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Don Imus: He never fails to deliver the stupid when it comes to vaccines and autism

I’ll give Don Imus credit for one thing. He’s predictable and consistent. He never fails to deliver the stupid when it comes to vaccines and autism. True, his wife may take the stupid to hysterically malignant levels when she decides to rant about her belief in the undead myth that mercury in vaccines was a major cause of autism, but he’s the calm and reliable voice of vaccine stupidity, spitting out the same antivaccination lies over and over again in that sleep-inducing mumbling drone that he calls a voice. He’s only been back on the air for a month and a half now, and it’s become completely obvious why the mercury militia loves him to death. Apparently, on Thursday he showed us why (thanks to the reader who sent me this transcript), as he discussed the execrable antivaccination extravaganza that the new ABC series Eli Stone appears to be:

IMUS: Just briefly about the article in yesterday’s New York Times, which reported the drama “Eli Stone”, is scheduled to be broadcast January 31, 2008. The article centers on a lawyer who begins having visions that cause him to question his life’s work defending large corporations, including a pharmaceutical company that makes vaccines. The show suggests there is a link between Thimerosal and autism. Eli Lily is the company that developed Thimerosal, and the two companies that now make the bulk of childhood vaccines used in the United States, Glaxo Smith Kline and Sanofi Avantis, spent an estimated 138 million dollars in advertising last year on ABC. They didn’t know anything about this show.


IMUS: They are, of course, freaking out. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I would make the observation about this article, written by Edwin Wyatt……. either the NY Times is unaware of the facts, doesn’t care about the facts or has an agenda. It’s got to be one of the three. Mr. Wyatt writes: “Among the organizations that have studied possible links between autism and the preservative in the vaccines, are the CDC, FDA, IOM, WHO and the AAP….each of them has largely dismissed the idea that thimerosal causes of contributes to autism. Five major studies have found no link.

Well, that all sounds very powerful, except they don’t tell you about the hundreds of studies from major universities that suggest there is a link. As I have said all along, one of them’s right….and. …one of them’s wrong. Why wouldn’t he print that? Why wouldn’t he point out all the facts? Why?

Listening to Imus, whose exceedingly disingenuous protestations of not “having a dog in this fight” are unconvincing, accuse the New York Times of having an “agenda” brings to mind the classic phrase: Pot. Kettle. Black.

In any case, the “hundreds of studies” bit is a frequently used mercury miltiia canard, a distortion bordering on an outright lie straight from the playbook of the antivaccination movement. Imus, who is either too much of a scientific ignoramus or too ideologically blinded by his antivaccination views to realize this, predictably laps this whopper up and vomits it out for his audience to lap up in turn. It’s a canard that’s almost shockingly easy to debunk. I just did a quick search. Did you know that if you search PubMed using the terms “thimerosal” and “autism” you get 93 hits. If you search “mercury” and “autism” you get the same 93 articles. Moreover, some of the articles are review articles, and the vast majority of both the review articles and research articles conclude that there is no link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism, with a few notable exceptions: Articles by members of the mercury militia, such as Mark and David Geier and Boyd Haley that somehow managed to slime their way into the peer-reviewed literature. (No review system is perfect.) So right off the bat, you know that the claim of “hundreds” of studies is a load of crap.

Of course, in the topsy-turvy pseudoscientific world of the mercury militia, I suppose it all depends on how you define a “study.” If by “study” you mean a well-designed scientific/epidemiological study with good controls, strong statistics, and adequate power to answer a question being posed that has biological plausibility and that has passed rigorous peer review before publication, then there most definitely are not “hundreds” (or even any) studies showing that thimerosal causes autism. If by “study” you mean pieces of crap thrown together by true believers, published in lousy journals or presented at mercury militia mutual wank off “conferences,” then I suppose you might be able to find “hundreds.” True, a tiny handful of papers by the Geiers and Boyd Haley have made it into Medline-indexed journals, but they’re virtually the only ones there claiming a link between thimerosal and mercury, sometimes with data that is only tangentially related to the question.

Obviously, Imus is simply too pinheaded to realize that quality and relevance of studies matter. The epidemiological studies failing to find a link between thimerosal and autism were methodologically rigorous, well-designed, and adequately powered to detect small differences, as has been pointed out. My guess is that these “hundreds of studies” are mainly the spew of mercury militia enablers the Geiers and Haley, published in journals not indexed by Medline (which usually means non-peer-reviewed), ideological journals like the Journal of American Physicians and Scientists, presented as abstracts at mercury militia-friendly conferences like Autism One, where the glitterati of the mercury militia come to present their pseudoscience every year, or touted as “evidence” for a linkage when they are really largely irrelevant. Bathing cultured neurons in baths of thimerosal and noting that they die, thus demonstrating “neurotoxicity” is one favored example (never mind that no one’s ever shown that nonspecific neuronal toxicity and death are a contributing mechanism to autism), as is the Mady Hornig’s infamous “rain mouse” study. But, no, in Imus’ extravagantly ignorant world, all that matters is the number of studies, not the quality, much like how in his world all that matters is the numbers in the ratings and the number of digits on his paycheck. In such a small mind as his, good science and epidemiology can’t stand against the tsunami of garbage that the mercury militia routinely publish and claim as “science.”

No wonder the antivaccination movement mourned when Imus was fired and rejoiced when he was hired at WABC. No matter how much he claims he “doesn’t have a dog in this fight,” he’s clearly one of them and one of the most famous and reliable propagandists for the movement. Jenny McCarthy may be a flash in the pan as far as blaming autism on vaccines goes, but Imus is, alas, seemingly eternal.

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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