The vaccine crisis (5×8 – 4/6/11)

Why are diseases once thought eradicated making a comeback, PBS vs. NPR, city turkeys, complacency on the Red River, and Rickrolling Oregon


There have been more than a dozen cases of measles in Minnesota and about half of them are in kids whose parents didn’t get them vaccinated. The man who perpetuated the fraud — investigators used that word — that linked autism and vaccinations is now telling the local Somali community that there are risks in vaccinations

“Any medical professional, government official or journalist who states that the case is closed on whether vaccines cause autism is jumping to conclusions without the research to back it up,” he said in a statement in January.

He’s found a willing ally in CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who last week penned an article saying the debate over a link between autism and vaccines is not over, pointing to a researcher who says human DNA in a vaccine can be dangerous…

A number of independent scientists have said they’ve been subjected to orchestrated campaigns to discredit them when their research exposed vaccine safety issues, especially if it veered into the topic of autism. We asked Ratajczak how she came to research the controversial topic. She told us that for years while working in the pharmaceutical industry, she was restricted as to what she was allowed to publish. “I’m retired now,” she told CBS News. “I can write what I want.”

The blog, Respectful Insolence, looked at the research, and the reporter’s previous work on the subject.

n fact, there weren’t even studies cited that convincingly supported Ratajczak’s assertions. That’s it? I was thinking as I read her article. That’s all she’s got? Seriously? I thought it was a joke; so I read the entire article again. Yes, that is all that she has got: Implying that correlation equals causation, combined with an observation that there are “hot spots” for DNA insertion in the X chromosome in some autism-associated genes. From that, she concludes that the existing data support the hypothesis that human DNA in MMR II could be at least responsible for the “autism epidemic” through homologous recombination in the brain resulting in autoimmunity and chronic inflammation? And she cites the anti-vaccine blog Child Health Safety as one of her references? The date of the CHS entry cited is June 30, 2010. All I could find was this entry, which purports to argue that both Merck’s Director of Vaccines and the U.S. government have admitted that vaccines cause autism all based on the long known science showing that a maternal case of rubella while carrying a fetus can result in autism in the child, something that’s been known for several decades and is in fact one reason why vaccination against rubella is so important. How on earth did this get through peer review. Obviously, the peer reviewers of Dr. Ratajczak’s article were either completely ignorant of the background science (and therefore unqualified) or asleep at the switch.

So what are parents — and let’s face it: most just want what’s best for their kids — supposed to do on a debate that often outstrips their medical knowledge? Here are some facts (note link to reaction database) to understand the risks.

Why is it a big deal? Because vaccination rates are dropping, and these outbreaks of illnesses once thought eradicated seem to be increasing and many experts say the two are related.


Yikes. Slate’s Mark Oppenheimer has a piece out that’s sure to split the public broadcasting legions — “Save NPR! But Put PBS Out of its Misery.”

There are media companies with greater reach than NPR–and with larger profits, since NPR is a nonprofit. But the Huffington Post and Fox News, to take two examples, are in growing mediums: the web and cable news. NPR, by contrast, has thrived on FM radio during the era in which FM radio has lost audience, not to mention cachet. For the most part, terrestrial radio has become a dreary wasteland, littered with the tumbleweeds of safe, adult-contempo and pop-country playlists, with few local DJs, even fewer local-news operations, and most programming done off-site by consultants and by schmaltzy evening hosts like John Tesh and Delilah. During precisely the years that FM radio has lost the diversity and the free-form progressivism of its 1970s heyday, NPR, which debuted in 1971 with live coverage of Senate hearings on Vietnam, has steadily gotten more adventurous, more popular, better.

Not so PBS, he says…

In January 1994, PBS aired the BBC’s brave television miniseries of Armistead Maupin’s gay soap opera Tale of the City. It got some of PBS’s highest ratings ever–but 10 months later the Gingrich Congress was voted in. Soon, funding threats were made. PBS was liberal! And it was gay! And it got public dollars. PBS got scared. “We got in Gingrich’s cross hairs,” says Flaster. “There was nudity on Tales of the City, profanity on that. We started getting pressure from Congress, and it filtered down to the board.” Flaster says that several top creative executives left PBS around that time, and that the organization, worried about its survival, lost its ability to innovate, just as television was becoming an especially innovative medium.

Oppenheimer serves up his view of PBS as a cautionary tale: A media organization should be careful how far it bends to please its overlords.


MPR’s Julia Schrenkler found this unusual site outside the world headquarters of News Cut Monday night. It’s a wild turkey, that’s not all that wild.


Unusual? Not for much longer. Wild turkeys were also spotted this week on the University of Minnesota campus, the U of M Daily reports.

As more turkeys roam urban environments, they may become more comfortable with humans, Tinsley said. The turkeys he follows in rural areas flee once a human comes within 200 yards, but those in the city can be approached within 20 feet without being scared off.

Figures. Tough city turkeys.


Moorhead and Fargo are getting good — very good– at fighting floods. This year’s flood — the Red River could set a record by early next week — surprised no one. Millions of sandbags have been made and are being delivered. The cities have been having meetings with residents for weeks. So where’s the drama?

“It’s kind of a relaxed complacency,” Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland told the Fargo Forum Tuesday morning. “I’m a little bit concerned.” He said only about a dozen residents had requested sandbags as of yesterday. The area hasn’t been overrun by volunteers as in previous years.

