Home / General / Why is NYU Law School giving Robert Kennedy Jr. a high-profile platform for his anti-vaxx nonsense?

Why is NYU Law School giving Robert Kennedy Jr. a high-profile platform for his anti-vaxx nonsense?

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anti vaxx

I don’t know, but it’s NYU so I have a guess . . .

Yes, Robert Kennedy Jr. has made headlines again for, as the New Jersey Star Ledger put it in a hard-hitting editorial, “his crazy-talk about a vast government conspiracy to hide the truth that a vaccine ingredient called thimerosal causes childhood autism.” The Star-ledger goes on to correctly note:

He is wrong. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country agrees that he is wrong. Here’s all you need to know about thimerosal: There is no link between it and any brain disorders, including autism. To assuage fears, the government removed it from pediatric vaccines nearly 15 years ago, with the exception of a specific flu vaccine, and childhood autism rates have actually gone up since

.

But Kennedy is as disingenuous as he hyperbolic. Several weeks ago, I attended an event held at NYU’s law school, where Kennedy was appearing on a panel about thimerosal and vaccines. The event was combined with a screening of a documentary called, Trace Amounts, which Kennedy has been promoting. (The movie does not have a distributor, so it is being privately screened at various venues.)

Before the film was shown, Kennedy was introduced by an independent scholar affiliated with NYU’s law school. I took notes. Here’s how he started off: “I am fiercely pro-vaccine. I had all my children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives. But it is essential we have a safe vaccine supply.”

Notice the double talk and the inference–that our vaccine supply is unsafe.

Keith Kloor points out that when an elite academic institution gives someone like Kennedy a platform, it puts responsible journalists in a difficult bind:

Let me stop here for a second to point out the danger of media amplification of this tiny fringe element. It is for this reason that I held off on writing about Kennedy’s latest campaign–until now. It is a real quandary for journalists who are obligated to report newsworthy events, but who also don’t want to give undue attention to a tiny minority.

But the more headlines I saw Kennedy generating on his anti-vaccine tour, the more I felt obligated to weigh in on his latest shenanigans.

Slate:

[A]nti-vaxxers turn out in droves. They are few in number—representing less than single-digit percentage points of most states’ populations—but extremely passionate. Their tendency to cluster means they remain a significant risk for supporting outbreaks of disease. They are organized by well-funded groups financed by family foundations. They still gather at rallies and fundraisers featuring disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose claim that vaccines cause autism was later found to be a complete fraud. Their voices are amplified by notorious anti-vax celebrity cranks such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

As a result of this disparity in activism, anti-vaxxers have been successful in defeating pro­–public health legislation that would eliminate some exemptions in a number of states, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and most recently, North Carolina. Bills in Texas, New Jersey, and California are still being hotly contested. Well-organized vaccination opponents flood legislators with a near-constant stream of materials of dubious scientific or legal validity. And, of course, Kennedy participates, traveling around to states in contention, promoting a conspiracy-theory documentary called Trace Amounts. This documentary focuses on the manufactured controversy surrounding thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative that was removed from the vast majority of childhood vaccines in 2001. (Autism rates did not decline.)

Shame on NYU Law School for aiding these people.

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  • Bitter Scribe

    It is a real quandary for journalists who are obligated to report newsworthy events, but who also don’t want to give undue attention to a tiny minority.

    That’s one reason Joe McCarthy got as far as he did. Almost all the reporters who covered him knew he was full of shit, but they couldn’t just ignore him.

    Walter Lippmann: “McCarthy’s charges of treason, espionage, corruption, perversion are news which cannot be suppressed or ignored. They come from a United States Senator and a politician…in good standing at the headquarters of the Republican Party. When he makes such attacks against the State Department and the Defense Department, it is news which has to be published.”

  • efgoldman

    I’m a first amendment absolutist. If Bobby Jr. wants to run around dishonoring the memory of his father and his uncle with this idiocy, that’s his business.
    But that doesn’t give him the right to be granted attention or credibility by the press or by well-known credible institutions.
    Time was we just left the crackpots alone in the corner, mumbling to themselves.

  • themann1086

    That image perfectly encapsulates rfk jr’s argument, given that he claims to have had his own children vaccinated while he scaremongers parents to not vaccinate their own.

  • Andrew

    Quite disappointing; he’s done some really good work with environmental advocacy generally and with Riverkeeper specifically.

    • NewishLawyer

      Yeah. I saw him speak as an undergrad when he was heavily involved with Riverkeeper and he seemed like a good guy then.

    • Warren Terra

      And he also did bad work with the 2004 election, running asserting that around the election was stolen in Ohio and publishing a book on the subject. The 2004 election was a travesty, because of a useless media environment, plus unaccountable money pumped into the propagation of slanders, and including interference by elections officials, especially in Ohio, but RFK Jr’s claims went beyond what could be proven – indeed, beyond what was really plausible.

      He’s high-profile, he is enthusiastic, he wants to help (and to be important), and, critically, he is really stupid or has no judgment. So: presumably from the best of motives (plus ego), he’s on board with a bunch of purportedly noble causes some of which are absolutely, unimpeachably good – and some of which are terrible. Leaving aside the question of how you sum those positive and negative actions, at what point does his activism on behalf of the terrible ones actually damage the good causes he’s associated with?

      • Craigo

        That Ohio bullshit was something else. Failure to understand basic statistics and polling, misinterpretation and exaggeration of supporting evidence, dismissal or suppression of opposing evidence, and outright fabrication and lying – he was the total package.

