Dr. Richard Feldman: Kennedy is a victim of the post-truth era

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Dr. Richard FeldmanRobert F. Kennedy Jr. was once one of the country’s leading and most effective environmental lawyers. Kennedy was known as an extremely intelligent, charismatic and politically astute individual who challenged the fossil-fuel industry. Tough, determined, dedicated and persistent in his litigation, his work was grounded in evidence-based science.

Since 2005, he has promoted conspiracy theories, falsehoods, pseudoscience and disinformation. He is now the most prominent face of the anti-vaccine movement, leading the anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense (banned from Facebook and Instagram).

America is waist deep in the “post-truth era,” rife with anti-science, baseless beliefs and propaganda of which I have previously written. Evidenced-based scientific views are replaced with pseudoscience or unproven or misleading assessments. Post-truth public discourse is increasingly driven by what people want or expediently claim to be true rather than what is verifiably true.

History teaches us that troubled, unstable and uncertain times are fertile ground not only for disinformation but also for bigotry, intolerance and extremism. Kennedy has made some disturbing comments in these regards. Be careful, Bobby.

Is Kennedy another victim of the post-truth era or a purveyor of anti-science and conspiracy theories?

He claims that a specific type of mercury (thimerosal) contained in vaccines, virtually eliminated in 2001, is related to childhood autism even though the prevalence of autism has since increased. Even “Rolling Stone” retracted Kennedy’s 2005 article on the dangers of mercury-containing vaccines.

He claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates were in a profiteering conspiracy with the COVID vaccine industry. He purports that vaccine mandates and pandemic mitigation efforts were comparable to Hitler’s Holocaust. He alleges that COVID vaccines are too dangerous to receive and alternatively touts treatments with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Kennedy denies that he is anti-vaccine even though his comments and actions are extensively documented.

These positions have been soundly debunked as baseless or overwhelmingly determined as invalid by high-quality scientific studies. His claims are based on pseudoscience, manipulated data or misleadingly interpreted data. Some studies have been retracted by the very publications in which they appeared.

Kennedy’s departure from evidence-based science to garbage science and unfounded conspiracy theories is difficult to understand. He selectively ignores good science and relies on dubious unscientific reports to support his positions. Perhaps Kennedy’s views and suspiciousness were shaped by his environmental work confronting unscrupulous fossil-fuel companies that provided biased “scientific” studies while industry-influenced regulatory agencies did nothing. But his extrapolation to other issues is not justified. His judgments are those of a litigator, not a scientist.

Kennedy is now a presidential candidate. His rhetoric is dangerous, especially since he’s from a renowned family, which gives him enormous credibility. Kennedy was considered by then-President Trump to lead a “vaccine panel” to study vaccine safety and industry integrity. Fortunately, it never happened.

Kennedy is a purveyor of fringe science that extends outrageously beyond vaccine-related issues. But I consider him mostly a victim of the post-truth era. He and a good portion of the American public distrust scientific institutions, powerful corporations and government while being enamored with demagogues and conspiracy hucksters.•

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Feldman is a family physician, author, lecturer and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner for Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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