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Rand Paul reflects on 'profound mental disorders'

I'm not saying Rand Paul has a nasty anti-science streak, but ... wait, on second thought, that's exactly what I'm saying.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014.
Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote a Politico op-ed with a memorable headline: "No, the GOP is not at war with science." Upon further reflection, maybe he should have picked a different topic.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) created a mess for himself discussing the science of vaccinations yesterday, but as Rachel noted on the show last night, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) stumble was just as bad.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul is standing by his statement that most vaccinations should be "voluntary," telling CNBC that a parent's choice not to vaccinate a child is "an issue of freedom." In an interview with the network Monday, Paul said that vaccines are "a good thing" but that parents "should have some input" into whether or not their children must get them. And he gave credence to the idea -- disputed by the majority of the scientific community -- that vaccination can lead to mental disabilities. "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines," he said.

The fact that the Republican senator has a medical background -- Rand Paul was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before getting elected to the U.S. Senate -- may lead some to believe he has credibility on matters of science and public health.
But to assume that he knows what he's talking about would be a horrible mistake. Rand Paul's deeply ridiculous rhetoric about the Ebola virus, for example, looks absurd, if not genuinely dangerous, four months after the public-health scare. He also seems to think medical research at the National Institutes of Health is some kind of punch line, worthy of mockery.
Yesterday, however, was a stark reminder that when it comes to kooky ideas about science, Rand Paul is on the far fringes of modern American life. If the senator's bizarre conspiracy theories weren't proof of his ... how do I put this gently ... idiosyncrasies, the fact that that the GOP lawmaker connects vaccinations and "profound mental disorders" should make clear just how far gone Paul really is.
Indeed, look again at the way in which Paul characterized his concerns: he's "heard of" cases. Well, in that case, it's obviously a message a responsible senator and doctor should take to a national television audience, right?
Andrew Kaczynski highlighted some relevant backstory:

For more than two decades, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was a member of a group, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, that advocated a link between vaccinations and autism, among other conspiracy theories. The AAPS, as Kentucky's Courier-Journal noted in a 2010 article on Paul's association with it, opposes mandatory vaccinations and promoted discredited studies, which linked the vaccine-component thimerosal to autism in children.

As Rachel mentioned on the show, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which Paul was a proud member of for many years, has also argued that HIV does not cause AIDS.
As an electoral matter, news like this poses a challenge for Rand Paul for which there is no easy solution: the senator has some truly bizarre ideas about the way in which the world works. Much of the political establishment considers him "interesting" in a quirky and unpredictable way, but once any politician develops a reputation as a crackpot, his or her future is limited.