Bobby and Bobby are very foolish boys


There’s a popular scam among creationists: they offer big prizes to anyone who can “prove” that evolution is true. They never award these prizes, and I suspect they usually don’t even have the cash on hand, because they’ve got an ace up their sleeves. They set unreachable criteria. For example, to win Joseph Mastropaolo’s evolution prize, one must present evidence that persuades a team of judges — judges who are hand-picked by Mastropaolo. I think the game is stacked.

Now look who is playing a similar game: Robert Kennedy Jr. and Robert De Niro are offering a $100,000 prize for proof that vaccines are safe. I don’t quite know what they expect would constitute proof, since they seem to disregard the extensive clinical trials that have been carried out, or the lack of significant numbers of dead babies from their shots (almost 90% of infants get a thorough series of vaccinations, yet somehow we don’t have piles of dead babies), or the historical evidence (visit a 19th century graveyard, and you will find those piles of dead babies…modern graveyards are mostly full of old dead people), or the remarkable improvement in public health with the introduction of, for instance, the polio vaccine, and the effective eradication of smallpox, or that measles kills about 100,000 people a year (but very few in the US), all of which would be preventable by vaccines.

You know, that $100,000 prize would help a lot in vaccinating all the people in Asia and Africa who are suffering from measles — about 20 million people each year.

So what are the criteria for winning this prize?

Kennedy explained that the WMP will pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can find a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women. Kennedy believes that even “a meager effort at homework” will expose that contention as unsupported by science.

Hold your horses, everyone! <rushes to the PubMed link I always keep handy>

Early exposure to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines and risk of autism spectrum disorder.

CONCLUSIONS:
No convincing evidence was found in this study that MMR vaccination and increasing thimerosal dose were associated with an increased risk of ASD onset.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology.

These data indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques does not result in neuropathological abnormalities, or aberrant behaviors, like those observed in ASD.

Vaccines and autism in primate model.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology.

GIMME MY MONEY, BOBBY2. Those were a few papers that turned up in just the first page of a search — there were 180 more pages, but I didn’t bother looking, because I like the idea of winning a couple of years’ salary for the minimal amount of work. I wonder — could I be even lazier and just send them a link to PubMed?

I suspect that I won’t get paid, because there are other, mysterious excuses they’ll have for rejecting the evidence, just like the creationists do. The stated criteria are just to obvious and simple and have been met over and over in decades of peer-reviewed research.

They won’t pay up, because like the creationists, they’re only going to accept ‘evidence’ that supports their presuppositions, and the purpose of the reward is not to get information delivered to them — that information is freely available already — but to promote a lie. “We offered all this money, and no one could provide evidence, therefore you know that evolution/vaccines are false!” It’s a pretty tacky tactic.

It’s sad, too. I’ve liked many of De Niro’s movies. Now I’ll never be able to watch them again without being conscious that the actor is a colossal dumbass.

Comments

  1. rietpluim says

    No convincing evidence was found in this study that MMR vaccination and increasing thimerosal dose were associated with an increased risk of ASD onset.

    That’s not good enough. I’m sure what they want to read is:

    Convincing evidence was found in this study that MMR vaccination and increasing thimerosal dose are not associated with an increased risk of ASD onset.

    Something you’ll never find in a study.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    My favorite evidence is is found, for example, here on page 6. Show me on the graph, when thimerosal was banned in California (2006). There should be dip in the graph. Except the dip doesn’t exist. Thimerosal is a red herring.

  3. Sastra says

    A lot of people don’t understand the extraordinary caution involved in “science speak.”

    “Doctor, could a flu vaccine give someone superpowers so that they become master of all space and time able to teleport themselves at will throughout the galaxy while creating vast amounts of wealth for themselves just by wishing?”

    “That’s very unlikely.”

  4. Chris J says

    I actually sent a message over to the mercury project thing asking for more details on the requirements of the challenge. Guess we’ll see if they respond to some random nobody. If they do respond, I’ll post the response here so folks can see what the actual requirements are (if those are provided).

  5. =8)-DX says

    Linky to the challenge website. They’re specifically asking for studies on flu vaccines given to pregant women, so the ones PZ links “don’t count” I guess.