    • Well maybe so but he brings discredit and shame to every organization he’s associated with. For some bizarre reason, the Natural Resources Defense Council continues to employ him and make him the face of their fundraising. I just got a big fundraising appeal from them that featured his name prominently on the envelope. It went straight to the burn pile. The NRDC is just destroying their own reputation. I’ve tried to tell them this and they ignore it.

  • dp

    He is, overall, quite the disappointment, given the good he could accomplish by trading on his name.

  • To assuage fears, the government removed it from pediatric vaccines nearly 15 years ago, with the exception of a specific flu vaccine

    No, no, antivax numpties have informed me otherwise:

    It is a lie that thimerosal is no longer in vaccines. The FDA played a deceptive game. They made a rule that let thimerosal stay in vaccines and be kept off the label if vaccine manufacturers claimed the the thimerosal was used in preparation and not as a preservative

    • Lee Rudolph

      But, but, if it’s only used in preparation, then it must be so dilute that … it has an enormous effect FOR GOOD!!!

      • Sadly, despite invitations, that particular numpty has failed to explain how the preparation of a vaccine would involve mixing an antiseptic into a live cell culture.

      • CSI

        Unless its reverse homeopathy. Insidious BigPharma have secretly learnt how to take homeopathy and use it for evil.

        • Those damn homeos. First it was homeo marriage, now they want to inject their homeo into our blood stream and turn us all into homeos.

          • Warren Terra

            And they always start small, so you wouldn’t even notice, but apparently the effects are incredibly powerful. It’s a slippery slope.

  • Kennedy really stuck his foot in his mouth in Sacramento, where he compared vaccinations to the Holocaust. He’s a fucking idiot.

  • mikeSchilling

    Notice the double talk and the inference–that our vaccine supply is unsafe.

    It’s not double talk; it’s perfectly intelligible. And the inference doesn’t have to be pointed out, as if RFK, Jr. were trying to slip something past us. It’s obvious and exactly as intended. I mean, he’s completely wrong on the facts, but he’s not gibbering.

    • MrMister

      concurred

  • Perhaps ironic from Kloor, as he has mined the “both sides” thing for a long time RE: climate change.

  • cpinva

    bearing in mind that this very same numbnuts has recently argued, strenuously, to keep pot illegal. it is, according to him, far more dangerous and addictive than heroin. as with the anti-vax issue, he provides no substantive, scientifically valid support for these claims, but because he’s who he is, his idiocy gets widely reported. of course, the head of the DEA makes the same unsupported claims, and no one questions her either.

    remember as well that mr. kennedy has his own alcohol & drug addiction history. I have to wonder how much mental damage those addictions may have done, that he’ll never recover from. might it, in part, explain some of the lunacy he’s spouting now?

    • Lee Rudolph

      remember as well that mr. kennedy has his own alcohol & drug addiction history.

      I thought that was Patrick?

  • Barry_D

    “It is a real quandary for journalists who are obligated to report newsworthy events, but who also don’t want to give undue attention to a tiny minority.”

    No, it’s only a quandary if the journalist can’t print the truth.

    ‘Today, Joe Kennedy made a speech in which he lied about vaccines again……..’.

  • prufrock

    I remember when Salon published his article ten years ago (that they later retracted) that it started by stating that the villain’s medical conference was held deep in the woods; probably next door to Dr. Evil’s summer cabin. Of course, in the comments some wag posted the Google map of where the conference was held. It turned out to be in the middle of an Atlanta industrial park.

    He couldn’t even make it out of the first paragraph without lying.

  • To assuage fears, the government removed it from pediatric vaccines nearly 15 years ago, with the exception of a specific flu vaccine, and childhood autism rates have actually gone up since

    So the evidence for thimerosal actually reducing autism is better than the evidence that it causes it.

    Yeesh. Science. This is the second issue RFK, Jr ought to be brought up to speed on, after Cape Wind.

  • witlesschum

    I’d willing to have the media go Kennedy Free for a couple decades. It’s not their fault, really, but all the people who want to treat them like the U.S.’s royal family are ruining it. Can’t have nice things, etc.

    • If they’d treat them like an actual royal family, with their sordid history of treachery, warmongering, genocidal colonialism, inbreeding related birth defects, occasional madness and idiocy, and general bad behavior, it would be OK. But they treat them like some kind Disney magical heroes. Celebrities are portrayed as possessing a combination of power, beauty, wealth, infallibility and benevolence that never occurs in actual people.

    • Joshua

      I really feel like this is a generational thing. The glamour and then subsequent assassination of JFK and then RFK had such a lasting influence on an entire generation that the young people who became writers couldn’t resist being drawn in. The untimely death of JFK Jr. added to the tragic mystique.

      In 20 years the Kennedys will be more like another group of generic rich people doing rich people things, like the Du Ponts.

      • A comment at Respectful Insolence:

        So this guy is from the family where

        if you get in a car with them, then bad things happen
        go to a party at their mansion, then bad things happen
        are a passenger on their private plane they’re sure they know how to fly, then bad things happen
        live next door at age 14, one very bad thing happens

        And the enlightened Realy Wise, Peeple Not Sheeple crowd wants to take medical advice from this clan…

  • so-in-so

    I can see where sitting Senator is newsworthy. It doesn’t mean that the article can’t point out there is no evidence supporting his position, so he is, at best, mis-informed. I’m not really clear what Robert Kennedy Jr. Is or has done that demands the press pay respectful attention. Never mind Jenny McCarty.

    Yeah, I know, lucky sperm club + money.

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