The vote on Jenny McCarthy–a resounding NO

“McCarthy’s view on vaccines stirs ‘View’ controversy” USA TODAY (July 16, 2013) 
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/15/jenny-mccarthy-view-vaccines/2518171/ 

“Actress to Fill One Vacancy in the Cast of ‘The View’” The New York Times (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/business/media/jenny-mccarthy-to-join-the-view-on-abc.html?_r=0

“Viruses Don’t Care About Your View: Why ABC Shouldn’t Have Hired Jenny McCarthy” TIME (July 15, 2013) 
http://entertainment.time.com/2013/07/15/viruses-dont-care-about-your-view-why-abc-shouldnt-have-hired-jenny-mccarthy/#ixzz2ZDRFH2Vd

“Jenny McCarthy: The Danger of Medical Celebrity” Forbes (July 15, 2013)
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2013/07/16/jenny-mccarthy-the-danger-of-medical-celebrity/

“Jenny McCarthy on ‘View’: A new forum for discredited autism theories” Los Angeles Times (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-jenny-mccarthy–view-autism-20130715,0,6008429.story

“Jenny McCarthy on The View — not The Medically Correct View, Just The View” Washington Post (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/07/15/jenny-mccarthy-on-the-view-not-the-medically-correct-view-just-the-view/

“What Jenny McCarthy Should Do Before Her View Debut” Forbes (July 16, 2013) 
http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/07/16/what-jenny-mccarthy-should-do-before-her-view-debut/

“Jenny McCarthy joins ‘The View’” USA TODAY (July 15, 2013)
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2013/07/15/abc-the-view-jenny-mccarthy-barbara-walters/2517659/

“Bill Nye: Jenny McCarthy’s Errant Views On Childhood Vaccines May Be Discredited On ‘The View’” Huffington Post (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/bill-nye-jenny-mccarthy-childhood-vaccines-autism-the-view_n_3600666.html?ir=Science

OPINION: “She plays one on TV” New York Daily News (July 16, 2013) 
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/plays-tv-article-1.1399408#ixzz2ZDXAXKsq

“Science Community Is Furious Over Jenny McCarthy’s New Job On ‘The View’” Business Insider (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.businessinsider.com/anti-vaxxer-jenny-mccarthy-on-the-view-2013-7#ixzz2ZDVSUM3N

“The View Hires Notorious Anti-Vaxxer Jenny McCarthy” Slate’s Bad Astronomy (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/07/15/the_view_daytime_talk_show_hires_antivaxxer_jenny_mccarthy.html

“ABC’s hiring of Jenny McCarthy: a decision that could cost lives” Boston.com (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/mdmama/2013/07/abcs_hiring_of_jenny_mccarthy_a_decision_that_could_cost_lives.html

OPINION: “ABC shouldn’t give McCarthy platform: Column” USA TODAY (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/07/15/jenny-mccarthy-view-column/2519101/

“Jenny McCarthy joins ‘The View’ as co-host” TODAY (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.today.com/entertainment/jenny-mccarthy-joins-view-co-host-6C10637031

“Anti-Vaccine Evangelist Jenny McCarthy Is the New Elisabeth Hasselbeck” New York Magazine (July 15, 2013) 
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/07/jenny-mccarthy-joins-the-view-elisabeth-hasselbeck.html

“Jenny McCarthy’s ‘View’ Announcement Stirs Up Snark on Twitter” The Hollywood Reporter (July 15, 2013)
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/jenny-mccarthys-view-announcement-stirs-585510

“ABC’s Jenny McCarthy Vs. ABC’s Actual Doctor on Vaccines” New Republic (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113867/abcs-jenny-mccarthy-vs-abcs-actual-doctor-vaccines#

“Jenny McCarthy to Join ‘The View’” The Daily Beast (July 15, 2013)
http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2013/07/15/jenny-mccarthy-to-join-the-view.html

“Anti-Vaccine Activist Jenny McCarthy to Join ‘The View’” Politix (July 16, 2013) 
http://politix.topix.com/homepage/7036-anti-vaccine-campaigner-jenny-mccarthy-to-join-the-view