    Quote (emphasis mine):

    We hereby issue a challenge to American journalists (and others) who have been assuring the public about the safety of mercury in vaccines. We will pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can point to a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.* Read Open Letter.

    Procedure

    1. Any individual seeking to collect the award (the Claimant) should submit, to the World Mercury Project (WMP), an English translation of the proffered study and a $50 processing fee (to discourage frivolous submissions from flooding WMP staff), along with a letter explaining why the study qualifies for the reward, and the name and address to which the $100,000 check should be directed.

    2. The study and corresponding evidence must have been published in a peer-reviewed journal appearing in PubMed.

    3. The claimant should submit a hard copy of the document and accompanying letter to:

    World Mercury Project
    1227 North Peachtree Parkway, Suite #202
    Peachtree City, GA 30269

    4. To be eligible, the submitted study methodologies should be sufficiently transparent and the data available, to allow the judges to verify any statistical analysis upon which its conclusions rely. Only appropriately applied scientific recognized statistical methods utilizing reliable data will be eligible.

    5. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will either pay the $100,000 reward check or send back a denial explaining why they believe that the study does not qualify. World Mercury Project will simultaneously post a link to the paper and text of the denial on the WMP website.

    * The levels are 25 mcg Et Hg per dose of flu vaccine administered to pregnant women and children following CDC ACIP guidelines.

  6. says

    The problem is that this doesn’t “demonstrate that thimerosal is safe,” in their terms. It just finds no evidence that it isn’t. It’s like Russell’s orbiting teapot: I can’t prove that it doesn’t exist. That’s the problem here, they can never be satisfied because this is what’s called a negative existential statement. It’s generally unprovable in principle.

  7. Chris J says

    Is that 25 mcg ET Hg per dose the same as “0.01% (25 µg/0.5 mL dose)”? Because that’s the highest content listed on the FDA’s vaccine page here. It applies only to the “Fluvirin (multi-dose presentation) (Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Ltd.)” vaccine. All others are either thimerosal-free or contain much lower amounts.

    So I guess they’d be looking only for studies of one particular flu vaccine administered to specifically pregnant women and children?

  8. cartomancer says

    Doesn’t he just become plain old Robert Kennedy when he’s the oldest surviving iteration of the line?

  9. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    (to discourage frivolous submissions from flooding WMP staff)

    They’ve picked an unfortunate acronym. (OK, technically not an acronym, but don’t tell me you’re not reading it as such.)

  10. says

    I was pretty much going to say what cervantes did @6. They don’t actually understand enough about philosophy to recognize they are asking for the impossible. As a computer programmer, I cannot necessarily demonstrate that my code is perfectly safe. I can do a bunch of testing to give a high level of confidence, but I can never hit 100%.

    Oh, I should note that I work in the avionics industry. I know the Kennedy’s have (negative) experience with aircraft and I’m sure DeNiro flies around a bunch. Would knowing that I cannot guarantee the software on any given airplane to be 100% safe keep them from flying?

  11. says

    I would think that the lack of dropoff in autism rates now that they stopped using thimerosal ought to be proof enough. And what about before? Most of us kids in the 60s got doused with mercurichrome or had incidents with broken mercury thermometers.

    Deniro’s a great actor but that doesn’t preclude him being a dumbass about some things. If he was a physicist it’d be physicist syndrome.

  12. Chris J says

    I think I’m starting to see the difficulty here. Two vaccine types, fluzone and fluvirin, are listed on the FDA page as having the concentration required for the challenge.

    From the pdf document on fluzone intradermal from the fda:

    USE IN SPECIFIC POPULATIONS

    8.1
    Pregnancy
    Pregnancy Category B

    The developmental and reproductive toxicity study performed with the trivalent formulation of Fluzone Intradermal is relevant to Fluzone Intradermal Quadrivalent because both vaccines share the same manufacturing process and route of administration. The study, in which the trivalent formulation of Fluzone Intradermal (27 mcg) was administered to
    female rabbits at a dose approximately 20 times the human dose (on a mg/kg basis), revealed no evidence of impaired female fertility or harm to the fetus. There are, however, no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. Because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, Fluzone Intradermal Quadrivalent should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed.

