The Sciences

Bravo to Salon.com for Taking Down RFK Jr. Vaccine-Autism Article

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJan 17, 2011 12:53 PM

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See here, from editor in chief Kerry Lauerman:

In 2005, Salon published online an exclusive story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that offered an explosive premise: that the mercury-based thimerosal compound present in vaccines until 2001 was dangerous, and that he was "convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real." The piece was co-published with Rolling Stone magazine -- they fact-checked it and published it in print; we posted it online. In the days after running "Deadly Immunity," we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy's exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece -- and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency -- was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book "The Panic Virus," further eroded any faith we had in the story's value. We've grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely. "I regret we didn't move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link," says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh, now editor at large. "But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do." The story's original URL now links to our autism topics page, which we believe now offers a strong record of clear thinking and skeptical coverage we're proud of -- including the critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.

But what about Rolling Stone? To repost a Seth Mnookin tweet:

Important diff in RFK Jr autism-mercury: RS disappeared w/no mention; @Salon stepped up/acknowledged http://ht.ly/3EIQX

I was not aware until just now that the Rolling Stone version had disappeared. I remember reading it when I was working on my Discover vaccines piece in 2009, and indeed, we linked it in the online version of that article. All in all, this is just further evidence that finally, the worm is turning on vaccine-autism claims. However, as both Mnookin and also Paul Offit document in their latest books, much of the damage has already been done. There are a lot of lessons here--and many touch on the media's role in fanning a panic.

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