The Daily tip off

Skeptics, all hands on deck: I have a post on antivaxxars about to hit the front page of Daily Kos, at 9 PM Central. It’s gonna be fun. I chose to do this in a roundabout way, using the concept of an allotrope and chemical compounds to get across the idea of how a substance containing a toxic element may and may not be toxic itself depending on how the atoms are arranged before introducing thimersal, containing an antifungal antiseptic organo-mercury compound once considered a possible link to childhood autism. But the money quotes are below:

Daily Kos —                                 An atom of difference


For those of us in the progressive science blogging community, pushing back against antivaxxars, as they’ve come to be called, is not just a matter of principle or preserving some hare-brained idea of false equivalency; if a few people listen to these guys it is potentially disastrous for all. Per usual the people who will pay first are the sick, the poor, the young, the weak, and the old. That’s because diseases like smallpox, typhus, flu, etc., used to kill more people than just about everything else combined, they tend to zero in on the most vulnerable, and that horseman can ride again!


One big reason this panoply of diseases do not exact such a tragic toll anymore is because of vaccinations. That could change in just a few short years if a critical fraction of parents in a given region become so fearful of vaccination that they withhold them from their children: just as climate change poses a risk in part because a few influential people have become invested in denying it, what might be called an nascent anti-vaccination movement poses a risk. It is my hope we can persuade those who are concerned that that skepticism is currently unwarranted. More importantly, to develop better treatment, we need to know more, a lot more, about the exact underlying causes of childhood autism.


  1. johnwoodford says

    Maybe I’m being excessively picky about terminology, but I wouldn’t classify Cr(VI) as an allotrope of chromium–it’s in a different oxidation state than the chromium in a dietary supplement like chromium picolinate (which is Cr(III)). Allotropy is a distinction based on differences in structure in the pure element–O2 vs. O3 (as you point out), sp2 vs. sp3 bonding in pure carbon (graphite/graphene vs. diamond), all the oddball allotropes of sulfur and phosphorus, and the like. Which takes away nothing from your main point about the relative lack of toxicity of mercury in thimerosal vs. other organomercury compounds.

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