Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Rosie O’Donnell vs. David Kirby on the “causation” issue of autism: Guess who loses?

Pity poor David Kirby.

After all, he made his name by hitching his star to a losing hypothesis, namely that the mercury in thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. He wrote a book about it, Evidence of Harm, back in 2005 and has milked that sucker dry ever since. Most recently, his appearances culminated in a “debate” last month with Arthur Allen, whose book Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver just garnered a very favorable review in the New York Times, during which he did a most amusing dance around the issue by pointing to “other sources” of environmental mercury including forest fires and mercury vapor arising from crematoria when corpses with amalgam fillings are cremated. (Careful, David, or you’ll drift into serious anti-amalgam woo. Next you’ll be prattling about “toxic teeth.”) Of course, what else could he do, given that, as the epidemiological evidence comes in in the years since thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, there hasn’t been even a hint of a sustained decrease in the incidence of new cases of autism using multiple sources of data? Heck, there hasn’t even been a downtick in the rate of increase. He was defending a loser of a proposition, scientifically and epidemiologically speaking. His only real hope was to be glib (something he is quite good at) and to use the time-honored technique of the crank defending pseudoscience: Try to dazzle ’em with curveballs or baffle ’em with bull, hence the tropes about forest fires, mercury from China, and increased numbers of cremations in California as a way of trying to distract attention from the fact that the subtitle of his book Evidence of Harm was Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, not Mercury from Crematoria and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy or Mercury from Forest Fires and China and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy.

Yes, you’d think that David Kirby had fallen about as low as he could fall as far as his credibility on the issue of mercury and autism goes, but you’d be wrong. You see, he’s now been dissed big time by Rosie O’Donnell and is now reduced to whining about it on The Huffington Post, all because he wasn’t allowed to spout off on the coffee klatch cum daytime TV talk show that Rosie recently joined as a regular (The View) about the scientifically discredited claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism:

“Causation,” of course, is the autism question of the century. Why do we have so many sick kids? Is this all simply genetics? Then why is there so much more autism now? What changed, and what are we doing to find out?

You won’t find out on Monday’s program.

Instead, The View presented a respectful and sometimes teary portrait of families living with autistic children– their daily struggles and special needs. Several kids were onstage, some verbal, some not, and they handled themselves very well. It was a fine show about autism awareness, and the producers are to be lauded for it, especially for asking what will happen when so many disabled, dependent kids turn 21.

Of course, that’s not enough for Kirby:

During the breaks, however, I could hear women in the audience murmuring to each other: “But what causes it? Why so many children? What about mercury? How can I get more information?”

During the final break, I asked Rosie when the question of causation would come up.

“We’re not doing that,” she said, bluntly. “We’re focusing on families and their kids.”

“Rosie,” I replied, “I think a lot of people are wondering about what’s causing this.”

“We don’t know what causes it,” she said. “You just want me to ask so you can talk about mercury.”

Stung, I explained that her audience members were asking, and that production staff had also asked me about causation privately backstage.

“We’re not doing causation,” Rosie repeated. “In fact, I told them not to book you.”

Normally, I don’t think much of Rosie O’Donnell. In fact, when I see her on TV, it has an effect on me not unlike the effect of nails on chalkboard, and I have to change the channel rather quickly. I rarely, if ever, watch The View even on the relatively rare occasions when I’m actually home during the day on a weekday, and Rosie’s presence on the show makes it even less likely that I’ll watch when I do happen to have a day off work. Indeed, in her recent pissing match with Donald Trump, I couldn’t decide who was more annoying (or who had the worst hair). However, if she has enough judgment to know that inviting Kirby to a show on autism would only provoke a mercury-fueled side show and is able to put a pompous ass like Kirby in his place, I suppose she can’t be all bad.

Naturally, Kirby can’t just accept this as a decision made simply to focus on autism awareness and the question of what will happen to these children when they turn 21, when services they and their parents had been using will disappear or be drastically curtailed. Oh, no, it has to be a conspiracy that “silenced” Rosie, at least this time:

My head spun as the show wrapped up. Had The View finally squelched Rosie O’Donnell? Did mercury trump Trump? Was this the heavy metal that dare not speak its name, at least on a network flush with Pharma ads?

It’s hard to say for sure. Last year, former host Star Jones posed the vaccine-autism question on the air, (but then again, look what happened to her).

Never mind that, to all appearances, Jones’ departure from the show seemed to be about network claims that her acceptance of clothing and merchandise for her wedding in exchange for mentions on The View was in violation of network policy or because she was somehow blindsided by Barbara Walters. Oh, no, hints Kirby darkly, it had to be because she supposedly posed the dreaded (and supposedly verboten) “vaccine-autism” question on the air.


Just for yucks, I looked to see if I could find exactly what it was that Star Jones said about vaccines and autism on The View. It wasn’t too hard to find, taking me all of a couple minutes. This is what Jones said about the issue on the January 18, 2006 episode of The View, where the guest was Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks:

STAR JONES REYNOLDS, co-host: There have been reports that mercury found in vaccines, all vaccinations that all the children get early on, maybe are contributing factors of autism. Now, of course, there’s so much debate in the medical community a lot of people disagree. Do doctors know what causes autism?

