More on the autism/vaccine delusion.
Vaccine paranoia may also be a consequence of print journalism's decline. Health and science reporters are supposed to not only translate scientific jargon into clear language but also comment on whether a particular study's methods are kosher. But in the last 20 years, as Mnookin notes, the number of science reporters and science sections has dropped sharply. Many journalists now treat press releases as gospel, without doing any independent reporting. And then there's journalist David Kirby, whose 2004 book, Evidence of Harm—Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, explored the purported autism-MMR-thimerosal link. Bitterly sarcastic, Mnookin describes Kirby's narrative as "proud, independent-minded mothers doing battle with greedy drug companies and corrupt government agencies." Although much about the book was misleading, including its title (which as Mnookin notes was taken from a 1999 CDC statement finding no evidence of harm involving thimerosal in vaccines), the media ate it up: When Tim Russert squared Kirby off against Harvey Fineberg, the president of the venerable Institute of Medicine, Kirby's polished comments sparkled in comparison to Fineberg's bumbling attempts to respond to his absurd pronouncements without sounding condescending.