Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

One lunatic is dangerous to children–The Jenny McCarthy Story


Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 15.00.31Unless you’re a skeptic living under a rock on Mars (which would be pretty amazing), you’d know that the Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy was chosen by ABC TV (in the USA) to be a co-host on the daytime talk show, The View. Let’s just say that this has not been met positively by much of the skeptical, pro-science blogging and journalism community. In fact, from what I’ve read, hardly anyone but the vaccine denier lunatic fringe is happy about her choice a co-host.

But this isn’t just complaining about an actress getting a job on a TV show. On my personal list of things I care about, I care very little about who is or isn’t the host on The View, a show that I have honestly never watched. And given that Jenny is going to be on it, I have even less interest in watching it.

The real reason why so many of us were upset had nothing to do with her being a bad actress, but because her beliefs about vaccines are plainly untrue and unsupported by the vast wealth of science. And now she might have a platform to hawk her misguided conviction that vaccines are dangerous. Because Americans are so easily seduced by a celebrity endorsement (about 25% of Americans trust celebrities), her comments carry more weight than real physicians and scientific researchers. 

The Anti-Vaccine Body Count website (AVBC, once named the Jenny McCarthy Body Count), which uses CDC morbidity and mortality statistics, monitors every vaccine preventable disease and death (in the USA, just for ease of gathering data) since 2007, when Jenny made an appearance on Oprah, which more or less made her views famous. Since 2007, AVBC has counted over 118,000 vaccine preventable illnesses and 1,170 vaccine preventable deaths.

Now, let’s be clear about two things. First, we cannot be certain that all of those with vaccine preventable illness or those who died of those diseases were not vaccinated. We know that vaccines are not 100% effective, we just know that without vaccines, you place yourself and your children at a much greater risk of catching the diseases. Second, we know that Jenny is not singularly responsible for every death and every illness attributable to vaccine preventable diseases. But she bears a substantial amount of the culpability as a celebrity who is literally the face of the antivaccination movement.

Now we can assume that ABC TV loves controversy, and wants an attractive loudmouth on The View to drive ratings even higher. It is probably a sound marketing strategy, if you are to examine their decision without taking into consideration all the vaccine preventable illnesses and death. However, if ABC TV assumes that she has an “opinion”, no different than political opinions discussed by the other hosts, then ABC TV would be wrong. You can have an “opinion” about taxes, or Obamacare, or even whether New York City is the greatest city in the world. You can find all kind of high and low quality evidence to support your opinions on any of those things.

But much like evolution or global warming, opinion gets trumped by high quality, peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals. The evidence in these publications based on years, if not decades, of research, supported by scientists throughout the world. It is established by hard work utilizing the scientific method, and repeated by many others. The fact of vaccine safety and effectiveness is established using the highest quality science available to mankind. You can’t have an “opinion” about vaccines. You can either accept the vast wealth of scientific evidence, or you can reject it based on your own vast wealth of scientific evidence. But your evidence has to be derived in the same exacting and scientific manner as we get from all real scientists. You cannot just use rhetoric and, frankly delusional lies, to counteract the science. That doesn’t work.

So, ABC TV might think there is some “debate” about vaccines, but there isn’t. There’s just real, high quality on one side. And a Jenny’s ignorant and dangerous beliefs on the other.

The ridiculousness of Jenny’s beliefs can be capsulized by this interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2007, excerpted from Seth Mnookin’s book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy:

McCarthy: First thing I did—Google. I put in autism. And I started my research.

Winfrey: Thank God for Google.

McCarthy: I’m telling you.

Winfrey: Thank God for Google.

McCarthy: The University of Google is where I got my degree from. . . . And I put in autism and something came up that changed my life, that led me on this road to recovery, which said autism—it was in the corner of the screen—is reversible and treatable. And I said, What?! That has to be an ad for a hocus pocus thing, because if autism is reversible and treatable, well, then it would be on Oprah.

Yes, Jenny admitted that her “opinions” about vaccines aren’t based on knowledge derived from a Ph.D. in a basic biomedical science or based on 20 years of scientific research in a world class laboratory, it’s constructed from a few minutes of Googling, without any indication of critical thinking skills to understand and analyze the quality of anything that shows up in a Google search. So ABC TV is giving an audience to Jenny’s dangerous and anti-science views on vaccines? Possibly because it’s just another controversy to raise ratings. I’ll bet they’re laughing all the way to the advertisers with all of the negative comments that are circulating across the internet.

The fact that she has no authority in the area of vaccines is only part of the problem. She uses her celebrity status to actually misinform people about vaccines, supporting the suspicion that she has contributed to at least some of the vaccine preventable illnesses and deaths that are made prominent in the Body Count website. Here’s an excerpt of some her stupidity about vaccines in an interview with Time Magazine:

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 fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

Jenny is providing us with a false and dangerous dichotomy. In fact the choice is between preventing polio, a dangerous, sometimes deadly disease, and a vaccine about which no one has made any claim that it causes autism, let alone someone showing evidence that it does cause autism. She’s making a provocative statement that lacks any element of veracity. 

She’s even insensitive and incredibly ignorant in her comments about vaccines and her son’s “autism” (scare quotes, because many physicians are not convinced her son has any type of Autism spectrum disorder):

Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.

Let me see if I can put this in real scientific terms: vaccines don’t cause autism. Period.

There are just so many quotes from Jenny about vaccines that I could spend days discussing it. So, what else has she said:

People are also dying from vaccinations. Evan, my son, died in front of me for two minutes. You ask any mother in the autism community if we’ll take the flu, the measles, over autism and day of the week. I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.

This is an outright lie. One billion children have been vaccinated against measles. If even 0.01% died from the vaccine, we’d see hundreds of thousands of deaths from vaccines. Unless you really want to put on the tin foil hat and claim that Big Media is hiding this story, there is no story. Because the number is so small, that’s it’s nearly 0, mainly because it’s impossible to show causality (or because of other contributing factors like not getting immediate treatment for allergic reactions to the vaccine). But vaccines, despite being responsible for nearly 0 deaths a year, saves about 6 million lives a year. Let me repeat: six million lives are saved every year.

Jenny probably can’t help being an ignoramus. Maybe it’s a lack of education or an innate inability to think critically. Maybe she assumes she can say whatever the hell she wants because she is a Grade B celebrity. But she is dangerous. And ABC TV is complicit in her dangerous beliefs, because they accept the stupidity of her arguments based on some false balanced thinking, that is, both sides of a debate must be treated equally, even if one is fully backed by real evidence, and the other side is simply just inventions pulled out of the air.

Jenny McCarthy is simply a lunatic, willing to scream insanely about an important medical and scientific topic, without any evidence whatsoever supporting her viewpoint. None. If she were babbling about the moon landings being faked (yeah that’s a thing), we’d just laugh at her. But with vaccines, we’re not talking about something funny. We’re talking about saving lives of children by making certain that they are properly and regularly immunized against infectious diseases that can harm or even kill. She doesn’t deserve a bully pulpit to make that point. Even if she doesn’t say a word about vaccines on The View, the fact that she might be considered “respected” because she is on the View will give the “false balance” pushers, who think that there really is two sides of the vaccine “debate,” the ability to quote her as some sort of authority. And that’s wrong.

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