WRIGHT: We don’t know what causes autism and that’s partly why we founded Autism Speaks because it’s so – they don’t have a voice out there. There’s so many groups involved in autism. We want to be the national voice. And as far as the vaccine issue is concerned, there is no scientific proof linking it and yet there’s no scientific proof saying that it’s not part of this problem.

REYNOLDS: So you’re suggesting that there should be more research?

WRIGHT: And the awareness that we’re going to bring, then we get the funds and then we give it to research and science.

Oooh. Dangerous stuff. I can see why Kirby thought she was fired over that. By the way, that’s the only mention of vaccines in that episode.

Of course, because, by not letting Kirby pontificate about “causation,” which, quite frankly, among the mercury militia is code for vaccines as an alleged “cause” of autism, Rosie apparently didn’t bow down and genuflect before the cult of mercury and autism sufficiently and thus has been the subject of the wrath of the mercury militia. One thing I learned from Kirby’s HuffPo article that I didn’t know before is that Rosie O’Donnell has a blog, and Kevin Leitch has documented quite amusingly how the mercury militia descended upon this blog and badgered Rosie about the issue:

Zola writes:
4th time asking… I know David Kirby was in the audience of the autism show. Why was the mercury question not asked? A subject too hot for Rosie?

not enough time
and not the focus of the show

Sounds pretty clear. Note, however, the similarity in wording (“too hot for Rosie”) between Zola and David Kirby. Couldn’t be they’re cribbing from the same sheet, could it?

Erik writes:
Rosie, “The View” avoided any discussion of Autism’s causality, and only picks orgs as resources who have no interest in the thimerosal controversy. Why? Have you been pressured?

pressured? by who
chose not to do causation

Heh, that’s telling him!

Lisa writes:
Do you believe there is a link between autism and mercury?


Oh, well, two out of three ain’t bad, I guess.

Kevin is quite amusing as he documents various mercury militia wondering if the responders to these questions was “really” Rosie, saying:

So, here’s Ms O’Donnell not venerating at the feet of David Kirby – this must be a conspiracy. And here’s Ms O’Donnell having her blog authored by Shadowy Figures……I can almost feel the Black Helicopters taking off, can’t you?

Oh, yes, I can.

What’s truly amusing about this whole kerfluffle (yes, I know I use that word a lot now, but I’ve come to like it; it has a lovely sound rolling off the tongue and describes this whole View thing quite well) is the utter arrogance behind it. Let me explain. Apparently everybody–I mean everybody–can be “bought off” by big pharma, the vaccine manufacturers, the CDC, whatever, including Rosie, all the researchers who keep publishing article after article in peer-reviewed journals not supporting the thimerosal-autism concept (again, I refuse to dignify it anymore by calling it a “hypothesis”), the media, and anyone else capable of applying enough critical thinking to see that the thimerosal-autism idea just won’t fly. Everybody, that is, except the intrepid warriors against the system, like David Kirby, J.B. Handley, Erik Nanstiel, among others. They’re the only ones who know The Truth. Everyone else is a willing or bought-off dupe of The Government and/or Big Pharma.

After all, as Jim Laidler put it, “If ‘Big Pharma’ can ‘buy off’ Rosie O’Donnell, why can’t they ‘buy off’ David Kirby? Is he just too honest and ethical to be bought?”

How insulting is that to skeptics? And how arrogant is that, that these people think themselves to be in essence the only ones immune to this big conspiracy? It reminds me of the 9/11 Truthers (whose “theories” are delightfully skewered here) who descended on my blog a couple of months ago when I discussed 9/11 conspiracy theories.

I tend to view this increasing level of hysteria as a manifestation of the fact that the mercury/vaccines/autism hypothesis is clearly failing, so much so that even the mercury militia is starting to sense it. That explains David Kirby’s desperate attempts to deflect attention away from the vaccine claim and towards “other” causes of environmental mercury, no matter how far-fetched, as The Answer. (Never mind that nearly none of them mentioned environmental mercury before it became clear that the vaccine claim was failing scientifically and epidemiologically.) I Basically, at its heart, the mercury militia is a bunch of antivaccination conspiracy theorists, and if science keeps showing that it’s incredibly unlikely that mercury in vaccines caused or causes autism, they’ll have to cast about for other reasons to latch onto to claim that vaccines cause autism. That’s why I think now is as good a time as any to join Arthur Allen in asking for nominations for the next “vaccines cause autism” hypothesis.

Personally, I vote for the aluminum adjuvant in vaccines (which, if you believe some luminaries of the “alternative medicine” movement, also causes Alzheimer’s disease), although there are those who favor squalene, a chemical found in some vaccines. And, of course, don’t count out the “too many vaccines mess up the immature immune system of a baby” canard, a longtime favorite of antivaccinationists and one that just won’t go away.

So, dear readers, tell me: What is your nominee for the next “vaccines cause autism” hypothesis, circa 2007?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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