Friday, July 22, 2005

RFK, Jr. needs a dose of his own medicine

And Skeptico is just the guy to give it to him about his interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

I didn't see the interview, given that I was busy getting this week's Skeptics' Circle ready that night, but a few readers e-mailed me about it. Sadly, it appears that Jon Stewart dropped the ball on this one. I realize he's just a comedian trying to be entertaining (although there are times when I get the feeling that he thinks he's something more than that), but what happened to his trademark sarcasm when it comes to dubious conspiracy theories? Maybe the Kennedy mystique shut it down. Or maybe he doesn't mind wild-eyed unsubstantiated conspiracy theories as long as they're wild-eyed unsubstantiated conspiracy theories theories that implicate the government and big pharma.

14 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 7/22/2005 9:46 AM, Anonymous JY said...

I wouldn't say that Jon Stewart 'dropped the ball'. He didn't ever agree with any of RFK's claims (nor did he dispute any of them). Most of his responses/questions were of the form "if what you're saying is true", or "if, as you say", never committing to accepting RFK's position as a given.

The

 

At 7/22/2005 10:00 AM, Anonymous JY said...

(ignore the previous half-complete post)
I wouldn't say that Jon Stewart 'dropped the ball'. He didn't ever agree with any of RFK's claims (nor did he dispute any of them). Most of his responses/questions were of the form "if what you're saying is true", or "if, as you say", never committing to accepting RFK's position as a given.

The only thing Jon Stewart really accepted at face value was that RFK was sincere and trying to help the parents of autistic children. RFK may not be worthy of that assumption, but I can't fault JS for making it.

I would say that in the absence of a lot of background info on the topic (we have to assume that the whole autism/vaccine issue isn't anywhere on a political comedian's radar) JS's treatment of RFK's claims was reasonable.

Whether JS thinks he's more than just a comedian, I don't know if that's relevant. He's certainly as important in shaping opinion as most journalists and most politicians, and he is certainly every bit as competent in evaluating political issues as most journalists or politicians (if you don't agree, you've got a much higher opinion about the competence of journalists and politicians, in general, than I do).

 

At 7/22/2005 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jon really disappointed me with that one. He's usually a pretty good critical thinker, but I agree he dropped the ball.

-Ali

 

At 7/22/2005 1:35 PM, Blogger hollywoodjaded said...

This interview was such a missed opportunity for Stewart to make some kind of quip to Bobby like: "Do ya ever wonder what was in all that H. you did over the decades? Like how many times was it stepped on by those gang-banger dealers? What kind of shit do you think they put it THAT? Some shit way worse than any minute amount of Hg. And didn't your father do everything he could to try to put an end to organized crime...and then you went and gave your inheritance right back to them! What's up with that, dude?"

 

At 7/22/2005 2:00 PM, Anonymous JY said...

I hope I'm not flogging a deceased equine here, but I think people are unrealistic in their expectations with what topics a comedy talk show can deal adequately with. There are some claims that are so obviously nuts that it would be easy for an interviewer to jump in and make solid points even if that interviewer really didn't have any background in the subject matter -- take for instance, Matt Lauer recently giving Tom Cruise just enough hope to hang himself with. That was relatively easy, because TC was making wild claims -- all of psychiatry is bunk, etc.

But claiming that there's a link between thimerosal and autism is not the sort of claim that is obviously nuts. Real scientists have actually wondered about the link, and done studies that determined that it was unlikely that there was one. But it takes background in the subject to know this. Unless you know who's done studies, and what they've shown, you're not going to be able to refute the claims.

The suggestion that 'big pharma' is downplaying evidence of some potential harm that some product may have caused does not really sound like a crazy, conspiracies-everywhere sort of claim. Corporations do, occasionally, try to downplay the harm their products have caused. Suggesting a new case in which they are doing so, true or false, is not enough to lead you to believe the claimant is telling lies.

Draw a parallel, for a moment, with creationism. Even highly knowledgable, prepared scientists have come off poorly in attempting to refute creationists in live debates: it's simply too easy for creationists, or people like RFK Jr., to making sweeping statements about what scientific studies have shown to be able to knock down the arguments in a short time, like the 10 minute segment on the daily show.

