leap to “doing something” without a clear understanding of the problem or the likely effects of what they plan to “do”.

    This sort of thinking is behind the rush to blame “something” (or better yet, someone, preferably someone with a lot of money) for the “autism epidemic” without first determining [a] if there is an autism epidemic (which is currently a matter of dogma with most “autism advocacy” groups) and [b] if the “something” actually causes autism.

    I don’t mind a bunch of people running around like lemmings screaming “the sky is falling”, but it does disturb me that these people – through their politicians – are directing research funding and legislation at “causes” of autism that are being shown – one study at a time – to be wrong.

    The problem is that legislation – including research policies and funding “earmarks” – is very hard to change. Once Congress or Parliment decide that mercury or vaccines or alien mind-control devices cause autism, it will be very hard to do any meaningful (i.e. well-funded) research into the real cause(s) and treatments of autism.


  • 14 TheProbe // Mar 26, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Kristina Chew said, ““agenda driven activists”—-am not sure that I would even call DK an “activist.” He has made quite a career out of keeping the mercury/vaccine theories about autism afloat. ”

    EXCELLENT POINT! It is his career. I cannot find anything else that he recently or currently has in print. This question begs an answer:


  • 15 judy // Aug 30, 2008 at 5:55 am

    The site’s very professional! Keep up the good work! Oh yes, one extra comment – maybe you could add more pictures too! So, good luck to your team!”

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