Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has grabbed the spotlight in his fight against vaccines, and Laura Helmuth can barely believe it. "Fascinating it is, and absolutely maddening," she writes at Slate. "And dangerous." Kennedy believes that a vaccine preservative, thimerosal, causes autism, even though one medical organization after another disputes that—and thimerosal was removed from vaccines "out of an abundance of caution," notes Helmuth. Yet some senators "nod politely" when he talks about it, and he commands big, adoring audiences on the subject. He's even got a book coming out on vaccines.
"The more people dismiss Kennedy, unfortunately, the more obsessive and slanderous he becomes," she writes. To wit: A Washington Post profile quoted Kennedy as saying scientists are "involved in massive fraud" or "should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away." Kennedy seems so extreme that Helmuth fears he'll become a "heroic underdog," but journalists, at least, have a different take: At Slate, Phil Plait writes that Kennedy makes "baseless, unwarranted claims about vaccines, sowing doubt and fear," while Steven Salzberg writes at Forbes that Kennedy "is firmly in the camp of conspiracy theorists and cranks." All well and good, but Helmuth notes that measles cases tripled in the US last year—partly due to "Kennedy's tireless efforts."