Oct 02 2008

Hubris, Thy Name Is Jenny McCarthy

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Comments: 42

There are many words I could attach to the dangerous freakshow that is Jenny McCarthy – self-made advocate for the pseudoscientific notion that there is a link between vaccines and autism: deluded, self-righteous, irrational, the Mayor of Wooville, etc. But I am always interested in the process that gets people to their profound confusion. I believe at the core of Jenny McCarthy’s tragic crusade is an utter lack of humility.

Her lack of humility also seems consistent with someone who has never risen to a level of competence, let alone mastery, in any intellectual discipline. Those who have understand on some level the value of excellence and expertise, and the gulf that separates superficial public knowledge (or what has been called in the internet age, the University of Google knowledge) from a functional depth of understanding.

This brings to mind yet another word that could apply to McCarthy – sophomoric. She has garnered just enough knowledge to think she knows what she is talking about, but not enough to appreciate the depths of her own ignorance.

I have known many such people in my life, usually distant family or casual acquaintences. A family friend, for example, without the slightest clue of real archaeology or history thought himself capable of overturning conventional wisdom regarding the history of human civilization. He wrote a book recasting human history in the light of recurrent alien visitations.  In conversation on his favorite topic he came across as a zealot, impressed with his own ideas, and lacking in the humility that genuine knowledge might have brought him.

Experts, of course, often fail to learn humility also.  It simply does not occur to them that the profound ignorance they had in their own field prior to becoming an expert (and of which they are now acutely aware), they still have in every other field. Those who fail to make this connection, for whatever reason, are almost destined to embarass themselves. (Linus Pauling, unfortunately for the legacy of this brilliant man, is now the poster child for this phenomenon.)

There is an important difference between my family’s eccentric friend and Jenny McCarthy – McCarthy is a celebrity and is not just self-publishing an obscure book, she is going on an anti-vaccine crusade that is actually having an impact.  I know I am being hard on her – but when you step into the public arena to advocate for a position that has direct health consequence, the gloves are off. The arena of scientific peer-review is a heartless meat-grinder – and whether she knows it or not, she asked for it.

Recently McCarthy appeared on CNN. During the interview she exposes her hubris in multiple ways. First, she declares that she is “certain” that vaccines caused her son’s autism. Premature or unjustified certainty is the golden road to pseudoscience. She is declaring that she has a fixed belief, immune to evidence and logic. That is how pseudoscience primarily operates – starting with a conclusion that believers just know is true, and then back-filling any justification they can find.

Such certainty requires a profound lack of humility, a lack of understanding of the nature of scientific evidence and the complexity of medical evidence and decision-making. In this particular case it requires an utter denial of the growing body of evidence that shows that vaccines are not linked to autism.

Throughout the interview she also betrays growing anger at the medical community.  She clearly believes that physicians and regulators are evil and self-serving – not that there are individual physicians and regulators who are corrupt or greedy, but that the vast majority are – everyone who disagrees with her beliefs. This, too, is a manifestation of profound hubris. She not only thinks she is smarter than the experts, she thinks she is more righteous.

So convinced is she in her own intellectual and moral superiority that she goes as far as to recommend that parents should take the care of their children into their own hands and ignore the advice of medical experts.

The thought process is clear. McCarthy is convinced that vaccines cause autism, and did so in the specific case of her son. The medical evidence disagrees with her belief, as does the FDA, the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, The World Health Organization, and the vast majority of relevant experts. This does not give her the slightest pause, however. Rather than reexamine her conclusions or genuinely try to understand the position of those who disagree with her, she readily believes that she simply knows better than the world experts, and further, that they must be corrupt and greedy to the point that they will knowingly harm children to line their pockets. This conviction then fills her with self-righteous anger.

It is simply inconceivable to her that perhaps, just maybe, she might be wrong.

Lacking the ability to entertain such a proposition, McCarthy is descending steadily into the depths of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. The world doesn’t agree with me, she reasons – it must be a conspiracy (it can’t be that I’m wrong). How deep does this conspiracy go? All the way.

If history is any judge, McCarthy will continue her descent, believing more and more ludicrous and paranoid nonsense. The only good thing about this typical course is that she will progressively marginalize herself. The scientific evidence will march on, leaving her and her cronies behind to whine about greed and conspiracies alongside the 9/11 truthers. The only question is how much damage will she do in the meantime.