It may fall to the kids to jump start things. A few schools are releasing students to help build dikes and fill sandbags. Youthful energy usually gets neighborhoods moving.

One improvement this year: Better floodcams on the Red. Here’s one:

Watch live video from 702 Flood Cam – Moorhead on

There are several more cameras at the Fargo Forum site.

I’ll be relocating News Cut to South Moorhead starting on Thursday. If you’re in the area, involved in the fight, or planning to volunteer, drop me a note so I can find you.


Minnesota lawmakers, you’ve got some serious work to do to equal Oregon’s legislature:

More politics: Tim Pawlenty gets the Stephen Colbert treatment… again.Bonus: Here’s today’s cool story of the day. A group of community college kids in Minnesota are trying to out-MIT the kids from MIT when it comes to launching rockets.


Spring officially arrived March 20, but for many Minnesotans it’s been a long, cold winter. When is it really spring for you?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid is back in the U.S. after he and three colleagues were kidnapped by the Libyan government, brutalized and released after six days.

Second hour: Experts say that millions of people may be affected by a massive security breach at online marketing firm Epsilon. What is the significance of this data breach?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Republican Pat Garofalo, chair of the Education Finance Committee in the Minnesota House, and Tom Dooher, president of the state’s largest teachers union, offer their ideas for ensuring Minnesota has good teachers in its K-12 classrooms.

Second hour: Douglas Shulman, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Dan Gunderson will have the latest on the Red River flooding.

Philip Connors quit his job as an editor at the Wall Street Journal 10 years ago to go be a fire watcher in the New Mexican wilderness. His book “Fire Season” draws on that experience, and the works of Leopold, Kerouac, Snyder and many others to explore our connection with the wild. MPR’s Euan Kerr will talk to him.

  • bsimon

    about those urban turkeys… My wife saw one in the oak tree in our back yard last week. Turkeys in trees? who knew? Last year the traffic circle at the intersection of Minnehaha Parkway and Minnehaha Avenue was often visited by a turkey.

  • Kim E

    I saw a group of about 10 turkeys off Hwy 5 near the airport 2 days ago, kinda neat.

    Also, no one calls him T-Paw? It seems like we call him that occasionally here on News Cut.

  • Snyder
  • Lucy

    Pencils sharpened-

    I look forward to Tim Pawlenty’s (T-Paw Dawg) campaign for gain in youth support

    I don’t know Laddy Gaga is the best device for lure maybe he should try a hookah

  • Hillary

    I’ve seen wild turkeys in yards on Mississippi River Blvd in St. Paul (I had to look up the name, it’s River Road in my head).

  • Jennifer

    We just saw a turkey here in St Anthony Village this morning.

  • Jim Shapiro

    @ Hillary

    The River Road is now Mississippi River Blvd?!?

    What sinecured turkey working for the government made THAT decision?!? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • bsimon

    JIm Shapiro

    “The River Road is now Mississippi River Blvd?!?”

    In Minneapolis it is East River Boulevard. In St Paul it is Mississippi River Boulevard. So, as usual, the answer is: those turkeys in St Paul.

  • Noelle

    “Turkeys in trees? who knew?”

    They usually fly up in the trees at night to roost! My parents always have a rafter of turkeys on their land every year. And yes, rafter is the proper name for a group of turkeys…we always called them ‘harems’ since we always see one male with lots of females.

  • Jamie

    Jim Shapiro, don’t tell me you buy into the stereotype of the government worker!

  • Jim Shapiro


    That one was tongue in cheek. Some of my best friends are government workers. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The government workers that I don’t have much time for are right-wing office holders,

    and I feel sorry for members of the military.

  • Jamie

    Yeah, Jim. I knew you were kidding.

    Re: Republicans with government jobs. Don’t get me started. Public sector workers are all evil, lazy communists except for the Republican ones. In the minds of Republicans apparently.

    Re: The use of “@” as above. It must have been someone under about 35 years old who started the use of “@” (“at”) where it means “to” or “for” or anything but “at.” I say that because I’ve been hearing a lot of younger people mis-use prepositions lately. I mean they often choose absolutely wrong prepositions. It’s very strange that they didn’t learn which ones to use in which situations. It’s one of those language concepts that I would have thought was almost innate.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dearest Jamie –

    How’s that? ๐Ÿ™‚

    I fully agree with you regarding young whippersnappers and their grammatical sins.

    I’m just an old guy trying to be hip, and failing that, I’m happy if I’m understood.

    Thanks for the motivation.

    Heretofore, I will address everyone as “Dearest”, post-post modernist cyber protocol be damned! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jamie

    Jim, you are (in the vernacular of the hip) too funny!!

  • Drae

    The vaccine issue really upsets me, especially considering that vaccines are not causing autism, but rather the increased rates in autism coincide with increased use of anti-depressants in pregnancy. More research is beginning to show this corelation.

    In the meantime, vaccines are the scapegoat when it’s really seratonin enhancers, leaving children (and others) exposed to deadly diseases. Maddening!

  • Lucy

    I made my son dutifully genuflect and assume the submissive position for 5 minutes while at the same time balancing a stack 12 Bibles on his head when he misused his prepositions. I’ll learn him to use his grammar right