The first problem is that he uncritically accepts the characterization of Mulvaney's remarks found in his source, a Mother Jones article with a slightly more cautious headline, Trump's Pick for Budget Director Isn't Sure the Government Should Fund Scientific Research. Mulvaney had found an article in ScienceDaily, New doubts on Zika as cause of microcephaly, that suggests that the Zika virus might not be the cause of the large cluster of microcephaly cases in Brazil because essentially no cases were caused by Zika in Colombia. Not only does Sumner swallow the MJ and SD articles' problems, both of which I'll also get to in a minute, he exaggerates them. His headline is more inflammatory, and therefore more clickable. He calls Mulvaney's comments an "attack on basic science," when Mulvaney said nothing of the sort. Amazingly, Sumner actually goes on to imagine a completely unsubstantiated explanation of the discrepancy between the frequencies of microcephaly in Brazil and Colombia. "The answer," he writes, "is likely one that Mulvaney never even paused to consider—abortion. Brazil was hit first, but as the disease spread to other areas, increased awareness of its effects made detection and treatment more available." This theory is not found in any of Sumner's sources, and he doesn't say where he got it. He appears to have taken it of the top of his head.
However, Daily Science also cites two articles in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), one published on May 19 and the other on June 15, 2016, relying more on the latter. It concluded, "Preliminary surveillance data in Colombia suggest that maternal infection with the Zika virus during the third trimester of pregnancy is not linked to structural abnormalities in the fetus." Two weeks later, though, a news article on the web site Medical Xpress began, "Just when it seemed that missing cases of microcephaly in Colombia were straining the credibility of the Zika virus' connection to the birth defects, the latest report from Colombia includes five new cases of microcephaly with Zika infections," and ended, "Whether or not Zika and microcephaly are linked will be conclusively determined from reports over the next few weeks." To complicate matters further, another NECSI article, Is Zika the cause of Microcephaly? Status Report November 4, 2016, NECSI, reported that new cases in Colombia had plateaued, weakening the case for a Zika-microcephaly link. It suggests another hypothesis: "One possibility is the pesticide pyriproxyfen ...a larvicide that interferes with the development of mosquitos, and it has been suggested that it might also interfere with human development... The pesticide has been applied to drinking water in some regions of Brazil since the fall of 2014... It has not been used in drinking water in Colombia." Others have disputed that connection, as summarized in this new articel, Experts debunk claim blaming larvicide, not Zika, for microcephaly. Clearly, this is not resolved. Just today, December 20, Medical Xpress published another article, Researchers strengthen the case for sexual transmission of Zika virus. Research will be ongoing, and vitally important.
It is not within my ability to resolve this ongoing debate, so what am I to conclude? First, while I have not read every existing bit of research on this subject, what I have seen does not support Mark Sumner's abortion theory. Second, more research is needed, not less, and research doesn't happen if it is not funded. If it is not funded by governments, including ours, the only alternative is for the funding to come from major pharmaceutical corporations, or maybe from Sumitomo, the Japanese manufacturer of pyriproxyfen. That hardly sounds like a good idea. More research, independent research, is needed, not less. Mulvaney's suggestion, even in its more limited reading, is wrong. Third, Daily Kos diaries ought not to be trusted without verification. They possibly should not be shared at all, especially since they almost always have a reference to more reliable sources.