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Censorship makes Sense
Life imitates art
Last week, while I was writing my satirical piece about censorship of RFK, Sam Harris took time on his Making Sense [sic] podcast to argue with a straight face that RFK is too dangerous for his voice to be heard in interviews. At the risk of adding to Harris’s credibility by augmenting his puny audience with the vast reach of my Unauthorized Science Substack, I will dignify his arguments with a response.
What he seems to be saying is that podcasters like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson, Elon Musk, Bill Maher, Lex Friedman, Tucker Carlson, and Bari Weiss haven’t done their homework. “All these people fail to understand the problem with platforming someone like Robert F Kennedy, Jr.” They lack the expertise to rebut RFK’s skillful lies. They shouldn’t allow him to blabber away on their podcasts without first having done a deep dive into the real science, so they can rebut him in real time.
This is what Harris claims he has done. He gives us the gift of the expertise he has acquired in vaccine science, and some other topics on which RFK has been diabolically deceptive.
Along the way to making this argument, Harris admits some extraordinary things.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Usually censorship isn’t such a good idea.
RFK is running for president and “polling higher than anyone else in the Democratic party…When someone is garnering that kind of support, the argument for talking to them is easier to make.”
The COVID vaccines don’t stop transmission, which calls into question the mandating of vaccines for healthcare employees, for military personnel, for students and employees.
Harris also admits that in his work on advocacy for environmental regulation and clean rivers, Kennedy consistently quotes “real” science.
RFK “raises real concerns about wealth inequality.”
Harris agrees with RFK’s skepticism of regime-change wars in distant lands.
“Kennedy is tapping into something that is real, and that he has appropriately diagnosed….” Most surprising, and most confusing, is Harris’s admission that distrust of the CDC and the medical establishment is, in part, well deserved. He says that RFK has gone way too far in distrusting them, but he declines to identify which people and claims are trustworthy and which are not. Then he goes on to cite these same authorities to refute RFK.
It’s no secret that RFK is at odds with the CDC “experts”. The question is: On which of Kennedy’s claims is the CDC actually correct and RFK mistaken? Harris answers this question with his own deep research — he cites the “experts”. Case closed.
What, exactly, are RFK’s “whacky ideas”?
“He has spread a host of whacky ideas,” ideas which Sam Harris thinks are so obviously wrong that he need not bother to refute them. “Some of which may, in the fullness of time, may turn out to be true, but most of which certainly [sic] won’t.”
“He blames SSRIs for mass shooting. He thinks that cell phones cause brain cancer.He has sounded skeptical that the HIV virus causes AIDS. (He’s just asking questions there)…He said that the pandemic restrictions during COVID were part of a CIA plot to exert totalitarian control over society. Incidentally, he is absolutely sure that the CIA killed his uncle, JFK, and he’s pretty sure the CIA killed his father, RFK.”
In my world, there is solid evidence for all these “whacky ideas”.
SSRIs and mass shootings: The package insert for Prozac warns that the drug can lead to suicidal thoughts and violent behaviors. This website has a list of 66 school shooters who are known to have been medicated with SSRIs.
HIV and AIDS. Luc Montagnier, who was awarded a Nobel prize for discovering the HIV virus, has speculated that it might be an opportunistic infection and not the root cause of AIDS. The long version of the story is told by investigative journalist Celia Farber.
Pandemic and CIA: I can’t find a quote from RFK specifically fingering the CIA. But it is well-documented that the pandemic response was organized by the US Dept of Defense as a military operation rather than a public health response organized by the CDC.
JFK assassination: Even the US Congressional investigation found evidence of a conspiracy. Despite a refusal to acknowledge this in the way the mainstream media talk about the event, most Americans don’t believe the Warren Commission report. There are many good sources on this subject, but by consensus the best seems to be the book by James Douglass: JFK and the Unspeakable.
RFK assassination: The coroner found (from an autopsy) that RFK was killed by a gun fired into his head from behind his right ear. Sirhan was standing several feet away in front of RFK, firing into his abdomen.
Harris makes an unsubstantiated charge “RFK has said that anyone who spreads misinformation about climate change should be jailed.” This is a misquote, apparently of a statement attributed to him in 2014, from the People’s Climate March. I have been unable to locate an original source of RFK’s actual speech. Greenpeace at the time was saying that corporations should be held legally responsible for using money to spread lies, and I believe Kennedy was voicing the same idea. This was in the aftermath of the disastrous court ruling, Citizens United, which held that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to spread their propaganda, that corporations are people and money is speech, so it’s all protected by the First Amendment. Kennedy has opposed the Citizens United ruling, and so has Harris.
“But above all, he thinks that childhood vaccines, in particular the MMR vaccine, cause autism.”
The way that Harris refutes this “lie” is to quote Dr Paul Offit. How does he know that Offit is right and Kennedy is wrong? Because Offit has an MD and has spent his career studying vaccines. How does he know that these same “qualifications” don’t entail financial and intellectual interests that have biased his judgment?
What does it mean if a journal article is retracted?
Harris is most dangerously naïve when he takes the “consensus” medical literature as reported by the mainstream press, at face value. Worst, he assumes that the fact of an article being retracted means that it was proven fraudulent.
In her book The Truth about the Drug Companies, former New England Journal Editor Marcia Angell reports the extent to which Pharma money has biased the entire field of medical research. An extended and updated version of this story, featuring the Sackler family, was authored by Gerald Posner.
In my review of Posner’s book, I argue that the most egregious area of corporate control over the literature concerns vaccines. Even though pharma companies are the most distrusted industry since Big Tobacco, the companies have managed to convince the public that vaccines are an exception, and that these same companies are completely honest when it comes to vaccine research and licensing.
