Last month I wrote about John McCain’s statement claimed that there is “strong evidence” that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. I expect better from Democrats, and while saying that we don’t know whether vaccines cause autism is better than saying that they do (or did, while thimerosal was still used), it’s not better enough. And both Democratic candidates have said this. Obama:
“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”
Clinton answering a questionnaire:
“Would you support a large-scale federal study ofthe differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups?
Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism — but we should find out.”
Stop it. Not vaccinating kids can kill people, and we should not encourage the idea that vaccines are dangerous without good reason. If our candidates don’t know the facts, they shouldn’t pretend that they do.
Hilzoy is right, but leaves out an important nugget from the Obama quote. As her link points out:
Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor has supplied video which suggests that Obama may not have been referring to himself when he said that “some people” were suspicious about a connection between autism and childhood vaccinations. The video shows the candidate pointing to someone in the audience when he adds the words, “This person included.”
So he isn’t backing that claim, just saying that an audience member thinks that. He should have done more to reject that purported link, but that line is the only one where he actually seems to lean toward linking autism and vaccines, and context clarifies that.
I was preparing to write a peeved note to the campaign, but I realized that there isn’t really a hook for that. I could complain about the statement that “The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” but that line is fairly ambiguous. The topic of the paragraph, after all, is the skyrocketing autism rate, and as I understand it, there’s no well-documented explanation for that. Better detection is part of the explanation, but some studies suggest that that isn’t adequate to explain the whole trend. Which means that the science on the broader topic is, in fact, inconclusive.
It is not inconclusive about vaccines. Vaccines do not cause autism. They save lives. McCain is flatly wrong to say otherwise, as is Hillary. Obama’s statement is ambiguous, and while it would be nice if he were clearer, that’s rather different than McCain and Hillary’s unambiguous wrongness.