“Madam Secretary” fights anti-vaccine propaganda with facts

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I’m a big fan of the CBS TV show Madam Secretary, which is a drama about a fictional Secretary of State, played by Téa Leoni. The most recent episode, “The Common Defense,” centered on several stories surrounding a measles outbreak in several countries – measles played the show’s villain (instead of Russian oligarchs, terrorists, and incompetent Congressman and Senators).

I was caught by surprise by the episode. At first, I thought they would mess up the science, or, even worse, take an anti-science approach to measles and vaccines. But I was pleasantly surprised, and it stated scientific facts about vaccines, though maybe I could nitpick here and there. I won’t. Continue reading ““Madam Secretary” fights anti-vaccine propaganda with facts”

Anti-vaccine Robert De Niro morphs into Jenny McCarthy

Anti-vaccine Robert De Niro follows Jenny McCarthy

I thought this story was dead and buried. The Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro’s baby, was going to show the fraudulent documentary (hereinafter, fraudumentary) from the epic fraud himself, MrAndy Wakefield’s, fraudulent anti-vaccination movie “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Controversy.” Suddenly, the anti-vaccine Robert De Niro has jumped back into the discussion about pseudoscientific link between vaccines and autism.

To quote De Niro’s co-star from the Godfather movies, Al Pacino as Michael Corleone famously stated, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

I guess I’m being pulled back in.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine Robert De Niro morphs into Jenny McCarthy”

Amy Farrah Fowler is going to talk to teachers about science

Next week, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), an organization devoted “to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all,” is having their annual meeting in Boston, MA. Normally, I would not write much about this group, because they do good stuff for science, and I tend to focus on those individuals and groups that do bad stuff for science. 

One of the guest speakers at this year’s NSTA conference is Mayim Bialik, who plays a neuroscientist on CBS-TV’s The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). In case you’re not a fan of the show, it is one of the better written shows on TV (a moderate standard, indeed). It follows the lives of four main male characters, who are all researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Cal Tech, one of the premier science institutions in the USA. The show continues to make obscure, but funny, references to scientific ideas, Star Trek, comics, and just about anything geeky. 

Bialik plays not only a neuroscientist by the name of Amy Farrah Fowler, but the girlfriend (kind of, sort of, who knows) of one the main characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a quirky theoretical physicist. But what is particularly amazing is that Bialik actually does have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA (as does the famous atheist and science philosopher, Sam Harris), and wrote her doctoral dissertation about a rare genetic disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome, which manifests itself with various neurological and neuromuscular deficits. Frankly, it’s brilliant work. Continue reading “Amy Farrah Fowler is going to talk to teachers about science”

Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.

gardasil-one-lessAfter publishing a few articles about Katie Couric‘s false balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science broadcast on her eponymous TV talk show, Katie, I thought I could move on to other topics in skepticism. I, and dozens of other writers on the internet, had chided, criticized and lambasted her using anecdotes from two mothers to impugn the safety of Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), while ignoring solid science and medical research that supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Well, today, Couric issued an apology, of sorts, regarding the episode. Her introductory paragraph, basically says it all:

Last week we devoted several segments on my TV talk show to the issues surrounding the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. Learning about this relatively recent preventive measure is tremendously important, and I felt it was a subject well worth exploring. Following the show, and in fact before it even aired, there was criticism that the program was too anti-vaccine and anti-science, and in retrospect, some of that criticism was valid. We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine. More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines. As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts. Continue reading “Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.”

Jenny McCarthy’s evil twin–Amy Farrah Fowler

©2013, CBS
©2013, CBS

If you’re a fan of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), a show about five highly educated geek/hipsters (and all doing scientific research as their career, which makes me happy that my career choice ended up as a great TV show) and the girl next door who is in love with one of the highly educated geek/hipsters. One of the main characters is Amy Farrah Fowler, who is a Ph.D. level neurobiologist who has a complicated relationship with one of the male characters on the show. At this point, you’d be wondering if I was hallucinating, because how could Amy Farrah Fowler be a twin of Jenny McCarthy, let alone an evil twin? 

But there’s a method to my madness. Or logic.

Unless you were studying meltwater lakes in the Arctic (an overhyped and incorrect story, by the way), you probably knew that the former 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.

Dr. Fowler is played by the actress Mayim Bialik, who is not only a fairly accomplished actress, starring in two successful TV series (Blossom being the other), but during a break from acting she went to college and graduate school, and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from an academically elite university, UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles). In other words, Dr. Bialik is everything that Jenny McCarthy is not–she is a successful actress with fairly good comedic abilities, she is extremely well educated at a real university (as opposed to Jenny McCarthy’s claim of being educated at the University of Google), and, as far as I know, Bialik has not posed nude for Playboy, though I suppose that being featured in Playboy is not an indicator of intellect.

To be honest, I thought it would be great to see a young, well educated woman succeeding on a hit TV show. Moreover, she gets to play a young, well-educated, albeit somewhat more nerdy, dopplegänger of her real life self on TBBT.

So you’re asking, exactly how can she be an evil twin of the uneducated, unsuccessful, Playboy-shilling, McCarthy?

Continue reading “Jenny McCarthy’s evil twin–Amy Farrah Fowler”

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.  Continue reading “Jenny McCarthy gets to showcase her ignorance on television”

Amy Farrah Fowler may believe in homeopathy, but Sheldon does not

A couple of days ago, I talked about the Amy Farrah Fowler character on one of my favorite TV shows, the geeky Big Bang Theory, who is a neurobiologist played by a real neurobiologist, Mayim Bialik.  Yes, Bialik, former star of the TV show Blossom (never saw an episode) has a Ph.D. in neurobiology from UCLA.  Yes, the real UCLA.

As we discussed, Dr. Bialik seems to believe in a whole host of pseudoscientific alternative medicine ideas, all of which does not make sense given her education.  She believes in homeopathy, which is basically nonsense according to every definition of the word “nonsense.”  Homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience, since it is based on a nearly impossible foundation of water having a sort of memory to what it contacted.  In other words, the basic principle of homeopathy violates all the basic principles of physics and chemistry.  These aren’t ideas that require a Ph.D. to understand, and assuming that Bialik actually studied science, and didn’t cruise through her undergraduate and graduate training without opening a single book, she would have to be scientifically critical of homeopathy.

Continue reading “Amy Farrah Fowler may believe in homeopathy, but Sheldon does not”

Amy Farrah Fowler, I’m so disappointed

I’m a huge fan of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), mainly because I’m a lifelong geek, but also because it is one of the better written shows on TV (a low standard indeed).  The four main male characters are researchers at Cal Tech, although, as the show keeps mentioning, three have Ph.D.’s, and one only has a Masters from MIT.  TBBT also amuses me because I was one of those characters, seemingly clueless about the opposite sex, more interested in games and Star Trek than in anything else, and spending hours in a lab doing obscure experiments.  And I dressed that poorly too!  TBBT just reminds me of my life.  And I still love Star Trek (though Enterprise annoyed me).

Continue reading “Amy Farrah Fowler, I’m so disappointed”