Barack Obama, who has criticized the politicization of science under George W. Bush, is doing some politicizing of his own. Yesterday, he joined John McCain in pandering to the vocal and well-organized lobby of parents who believe the increase in autism diagnoses is caused by vaccines:
"We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it."
--Barack Obama, Pennsylvania Rally, April 21, 2008.
"It's indisputable that (autism) is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it. And we go back and forth and there's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in vaccines."
--John McCain, Texas town hall meeting, February 29, 2008.
Obama is wrong to say that "The science right now is inconclusive." As the Washington Post Fact Checker points out, "the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion is that there is no proven link between autism and the vaccines which include a mercury-containing preservative known as thimerosal":
At least five major studies have found no link between autism and thimerosal. A study released by the California Department of Public Health in January found that the autism rate in children rose continued to rise even after vaccine manufacturers stopped using thimerosal in childhood vaccines after 2001.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "there's no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site." Similar conclusions have been reached by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration.
Update 2/2/15: This post has been widely circulated today after news about Chris Christie and Rand Paul made comments pandering to anti-vaccine sentiment. A video of the appearance that I do not remember having seen at the time this article was written in April 2008 indicates that Obama's reference to "this person included" was an acknowledgment of an audience member. His language in context also suggests that his statement that "[t]he science right now is inconclusive" is intended to refer to the causes of autism more generally. I still object, however, to describing the science as "inconclusive" in the context of a reference to the vaccines-autism myth. As Sarah Kliff wrote at Vox, Obama "describe[d] the research on vaccines and autism as inconclusive at a point when scientists had found the opposite: that there was no link between the two."