Chris Mooney’s Pharmaceutical Influence

By Jake Crosby

March 20, 2010
He is the drug industry’s newer, trendier go-to guy in the media, replacing the role of Arthur Allen, who took a break to write about tomatoes. An ex-patriot of “Science”Blogs who now blogs for Discover, and contributing editor to Science Progress, Chris Mooney is perhaps Pharma’s newest writer who has taken on the task of spoon-feeding its message to the public.

He has co-written a book with Sheril Kirshenbaum entitled “Unscientific America,” where he briefly writes about this controversy as an example of something that should be written off as…well…unscientific. In an interview for his book in The LA Times, he slams Age of Autism and praises his former domain, “Science”Blogs. The interview aroused a series of emails from Ginger Taylor of Adventures in Autism to Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum, and Mooney’s interviewer Lori Kozlowski. Of the three, Chris Mooney was the only one who did not reply.

His involvement in this debate has since intensified. Most recently, he appeared on the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe,” with former Vice President of Consumer Education for Johnson and Johnson Nancy Snyderman, who said that no studies show a link between vaccines and autism, a bald-faced lie. To criticize studies is one thing, but to deny that they even exist is flat-out drug industry denialism, the kind Mooney apparently felt no discomfort in associating himself with. He certainly had no problem taking advice from Michael Specter, who started writing about this controversy in his book from the same biased perspective by plagiarizing Paul Offit’s talking points. Specter’s book “Denialism” was if anything written from denialism.

Yet despite the previously described mingling with obvious denialists and plagiarists, Chris Mooney is perhaps most notorious in the autism community,  for the May 2009 article he contributed to Discover Magazine, entitled, “Why does the Vaccine/Autism Controversy Live On?” Now, that doesn’t really say much, given that Mooney has never managed to get his articles regularly published in anything above D-level pop science magazines such as SEED, and the Skeptical Inquirer

Still, he interviewed David Kirby, who gave him a laundry list of people in public health to interview who support further vaccine safety research in relation to autism, a list that Mooney evidently dumped in the trash. Instead, he interviews a number of the industry’s finest, such as Marie McCormick who produced the IOM Reports for the CDC, millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit, Merck scholar and epidemic denialist Paul Shattuck, and CDC insider and  Simpsonwood meeting attendee Roger Bernier, who once exclaimed of an autistic child, “get that brat out of here!”

Among those he quotes favorably is a bio“ethicist” named Arthur Caplan, who wrote, “If there has been a more harmful urban legend circulating in our society than the vaccine-autism link, it’s hard to know what it might be.” He sits on the advisory board of Science Progress, where Chris Mooney is the contributing editor. Caplan also sits on another advisory board, one of Bio“ethics” for GlaxoSmithKline. Is it really any wonder why Chris
Mooney ignored all those names given to him by David Kirby?

In 2008, Discover Magazine named Arthur Caplan one of the 10 most influential people in science. If he is that big an influence on science, there is no question this advisor to a major pharmaceutical company influences Chris Mooney.
Jake Crosby is a college student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and contributing editor to Age of Autism