Salon retracts 2005 story linking vaccines and autism has retracted the flawed 2005 expose—co-published by that website and Rolling Stone magazine—which incorrectly linked autism to the vaccine preservative thimerosal. In fact, as Chris Mooney points out, Rolling Stone already removed the story from their online archive, but without mentioning the retraction publicly. Kudos to Salon for trying to make a serious correction like this as public as the original mistake. Worth noting: Salon's ongoing reporting on autism is much better, and interesting.


  1. It’s good that they retracted it, but deleting it from their archive is irresponsible. Post a retraction, preface the archived copy noting the retraction, but leave and don’t give the Kennedy the opportunity to deny his complicity in the spreading of dangerous falsehoods.

  2. Rewriting the past isn’t ever a respectable thing to do, nor does it deserve kudos. We are supposed to live in a society where bad information is opposed by good information and we are free to choose — not one in which bad information is deleted and suppressed by those who think that they know best.

      1. hmm, ok. Never noticed any such locally, but then its not a native english nations. And seriously, why is people so scared of autism that they risk leaving their kids un-vaccinated?

        1. Which is your biggest conundrum here? That people are scared of autism? Or that people are leaving their kids unvaccinated? Or are you not really asking a question that you really have any interest in being answered, but rather maybe a larger more ironic question?

          Just so I can understand where you are coming from if , indeed, you seek answers from readers to your question/s.

          1. I just can not see what is so scary about autism, that people will risk their children to known lethal illnesses just to avoid them theoretically developing autism. And i can not find any good articles that dig into this scare, compared to the number of articles that go on and on about the flaws of the vaccination research.

            Basically, there has to be a fear for the vaccination stuff to have the effect on the public that it has had. What is that fear and where is it coming form?

  3. It’s good that they retracted it, but deleting it from their archive is irresponsible. Post a retraction, preface the archived copy noting the retraction, but leave and don’t give the Kennedy the opportunity to deny his complicity in the spreading of dangerous falsehoods.

    I hear what you’re saying, and 99% of the time I would agree with you, but the facts of the real world makes this the best move they could make. As long as it’s up there, even with copious corrections and prefaces saying that it’s bunk, people are going to link to it, saying “See, even Salon and Rolling Stone supports our view!”, and stupid people are going to buy it. Now, when people look up blog-posts written by anti-vaccine people that link to the article, instead of going to it, it will go to a page full of stories proving that the link is bullshit.

    This particular issue is different from others, it’s not just about intellectual arguments going back and forth, this is about the health of children. As such, I think Salon made the right move in removing it, even if I do support the principle of not rewriting the past. And besides, Kennedy is never going to be able to deny his complicity in this (nor do I think he wants to) he’s famous for being anti-vaccine.

    Besides, if you really, really want to read it, you could probably find it pretty easily on the Internet Archive or something.

  4. I don’t understand why some news reports still refer to Andrew Wakefield as “Dr.”. He was struck from the Register of the British GMC. Does he have a PhD?

    Does the use of “Dr./Mr.” indicate the bias of the reporting?

  5. As long as it’s up there, even with copious corrections and prefaces saying that it’s bunk, people are going to link to it, saying “See, even Salon and Rolling Stone supports our view!”

    And then people would follow the link and see, in big red bolded letters, a message saying that Slate had completely retracted the article, and realize the person linking was an idiot.

    As it stands, people will still link (and all the thousands of old links will still remain), and the links will be broken, but people won’t know why or be any better informed.

  6. If only Huffington Post would follow Salon’s lead. But bad science and woo reign supreme at HuffPo so I expect that their anti-vax articles will stay up and continue to fuel parents’ unfounded fears.

  7. why would you change an archive? a bold retraction should be adequate. to remove it is to give credence to conspiracy theories.

    the real issue is the federal drug administration. many people in the united states have come to the conclusion that it is a captive agency serving the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. once you distrust the fda, you are more likely to be open to alternative viewpoints on vaccination.

    there is an increase in reported autism cases in the us which makes parents especially nervous. i know it’s anecdotal but when you read these newspaper reports of kids getting high fevers and worse immediately after receiving shots, it gives you pause.

    when my child got her first round of mmr, i asked the doctor to give her separate shots for mumps, measles and rubella over three appointments. at the very least, it would give her infant immune system more time to adjust to the vaccines. when i went back for the second round of vaccines, my pediatrician told me that the separate vaccines were no longer available. why?

    1. Many reputable studies have examined a possible link between vaccination and autism. To my knowledge, none of them demonstrated a correlation. Neither have I seen any evidence that separating MMR into separate vaccinations is safer.

