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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sr. Editorial Coordinator – Chris Kraft, email@example.com
Editor – Julia Wallace, 404-526-7679, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sr. Managing Editor/Vice President- James Mallory, 404-526-5325, email@example.com