Autism blogger ThoJ has written this open letter to anti-vaccine blogger David Kirby which perfectly captures how the former war correspondent has twisted the journalistic enterprise into something is was never meant to be.
But first some context. Kirby is the author of Evidence of Harm, an anti-vaccine page turner that has arguably discouraged thousands of parents from vaccinating their children. The book alleged that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once found in scheduled pediatric vaccines, is responsible for a precipitous rise in autism diagnoses since the 1980s. The thesis is flawed in several ways. First, there is no compelling evidence that the increase in diagnoses is due to anything more than a broadening of diagnostic criteria, increased physician and lay awareness of the disorder, wider availability of services and other factors apart from vaccines. Second, even though today’s five year olds are far less likely to have ever received thimerosal than kids born 10 years ago, the incidence of autism has not declined
But Kirby soldiers on, aided and abetted by the mob mentality he helped create. And though he left journalism long ago for the green pastures of public relations, he still carries a scent of the ink-stained scribe, the tireless investigator, seeker of justice. It’s an astonishing performance made possible by the willing suspension of disbelief of his fans, and the news media’s easy addiction to fabricated controversies. ThoJ’s letter is in response to this November 28 entry on Huffington Post, where Kirby tries yet again to link vaccines to autism.
Believe it or not, this is meant as constructive commentary.
You need to reformulate your approach, and this post proves it. You have slipped entirely from journalism into public relations and low-grade blogging. Looking over this post, it should be clear even to those who don’t already know it that you aren’t working from sources anymore. You aren’t quoting sources at all in the above. The reason, which you should make clear, is that your sources are so annoyed with the way that you have garbled the message of mitochondria and autism that they don’t return your emails and calls. You have not only muddied the water, but you have made it more difficult for real journalists to work with the experts in this field.
Your weak attacks on Dr. Offit are made from a position of considerable weakness. Yes, you’ve given disclosure of how much money you’ve made from your autism related activities–but you’ve given only partial disclosure. Who is paying you? You left that part out, David. Who is paying you? Is it enough to make a difference in the way you present your messages? Why do you go on the radio and state that autism takes away from your day job, and then claim that autism has been paying your rent for many years? Something that pays your rent *is* your day job.
When you present your mangled version of the facts to congress, why don’t you have a conflict of interest statement discussing who is paying you?
Your mish-mash of poorly understood facts and past interviews are pieced together to continue a message that you don’t have the scientific acumen to put together, let alone lead others into believing. You really need to leave the world of yes-men and yes-women and ask some real experts in the field to give you a blunt assessment of your efforts. It will be difficult to listen to, but the stakes for our community (not your community – our community) are too high.
If you want to talk about retractions, how about a really strong, clear post devoted to the fact that your book of the rise in autism diagnoses being linked to thimerosal is bunk, plain and simple. How about apologizing to all those kids who have been and are being needlessly chelated based on a message promoted by you and your team of scientific illiterates?
I am sorry to put this so bluntly – but you don’t know what you are talking about. Seriously, you don’t know what you are talking about. The experts aren’t talking to you because they’ve seen how you can take on this topic as your own personal hobby horse and make massively irresponsible statements.
David, you left real journalism many years ago. Maybe it could be in your future again, but it surely isn’t in your present.
I recall a Seinfeld episode that reminds me of the position that Kirby finds himself in. George Costanza had proposed marriage to Susan, and her parents were meeting their future son-in-law for the first time. Susan’s parents are rich, and talk about their cottage in the Hamptons. Not to be outdone, George says that he, too, has a place in the Hamptons. The parents are skeptical, and in the ensuing back and forth George commits to driving his future in-laws to Long Island to see his house, which of course doesn’t exist. Toward the end of the show, there’s a very funny exchange in the car. Susan’s mother sees a fruit stand and says “George, we should stop and get some flowers if we’re going to be staying at your house in the Hamptons!” George replies, “OK, you want to take it up a notch? We’ll stop and get some flowers!”
In 2005, Kirby wrote that if autism rates don’t decline among 3-5 year olds by 2007, then he would have to reconsider his hypothesis. Of course 2007 came and went, Kirby said Chinese industrial pollution and crematoriums keep California’s numbers from falling, and he’s moved the date to 2010, or 2012, or 2020. It doesn’t matter. He placed his bet and he lost.
However, like George Costanza, Kirby will keep taking it up a notch. He only has two choices, really: admit that the centerpiece of his recent career is based on a big mistake, or “take it up a notch”, hoping we won’t notice.