It is concern over this damage (which is already underway in the form of an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as the use of many dangerous quack treatments like chelation) that motivates me and other science bloggers to take such a hard line with McCarthy. Orac has also taken her down nicely. Even Phil Plait, an astronomer, thought it necessary to call shinanigans on McCarthy.

Her crusade is destructive. It seeks to divide, rather than find common ground. It is dedicated not to a cause (children or autism) but to a conclusion (it’s the vaccines) that happens to be wrong. Along the way she seeks to burn down any institution that gets in her way – sowing public distrust in the medical community, in scientific medicine, in the vaccine program, and regulatory agencies. She believes the system has failed her, so now she advocates for medical anarchy – parents taking medical care into their own hands and not trusting their doctors.

To her all of this is better than to entertain, even for a moment, that perhaps she has not properly interpreted the complex scientific evidence – that maybe, just maybe, she might be wrong and the experts right.

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42 responses so far

42 Responses to “Hubris, Thy Name Is Jenny McCarthy”

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  2. Jim Shaveron 02 Oct 2008 at 2:18 pm

    I’m so frustrated with interviews like this one with Jenny McCarthy, for two main reasons. The first is that McCarthy is given so much free airtime by these mews media outlets to spread her dangerous and poorly informed message. The second frustration is that the interviewers are very often too sympathetic towards their guest and too cynical towards the medical establishment, which is also often not appropriately represented or defended in these stories.

    The CNN reporter sets a cynical tone right from the beginning:

    The American Academy of Pediatrics and others continue to say that there is no link between vaccinations and autism. They go on to say that the risk of not vaccinating could be even worse. What do you say about why, first of all, they’re reluctant to talk about any possible link between vaccines and autism?

    So the reporter begins by asking the person with a highly biased agenda and no medical qualifications why the medical establishment is “reluctant” to address her concerns about our children’s safety. It’s as if McCarthy gave her the list of questions to ask. And McCarthy’s answer is every bit as cynical and rationalized as we expect, yet the reporter does not follow up or challenge her at all:

    Um, well, when you really think about it, the reason why is because there is such a huge business in pharmaceuticals.

    Then, when McCarthy is asked about medical experts’ assertions that children are dying from preventable diseases as a result of not being vaccinated, she replies:

    People are also dying from vaccinations. Evan, my son, died in front of me for two minutes.

    So Jenny McCarthy’s son died from a vaccine, but today he’s alive and well and has recovered from autism. How did he recover? She changed his diet, gave him vitamins and supplements, and detoxified his body. In her interviews and in her book, she literally begs parents to take their children’s health into their own hands.

    I could go on. Every word of that interview is tortuous, and it’s only three minutes long! Jenny McCarthy is good-looking, well-spoken, passionate, and unflappable. That’s a dangerous combination for a person of such hubris, who also happens to be wrong.

  3. jamieguinnon 02 Oct 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Oy!

    I say let the brutal process of the scientific method put McCarthy in her place. When it comes to innocent children dying because of idiots like this, all bets are off.

    She deserves a good punishing verbal ass-kicking for sure, but what is worse is that CNN and others are giving her the national pulpit to preach from. If anyone deserves the ass-kicking by association, it’s the media like CNN.

    “Everyman” doesn’t care about JAMA or the NEMJ, he gets his sophomoric knowledge the same place McCarthy does, the local and national networks. We never learned our lesson from Orson Wells. The martians are invading and we believe it, regardless of what the astronomers are telling us.

  4. Skeptical Surferon 02 Oct 2008 at 2:34 pm

    … and the media continues to lob softballs her way. Why no one really presses the issues with her is beyond me. The mainstream media is a complete and total failure at this point.

