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Autism-vaccine article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. removed from Salon.com's website

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January 25, 2011|By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a 2005 article in Rolling Stone and Salon.com linking autism and vaccines.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a 2005 article in Rolling Stone and Salon.com… (Michael Buckner / Getty…)

The assertion that autism is linked to childhood vaccinations has run and run, even as study after study has failed to find such a link, either with MMR vaccines or ones containing thimerosal,  an organic compound that contains mercury.

One prominent article fingering thimerosal  was  “Deadly Immunity,”  written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. , and co-published by Salon.com and Rolling Stone (which fact-checked it) in 2005.

Salon on Jan. 16 announced it was removing the story from its website. In explaining of the decision, Kerry Lauerman, Salon’s editor-in-chief, noted that shortly after the story ran it was amended to correct several errors of fact “that went far to undermine Kennedy’s expose.” Salon decided to keep the article posted, duly corrected, “in the spirit of transparency,” Lauerman added.

(Among the corrections was this one: “The article also misstated the level of ethylmercury received by infants injected with all their shots by the age of six months. It was 187 micrograms -- an amount 40 percent, not 187 times, greater than the EPA's limit for daily exposure to methylmercury.”)

The decision to take the story down altogether came as further criticism mounted over the years.

“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,” Lauerman writes.  

That page is http://www.salon.com/news/autism/index.html. It includes an interview with Seth Mnookin, author of “The Panic Virus,” which takes a hard, critical look at the anti-vaccine movement and argues that it causes much harm. Mnookin’s critique was influential in the Salon decision.

In other recent autism news, earlier this month the journal BMJ likened a 1998 paper by British doctor Andrew Wakefield, which purported to show a link between MMR vaccines and autism, to a hoax right up there with the famous Piltdown Man.

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