Retraction of adverse research is the most egregious weapon used by the Pharma industry to suppress discussion of vaccine safety. In most scientific fields, it is understood that advancement of understanding depends on competition among diverse opinions. When opinions are diverse, it is obvious that many of them will turn out to be wrong, but discussion of these ideas is important for establishing the trustworthiness of ideas that pass through this filter.
Retraction used to be a rare recourse when an article was clearly fraudulent. Being incorrect was never a reason for retraction — in fact a large majority of published medical research is provably incorrect. (In case you’re not familiar with the seminal work of Dr John Ionannidis…) The first weaponization of retraction was used in an all-out campaign to discredit Dr Andrew Wakefield, after he published a series of case studies from his practice that suggested a link between childhood vaccines and autism. The article was retracted, and so was Wakefield’s medical license, sending a message to anyone who contemplated thinking about this idea in the future.
In the modern era, most research articles that question vaccine safety are suppressed before they get into print. For those that make it through peer review, they can be viciously attacked and the journal pressured to retract them. This uniquely insightful study of vaccine safety at a Portland pediatric clinic was retracted without debate after a complaint was received by the journal. This article by a senior cardiologist and a biostatistician found a link between myocarditis and the COVID vaccines, and it was retracted without explanation before publication.
Two “lies” that Harris investigates most deeply
First is RFK’s account of an ABC news interview from 2005, which he claims was spiked; second is the relative toxicity of methyl-mercury (from coal ash) and ethyl-mercury (from vaccine additives).
Harris quotes Kennedy talking about a news piece he worked on with Jake Tapper of ABC News in 2005 which was edited down to a much shorter piece at the last minute, and aired a day later with disclaimers and denials. Then he quotes Tapper who tells essentially the same story but with substantially different emphasis. This is his biggest scoop — RFK recorded on tape, caught in the act.
He believes Tapper’s version. He disbelieves Kennedy’s version. Of course he does. Kennedy is a liar.
In 1999, a study was done showing that children who were exposed to Thimerosal in vaccines were 7 times more likely to be autistic than unexposed children. A meeting at Simpsonwood was convened, bringing together industry representatives and government representatives. Transcript of the meeting. It was decided to quietly removed Thimerosal from childhood vaccines, while hiding the reason from the public and the medical community in order to avoid liability for past harms. The 1999 study was rewritten before publication to obfuscate its original conclusion.
Methyl mercury is the form found in coal fly ash from power plants, and inhaled by people living downwind. Ethyl mercury is the form of mercury that used to be in most childhood vaccines, until Simpsonwood prompted its removal.
Harris cites uncritically a claim by Peter Hotez that ethyl mercury has a lifetime in the blood that is ten times shorter than methyl mercury, and therefore can be presumed to be much less toxic.
Kennedy cites studies showing that the reason that ethyl mercury disappears so quickly from the blood is that it crosses the blood-brain barrier and lodges permanently in the brain, as revealed by (horrific) experiments on monkeys. Ethyl mercury — the kind associated with the vaccine adjuvant Thimerosal — is actually more dangerous.
A centerpiece of Kennedy’s campaign is his contention that the primary regulatory agencies of the US government have been captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate. FDA, EPA, FTC, and OSHA are working for the corporations, not for the public interest.
Harris criticizes Kennedy for asking for more safety testing for new drugs. He points out that there are drugs that are languishing in the FDA’s testing process while cancer patients (and others) are desperate to try something new. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the problem of testing that is too slow and testing that is too hasty are flip sides of the same problem. Those with money to push a product through “expedited review” get what they pay for. These same companies can pay to hold up a approval of a low-cost, unpatentable product that they fear will interfere with their profits on patented drugs.
Harris does a lot of unsupported name-calling and ad hominem attacks. RFK “spouts Kremlin propaganda” though he is too far right for the Democratic Party. He is a “chronic liar”. He “spreads obvious lies, disinformation, and fear…There’s such a pattern of misrepresentation that you just have to decide in advance that [Kennedy] can’t be trusted.”
Who is telling the truth? There’s one way to find out.
“There’s no good reason to talk to RFK about vaccines because he’s not a scientist and he’s not a doctor.”
If Harris’s complaint really is that Rogan, Peterson, Musk, Fridman, Maher, Carlson and Weiss are too dim-witted to rebut RFK’s lies, then the obvious solution is to engage RFK in a debate with a real vaccine expert, someone like Dr Paul Offit or Dr Peter Hotez. Of course, RFK would never consent to a one-on-one debate with these people because he knows too well that they would wipe the floor with him. His shallow lies would immediately be exposed by expert MDs who have devoted decades of their careers to study of vaccines, and have a much deeper knowledge of the field than he has. Obviously, RFK would refuse to …
RFK has offered to debate Dr Offit in any public platform, and it is Offit who has turned him down. And Dr Hotez has been offered over $2 million just to come on the Joe Rogan podcast and have a free, long-form interview with RFK. Hotez has turned it down.
What do you say, Sam? Can you arrange to have these experts on your podcast together with RFK, three against one, so the public can hear a real debate about the risks and benefits of various vaccines?
Note: Last April, Dr Madhava Setty attended the foremost medical conference on vaccines and reported in his Substack that the industry has made a conscious decision not to engage in debate with dissenters.
Another note: The book Turtles All The Way Down reports that the industry made a decision to stop debating dissenters 20 years ago because they were losing the debates.
It seems that censoring RFK is an extension of these well-established policies.
So, why are so many people with ties to established American institutions eager to call RFK Jr a liar? Because if he’s telling the truth, there are many public officials (R and D) who will have hell to pay. And, not incidentally, there are many American corporations facing fines and lawsuits that threaten their survival.