Times Does Cover Story on Voodoo Science

Times Does Cover Story on Voodoo Science
Autism claim is just latest way to attack coal power plants for adding mercury into the environment.

by Megan Alvarez
June 27, 2005

     The New York Times gave huge coverage to what one doctor called voodoo science by helping further the cause of anti-mercury activists. The Times June 25, 2005 edition devoted one-fourth of its front page and a full page inside to widely criticized claims that there is a link between autism and mercury.

     The article is the result of the anti-mercury crusade that also led to a recent ABC report. The Times article titled On Autisms Cause, Its Parents vs. Research focused on a group, Safe Minds, which asserts that a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal may increase the likelihood of autism in children, despite numerous scientific studies that found no such link.

     Both autism stories focused on the widely discredited claims of anti-mercury extremists while admitting that such beliefs were unsubstantiated. Both ABC and the Times reported the link between thimerosal and autism as a debate even though numerous studies have found no such link. The two Times reporters who authored the story, Gardiner Harris and Anahad OConnor, said But the debate over autism and vaccines is not likely to end soon.

     In fact, of the six studies the Times cited only one asserted that there was a link between thimerosal and autism. This study, however, was widely disregarded due to methodology. One doctor quoted in the story even called it voodoo science, while others said it was uninterpretable.

     Also, in line with ABC story, the Times included Robert Kennedy, Jr.s position using an excerpt from an article he wrote in Rolling Stone magazine where he accused public health official of conspiring with drug makers to hide the dangerous of effects of thimerosal. However, the Times made no mention of Kennedy being an environmental activist and lawyer, not a doctor or scientist.

     Kennedy is president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which, as was reported in ABCs Mercury Straw Man, is an environmental group that started an anti-mercury campaign to combat what it sees as a risk posed by mercury in waterways. Neither ABC nor the Times mentioned that Kennedy has also worked as the senior attorney for the left-wing Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a radical environmental group that also has an ongoing campaign against mercury in waterways and vaccines.

     Neither the Times, nor ABC bothered to report the full story about the mercury complaint. This is just the latest round of attacks on carbon-based energy companies, in this case, coal plants. According to an NRDC press release from Oct. 7, 2004, that called for administration support for a global treaty limiting mercury use: There are alternatives for most all mercury uses, said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project and a representative of the Ban Mercury Working Group, a global coalition of 28 organizations. The release went on to claim that The biggest sources of mercury in the United States include coal-fired power plants

     Even the Web site for the Waterkeeper Alliance made the same claim, but neither news organization bothered to report it. According to the site: Complaint links power plant emissions with widespread mercury contamination. The release claimed that the group has formally requested a response from the US government to allegations that its failure to enforce provisions of the US Clean Water Act against coal-fired power plants violates international agreements.