CBS Laments 'Dangerous' Vaccine/Autism Link Talk -- But Used to Spread It
On CBS's Sunday Morning, 'Fast Draw' cartoonist Josh Landis commented on people believing in false claims despite evidence to the contrary and warned: "Some false beliefs might make you laugh but others are dangerous, like the belief, debunked again this month, that vaccines cause autism."
But CBS News didn't admit to viewers that while that belief has been repeatedly disproved by scientific studies, CBS has often presented the idea as a possible credible cause of autism in children. A report on the disease on the July 14, 2005 broadcast of the CBS Evening News featured a sound bite from left-wing environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who argued that a chemical once widely used in vaccines was a cause of autism: "The science connecting brain damage with thimerosal is absolutely overwhelming."
A series of 2010 court rulings deemed there was no link between the chemical thimerosal and autism, as correspondent Elaine Quijano reported on the March 13 Evening News of that year: "In three separate cases a special federal court ruled that Thimerosal, a vaccine preservative containing mercury, does not cause autism."
On Sunday, Landis explained: "It turns out the researcher who made that claim, which caused some parents to stop vaccinating their kids, manipulated the data. There is no evidence vaccines cause autism." In June of 2007, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson gave credence to claims to the contrary: “Twelve-year-old Michelle Cedillo doesn't know it, but she's the center of a landmark case that started today in federal vaccine court, one that could open the door for thousands of autistic children to be paid by a government fund. The controversy: whether their autism was caused by their childhood shots."
Fellow 'Fast Draw' cartoonist Mitch Butler cited University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Simons to explain why people cling to false assumptions: "He says just because you confront a misconception with fact, don't think that people will automatically see the light....even though the evidence linking autism and injections has been discredited, it will probably take a renewed fear of diseases that vaccines prevent to cure parents of the vaccine myth."
Here is a full transcript of the January 30 Sunday Morning segment:
CHARLES OSGOOD: Plenty of things most people believe turn out not to be true, but try telling them that. Here are Josh Landis and Mitch Butler of 'The Fast Draw.'
JOSH LANDIS: People believe a lot of things. In a survey, one in five people thought that the Sun revolved around the Earth.
MITCH BUTLER: More than half think that they can magically sense someone staring at the back of their head.
LANDIS: And almost one in ten believe Elvis is still alive.
BUTLER: What? So he's not alive?
LANDIS: Some false beliefs might make you laugh but others are dangerous, like the belief, debunked again this month, that vaccines cause autism. It turns out the researcher who made that claim, which caused some parents to stop vaccinating their kids, manipulated the data. There is no evidence vaccines cause autism. So I guess that means all the suspicious parents out there will now change their minds.
DANIEL SIMONS: It's going to be a real challenge, because once a view becomes hardened and people see it as the truth it becomes really hard to dispel it.
BUTLER: Daniel Simons is an author at psychology professor at the University of Illinois. He says just because you confront a misconception with fact, don't think that people will automatically see the light. When the issue is our perceived safety, facts and logic often do not apply.
SIMONS: Many people think shark attacks are one of the leading causes of death in the summer even though they almost never cause death. In fact you're more likely, substantially more likely, to die by having furniture fall on you.
LANDIS: It goes beyond the simple resistance to admitting you were wrong. It has to do with how ideas take root in our brains. When we first hear something it gets processed in an area deep in our brain called the Hippocampus. But as we think about it and remember it, it gets written more deeply into our Cerebral Cortex, rewriting those deep beliefs is especially hard.
BUTLER: Simons thinks even though the evidence linking autism and injections has been discredited, it will probably take a renewed fear of diseases that vaccines prevent to cure parents of the vaccine myth.
SIMONS: Unfortunately, one of the things that will help to undo it is the resurgence of diseases like measles. Young parents today haven't ever seen a child with measles and it's not a pretty sight.
LANDIS: When false beliefs face new information it turns out the truth doesn't always set people free.
BUTLER: And that's one thing I know for sure. I think.
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.