“Jenny McCarthy To Bring Her Anti-Vaccine Activism To ‘The View’ As New Co-Host” Think Progress (July 15, 2013) 
http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/07/15/2302631/jenny-mccarthy-to-bring-her-anti-vaccine-activism-to-the-view-as-new-co-host/

“Jenny McCarthy: An antivaccine ‘View’ is hired” Respectful Insolence (July 16, 2013) 
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/07/16/jenny-mccarthy-an-antivaccine-view-is-hired/

“Should Jenny McCarthy’s Vaccine Opinions Keep Her Off The View?” Pop Blend (July 15, 2013) 
http://www.cinemablend.com/pop/Should-Jenny-McCarthy-Vaccine-Opinions-Keep-Her-Off-View-57524.html

(A special thanks to fellow blogger, Karen Ernst, for creating and editing this list.)

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”

Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)

We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups:  antivaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, HIV/AIDS denialism, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch. The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience”, even though the name is given to them both as a pejorative, but also because its based on their non-scientific, but scientific-sounding method of providing information.

In fact, there are several hallmarks that indicate to most educated individuals as to what is or is not pseudoscience. Real science is a systematic and rational method to organize and analyze “knowledge” into testable explanations and predictions. Sometimes, it appears that the anti-science crowd believes that science is just a word, not a philosophy which is organized as the scientific method. It isn’t some magical system that only smart people in secret ivory towers practice. The scientific method is simply a set of logical steps:

  1. Formulate a question: Based on observations of the natural world. Maybe you notice that sky is blue, and you ask “why is the sky blue?” Or “how do I design a vaccine to encourage the immune system to prevent a virus from causing a disease?” Of course, the questions can become much more complex as we make more detailed observations of the our world.
  2. Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis may be broad or very narrow. One could make a hypothesis that life can evolve on many planets across the universe. Or one could make a hypothesis that a drug can cure a disease in a small population of individuals. A proper hypothesis must include a null hypothesis, that is, the scientist must be willing to test that the null hypothesis is also false (a sort of double negative). This null hypothesis is that the new vaccine does nothing and that any disease prevention are due to chance effects. Researchers must also show that the null hypothesis is false. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. This all sounds complicated, but digested down to its simplest form, it means that a scientist is always willing to attempt to prove that the hypothesis is wrong
  3. Prediction: Once a hypothesis is developed, then the a prediction (or more than one prediction) is made based on the hypothesis. For example, if a vaccine is supposed to prevent a disease, then the prediction is made that it prevents some some amount of the disease above what would be assumed just by random chance. For example, without the vaccine it might be predicted that only 10% of individuals might be immune to the disease, but with the vaccine, it would be predicted that 85% would be immune. In all fields of science, the hypothesis leads to predictions which are different than what would be found simply by coincidence or randomness. Also, the hypothesis must be powerful enough to create more accurate predictions than alternative hypotheses.
  4. Test: This is the conducting of experiments or investigations to determine whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypotheses. These experiments are observations which will agree with or conflict with the predictions; if they agree, then the confidence in the hypothesis will increase. On the other hand, if there is conflict, the confidence will, of course, decrease. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. Medical and drug experiments utilize double-blind clinical trials to limit confirmation bias, a tendency towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study. 
  5. Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and one’s own experience can be incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)”

Whooping cough–Washington state epidemic is very scary thanks to vaccine denialism

The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that, as of July 30 2012, there have been 3,285 cases of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) in the state. This compares to just 253 through the same time period in 2011. If you want to be scared, look at it graphically.

Continue reading “Whooping cough–Washington state epidemic is very scary thanks to vaccine denialism”

Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe

It’s ironic that those who discuss the benefits of vaccines are world-class scientists and physicians. Dr. Paul Offit. The good doctors at Science Based Medicine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, of course, mountains of scientific evidence.

