If you look long enough, our faith in science journalism was restored in 2010, as the Chicago Tribune’s excellent investigation of dangerous medical quackery continued. In January, science journalists extraordinaire Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan introduced America to Boyd Haley, a retired chemistry professor who marketed an industrial waste treatment chemical as a food supplement for autistic children. Two months later the Tribune won a first place Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. Four months after than, the FDA ordered Haley’s quack supplement off the market.
PBS Frontline struck a blow for sanity in April with The Vaccine Wars, which avoided false balance by giving anti-vaccine activists just enough time to expose themselves for the dangerous frauds that they are.
But 2010 also had its share of clunkers, without which there would be no reason for the Ashley Award for Credulity in Science Journalism®. The eponymous award is named after the hapless producer of Combating Autism from Within, a multi-part series aired on KOMU-TV in late 2007, noted for its tangy melange of pseudoscientific claptrap, cheap voyeurism, cheesy production values, and nauseating self-congratulation.
The envelope please.
The Fox News anchor Alisyn Camerota wins the Not Good with Numbers award for this exchange with an spokesperson from the anti-vaccine group SAFEMINDS:
Camerota: “The federal government has given monetary awards to hundreds of parents with autistic children…”
SAFEMINDS: “Well, I don’t know if it’s hundreds of cases, but it’s several cases.”
You know the interview is flying off the rails with an anti-vaccine propagandists wants the reporter to town down the rhetoric.
In that same clip, Camerota accused HHS of playing a semantics game:
“CBS News just did an investigation … that found that parents who used the words ‘encephalopathy’ or ‘brain damage’ won their cases. Those who had the same symptoms, but used the word ‘autism,’ did not win their cases. There were 1,300 awards to families …again with brain damage. Obviously, it sounds like the Department of Health and Human Services is fudging something. They’re playing a semantics game here. Why?”
If Fox News did its own investigation, Alisyn would have learned that autism is not the same as encephalopathy. Two different things. Most of those ‘brain damage” claims arose from DTP vaccine claims that were filed 20 years ago, and there is currently no science linking DTP to encephalopathy. This was extraordinarily bad reporting by the hapless Fox and Friends weekend host.
The Matt Lauer Award for Excellence in Stenography goes to Matt Lauer for his execrable April interview with Holly Robinson Peete. World Autism Awareness Day brings out the worst impulses in unprepared reporters, and Lauers stepped up. Autism epidemic – check. Autism wrecks marriages – check. Autism steals your child’s soul – check.
Lauer and Fox News aside, more news and entertainment outlets are either staying clear of the manufactured vaccine/autism controversy, or taking time to expose anti-vaccine activists as a threat to public health. That’s a good thing.
Happy New Year.