Calling Michelle Malkin on Her Nonsense

A few days ago Michelle Malkin had a post noting what a horribly horribly dangerous drug RU-486 is. Bill Ardolino called her on that one and pointed out that the actually numbers imply that Michelle is pushing crap statistics for ideological reasons.

So, let’s get this straight: assuming accurate data (admittedly a big assumption), a total of ten women (reported) have died, presumably related to a fatal interaction with the drug, in 16 years of international use. Of those ten, five occurred in the United States, where 460,000 women have taken the drug safely since its approval, five years ago.

That equals a mortality rate of 0.0000108, meaning that 1 out of every 92,000 people that took the drug have died.

Bill compared it among other things to penicillin,

Yeah, so can penicillin, at a greater mortality rate than RU-486:

The risk of penicillin fatal allergy is about 1 in 75,000.

Now Michelle has responded…with complete nonsense.

Bill implies that RU-486 is safe because only a small number of deaths have been linked to it. He notes (correctly) that plenty of other drugs are on the market despite being linked to far more than four deaths.

This is a good point, and I should have noted it in my post.

Even so, I’m not quite ready to start pumping RU-486 into the water supply.

Errr…excuse me, but who said anything about pumping it into the water supply? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on that one? This is just a completely doltish thing to write. Nobody is advocating putting it in the water supply like it is floride…nobody.

Michelle continues,

Just last month, the FDA expanded its warning about possible side effects. The drug already carried a black box warning (the most extreme warning possible).

According to the Los Angeles Times, the FDA is continuing to investigate the drug’s safety. Is the FDA “shoehorning science and medicine in order to fit an ideological agenda?” What about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Department of Health Services, and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services–all of which have launched their own investigations? Are they right-wing whackos too?

The Times says the crux of these inquiries is how and why the women who died after taking RU-486 got infections and “whether more women might have been harmed.”

Clearly these agencies are worried that these four women are just the tip of the iceberg. So am I.

That is fine and good, but right now there is zero evidence to suspect that this drug is any less safe than amoxicillin that Michelle Malkin has been giving to her children.1 Yet, I don’t see Michelle writing nonsense about pumping Amoxicillin into the water supply. Should there be ongoing research into RU-486? Sure, just as there is ongoing research into people who have allergic reactions to penicillin.

Bill Ardolino sums up very nicely,

And of course I don’t expect a blogger to conduct statistical analysis worthy of a professional epidemiologist for every post on a health issue (my own general analysis was flawed, superficial and exposed to various avenues of criticism), but I would caution Michelle, and anyone else that writes about science or medicine in the context of politics, to use a bit of perspective when working backwards from an ideological presumption. We’re all prone to making these mistakes, especially in the context of a political issue that commands our passion.

This is exactly right. We all have our preconceived notions, biases and beliefs. Ideally we don’t want these things to get in the way of scientific research or even our evaluation of information such as with RU-486, but that is probably asking too much. Still, a reasonable thing to do is look at other similar instances to see if things measure up well. In this case, checking the risks RU-486 poses with other items that are on the market is the obvious thing to do. Further we can’t justify the position that RU-486 is dangerous because it could be shown that there are more women who died from taking the drug. If this line of reasoning were valid we could apply it other things that Michelle supports such as the Iraq war, immigration reform/control, etc.

Update: Over at Imago Dei there is a post trying to defend Malkin’s position. The problem with this post is that it presents no new data on which to conclude that RU-486 is more of a risk than other drugs that are approved. It does provide some additional information on the problems that can arise from RU-486, but again most of this information is theoretical and/or something that while real may not be a wide spread problem.

The bottom line: RU 486 is a medication used for an elective procedure pushed through using an accelerated FDA protocol that has resulted in the deaths of at least five women. The dangers have been pointed out by concerned pro-life groups and have been essentially ignored as ideological propaganda while Danco and the FDA continue to change the labaling and warn physicians of potential adverse effects. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, this is very concerning.

