The offspring of famous and successful people often fail to live up to the expectation set by their famous relatives and instead profit off of the success of those prior generations for years without doing much to add to the family’s accomplishments. Often, these people harm the reputation of these famous families by doing or saying embarrassing things and some fail to ever accomplish anything in their own lives. The Hilton sisters are a good example of this phenomenon, as are the Kennedy kids.

Which brings me to Robert Kennedy’s latest stunt. Speaking at an event in Sacramento, CA, Kennedy resuscitated the long debunked theory that a link exists between vaccinations and autism. In particular, Kennedy claims an ingredient in some vaccinations—thimerosal–causes autism.

His bizarre explanation of how that ingredient impacts the human brain should be enough to prove to you that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about:

“They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone…”

Their brain is gone. Yup, that sounds super scientific.

Then he added, for extra drama:

“This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

First, let’s discuss Kennedy’s use of the word holocaust. Perhaps it would be useful for Mr. Kennedy to crack open a history book and check out what the word holocaust actually means. Or, maybe Kennedy could review the number of deaths from preventable diseases – like Measles — that still occur in areas where vaccines aren’t available. That might give him a better sense of when it’s appropriate to use big words like holocaust.

As for Kennedy's claims about thimerosal, Forbes contributor Steven Salzberg — who just happens to be a Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University — addressed this back in 2012 when Kennedy was making the same wacky claims in order to sell books.

Was there every any scientific support for the link between thimerosal and autism? From the late 1990s to the present, scientists have looked closely at the evidence, and every well-done study has pointed to the same conclusion: thimerosal in vaccines has no link to autism. In one very large Danish study, autism rates rose after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Another study looking at California, Sweden, and Denmark found the same thing. These results directly contradict the claim that thimerosal causes autism.


Last Friday, a special vaccine court ruled on three cases in which parents were suing on behalf of their autistic children. In each case, the parents claimed that thimerosal had caused their child’s autism. In each case, the Special Master (a judge) ruled definitively against the parents. The result was a slam-dunk win for science.

The three rulings take up over 600 pages, far too much to summarize, so I’ll just excerpt briefly from two of the conclusions. Special Master Denise Vowell, in the Dwyer case, issued a particularly devastating decision, ruling that claims about mercury were completely implausible and that the parents’ notion of “regressive autism” had no basis in science:

Petitioners propose effects from mercury … that do not resemble mercury’s known effects on the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in TCVs [thimerosal-containing vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not. … In an effort to render irrelevant the numerous epidemiological studies of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and TCVs that show no connection between the two, they contend that their children have a form of ASD involving regression that differs from all other forms biologically and behaviorally. World-class experts in the field testified that the distinctions they drew between forms of ASD were artificial, and that they had never heard of the “clearly regressive” form of autism about which petitioners’ epidemiologist testified. Finally, the causal mechanism petitioners proposed would produce, not ASD, but neuronal death, and eventually patient death as well. The witnesses setting forth this improbable sequence of cause and effect were outclassed in every respect by the impressive assembly of true experts in their respective fields who testified on behalf of respondent.

It’s interesting that Vowell found that even if the “exquisitely small” amounts of mercury in vaccines had an effect, they wouldn’t cause autism.

Of course, we can’t expect Kennedy to read this evidence, to heed the findings of experts in the medical and scientific community who agree there's no link between protecting kids with vaccinations and autism. Why should Kennedy be interested in the latest research on autism which finds it's largely a genetic condition, not a disease one becomes infected with after receiving a vaccination. Kennedy has used his name to claim he’s an expert on everything from energy policy, to climate science to complex medical issues like autism and pharmacology. But really, he’s rich kid and a hobbyist from a famous family.

Robert Kennedy’s antics reminds me of an incident that occured last month involving his daughter. When Kyra Kennedy – Robert’s 19-year old daughter – tried and failed to get into a nightclub using a fake ID, she had a temper tantrum, yelling “I’m a Kennedy! Google me.”

This is how the Kennedy family operates.

In Robert Kennedy's world, he doesn’t need to know anything about the vaccinations in order to get up on stage and talk about them. He’s a Kennedy; therefore he’s an expert and deserves the nation’s trust.

Too bad some parents will choose to do just that, and endanger their own children in the process.