  5. DKeyon 02 Oct 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Wow! was my first thought when I read this… Its one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. So I guess I owe you a Thank you for keeping me laughing as I read this.
    Coming from a parent that has had a child injured from vaccines (and yes I would call multiple seizures right after he received 3 shots “a vaccine injury case” and now multiple food allergies) I applaud Jenny McCarthy. I consider her much more of an expert than any money grubbing doctor that would inject a child full of antifreeze, aluminum, thimerisol, MSG and animal parts. She deals with this every day! Come on, why is it so hard to believe that when you inject our children with that crap there is a chance of them having a bad reaction? Are you kidding? Is every child the same? No! Why are we treating every child in America the same and thinking every child immune system can handle the same stuff? She is in a position to spread the word that its not right that the CDC has said its ok to go from 10 shots in 1984 to almost 40 shots in 2007! Thats insane. Like she has said hundreds of times… she is not against vaccines.. she is against TOXIC vaccines! Blogs like this are a joke… you crucify a celeb that is helping parents open there eyes and not just take the word of someone who “practices” medicine! Even if it was true that vaccines don’t cause harm (which they do), is it still ok to load them up with all this crap?
    Let’s do more productive things like tell everyone about these “studies saying No link between autism and vaccines”… who funds those studies? The most recent one was funded by an individual who also works with Merck.. the vaccine/ pharmaceutical company. Or let’s tell people why they use those ingredients listed above instead of alternate one’s that are safer? They are not as cheap… so these company bank off of what ingredients are used.
    But again, I need to thank you for keeping me laughing as I read not only an un-researched topic you decided to blog about but also one that lacks compassion for those who deal with this everyday. I can’t get my child back but I can fight for others and that’s exactly what Jenny McCarthy is doing.

  6. dwood29on 02 Oct 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I’m not interested in defending Jenny McCarthy, but I have a hard time understanding why you attribute her hubris to the fact that she has never “risen to a level of competence, let alone mastery, in any intellectual discipline.”

    Another theory: she’s a product of Hollywood.

    Both of our theories are pretty hubristic, but I think the latter is more likely to be true.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “intellectual discipline” (any discipline that requires you to use your intellect? to use it in a certain way?), but I’m pretty sure I disagree with the notion that competence in any discipline is any more or less likely to lead to humility than, say, fishing.

    To stress my point:
    You described your ‘family friend’ with these words: “In conversation on his favorite topic he came across as a zealot, impressed with his own ideas, and lacking in the humility that genuine knowledge might have brought him.”

    What constitutes genuine knowledge, Steven? How do we know when we have it? Might it be a display of hubris to say something like what you said about your friend?
    I’m not being coy. You’re saying that education has the potential to help us see the limits of our knowledge, which protects us from hubris. I agree that the potential is there.

    Oh, and Jenny McCarthy is a fool.

  7. Steven Novellaon 02 Oct 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Dkey – you hit all the anti-vax propaganda points. And all utter nonsense.

    I make not dime-one from vaccines.

    I only care about this issue because of compassion for the children who will be unnecessarily harmed by fear-mongering hysteria, and parents who will be confused and made to feel needlessly guilty by misinformation. You DO NOT have the high ground on compassion.

    I am a physician who has read the literature and has been writing about this issue for years – I didn’t just decide to blog about it today.

    There is no anti-freeze in vaccines – that is a myth that is easy, for anyone who is genuinely interested in the truth and not propaganda, to verify for themselves. And what “animal parts” are you talking about, exactly?

    The issue has been studied by many organizations and in several countries – all with the same result – no link between vaccines and autism. It is a simple thing to dismiss all evidence against your beliefs as a conspiracy.

  8. Steven Novellaon 02 Oct 2008 at 4:16 pm

    dwood – I was very careful to point out that education is no guarantee against hubris. My point is that there are those who have hubris because they have a formal education, an area of genuine expertise, and a great deal of knowledge but fail to recognize the limits of their knowledge outside their area of expertise. Then there are those who have hubris because they simply have no idea what it takes to be a genuine expert in an intellectual discipline. This has been dubbed by others as the “arrogance of ignorance” and I think this fits McCarthy best.

    I agree that there is a special Hollywood “brand” of the arrogance of ignorance, where people confuse celebrity with authority.

    By genuine knowledge, regarding my friend who thinks aliens are responsible for human culture, I mean that he does not have the benefit of the accumulated human knowledge, experience, and wisdom about how we can know what happened in the past, how to evaluate and think about evidence, the logical pitfalls to avoid, knowing that evidence needs to be examined within a cultural context, etc. So he is prone to amateur mistakes – which he did in spades.

    Jenny McCarthy thinks there is antifreeze in vaccines (a talking point repeated above by our anti-vax troll). This is an amateurish mistake. It requires profound ignorance of chemistry – but worse (and this is really my point) she does not even have the intellectual humility and perspective to realize that before concluding there is anti-freeze in vaccines (and claiming so on national tv) she should do the proper background reading or consult someone who does know something about chemistry to see if she is properly interpreting the chemical names she is reading. She simply does not imagine that there is knowledge to be had beyond her current level – so she latches onto ridiculous conclusions with absolute conviction.