And I wonder if the anti-choice (aka pro-life) groups are using this issue legitimately or if they are using in place of their real agenda which is to make abortions illegal. Further, even if the criticism that is leveled against Bill Ardolino and others who have taken his side is accurate the very same criticism applies to Michelle Malkin’s “analysis” as well. Of course, you wont get that from the Imago Dei post.

Update II: The post at Hyscience is what I’d like to see more of from the pro-life side of the debate.

In the way of a summation I’d like to make a couple of points. First of all, idealogically, I believe that abortion by any means is the murder of an unborn child, and that it is wrong, immoral and should be unlawful. Having gotten that matter out in the way of a disclaimer, if you are one of ten percent of women that have Clostridium sordellii in your vaginal flora, I believe that with what little we know now about the possible mechanisms involved in possible fatal side effects, using RU-486 is a risk. If you are one of the ninety percent of women who don’t have Clostridium sordellii in your vaginal flora, taking RU-486 is less a risk. On the other hand, if one or both of the proposed mechanisms are not involved in fatal side effects resulting from the use of RU-486, a possibility, then both camps may be equally at risk. Does it look like the just the “tip of the iceberg?” From what we know as we speak, we don’t know! Do I think it’s the tip of the iceberg? From what I’ve read about the pharmacology and what I know about the immunoendocrinology, I don’t believe that anyone at this time believes it to be the tip of the iceberg. And as Bill offers in his post, the regulatory agencies are fulfilling their mandate to look out for public safety, but the jury is still out on their conclusions.

This is how Michelle Malkin’s post should have ended, IMO. Arguing that one is opposed to abortion and hence RU-486 on moral/ethical grounds, and then taking a cold hard look at the numbers and resisting the temptation to give into one’s biases is exactly what this kind of discussion needs…from both sides.

Update III: Over at Wizbang Paul makes the same desperate attempt other have with regards to this issue. Namely to shift the focus form the safety of RU-486 for the women taking–i.e. the context of Michelle Malkin’s original post, to abortion. The probelm should be obvious. Michelle Malkin’s post dealt with the risk to women of taking RU-486. She focused specifically on that and then strongly implied the drug should be yanked from the market based on this safety/risk issue. Paul can’t seem to see this. He writes,

You can do the same cost vs benifit for the automobile or any other product. You want to do a cost vs benifit by only looking at that fact that (by your metric) the cost is cheap. That’s silly.

A band new Ping Zing for $1 is not a deal for me… I don’t golf.

I’m not shifting the focus to abortion. The pill is used to create abortions. It is imposible to consider the cost vs benift without mentioning abortion… be realistic Steve.

In other words to Paul there is no way to look at the two issues seperately. It is like saying I can’t look at the statistics on drunk driving without looking at the morality of driving while drunk. I trust that most people can see that one can focus solely on the statistics of drunk driving without becoming entangled in the morality aspect of said act.

Here’s the crux of it Steve: Can you genuinely compare the benefit to society of antibiotics to the benefit of RU-486?

If you can’t, then your comparing the cost is the red-herring.

I wasn’t even trying to make some sort of statement with regards to the benefit of society. To do such a thing would require to bring in a great deal of other issues such as abortion, possibly crime, the impact on families, etc. What Bill at INDC and later myself are focusing on, like Michelle Malkin, was the safety of the drug in question.
1Amoxicillin is a penicillin related anti-bacterial that is often prescribed ear infections and other maladies in children and as noted is actually more “risky” than RU-486 in terms of the statistics.

FILED UNDER: Health, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Jim Pfaff says:

    Taking into consideration an 80% fetus mortality rate among those who have taken RU-486, I’d say the 368,000 lives lost due to this abortion process make this a very dangerous drug indeed.

  2. Anderson says:

    Great post, and now I want a “Whiskey Foxtrot Tango” T-shirt.