    I wonder if such studies are even possible to do for something like a flu vaccine, which by necessity needs to be remade each year to deal with the latest strains.

    Also from that pdf:

    Safety and effectiveness of Fluzone Intradermal Quadrivalent in persons <18 years of age have not been established. In a clinical trial, 97 infants and toddlers 6 months through 35 months of age and 160 children 3 years through 8 years of age were enrolled to receive two injections of the trivalent formulation of Fluzone Intradermal. Infants and children in a control group received two injections of Fluzone. Fluzone Intradermal was associated with increased local reactogenicity relative to Fluzone. The size of the study was not adequate to reliably evaluate serious adverse events or the immune response elicited by Fluzone Intradermal relative to Fluzone.

    And from the pdf from the fda on Fluvirin:

    Safety and effectiveness of FLUVIRIN® have not been established in pregnant women, nursing mothers or children less than 4 years of age.

    And later…

    Pregnancy Category B: A reproductive and developmental toxicity study has been performed in rabbits at a dose level that was approximately 15 times the human dose based on body weight. The study revealed no evidence of impaired fertility or harm to the fetus due to FLUVIRIN®. There are, however, no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. Because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, this vaccine should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed.

    I’m not really that informed on these matters, but this seems to indicate that the challenge is indeed crafted in a very specific way.

  13. says

    When I was 10, I took a margarine container with the mercury from two busted thermometers to school with me. It was for a presentation on the mercury spill in Japan from I don’t remember how many years ago.

    We passed the container around the room, and my not-very-bright teacher praised my initiative, while warning me not to swallow any.

    It was very pretty stuff. Not my smartest moment, probably, but it was 1976 and I was 10.

    I wonder what I ever did with it?

  14. firestarter says

    “‘We offered all this money, and no one could provide evidence, therefore you know that evolution/vaccines are false!’ It’s a pretty tacky tactic.”

    It is. Which is unfortunate because they got it from us. The guys who started doing this modeled themselves after the James Randi million dollar paranormal challenge. They argued that he would never give out the money no matter the evidence given and created their own version.

    Even though we are right and they are wrong, it’s a pretty easy argument to toss out. “Oh, I’m not going to bother with this challenge because they will just lie and say I didn’t present enough evidence.” Regardless of who is right, the evidence, etc. the person putting up the money can sit back and claim their prize not being won proves their side is right.

  15. dhabecker says

    In the early 1950’5, I was in the third grade when it was announced that we would be able to get a shot of the spanking new Polio vaccine developed by Dr. Salk.
    Every child was there as their parents were scared to death over the effects of Polio; it wasn’t an abstract to be debated; it was real!
    I woke up in the middle of the night after the shot with fever and overall cramping. I was writhing on the floor when my parents came in and I’ll never forget the look on their faces; horror!
    They called our good Doctor Madsen who knew that there were side effects and to keep me cool and within a short time the cramps went away.
    Why do these ‘important’ people want to take us back to when America was ‘Great’. Using their celebrity in this way is criminal and would be better spent getting people to stop texting while driving; THAT would save lives!

  16. says

    “Most of us kids in the 60s got doused with mercurichrome or had incidents with broken mercury thermometers”
    Hell, in my [high] school physics lab we had bottles of the stuff on the benches. Didn’t do us any harm to play with the stuff, flicking those beautiful little droplets….what was I saying?????

  17. stwriley says

    I’m forced to agree both with cervantes @#6 and Chris J @#7. The “challenge” itself is essentially unwinnable because they will never accept any evidence that doesn’t magically “prove” their negative assumption, but this also means that their criteria are essentially irrelevant. There is virtually no thimerosal left in childhood vaccines (except the flu vaccine) so the maximum possible exposure for a child is miniscule, far below the levels at which even a blatantly toxic substance would have any effect that could be detected. As the FDA page on the question points out, the current total maximum exposure is now less than 3 micrograms. To give that a little perspective, the CDC’s threshold levels for lead exposure are a blood content of less than 5 micrograms per decaliter for children. So the question the Bobbys are posing is not only a logical fallacy, it’s completely ridiculous even when considered just as a question of how much thimerosal children are exposed to versus the toxicity of any substance.

