Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Jenny McCarthy gets to showcase her ignorance on television

© Discover Magazine Blogs, 2013

© Discover Magazine Blogs, 2013

Despite general opposition to it in the social media world, Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy Playmate of the Year, has just officially joined The View, an American daytime talk show on the ABC television network (owned by Disney). So other than being a former Playboy model, what is she notable for? Well, unless you’re just totally uninterested in the vaccine controversy, you know her as someone who heavily promotes the anti-vaccination movement.

Let’s look closely at Jenny’s background. Her extensive medical and science education includes…not much. In fact, she’s used as an authority figure among vaccine deniers, despite having no formal education in the sciences, medicine, immunology, virology, psychiatry, psychology…I’m sure you get the point.

In 2005, she announced that her child was diagnosed with autism, and she remains convinced that vaccines caused her son’s autism, although that view is unsupported by any scientific or medical evidence, which has lead to some significant skepticism and doubt that her son even has autism. Her public appearances and statements have increased the public perception of this link, and may have led to decreased immunization rates and increased incidence of some vaccine preventable diseases. Jenny has stated that chelation therapy helped her son recover from autism. Essentially, she claims that mercury in vaccines causes autism, which has been rejected by scientific and clinical studies. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism (this blog post thoroughly discusses all of the evidence), unless you buy into the fraudulent link between autism and vaccines promoted by MrAndy Wakefield‘s paper that alleged a connection between MMR and autism and has been retracted by the Lancet medical journal. Jenny claims that the use of chelation somehow reversed the effects of the “mercury exposure,” and “cured” her son of autism. However, the National Institute of Mental Health has concluded that autistic children will not receive any benefit to balance the risks of cognitive and emotional problems induced by the chelating agents used in this treatment. To be honest, she should stick to modeling and B-grade movies.

A few years ago, Jenny talked to Time Magazine about her views on vaccines.  One answer, in particular, to a question from the Time editors, confirms how harmful her viewpoints can be, particularly to children:

Time: Your collaborator recommends that parents accept only the haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) and tetanus vaccine for newborns and then think about the rest. Not polio? What about the polio clusters in unvaccinated communities like the Amish in the U.S.? What about the 2004 outbreak that swept across Africa and Southeast Asia after a single province in northern Nigeria banned vaccines?

Jenny: I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

There is no evidence that polio vaccines are correlated with or causal to autism (in fact, I was unable to find one peer-reviewed article that makes that claim). So, she’s inventing a conviction about polio and autism right out of the blue. Ostensibly, that invented supposition is alleged by her to balance against the fact that the polio vaccine prevents several thousand cases of paralysis and death every single year. I bet if Jenny were alive in 1955, when the polio vaccine became widely available, and polio epidemics were prevalent in the USA, she’d have a different attitude. She would be screaming that she was incapable of getting the vaccines fast enough for her kids!

The criticisms of Jenny are widespread throughout the science blogosphere:

Dr. David Gorski, who as far as I know still has his medical license, stated in his Science Based Medicine blog:

Here’s a hint for you, Jenny: We already do have vaccines that are safe. The government is listening to you and your fellow antivaccine activists far more than your pseudoscientific nonsense deserves and even though you are a scientific illiterate. They do it because you and your fellow antivaccine activists whose public face you have become are endangering public health on the basis of no good science, and they are trying to prevent that. Indeed, scientists continue to waste millions of dollars studying over and over again the question of whether vaccines are associated with autism and keep finding the same answer: They aren’t.

Some might say that Jenny has a constitutional right to prattle and jabber about her judgments regarding vaccines. Except, as the old metaphor goes, you can’t shout “fire” in a theatre, if there is no fire. That’s dangerous. And her comments about vaccines, uninformed, ignorant, and based on zero evidence, are menacing to children everywhere. She needs to shut her mouth.

Now maybe ABC TV (again owned by Disney, who tells children that their theme parks are the “happiest place on earth”) decided to go to the Dumb Blonde Talent Agency to get Jenny on The View, and have ordered her to shut her uninformed mouth about vaccines. Let’s hope.

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