    In short, she is so ignorant as to be ignorant of her own ignorance – i.e. the arrogance of ignorance.

  9. deciuson 02 Oct 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Through my uncanny psychic powers of clairvoyance, having channelled the souls of the Atlanteans, I predict that this thread will be incessantly trolled for at least a weak.

    Steve, you owe me 50 bucks for the reading.

  10. Matlatzincaon 02 Oct 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Excellent post, Steve. I’d like to share an analogy that I’ve recently developed in discussing immunizations with parents. As a practicing Pediatrician, I find these comments coming my way frequently, and occasionally I deal with someone presenting the same arguments as DKey.

    Don’t think of the immune system as a muscle, something that is made stronger the more it is used. Think of it more like your brain. When it is exposed to something, that gives it experience, and when it encounters that something again, it uses what it has learned from the experience. In the case of the immune system, each immunization teaches it how to fight off that microbe in a more efficient and successful way. Immunizing your child is kind of like teaching them how to read. Would you choose to have your child remain illiterate?

  11. Perky Skepticon 02 Oct 2008 at 9:33 pm

    “Her crusade is destructive. It seeks to divide, rather than find common ground. It is dedicated not to a cause (children or autism) but to a conclusion (it’s the vaccines) that happens to be wrong. Along the way she seeks to burn down any institution that gets in her way – sowing public distrust in the medical community, in scientific medicine, in the vaccine program, and regulatory agencies. She believes the system has failed her, so now she advocates for medical anarchy – parents taking medical care into their own hands and not trusting their doctors.”

    Steve, this is the best encapsulation of why Jenny McCarthy’s ravings are so dangerous that I have seen. Great post!

  12. halincohon 02 Oct 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Steve, in my opinion , as a med/ped doc, as a dispenser of vaccines, this is the best, most passionate, most appropriately targeted, and most important blog you have ever posted.

    I’m biased , of course. But unlike Jenny McCarthy and her prime enabler, Oprah, I know I’m biased and at least I can discuss my opinions with an open mind based on evidence, not an agenda based on self serving truths.

    Once upon a time I lectured to med students, in the pediatric section of the curriculum, on epiglottitis. Now, that topic would be best suited for medical history. I haven’t seen epiglottitis in my pediatric population since residency ( over 17 years ago ). Why? BECAUSE of vaccines.

    Imagine if in the middle ages they had a vaccine against the plague ( although some authors suggest the plague was caused by more than one organism ).

    Imagine if Jenny McCarthy becomes known in history as the woman who stopped vaccines.

    Imagine the epidemic of infectious diseases that would follow.

    Your most recent interviewee on SGU suggested that the main stream media will never be an ally against pseudoscience.

    Imagine if they did.

    People like McCarthy would not have a voice that wasn’t counterbalanced by an equally loud and prominent voice.

    Instead we rely on blogs.

    Well done, Steve.

  13. Ms. Clarkon 02 Oct 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Dr. Novella,

    Thank you so much for taking down the Mayor of Wooville… (it took me a few minutes to get that one). Jenny McCarthy is a toxic trainwreck and public health enemy… maybe number 1.

    Here’s why I think you are partly wrong about what her motivation is. I don’t think she necessarily believes her son was damaged by vaccines AT ALL. Jenny McIdiot would say and do ANYTHING for a buck. I mean, this is her reputation. “Need a blond to eat vomit on camera?? CALL JENNY MCCARTHY 1-800-TEH-STUPID”

    So here’s Jenny with her first”autism” book already being written (Louder than Words), the deal having been signed. She knew that the book would be out in September of 2007, so what does she talk about in an interview in May 2007, besides the fact that she’s got this book coming out in September?

    She talks about how her son is an crystal and how she dealt with his “acting out” by feeding him “organic” food.

    No mention of autism. No mention of seizures. No mention of vaccines. Just indigos/crystals, organic food and her Indigomoms.com website.

    Her son was about 5 years old. The interview is in LA Parent, the May 2007 edition.

    “Q: But lets face it: Moms – celbrity or not – havit tougher here. It seems we’re all trying to keep up with the Joneses with our kids. You touch on this competetive side of motherhood when you mention “stroller envy.” Are you past that now?