  18. says

    They don’t actually understand enough about philosophy to recognize they are asking for the impossible.

    I wouldn’t be so sure – I think it more likely that the logical impossibility of the challenge is deliberate. After all, if Kennedy and De Niro were genuinely concerned about vaccine safety I’m sure that between the two of them they could fund the study they’re asking for themselves.

    @firestarter #15 – You could certainly argue that Randi never intended to award the money to any claimant no matter what the outcome, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made between the Randi challenge, which asked for a demonstration of paranormal abilities under controlled conditions (unlikely but possible), and a challenge which is deliberately written to be logically impossible by requiring that the claimant to prove a negative.

  19. raven says

    I’ve actually seen the good of vaccines up close and personal.
    1. When I was a young kid, one of the big fears was polio.
    One day in grade school a classmate didn’t show up.
    The word went around the playground. Polio.
    He had come down with polio and died.

    2. A lot of adults limped in various idiosyncratic ways.
    We all knew why. Polio.

    3. I’ve seen a few cases of post-polio syndrome, one of which was fatal.

    None of that happens any more. In the USA, polio is a distant memory.

  20. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    shit. DeNiro conflated with RFKjr. I can sortof understand DeNiro being flumuxed by the vax-autism “debate” and wanting to reward being presented with evidence supporting vaccination. Given his busy schedule and distance from scientific journals etc. RFKjr however is his total opposite. He’s been in this long enough to read all the relevant papers and know the evidence is there and he is just denying it for fame and to milk the more gullible.
    DeNiro’s anti-Trump diatribes are more rational and thoughtful. Which leaves me flummoxed about his rationalities.
    fark ship
    regardless; giving DeNiro a pass, for issues I vaguely remember of a distant relative of his. fingers crossed he distances himself from RFKjr.

  21. says

    @10 You can prove that vaccines are safer than the car ride home from the hospital, I would hope that would be enough for most people, but cars give people that satisfying illusion of control that needles can’t.

  22. gijoel says

    I have a counter proposal, I’d like the the two bobs to prove that not having vaccines is safe. I have a rusty nail and a syringe full of Hep B for them to step on. /snark

  23. chrislawson says

    firestarter@15:

    The Randi Challenge was nothing like this. Randi was trying to get people who make extraordinary statements to actually test their claims. Randi would talk with the person trying to prove paranormality and would design an experiment based on the specific claims of the applicant, set out clear, unambiguous standards for success vs. failure and would only proceed to the test if both sides agreed to the design of the experiment. And it’s worth pointing out that JREF itself has discontinued the Challenge because they feel their efforts could be better spent elsewhere.

    In contrast, the 2Bobbies Challenge is for a question which has already been tested extensively and the answer is well known, and instead of clear unambiguous externally verifiable criteria for success or failure, it’s apparent definition of success is “able convince Bobby Kennedy, a serial denier who ignores all evidence”.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    Mercury is mercury.

    More is worse.

    Are vaccines the primary source of mercury exposure to the population at large or kids in particular?

    If not, what about those other sources?

  25. mostlymarvelous says

    CaitieCat

    We passed the container around the room, and my not-very-bright teacher praised my initiative, while warning me not to swallow any.

    Teacher was probably taught by the same kind of people who taught me. We had huuuuge fun in yr 9 Chemistry lab, 1961, with all kinds of stuff. Teacher often handed out bottles of various chemicals for us to “have a look at”, and in one lesson we were looking at mercury.

    Looking? Hah! We managed to tip out a bit on the benchtop to see how it formed those perfect drop shapes … which we then pushed around as much as we liked to see how they held together, merged, separated. (That wasn’t the lesson objective. That was just what we did with the stuff while we were not listening to the teacher.)

    And, of course, many of us were dabbed and daubed with mercurochrome when we suffered the usual cuts, scratches and grazes that go with children’s sport and riding bikes and tree climbing/falling out of.

  26. anbheal says

    Hasn’t thimoserol been out of the picture for twenty years?

    DeNiro has been at this crap for a while. He needs to talk to a chair.

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Hasn’t thimoserol been out of the picture for twenty years?

