A Smackdown in the Kennedy Clan Summons Up the History of Presidents and Vaccines

Family quarrels are usually private things—unless of course, the family is famous.

A public spat among boldface names broke out on May 8, when three members of the Kennedy clan published a piece on Politico declaring that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.—son of Bobby Kennedy—has been “tragically wrong” in his years-long crusade against vaccines, a crusade that seems especially irresponsible now as the country suffers through its worst measles outbreak since 1994. Kennedy has become a hero of the anti-vax crowd with his persistent claims that vaccines contain deadly ingredients, particularly a mercury-based preservative known as thimerosal, and that they are linked to autism.

He is wrong on both scores. No vaccines except some formulations of the flu vaccine contain thimerosal, and the type of mercury it uses is ethylmercury, which is cleared from the body quickly and harmlessly. And vaccines do not cause—and are not even associated with—autism. Full stop.

But RFK, Jr. persists, and so his siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, and his niece Maeve Kennedy McKean, sought to set him right. Kennedy, they wrote, “has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”

Kathleen, Joe and Maeve are hardly the first Kennedys to be smart about vaccines. As they write in their Politico story, the giant of the family, President John Kennedy, signed the Vaccine Assistance Act of 1962 into law, expanding the use of the relative handful of childhood vaccinations available at the time. “There is no longer any reason why American children should suffer from polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, or tetanus,” Kennedy said in a message to Congress. “I am asking the American people to join in a nationwide vaccination program to stamp out these four diseases.”

Until the presidency of Donald Trump—who, from 2012 to 2014, posted a storm of tweets on the imaginary menace of vaccines and, after he was elected, publicly flirted with the idea of appointing RFK, Jr. to head a vaccine safety commission—American presidents have had a long history of championing vaccination.

It began with Thomas Jefferson who, in August of 1800—shortly before his presidency began—helped conduct trials of the smallpox vaccine, developed four years earlier by British physician Edward Jenner. As with so much involving the Founding Fathers, and this Founding Father …read more

Source:: Time – Science


The U.S. Wanted to Hide Nukes in Arctic Ice Tunnels. The Plan Blew Up in Their Faces


As far as these things go, Camp Century was a pretty good cover. It was nominally designed as an underground military research station, located about 150 miles east of the American air base at Thule, Greenland. The stated purpose of Camp Century was to improve the American defense capability in the Arctic — to develop better survival and transportation techniques, and to obtain more useful knowledge about the harsh climate and the physical properties of the region. In essence, we covered up for a super-secret operation using a kinda-secret one.

The United States had been operating in the area since 1951, when the Thule air base and radar station first opened. In 1958, the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratories (CRREL) sent more than two hundred men (the facility was a strictly male society) to be the first team to deploy to Century. Don’t let the “Camp” in Camp Century fool you. This wasn’t just a bunch of tents in the tundra. This was as close to a modern town as you could get in the middle of nowhere. And it was all partially or completely underground.

Which was good, because you wouldn’t want to spend too much time outside. This is an inhospitable environment to the extreme. Century was located only 800 miles from the North Pole. The average temperature was just under minus 10° Fahrenheit. The average annual snow accumulation was four feet, and it wasn’t uncommon to see temperatures plunge into the minus 50-, 60- or even 70-degree range when the wind, which could gust to over 125 mph, really got kicking. This meant that even simple tasks could be incredibly difficult, like basic resupply of the facility. Everything had to be brought in by land. Sure, you could fly in supplies fairly quickly from Thule, but that’s only if the weather cooperated — and that was rare.

Keystone-France/Getty ImagesBetween 1953 and 1955, under a NATO framework, the United States built a strategic military base in Thule, on the Danish Territory

Camp Century was powered by the world’s first portable nuclear reactor, the PM-2A (“A” for “Arctic”). Designed as part of the U.S. Army Nuclear Power Program (ANPP), the Camp Century reactor was created to study the capability of generating electrical and space-heating energy at remote, relatively inaccessible sites. The Army was worried it might cost too much to deliver oil or coal to the facility, and also raised the …read more

Source:: Time – Science


The U.N. Reports That 1 Million Species Could Go Extinct. It Shows How Hard It Will Be to Heal the Planet

There’s an awful lot of awful in the just-released summary of a new U.N. report on biodiversity and ecosystem. There’s the tenfold increase in plastic pollution since 1980, for example. There’s the 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and fertilizer runoff poured into the world’s water each year too. There’s the doubling of greenhouse gas emissions since 1980; the growth of industrial fishing, now sprawling across 55% of the world’s oceans, the 85% loss of the wetlands since the dawn of the industrial era, and the 70% increase in invasive species in 21 countries.

And then, finally, and perhaps most worrying are the extinctions. According to the conclusions of the 455 experts and contributing authors from 50 countries who drafted the report for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), up to 1 million species of plants and animals are now threatened with extinction, some within decades, including 40% of all amphibians, 33% of marine mammals, and another 33% of shark, shark relatives and reef-forming corals.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing,” said Professor Josef Settele, who co-chaired the panel that produced the report, in a statement. “The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.”

The report comes at a very bad time, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the deadlines for the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a series of 20 environmental goals to be met by 2020, are approaching. The targets, established by the U.N.’s Convention on Biodiversity, at a 2011 gathering in Aichi, Japan, include halving natural habitat loss, managing fish and aquatic plant stocks sustainably, controlling invasive species and integrating biodiversity measures into economic development plans. According to the report, meaningful progress has been made on only four of the goals; none is likely to be achieved by next year.

Worse, while the Aichi agreements and other international environmental accords like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement at least represent a global consensus on environmental aspirations, even that now seems beyond reach—especially after the U.S., under President Donald Trump, withdrew from the Paris pact in 2017. IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson stresses in the report that it is not too late to reverse environmental decline, “but only if we start now …read more

Source:: Time – Science