The anti-vaccine crackpots have Jenny McCarthy, the ex-playmate loudmouth. And Amy Farrah Fowler. Or Charlie Sheen. But now, Rob Schneider, whose career seems to have peaked 10 years ago playing misogynist roles in movies targeted to teenage males, a notoriously thoughtful group, has stepped into anti-vaccine pontificating. His particular brand of ranting is against California’s AB2109, which will allow parents to exempt their children from life-saving vaccines only after consultations with a healthcare provider. Right now, all a parent has to do to get a philosophical exemption to a vaccination is sign a letter. That’s it. No informed consent as to the risks to their child from these childhood diseases nothing. AB2109 does nothing more than require a signature of a physician that they discussed the exemption with the parent. I’m sure the anti-vaccine movement will publish lists of physicians who are opposed to vaccines who will gratefully sign the document for any parent who wants to put their children at risk. Continue reading “Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe”

The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement

There are many reasons to loathe the anti-vaccine lunatics. Their decisions are based on pseudoscience and uninformed opinions. They listen to uneducated individuals instead of researchers who spend their lifetimes trying to understand the nuances of vaccines, the immune system and infectious diseases. They look for nonexistent conspiracies to such a point that they sound like a schizophrenic undergoing a psychotic break. They pretend to be interested in their children, and you almost want to believe them, but their conclusions are based on so little evidence, you begin to think that it’s all about the hype rather than the children.

Continue reading “The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement”

Australia sees sharp rise in whooping cough cases

According to the Vaccine News Daily, Australian sees sharp rise in whooping cough cases. In 2011, Australia has seen about 38,000 cases of  whooping cough, despite a relatively high level of vaccination. As a comparison, California, which has about 15 million more people than Australia (37 million and 22 million people, respectively) had only 3,000 cases of whooping cough in 2011.  Some of the difference may be related to improved diagnostic procedures, but they have also been implemented in California. Continue reading “Australia sees sharp rise in whooping cough cases”

Joe Mercola using random nonsense words to push vaccine denialism

The anti-vaccination lunacy is made up of lot of individuals who push the various myths and pseudoscience regarding vaccines onto the planet.  There’s Andy Wakefield, whose original article was withdrawn by the medical journal who published it, and who was stripped of his medical license because he perpetrated a fraud.  Why he’s not sitting in a British prison is beyond my understanding.

Then there’s Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine advocate whose education included posing nude and starring in bad movies. Continue reading “Joe Mercola using random nonsense words to push vaccine denialism”

Pseudoscience and the anti-vaccine lunacy

We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups:  anti-vaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch.  The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience” as if it’s a pejorative without foundation. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and the anti-vaccine lunacy”

The dopes, I mean tropes, of the vaccine, evolution and climate change denialists

This morning, I was reading a posting by Orac, the nom de guerre (or nom de blog, according to him) of a rather snarky, humorous, and brilliant (yeah, I think he’s brilliant) surgeon hiding somewhere in the midwest.  In his article, The Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement, he amusingly and pointedly exposes the pathetic myths of the anti-vaccine movement.  Seriously, it’s not that hard dismissing the unsupported claims of the vaccine denialists, but the postings from the evidence-based crowd are necessary to make sure those people who make decisions through the University of Google Medical School have some accurate information.  At least that’s the theory.

So what is a trope?  If you’re talking about a religious service, it’s a musical embellishment, which sounds about right.  But in writing, a trope is a word or words that are used in a sense that is different from their literal meaning.  Hyperbole, used frequently by the vaccine denialism gang, is an example.

Orac listed several tactics, then the tropes, of the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s clear that they are used by the Big 3 of pseudoscience, Climate Change Denialists, Evolution Denialists (creationist) and Vaccine Denialists.  There are others, of course, like the HIV/AIDS denialists (claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS), and Physics Denialists (homeopathy).  First their tactics (liberally paraphrasing and embellishing on what Orac wrote):