    Are you talking about the evidenced based reality people, or the conspiracy nutcakes like those in the OP. They ignore the evidence.
    Their thinking is abased on ABSOLUTE safety. Which doesn’t exist….

  28. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dang, I my #34 I meant to say based, not abased in the next to last sentence. But I can see the potential irony in my misspelling.

  29. anbheal says

    @35 Nerd — ha ha! But I believe that ever since Cheney or Rumsfeld accused us of it, being a member of the evidence-based community has been unfashionable in the corridors of power.

  30. Pierce R. Butler says

    anbheal @ # 36: … ever since Cheney or Rumsfeld accused us of it, being a member of the evidence-based community has been unfashionable in the corridors of power.

    Even longer than that in the corridors of Hollywood.

  31. kaleberg says

    Maybe we need a definition for safe. Is it safe to drive your child somewhere in a car seat? Is it safe to keep a handgun in your home? Is it safe to give your child a bath in soapy water? We probably have to give credit for all the lives saved by driving children in cars, defending them with handguns and washing them in soapy water to make this fair.

  32. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Maybe we need a definition for safe.

    That is what a rational mind would think, but for most folks, there is an emotional component at work. The emotional component gets in the way of looking to small risks.
    For example, from where I live I could fly from Chiwaukee (pick your airport) to Orlando to visit the theme parks, or I could drive there. Statistics say I’m safer traveling by airplane. For a lot of people, they prefer to drive, as it give them the illusion that they are in control, and can avoid ALL potential accidents. It’s the illusion of safety that drives the anti-vaxers. They are saving their kids from a 1 in a million reaction to a vaccine, so that they have a 8 in a million chance of catching the disease and being hospitalized due to complications. They aren’t listening.
    As was mentioned above, the threat of polio and smallpox made people listen and get their kids vaccinated. They stop listening for mumps, measles, and chickenpox.

  33. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone happen to know how the amount of mercury kids are exposed to via vaccines, even if thimerosol is used, compares to the minimum medically significant dose of botulinum toxin?

  34. mostlymarvelous says

    … does anyone happen to know …

    I don’t. But I’d suggest a bit of a trawl through Orac’s posts, both recent and old-as-the-hills, will help you there. He really cant’ help himself filling every item with every bit of possibly relevant information every single time. (I’m claiming headache and sore shoulder as valid excuses for not doing the search myself.)

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/ Strangely enough, the first entry I see is on exactly this topic.

  35. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Pierce R. Butler #29

    Mercury is mercury.

    Not quite. The mercury in vaccines is ethyl-mercury. It has a much shorter half life in the body than methyl-mercury and is less toxic because of that.

  36. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    For example, from where I live I could fly from Chiwaukee (pick your airport)

    Definitely Milwaukee, for Renaissance Books if nothing else. All airports should have a decent used bookstore.

  37. Pierce R. Butler says

    FossilFishy … @ # 42: …ethyl-mercury… has a much shorter half life in the body …

    A most useful correction – thanks!

  38. Firestarter says

    @chrislawson

    I agree with you. But that’s the perception the woowoo community has of it. They claim it’s unfair, won’t accept actual evidence, etc. I love the Randi challenge, but my previous point stands: It’s very easy to offer up a cash prize, refute anyone who attempts to claim it, and use that as evidence for your side.

  39. DanDare says

    Send the link to the challenge and all the links you found to as many journalists as you can. I know a few here in oz so I’ll send them the links. Anyone who knows some journalists can do the same. When a hundred journalists claim the prize and get rejected then there will be hundreds of news stories about how the competition is bogus.

  40. quotetheunquote says

    Speaking of people who need to be “challenged”: Here in S. Ontario, Canada, a high-school teacher, (a high-school science teacher fercrissake!) has been found guilty of professional misconduct for “shouting at students” during a vaccination clinic in his school, telling them that they “could die” from getting the shot. The nurse giving the vaccinations said she felt “threatened and intimidated” by the teacher’s actions.

    Well, duh. What was this out-of-control individual doing at the clinic in the first place? Where the hell was the school principal?

    I was actually sputtering with impotent rage in my car when I heard this story on the news – apparently, the teacher is up for a one-month suspension over the incident. What? I would have fired him, as of yesterday…

    CBC link.

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