The Huffington Post’s ‘Medical Review Board’ signs off on vaccine fear-mongering

February 11th, 2011 → 6:49 pm @ // No Comments

I haven’t hid my feelings about The Huffington Post‘s track record when it comes to responsible science reporting, and earlier in the week, I speculated as to what effect AOL’s purchase of the site would have on the combined entity’s future coverage. (As part of the deal, Arianna Huffington will assume editorial control of AOL news operations.)

If today’s HuffPo story by David Kirby is any indication, the site will continue to run misleading and inaccurate stories about vaccines and their supposed connection to autism. Kirby is a more felicitous and intelligent writer than many of the site’s other contributors, but his conclusions are no less irresponsible or off-base. Earlier today, I unpacked a handful of the problems with Kirby’s effort in a Scientific American guest blog.

Incredibly, as Matthew Herper details in Forbes*, Kirby’s story underwent what Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, Huffington Post‘s Senior Health Editor, describes as a vetting process by a newly installed Medical Review Board. “Kirby’s piece doesn’t say that there is an autism link for sure, but rather that the jury’s still out,” Kornfeld told Harper. That’s a little bit like my writing a piece speculating about how aspirin may cause brain cancer: Even if I don’t come out and say it outright, I’ve planted the fear into people’s heads…and once a panic is unleashed, it can be awfully hard to control.

* Fixed February 12 to correct misspelling of Matthew Herper’s name.

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5 Comments → “The Huffington Post’s ‘Medical Review Board’ signs off on vaccine fear-mongering”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bora Zivkovic, Bryan Vartabedian, Brian Reid, Troy Fiesinger, JC and others. JC said: RT @sethmnookin: Why #HuffPo's claim of a "medical review board" doesn't get it off the hook for helping stoke a panic […]


  2. Sarah Kohl, MD

    13 years ago

    Well said! The anti-vaccinationists continue to spread mis-information. It is disappointing to see the Huffington Post contribute to this ’cause’ by using anecdotal stories and non-scientific ‘data’.

    Autism is a serious matter. As a practicing pediatrician I am well aware of how difficult it is for families to deal with Autism. Families are confused and saddened when a diagnosis of Autism is made, let’s not confuse them further with mis-information and innuendoes.

    I also have seen vaccines save lives. I am old enough to remember when people actually died or seriously harmed by the very diseases we now vaccinate against. This reduction in death or severe disability is an extraordinary feat of the last few decades. All one need to do is travel to areas of this planet which do not offer the luxury of immunizations to their children to see this for yourself.

    Inference and associations are not helpful as we move forward in our understanding of both Infectious Disease and Autism.


    • AutismNewsBeat

      13 years ago

      My favorite aunt was 16 years old in the summer 1946 when she and her classmates went to a camp in northern Michigan. When she came back on the school bus, she couldn’t walk. She was diagnosed with polio and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She married and had three children – my Detroit cousins – and died about four years ago. My maternal grandmother lost her hearing to mumps. Yeah, most people forget.

  3. […] * Feb. 11, 2012 ( “The Huffington Post‘s medical review board signs off on vaccine fear mongering” […]

  4. […] What follows are a series of links to stories he’s written criticizing The Huffington Post for its anti-vaccine rhetoric. Last February, Mnookin lit into the site for publishing a story by David Kirby that addresses the debate about the link between autism and vaccines that underwent a “vetting process by a newly installed Medical Review Board. While HuffPost’s editors insisted that the piece “doesn’t say there is an autism link for sure… rather the jury’s still out,” Mnookin fears that the speculation alone is a dangerous thing.  […]


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