Bob Carroll of the Skeptics’ Dictionary has weighed in with some interesting angles on Robert F. Kennedy’s scaremongering piece in Salon.
Carroll starts off examining the argument for protecting the vaccine industry against lawsuits, and highlights a problem with the use of lawsuits that he first wrote about (quoting Marcia Angel),with regard to silicone implants:
What causes this is the use of expert witnesses. The expert gives an opinion, and that becomes the evidence. Since they are hired by the adversaries, they get the most extreme people they can find. In science it's the opposite. It doesn't matter who you are; what matters are what your data say
What he’s saying is that the actual data will not matter in a lawsuit, once the lawyers get hold of it. That’s because courts of law are not about determining the truth, they are about advocates for opposing views presenting their case as strongly as possible. Carroll concludes the vaccine industry does need some protection against lawsuits.
Carroll also discusses the Simpsonwood conference, and touches on Kennedy’s out-of-context quote mining that Orac, Majikthise and I commented on before, and discusses the whole “conflict of interest” (non) issue.
Having looked at the detail, he then examines the broad question:
Is there any truth in Kennedy's article? There may well be but I am not going to waste my time tracking down every claim he makes since I already know that he has distorted some very important data and twisted facts to serve his purpose. There is no way to close this issue of mercury and autism. Whatever data is available can always be mined for some gem that supports the conspiratorial theory and there is always hope that some future study will provide some support for the causal belief. No study will ever be able to show with absolute certainty once and for all that thimerosal or any other substance does not cause autism in some people some of the time.
In the meantime, we must ask ourselves what is the likelihood that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the American Academy of Pediatrics have joined a drug cartel to dupe the public by agreeing that there is no evidence linking thimerosal and autism? Are we to believe, for example, that the WHO made it all up when they published the results of a study that examined the health records of 109,863 children born in Britain from 1988 to 1997 and found that children who had received the most thimerosal in vaccines had the lowest incidence of developmental problems like autism?* Or are we to believe the parents of autistic children who are desperately seeking a villain?
I wish I’d written that. Carroll then quotes at length a section he wrote on this subject over three years ago, and it is striking that he could just have well as written it today. A good read.