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Dangerous Kook At The EPA?

November 07, 2008

By Walter Olson

Obama is considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Yikes!

You may remember the furor that played out over the past few years regarding the so-called Republican "war on science." In campaign literature, Barack Obama pledged to break with his predecessor and not run an administration in which "ideology trumps scientific inquiry and politics replaces expert opinion." How serious was all that?

We may soon find out. News reportskeep saying the president-elect is "strongly considering" picking celebrity environmentalist and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Yes, that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The one who three years ago put his name to a lengthy article in Salon and Rolling Stone("Deadly Immunity") sounding an alarm to all the world: Childhood vaccines cause autism!

Medical and scientific commentators of every political coloration at once assailed Kennedy for mangling (or simply not understanding) the relevant scientific issues and for yanking quotes out of context to support a lurid conspiracy theory in which Centers for Disease Control officials were supposedly protecting their pals in the drug industry by tolerating, and covering up the truth about, massive injury to children.

Many pointed out that false panics over vaccine safety, touched off by articles like Kennedy's, have repeatedly led parents to refuse vaccination of their children, resulting in avoidable epidemics and deaths. The evidence was then, and is now, overwhelming: Neither vaccines themselves nor the vaccine-preservative thimerosal cause autism. Although Salon subsequently posted numerous corrections of some of the piece's more wince-making errors, Kennedy refused—and still refuses—to back off.

That's only the best-known example of the lawyer-activist's less than casual acquaintance with scientific rigor. A couple of years ago, he put his name to a book entitled Crimes Against Nature, in whose pages we learn, among many similar revelations, that air pollution is a cause of Down's Syndrome and that "automakers already have the technology" to make SUVs and minivans get the mileage of passenger cars, but don't do so because, well, because they're mean.

More recently, Kennedy has moved on to conspiracy theorizing about supposed Republican theft of the 2004 and other elections, writing that has been described even by a semi-admirer like GristMill's David Roberts as "overheated work" that may have "served to discredit more modest but verifiable theories."

The perpetual stridency of Kennedy's tone makes it all that much harder to forgive: Those who disagree with him are criminals or villainous scoundrels bent on harming the public, highly placed Texans are compared in all seriousness to Hitler and Mussolini, and so forth.

ensing a news opportunity, bloggers have already begun to showcase some of the wayward scion's frothier rants, as with a video in which he extravagantly praises leftist Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. In another speech, Kennedy reportedly said of the media, "They should all drink poison Kool Aid and restore integrity to their profession." (That's not very grateful of him, considering all the adoring coverage he's been accorded over the years by a credulous press.)

Kennedy has been known to run into trouble when he addresses groups who actually know something about his subjects. In early 2002, a few months after 9/11, he made himself a laughingstock in Iowa when he flew into that state to proclaim that big hog farms are more of a threat to America than al-Qaeda terrorists.

A Des Moines Register editorial called his comments "idiotic" and "ridiculous," while the state's best-known political columnist, the normally even-tempered David Yepsen, called the statement "one of the crudest things ever said in Iowa politics," saying that "this fool from the East" had "made an ass of himself" and "looks to be cashing in on his family's name."

Cashing in? Well, as it happens, Kennedy and his Waterkeeper Alliance had teamed up with the hotshot plaintiff's lawyers to sue the big hog operations for gigantic damages, in an abortive campaign that, if successful, was supposed to be rolled out against beef and chicken producers and utilities as well.

Kennedy is listed as being of counsel with the Florida-based law firm of Levin Papantonio, which is known for its very successful environmental suits and other mass torts. For whatever reason, when whipping audiences into a frenzy against business and its environmental sins, Kennedy seldom alerts audiences to his financial involvements with contingency-fee lawyers suing over those sins.

Few nominations would spell a faster end to an Obama honeymoon, or a more impassioned confirmation fight.

Original Source:



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