|I won't spend much time on the safety of vaccinations since this is a political blog. Commenters in the Quick Hit took exception when I said that RFK's anti-vaccine stance was similar to global warming denial. But, I firmly stand by the claim that they are qualitatively the same. Numerous studies have been done on the vaccine-autism link. Generally it has been found that only smaller and/or poorly managed studies show any link. No large well managed studies have ever shown a link. From Doja and Roberts (2006)
In particular, some have suggested an association between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine and autism. Our literature review found very few studies supporting this theory, with the overwhelming majority showing no causal association between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine and autism. The vaccine preservative thimerosal has alternatively been hypothesized to have a possible causal role in autism. Again, no convincing evidence was found to support this claim
This knowledge is combined with the fact that since Denmark, Canada, and US removed thermosil from vaccines their autism rates have not declined at all. Here is a list of organizations that accept the safety of our vaccines and support the current vaccination schedule.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Academy of Physician Assistants
American College of Preventive Medicine
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians
American Medical Association
American Public Health Association
March of Dimes
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society
The scientific community is not having a debate. The debate is among the cranks who get lots of free air time in the name of "balance", just like creationists and global warming deniers.
There are severe consequences of making parents afraid to vaccinate their kids. Measles has become an epidemic in the UK due to parents being mislead about the safety of vaccines. In the US we now have the highest measles rate since 1996.
Unsurprisingly, unvaccinated children die of preventable diseases.
Secondly, RFK's stance on vaccines was not some one time off-the-cuff statement. He has run a coordinated campaign railing against the dangers of vaccines. It started with his Deadly Immunity article that ran in Salon and Rolling Stone. Medical/science blogger, Orac at Respectful Insolence called it the "biggest, steamingest, drippiest turd" he had ever seen Salon publish. Skeptico said it was "completely dishonest" and full of "lies, damned lies, and quote-mining." The entire article was a hit piece ranting about a giant conspiracy including the CDC, Big Pharma, doctors and researchers. RFK then hit the airwaves on 20/20 and Good Morning America to continue his fear mongering. He also joined in Jenny McCarthy's Orwellian "Green Our Vaccines" rally which was filled with various anti-vaccination cranks. RFK Jr. has been an outspoken activist trying to make parents afraid of vaccinating their children.
You may still be wondering what this has to do with the EPA or the Department of the Interior. RFK Jr. has a great record on conservation issues, and vaccines are not in the purview of these agencies. The fact remains though that these are research oriented agencies. They fund research and that research is used to make recommendations on policy. The heads of these agencies must respect the research done by their scientists. RFK Jr. has shown a predisposition for favoring his own pet theory over the best available scientific evidence. After eight years of the Republican war on science we cannot afford to promote our own quacks to high ranking positions in charge of evidence based policy making.
The heads of these agencies have a great deal of autonomy, and we have to fill high level posts with the best people possible. RFK Jr. has been a great advocate for conservation and the environment. He would probably make a great Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources. That fits his skill set, and his contrarian beliefs would not be a hindrance. But, the head of EPA and the Secretary of the Interior need to first and foremost respect research and be willing to go wherever the evidence takes them. There are more than enough qualified progressives for these jobs. The 22 to Know in David's post below list two better possibilities. Now is not the time to settle.
We must ensure that progressives remain in the reality based community. The reality based community should actually supercede the progressive community. Progressive policies should never contradict reason and evidence. We laugh at the crazies the Republicans have let in to power. We joke about Palin and dinosaurs or Inhofe and global warming because it is a joke that people with such irrational beliefs ever achieved such power.
Finally, we have to remember that now is the time to wage ideological wars within the progressive community. It won't be too long until the STFU brigades will be back out in full swing telling us how we need to get in line or we'll lose the House or Obama won't be re-elected. So please argue forcefully and in good faith because we are all on the same side.