And that's an informed scientist -- somebody like Jon Stewart, who has a new guest every day and who's main interest, really, is party politics and the media, is going to have no chance of even knowing if this guest is blowing smoke. Add to it, of course, the fact that RFK is supposedly 'on the side' of a very sympathetic group, the parents of autistic children, and there's really less incentive to look for lies and deceit.

 

At 7/22/2005 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know it would be nice if just ONE of you self professed "critical thinking" bloggers would perhaps agree that not everything Kennedy is saying is wrong, and there are some legitimate questions on this front.

Does he use hyperbole to maximize the conspiracy angle? Yes. Is it possible the pharm-influence heavy policy makers were concerned primarily with lawsuits and this impacted policy? Yes.

Is there data on both sides of this issue? Is both sets of data debated for biases? Yes and Yes again.

Why not allow an independent researcher access to the CDC data?

I'm starting to think this blog-community of back-patting "critical thinkers" is critical only until it runs into polictical-economic ideologies....

 

At 7/22/2005 2:43 PM, Anonymous Kate's Mom said...

What's up with RJK's voice? Does he always sound like that. It was chalk on a blackboard listening to him.

 

At 7/22/2005 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The suggestion that 'big pharma' is downplaying evidence of some potential harm that some product may have caused does not really sound like a crazy, conspiracies-everywhere sort of claim."

This is especially pertinent right now, with tales of Vioxx and other medications allegedly increasing the risk of heart disease. Possible "cover up" of research in these cases adds credence to unrelated conspiracy theories.

JS didn't drop the ball, I think, but he was clearly unprepared to critically examine the issue. Not one of his better interviews.

I saw RFK on Imus a few weeks ago, and he sounded normal. Fortunately, within a day or two I found the info I needed on the issue here and a couple other sites. I wish JS had.

-TTm

 

At 7/22/2005 5:31 PM, Blogger Autism Diva said...

someone wrote:
"But claiming that there's a link between thimerosal and autism is not the sort of claim that is obviously nuts"

This is true. But Autism Diva sent the Daily show information to consider, several days in advance of the broadcast, that at least should make a person wonder about the zealotry that is driving Kennedy.

Which doesn't mean that anyone there actually read it, but one would think that they would have done a tiny bit of research outside of Kennedy's ginned up wacky, self contradictory paper "Cigarette Science and blah blah blah".

It's truly not difficult to debunk all the of "science" used by the mercury floggers. It just takes a little bit of time to examine what they are saying. People like Prometheus and Autism Diva have taken the time to fillet some of their core beliefs, all you have to do is open you mind and go read the stuff.

(inserting standard disclaimer: Autism Diva is not now and never has been a "pharmco shill")

Jon Stewart, whether he dropped the ball or not threw fuel on the flames of this idiocy. It's dying on the vine but not as fast as it would have without precious little Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s help.

Does it matter at all that his Rolling Stone/Salon.com article was BIZARRE and full of inacuracies?

Does it matter that these people condractict themselves constantly and that some of their heroic "experts" have all the signs of being con-men?

That the parents who are doing their own papers and publishing them (in vanity publications) are driven to prove that they don't have bad genes, that it's not their fault that their kid is "defective" or that the parents have a massive emotional incentive to point the finger elsewhere?

Does it matter that millions of bucks are on the line, bucks that will end up in these very parents pockets?

It doesn't matter if they think they are justified, the money is incentive to keep them close minded and pushing forward and literally screaming "no more lies!" at the office of 'Health and Human Services' in DC- from the sidewalk.

Right. They are trying to dismantle a massive intercontinental conspiracy that is so huge and evil that no one has come foreward to be a whistleblower over a period of 10 years, at least,

and yet,

they are going to make a change by screaming "no more lies" at a building. There wasn't even any media there covering that screaming. Seems like they should be screaming at the CDC and IOM, anyway. They were yelling for the tv cameras later in front of the capitol, with their children there.

Autism Diva thinks that's irrational.