  3. Don Surber says:

    I linked it. I’m curious how many others will. Conserves act like we cannot disagree on anything anymore.
    What fun is that?
    By the way, has anyone ever sued for malpractice over an abortion?

  4. John Burgess says:

    Doctors have been sued by parents for abortions that did not result in the death of a fetus, if that’s what you mean.

    They have been sued for “wrongful life” by children who were intended to have been aborted, too, most often in the case of genetic defects that led to miserable quality of life of the survivor.

    Frankly, I don’t see the big moral step being taken with RU-486. Birth control pills (the ordinary kind) work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus by making conditions in the uterus unfavorable to implantation. RU-486 works by changing those conditions before, at, or immediately after implantation. We took the step away from “life begins at conception” forty years go.

  5. Anderson says:

    There was a case in our torts book about someone who was born with a birth defect and who sued for “wrongful birth.”

    Some wit in our class observed that the fellow probably wasn’t suing for specific performance. (Lawyer joke.)

  6. Demosophist says:


    The primary “side effect” of RU-486 and all other forms of easy-to-utilize birth control, as outlined in Frank Fukuyama’s The Great Disruption is “family dissolution.” It’s not minor, but it’s social and cultural rather than medical. Perhaps Michelle is attempting to take a shortcut by suggesting that it’s a medical threat, but the fact is that the social/cultural impact is vastly more dire, and essentially irreversible until we significantly change our institutions.

    So, you’re right… but don’t start patting yourself on the back, because you haven’t really solved anything.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    So, you’re right… but don’t start patting yourself on the back, because you haven’t really solved anything.

    Well I’m not going to tolerate junk statistics even if it is to serve a loftier goal. That is simply lying.

    Taking into consideration an 80% fetus mortality rate among those who have taken RU-486, I’d say the 368,000 lives lost due to this abortion process make this a very dangerous drug indeed.

    Goal post moving is boring and in this case dishonest.

    Michelle should have argued on the grounds above, not some cocked-up stats that don’t make the grade.

  8. Sherri says:

    I’m mostly a conservative that doesn’t care for most of the current Republicans (or Democrats for that matter). I also don’t care for blind-party-loyalty, especially when I suspect that ‘some’ people are so easily duped. Furthermore, I really don’t care for MSM reporters, pseudo-reporters, and bloggers that skew data to fit their political agendas.

    I guess it was less than a year ago when I saw Michelle Malkin’s name starting to appear frequently on the net; I checked her blog, and I didn’t care for most of what she’d written at the time. But it seems all it takes is to have some surgery, posing with BJ lips, and a little photoshopping combined with writing strongly about current emotional issues to become one of the most read, and talked about, writers on the web. Conservative Republicans seem to worship her, and I’ve noticed many male liberal Democrats let her get away with stuff they normally wouldn’t.

    Good looks don’t automatically make someone right, being a Republican doesn’t automaticaly make a politician a conservative (unless pretending gets them ahead), and blind-loyalty to parties (either side) is scary.

  9. John Burgess says:

    I read Malkin out of duress. She’s shrill, she has lots of opinions–some of which I share–but does a piss-poor job of backing up her ascertions. She’s certainly pretty, but so what? I might consider that a factor if she’s running for some beauty queen title, but otherwise it’s immaterial.

    What I object to most about her blog is the way it panders to rightist populism. Leftist populism is not better, but I’ll only criticize her for what she writes.

  10. Jay.Mac says:

    I’m not going to get into the statistics of the issue, or even the abortion question- what struck me about Malkin’s post was that the indicators that this drug is having a “bad interaction” are precisely the same as the effects the drug is supposed to produce i.e. abdominal pain and bleeding.

    Perhaps I’m missing the point but wasn’t Malkin arguing that the dangers of the drug- and the indications of harmful effect- be pointed out to those who are going to be taking it?

  11. Sherri says:

    John Burgess: I wish some of the blogs I’ve read had your outlook.