      If you know of evidence of either position, share it.

      1. i didn’t write that there were studies that found a correlation between autism and vaccines. i did write that there have been anecdotal accounts of a correlation. remember, it took decades to prove that cigarette smoking caused cancer. i don’t see the harm in not taking the mmr and using the traditional separate vaccines. the only disadvantage of doing it this way is the inconvenience of having to return to your doctor’s office for two additional visits.

        1. Since the publication of the fake study, this has been studied extensively. Vaccines are the one single thing in the universe that we are absolutely, positively, undeniably and reliably certain do not cause autism.

        2. The disadvantage to breaking the MMR up into three shots is simple – parents are human, and the more shots they have to get for their children, the more likely they are to forget one or more.

          Anecdotes are not data. Data from several studies says that autism and vaccination are not correlated. To argue otherwise, you need to either show us flaws in that data or present your own.

          Your example about smoking is a bit of a red herring. The truth is often resisted, yes; that doesn’t mean that anything that is resisted must be the truth.

  8. I can personally attest to the fear of having and raising a child with autism, if for no other reason than how he will navigate society successfully, and the extent to which he is ostracized by those around him, and possibly even violently ostracized. Is that what you mean?

    I also, think I am getting your subtle drift, that quite possibly the fear is not baseless? That where there is smoke there is some fire, but as more time passes there is so much smoke that it is hard to find the source of the fire. Really reaching metaphor but hopefully it makes some sense.

    Maybe vaccines are good but not all is good about all vaccines. Rotovirus vaccine anyone?

    1. Ah, that may be why i am not getting it. I do not much care for social navigating so to speak. Hell, the very activity confuse me greatly from time to time with its apparent viciousness.

    2. Do you mean rotavirus?

      If so: There are two vaccines to prevent rotavirus, which causes diarrhea mostly in infants (which can occasionally be fatal). Last year, the FDA pulled one of them from the market for two months due to contamination with an animal virus believed to be benign. That’s the only negative event I turned up in a quick google search.

      If that’s the event that you’re talking about, it’s not making me doubt the effectiveness of the current system. No system or treatment is perfect, but this sounds like the system working properly.

      If you believe that the fear of vaccines is not baseless, then show us what it is based upon.

  9. Once again, reprinting one of my ancient comments:

    Here’s my take on parental motivations. Assume a disease that will kill one in ten thousand and a fully effective vaccine that will kill one in a million. Many parents will choose the higher risk of not vaccinating. If the child dies after being vaccinated, the parents feel personally responsible. If the child dies from the disease, it’s the hand of God or whatever is analogous in their belief system.

    If you listen to what people say about this it runs to, “Oh, my God, I would feel so terrible if I did something that…” Some parents will choose a greater passive risk to their children in order to avoid guilt after the fact. Parental motives are not necessarily clear to anyone (including the parents) and are not always effectively altruistic. Guilt avoidance is a huge motivator in parenting. cf Free Range Kids.

  10. I think that turn_self_off’s earlier questions were in fact quite interesting. Why is it that parent’s are so fearful of autism that they are willing to take a chance that their child might get any number of actually lethal diseases rather than risk the tiniest chance that their kids might develop autism from the vaccine?

    I think that part of the problem is that parents see kids with autism frequently, where as they don’t see kids dying of measles. This in turn is mostly because of the great effectiveness of the vaccines, of course — in earlier times it was much more common to hear of parents whose kids had died of measles.

    I’d say another problem is that a parent is more likely to feel guilt over something they did rather than something they did not do. If vaccines caused autism and a parent gave a kid a vaccine and the kid became autistic, the parent would feel directly culpable. If the parent didn’t give the vaccine and the kid died of measles, it might be easier to think of it as an “act of God.”

    And finally, maybe to the parents a kid with autism might really seem worse than a kid who died of measles? It seems impossible for me to believe this, and I doubt any parent would verbalize this, but maybe people worry more about having to look after “disabled” kids for their whole lives than they do about losing a child? This would be controversial to sugest at best, especially since autism is hardly as serious a disability as many seriously-debilitating diseases might be.

  11. Yep, the worst problem with autism (at least the stuff at the bottom of the spectrum, along with aspergers) is that the current rat race of the world is basically turned to 11 for even a “normal” human.

    I suspect autism was less of a issue in earlier time because the pace was slower. Also, there where jobs that resulted in long hours in near isolation or at least limited social contact (sorting archives for instance). Under such conditions, the peculiarities of a autistic mind can be an asset rather then a hindrance.

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