Almost three months ago, a writer named David Kirby wrote a 3,800-word piece for The Huffington Post titled “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away.” It was not an impressive piece of reporting. As I wrote in Scientific American at the time,
By obscuring the difference between anecdotes and evidence, fomenting unfounded fears, and disguising tendentious tracts as objective analyses, he might be influencing public opinion, but he’s not helping the search for verifiable truth.
I was not the only person who came away from Kirby’s piece dismayed. At Forbes, Matthew Herper expressed amazement that Kirby’s piece had gone through the what The Huffington Post‘s senior health editor, Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, termed “vetting” by a medical review board, and at Respectful Insolence, Orac unpacked how the piece marked “the resurrection of David Kirby as an anti-vaccine propagandist.”
Indeed, after spending the better part of year focusing about food safety issues, Kirby seemed to have signaled a renewed commitment to keep this issue alive, regardless of the supporting evidence (or lack thereof), or the consequences of his obfuscations; in fact, at the end of the piece, Kirby promised that it was merely “part one of a two-part series.”
As the weeks went by, I kept waiting for Kirby’s further explanation of why the autism-vaccine “debate” won’t disappear. It appears that shoe has finally dropped in the form of a piece titled “Government and Many Scientists Agree: Vaccine-Autism Research Should Continue.” Kirby’s latest effort isn’t an article as much as it a list of quotes and journal articles; in fact, he’s used variations of this same list in previous Huffington Post contributions. (The list includes studies from places like Folia Neuropathologica, which is “the official journal of the Polish Association of Neuropathologists.” It is also cites studies such as one that examined the “plasma fatty acids” of 26 Saudi Arabian children with autism and another that draws conclusions from a comparison of nine children with autism with 1,258 children without an autism diagnosis.)
The contents of Kirby’s compilation of “evidence” isn’t surprising; what did get my attention is where the piece appeared: On Kirby’s own web-site and not on The Huffington Post. Over the years, Kirby has practically made this subject his HuffPo beat: plug in “Kirby autism vaccines” into the site’s search engine and you get 5,120 results. Is it possible that Kirby’s jeremiads have even become too dogmatic for a site with a long history of publishing dangerously ignorant dreck?
UPDATE, MAY 5, 3:30 PM: Unfortunately, it looks like my optimism was misplaced.