    Jenny: It’s amazing how much competition is out there as far as parenting goes. Now that Even is older, it’s school envy. “So, what school does your kid go to? Has he been accepted yet? Oh, he hasn’t? Oh, well mine has!” We women do so much in this world and we would cease to exist if it wasn’t for women. So we neet to quit ganging up on each other. We need to, instead, hug one another. We are our worst critics and can be so mean to one another. So I stay away from the “my baby is better than your baby” group.

    Q: Do you think women try to be Supermom?

    Well, first of all, even if we asked for help, there’s still too much to do. Because we’re working now and coming home and doing the same thing they did back in the day, I still marvel at how we are able to get everything done in one day. I write in Life Laughs about how we’re expected to go to work now and then come home, make dinner, feed the kids, clean up, put the kids to bed, have sex and then go to sleep – and wake up and do it all over again.”

    No mention of get the kid to therapy appointments. No mention of shopping for Gluten Free food. No mention of DAN! quack apointments. NO mention of autism or disability anywhere.

  14. Ms. Clarkon 02 Oct 2008 at 11:04 pm

    More from that interview (it’s not available online anywhere, I have a paper copy).

    “Q: Why are you such a strong advocate for the Indigo Child (see “Jenny Goes Indigo”)?

    Jenny: In a nutshell, “Indigo Child” basically summarizes what’s going on with these new kids who question authority, have tehir own mind and spirit, and are sensitive to the environment.

    I think that this is a big movement that is spreading. [Going organic] is very big with Indigo families, who are also finding that changing the way we eat and our environment has a lot to do with our kids’ behaviors. And these little Indigo Child groups are popping up all over. These are just fun terms basically for kids who are going to change the world. It’s just like they have the Generation X babies. It’s another term, but more than that it’s a movement that explains why our kids are the way they are and what we can do to help cultivate their talents and help them if there are problems.

    Q: So what are you doing to that end as far as seeking natural alternatives?

    J: With my son, I discovered that a lot of his acting out was associated with food. He would get out of whack when I gave him artificial food coloring and different types of food. So I changed his foods totally and went organic. That’s all we have in our house now and it goes even deeper than the foods. His room is completely organic, and we have no pesticides.”

    See anything there about autism and vaccines?

    Nope. And there’s nothing else in the rest of the article either.

    This woman is a paid professional fraud, in my opinion. She lies and lies and lies and has no conscience about it.

  15. Ms. Clarkon 02 Oct 2008 at 11:06 pm

    So now she’s coming back to the Indigo stuff somewhat, because there’s still money in “organic” and “green” and she follows the money. She says she has something big planned for April… good grief, what? An “Indigo Your Vaccines” rally?

  16. isleson 03 Oct 2008 at 12:32 am

    I can see why she would cover up Evan being autistic (if he is autistic) until she figured out a way to make it serve her mommy persona.

    Dr. Novella, this is some of your most powerful writing ever. I’m sure it must have been painful to journey inside the head of Jenny McCarthy! (On the upside, I suppose there was plenty of elbow room in there.) You have her pegged and I hope people start to figure out that she’s not a righteous warrior-mother, she’s not a funny playgroup friend, she’s a deluded narcissist who lies as necessary and uses her kid as a prop.

  17. Michael.Meadonon 03 Oct 2008 at 5:06 am

    Excellent post, thank you Steve. You’re exactly on target here: as Socrates said, wisdom is realizing the depth of one’s own ignorance. I encounter intellectual hubris (generally, in forms less extreme than Jenny’s) regularly, and I’m always struck by how easily it comes to people, and how difficult it is for them to become appropriately humble. Indeed, I’ve personally experienced the wretching process of realizing how ignorant I am – it’s one of the most important (and difficult) experiences of undergrad.

    Anyway, boo to McCarthy.

  18. Dan Royon 03 Oct 2008 at 5:46 am

    Dr. Novella,
    This post is one of the best I’ve read on any subject, any time, anywhere.
    Your intellectual tour de force, the armada of quotes and deliosciously vulpine ad hominems fills me with pure joy. With the knowledge that you are among us, I’m proud to be human.
    Dr. Novella, you are simply great, and destined for greatness.
    You are my hero.

    (and no, no irony regarding hubris intended.)

  19. Michelle Bon 03 Oct 2008 at 10:34 am

    DKey writes: “and not just take the word of someone who “practices” medicine!”
    _______

    Really, folks like this dipshit should be banned from going to doctors. She/he does not deserve medical treatment; they really don’t. And yet folks like Dr. Novella who just “practices” medicine will provide medical treatment for such dipshits. I wouldn’t.

