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.  Continue reading “One lunatic is dangerous to children–The Jenny McCarthy Story”

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”