 

At 7/22/2005 5:43 PM, Blogger Orac said...

TTm: No, not entirely wild conspiracy-mongering, but the suggestion that big pharma, the government, the CDC, the WHO, and a number of other nations are conspiring to hide the "truth" is a wild "conspiracies-everywhere" sort of claim, and RFK Jr. is on record making those sorts of claims.

Now, on to anonymous:

"You know it would be nice if just ONE of you self professed "critical thinking" bloggers would perhaps agree that not everything Kennedy is saying is wrong, and there are some legitimate questions on this front."

OK, I'm game. What is Kennedy saying that is not wrong and why? Also, please no straw man arguments. No one has said that there weren't legitimate questions. What we have said is that the mercury-thimerosal crowd have answered those questions wrong and that they distort and cherry-pick the data to come to their incorrect conclusions.


"Does he use hyperbole to maximize the conspiracy angle? Yes. Is it possible the pharm-influence heavy policy makers were concerned primarily with lawsuits and this impacted policy? Yes."

Another straw man argument. No one, myself included, has claimed that the CDC wasn't concerned with lawsuits. They were. Given the voracity of the trial lawyers and the stated desire of advocates to get "compensation," they'd be fools not to be concerned. They were also concerned by the early mercury data, as the Simpsonwood transcript shows. However, the data didn't stand up to repeated studies. You can cherry pick one or even more studies that will show almost anything you want to show; what counts is the totality of the well-designed, controlled clinical trials. The question is the science, which RFK Jr. and David Kirby flub badly in making his case.

"Is there data on both sides of this issue? Is both sets of data debated for biases? Yes and Yes again."

So what? The better question is which side has the better, more scientifically sound data. It ain't the thimerosal-autism advocates, not by a long shot. Just look at some of the data their heros, the Geiers, publish in favor of the mercury-autism link. Shoddy.

In fact, independent researchers have had access to the CDC database. It was the Geiers, actually. They flubbed their access badly and ended up being reprimanded by both the CDC and their own IRB for trying to reconstruct a database that would compromise patient confidentiality.

"'I'm starting to think this blog-community of back-patting "critical thinkers" is critical only until it runs into polictical-economic ideologies...."

Oh, I'll put our open-mindedness to that of those who show up here and criticize me when I go after RFK Jr.'s conspiracy theories, creationists, quacks, alties, or pseudoscientists.

 

At 7/22/2005 6:53 PM, Blogger Tom T. said...

RFK Jr. also has published an article on the Huffington Post, further amplifying his views on thimerosal.

 

At 7/22/2005 7:21 PM, Anonymous badger3k said...

I agree with most here - I had hoped for better from Jon. He manages to get digs in on politics, but science seems beyond him here. Someone on the Daily Show LJ community says Jon is involved in autism throught the Cam Neely foundation (IIRC), but that doesn't excuse buying into the conspiracy theory - he didn't even question this theory like they would any other one in a regular segment. They would put anyone else on a segment to laugh at the Illuminati-style conspiracy, but they give this hack a polite (and it seemed subservient) interview. The ONLY thing that Jon questioned was the motives of the people who were "hiding" the link. With an entire staff of writers and researchers, they don't even check the most outrageous claims this guy makes? Even for comedy you have to get facts right.

Kennedy's Huffington post is disgusting - he's jsut patting himself on the back for fleecing the public and making it harder for scientists to find the real cause (and maybe cure) for the problem. The damage that these people can do is scary.

 

At 7/22/2005 8:04 PM, Blogger Kev said...

I'm not too sure exactly what The Daily Show is. I gather its a political/comedy programme. However, I today found this in my site referer logs:

http://mail.thedailyshow.com

So someone is watching.

 

At 7/22/2005 8:26 PM, Blogger Orac said...

I'm envious. I haven't gotten that yet, even though a reader kindly told me he had forwarded my original rebuttal to RFK Jr.

Of course, it's possible I might have missed it. If you don't pay, Sitemeter only shows you the most recent 100 hits, and if you only check your hits once a day it's easy to miss such things.

 

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