I’m not quite sure what these articles from the Washington Post and Scientific American mean, but they augur yet more anti-scientific attitudes from the incoming Trump administration, which will take over in (horrors!) only nine days. (The words “President Trump” still stick in my craw.) From Sci Am we hear about a position reportedly offered to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of Bobby Kennedy and thus the nephew of JFK. RFK Jr. is an environmental activist but has some wonky ideas about vaccines:
WASHINGTON—Outspoken vaccine critic Robert Kennedy Jr. has accepted a position within Donald Trump’s administration as chair of a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity—the clearest sign yet of the president-elect’s suspicions about vaccines.
The offer, which came in a Wednesday meeting between Trump and the scion of America’s most prominent Democratic family, is likely to concern scientists and public health experts who fear the incoming administration could give legitimacy to skeptics of childhood immunizations, despite a huge body of scientific research demonstrating that vaccines are safe.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy told reporters after the meeting. “His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science. And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have—he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I—but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”
Kennedy has repeatedly questioned the safety of vaccines and advanced arguments that there is a link between the immunizations and autism. He has suggested that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines, can be harmful to children, a notion that has been widely debunked.
Public health agencies did suggest manufacturers eliminate or reduce the amount of thimerosal in vaccines and many have done so. But a number of studies have also discredited the idea of thimerosal is a cause of autism.
Kennedy’s work on autism has created controversy over the years. In 2005 he wrote an expose, co-published by Salon and Rolling Stone, contending that scientists were hiding the link between thimerosal and autism. Years later, Salon retracted the story, noting its basic thesis was inaccurate. Rolling Stone deleted it.
But Kennedy was not finished with the subject. He edited a 2014 book called “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: The Evidence Supporting the Immediate Removal of Mercury—a Known Neurotoxin—from Vaccines.” The volume makes the case that thimerosal is still causing autism and other neurological problems, and should be eliminated worldwide.
There’s no credible evidence that thimerosal causes autism, although it could cause minor side effects like redness and swelling around an injection site. It’s time to put the thimerosal canard to rest.
Both of the sources above, while noting that RFK, Jr. was asked to head that commission, also add, as did CNN, that Trump hasn’t really decided whether to set up a commission on autism.
But the Trump transition says no decision has been made on setting up a commission on autism, despite Robert Kennedy Jr. telling reporters he was asked by Trump to chair a committee on vaccination safety.“The President-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas. The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks in statement.
My question is whether the commission on autism is the same as the commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity” for which RFK, Jr. was vetted. If they are, then this report is dubious. It still shows, however, that Trump has no fricking idea how to appoint good people, something we already know from the Cabinet nominations. Let’s hope that this commission doesn’t materialize, or else gets a scientifically-minded chair.
But we ain’t seen nothing yet. What scares me the most (besides Trump) is his upcoming Supreme Court nominee to replace Antonin Scalia.