  1. Skewing the science. This involves cherry picking studies, quote-mining, and attacking science that doesn’t support their denialist point-of-view, while trumpeting any report or study that supports them. The Big 3 of Denialism even attempt to rename their pseudoscience into “science”, with creation science and the “theory” of Intelligent design by way of illustration.  Case in point, Generation Rescue, Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine denialism website, contains a list of ingredients in vaccines and the side effects.  No citations.  No list of the concentration of ingredients.  No description of the actual risk of said side effects.  In other words, it looks like science.  But it doesn’t even meet the standards of a high school science paper or Wikipedia.
  2. Shifting hypotheses. Using a football metaphor, Orac calls it, “moving the goalposts.”  The denialist crowd changes either their requirements for evidence or just dismiss whatever evidence that doesn’t support their point-of-view.  One of the best examples (of so many good ones) is the old macro vs. micro-evolution canard used by creationists.  For scientists, macroevolution (change in a large population of organisms over geologic time periods) and microevolution (change at a species level over a relatively short period of time, usually one that is observable) are both driven by the same mechanisms, that is genetic drift and natural selection.  Creationists will regularly state that they “believe” in microevolution but not macroevolution.  Science answers questions, and it thrives on answering new ones.  But artificial questions that are just invented to shift the emphasis is a waste of time.
  3. Censorship. This is an extreme characteristic of all anti-science movements. For example, the Age of Autism does not allow dissenting comments in any of their discussions about vaccines.  Answers in Genesis, the evolution denialist website, only “answers” questions that are moderated.  Real science loves these discussions.  If some vaccine denier came to this website, I’d engage them in debate (except it’s hard to debate someone who doesn’t use real evidence).
  4. Attacking the opposition. Dr. Paul Offit, a respected pediatrician, is regularly attacked by the anti-vaccine gangsters (sorry, I fell into hyperbole, please pardon the mess), because of his writings on the subject of the safety of vaccines.  His 2011 book, Deadly Choices:  How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, probably angered those gangsters (oops, once again) as much as anything.  Orac himself apparently had an email campaign written about his evil ways passed along to his university (I guess his nom de blog isn’t that secret).  I once spent a substantial amount of time editing Wikipedia anonymously, focusing on vaccines, evolution, and alternative medicine articles.  I was very careful with my identity, but someone found my address in California and began spamming my email and regular mail.  They contacted my employer, but since it was my company, I wasn’t too concerned.

And now the tropes (mostly from the vaccine denialist mob):

  1. “I’m not antivaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccines.” Of course, there’s no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, but this sounds good.  A similar one is the evolution denialist “I believe in microevolution, but not in macroevolution.”  Or the climate change version, “sure, the temperature is rising, I just don’t believe humans are involved.”
  2. Vaccines are toxic. Thoroughly debunked and debunked.
  3. A demand for absolute safety.  As anyone who’s in medicine states, every medical procedure, technique, injection, device, pharmaceutical, or whatever else has some risk.  When the benefits outweigh the risk, then the choice is clear.  When the benefits outweigh an invented risk, then it’s extremely clear.
  4. A demand for absolute “proof” that vaccines are safe.  I hate these arguments.  Science doesn’t work in absolute proofs, it works to provide evidence that supports a hypothesis.  Science is open-minded, so it demands the best possible evidence, but leaves the possibility that an alternative hypothesis may supplant the original one.
  5. “Vaccines didn’t save us.”  Pure delusion.
  6. Vaccines are “unnatural.”  This trope is used by the alternative medicine world every day, because, they state, without any evidence, “natural” is better than real science.  In fact, there’s nothing more natural than inducing an immune response, since it happens billions of times.  Debunked.
  7. Choosing between “vaccine injury” and disease. What injury?  Last I checked, the real evidence doesn’t support vaccine injury.  So, there is no choice, since the real disease is worst.

What is troublesome about these tropes is that they are simple to state.  “Vaccines are toxic” is a three word statement that is scary, even if not supported by evidence.  To discredit it, one needs to discuss each of the ingredients, providing real evidence, and then try to tie it all together.  That’s way beyond three words.  I once heard Paul Offit on NPR, and his answers were intelligent and correct, but they are so nuanced and complex, the listeners defaulted to the “vaccines are toxic” meme.

I believe that patients should be informed about their health and their healthcare choices.  But searching the internet for this information has always troubled me.  If you google “vaccines and autism”, you get over 7 million hits (with number 2 being the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, so that’s comforting).  But what is the quality of these hits?  Is Wikipedia a good choice?  Well, I’ll answer that question because I know a couple of physicians and medical researchers watch over it carefully.  In todays world of the interwebs, readers tend to accept every website as being “the truth”.  I know people who actually count the number of websites that support a particular point of view!

Where are the critical thinking skills?  I bet the various science deniers will state that they are thinking critically, but mostly what I see is trying to support a viewpoint by manipulating the information, instead of being openminded.  It is difficult to engage in this discussion with such individuals.