The Cityview Conspiracy Files: Vaccines and Autism

July 23rd, 2013 · 13 Comments

Last week’s cover of Cityview, Iowa’s flagship alternative weekly, promoted a self-serving story about the newspaper’s own beer festival in Des Moines. The author, managing editor Amber Williams, wrote that beer, “when consumed moderately, provides more than nine essential nutrients and six distinct health benefits, according to natural foods authors Larry and Oksana Ostrovsky.”

Research published in respected medical journals and by the federal government has confirmed that beer can be good for you. So it’s strange that Williams instead cited information from the Ostrovskys’ self-published e-book, which falsely claims that gluten has been shown to cause autism and repeatedly references, a conspiracy website that rejects modern medicine and believes the government is responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.

Williams doesn’t advance any of those theories in her story, but this isn’t the first time she’s flirted with junk science. In February, she wrote a cover story questioning the merits of the flu vaccine. After falsely suggesting that a flu shot can cause the flu, the story shifts its focus to a mother whose Des Moines Area Community College class research paper convinced her not to vaccinate her kids. Her doctor “told me his own daughter had been injured by a vaccine, and now she’s full-on autistic,” the mother said.

But there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Those who believe there is rely on lingering falsehoods from a fraudulent study published in a medical journal 15 years ago that has been thoroughly debunked and retracted. The autism vaccine myth has resulted in the deaths of several children around the world. It has stricken many more people with preventable diseases including mumps, whooping cough, and, this year in Brooklyn and Wales, measles.

Failing to get vaccinated against such diseases also has a high economic toll. In 2004, an Iowa college student studying in India came home infected with measles. The two-month effort to prevent the spread of the disease was estimated to cost more than $140,000.

Williams never mentioned any of this, and, using a quote from the mother in her story, actually suggested the opposite: “I found a lot of reports of vaccine failures that linked vaccinations to things like meningitis and measles.”

A week after the vaccine story, Cityview published a letter from a reader who slammed the story’s poor sourcing. The paper dismissed his complaints at the same time in a snarky editor’s note explaining that the mother’s research paper “received a 97 percent,” that “she passed the class with a 98 percent overall,” and that the reader’s “line of work, by the way, is pharmaceutical sales.”

Williams’ vaccine story remains relevant now that Jenny McCarthy, a leading proponent of the autism vaccine myth, has joined ABC’s popular daytime talk show The View. The show averages more than three million viewers for every episode and airs five days a week. Many journalists have written about fears that McCarthy will use her new soapbox to promote dangerous junk science. Williams, on the other hand, never corrected her own story.

By treating the Ostrovskys as a credible source in her latest cover story, Williams, in the words of the letter criticizing her vaccine story, demonstrated that she still doesn’t “fully understand the power of the press and the responsibilities that come with being a steward of it.”

Tags: Ames Prog Blog · Cityview Conspiracy Files · Gavin Aronsen

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff Hall // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:16 am

    If you truly had a scientific bent, instead of calling it a myth, you would say its a theory that hasn’t been proven. Hate it when journalists who don’t know how science works write about it.

  • 2 garonsen // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:25 am

    A belief based on fraudulent research is not a scientific theory.

  • 3 Jeff Hall // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:28 am

    You have predetermined the truth, therefore you can’t really find the truth, can you? You are doing exactly what you are attacking. Each vaccine has its own set of side effects. The only rational approach is to approach each vaccine on its benefits and side effects. But no, we are too simple a people to figure that out.

  • 4 Anonymous // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Yeah he from all the articles this journalist has written, if it doesn’t go with what Government, Democrats and Obama say’s, then its automatically a “conspiracy”. Even though the banks have been caught conspiring and no prosecutions, and how studies like these were done by doctors who didn’t work for the FDA, but guess who works for the FDA? Michael R. Taylor and other former Monsanto Executives..but no the studies they put out are 100% accurate even though they have conflict of interest….

  • 5 Jeff Hall // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:33 am

    And because you haven’t found a link today doesn’t mean you won’t find one tomorrow. There have been enough side effects discovered that I would be cautious in any case. Open your mind a little, please.

  • 6 Jeff Hall // Jul 23, 2013 at 7:40 am

    If you want to convince more parents to immunize their kids for better public health, you would be much more effective if you didn’t misrepresent science in this way. You just lock them into their view. And Anon. is right, there is a lot of money in this fight. My reading of the history of science is that science isn’t the buttress you are looking for for the status quo.

  • 7 Logan // Jul 24, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Calling scientific facts “theories that haven’t been proven” is the track that idiots that don’t understand science use to umbrella their causes because they’re told that’s what they should believe. Science. Its why I don’t have measles. mumps, or rubella. I got a vaccine when I was a child. Misrepresent science? I don’t know how you do that. Monsanto fucks it up all the time and its obvs when they do it. The same when Jeny McCarthy is doing the same things. Peer reviewed isn’t a catch phrase. It means something. Jeff, from your responses, I have a distinct understanding that you don’t know “how science works.” I’m going to discredit myself and just assume you’re from Boone is why you believe anything that you do.

  • 8 Jeff hall // Jul 24, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Unfortunately, giving the keys of science to the corporations who benefit from subjecting the population to incredible risks to support their quarterly earnings is not a system I have much faith in. Look at the track record. Look at the health issues we don’t understand. To say science has settled this issue shows that you are confirming what you want confirmed. That isn’t science. Understanding what is going on is science, and we obviously don’t yet.

  • 9 Tom Russell // Jul 24, 2013 at 7:21 am

    It appears to me that Hall has it backwards. Gavin is pointing misrepresentation of science in Cityview.

  • 10 David Lloyd-Jones // Sep 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    To call Jeff Hall a half-wit would be an insult to the number one-half. Wit, fortunately, can take care of itself.


  • 11 domain // Aug 31, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    It’s hard to come by experienced people for this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!


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