  20. Chicago Skepticon 03 Oct 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I know! We should call the anti-vaccination movement McCarthyism.

    What!?! McCarthyism is already used to describe a past movement fueled by paranoia, hysteria, and baseless accusations? Weird.

  21. Jeremyon 03 Oct 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Chicago Skeptic- How about calling it McCarthyism Redux?

  22. fireflyon 04 Oct 2008 at 10:35 pm

    I think Steve pointed out something i frequently encounter when dealing with pseudoscience. It is clearly displayed by the parasitic oxygen thieves Jenny McCarthy and DKey. They start with what they know to be true, i.e in McCarthy’s case her child has autism, they then backtrack and fit in whatever evidence supports this truth and disregard anything which disproves their position.

    I am a chemistry/mathematics undergraduate from Melbourne, Australia and i work on elucidating known/unknown chemical structures. I must say, i think if the process for elucidating unknown structures were applied to every unknown situation pertaining to pseudoscience, situations such as this McCarthy fiasco would unsurprisingly (to me) diminish.

    While i am aware not everyone is lucky enough, if you like, to be able to study what i do and hence tackle very emotional and difficult situations in a logical and rationally though out process, it is that unmistakable contempt for science and the scientific method that McCarthy shows, that gets me shaking my head at all this.

    As far as i am aware Dr. Novella is an academic. My professor jokingly points out that being an academic is like having a machine that prints money but there’s no paper in the world to print the money on.

    To imply Dr. Novella is a ”money grabbing doctor” is pure insolence and arrogance to me. Let the herd immunity drop below 80% and we shall see whether Jenny McCarthy is a ”celeb that is helping parents open there eyes and not just take the word of someone who “practices” medicine”.

    DKey – you and Jenny McCarthy are the epitome of insolence.

  23. sonicon 06 Oct 2008 at 12:52 am

    A good place to start in the quest for true data regarding autism and vaccines is:

    http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/autism/mmr/

    I understand the frustration of listening to someone spread false and dangerous statements. I understand the value of scientific research into such questions.

    I understand what Ad Hominem means.

  24. James Foxon 06 Oct 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Steve
    Please do send this exellent blog post in letter/Op-Ed format to the NY Times, Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report, CNN… .
    ~Choir member

  25. Terra Hon 06 Oct 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Why does the govt have a vaccination injury program then? In the end it really doesn’t matter what any of you think. If you do not have a child w/ Autism your opinion doesn’t count. It’s so easy to sit where you are & judge. It must be nice.

  26. Steven Novellaon 06 Oct 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Terra,

    The government has a vaccine injury program because vaccines are not without risks. There are rare side effects. The program is meant to provide for fair and rapid compensation for those truly injured by vaccines.

    While I have tremendous sympathy for parents of autistic children, that does not mean they are the only ones who can interpret scientific data. This is not about sympathy, it’s about facts. In fact, they are not in a good position to judge scientific data – they have a personal emotional investment.

    Scientific data is best judged by objective experts.

  27. Terra Hon 06 Oct 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Steven, I have PROOF that BEFORE my son was vaccinated he didn’t scream, have black runny stool, vomit all day & contort his face because of tics. It just so happens that we were “too late” for the copmpensation program. A Neuro & several other Dr.’s have diagnosed my son w/ autism. He WAS NORMAL before his last MMR & Hep A vaccine @ the age of 4. All of these parents have the same story & the ONLY common denominator is vaccines. My objective experts are some of the States best Neuroligist, Pediatricians, & Therapist. If it walks like a duck & quacks like a duck….what else is it? It’s funny that you bring the word Hubris into this debate. Since by defintion it is behavior that can shame a person, that’s how my son feels everyday. Just because we are emotionally involved doesn’t mean we have no idea what we’re talking about. I was there before autism took my son. I personally believe vaccines played a role in his disease. You’re not objective either considering you have no belief that it’s even possible. And the side effects aren’t that rare. We are saying the ultimate “side effect” can do so much damage it can permanently alter someone. You need to read the effects more. They are there & so very real. If emotion plays too much of a factor then no one has the right to judge data. Emotions are just as high for Dr.’s because they are so scared to admit IT COULD HAPPEN. Wanting to be right & believing it too much can alter someone’s perception of reality as well. Like a placebo effect of some kind.

  28. Terra Hon 06 Oct 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Oh & compenastion for anyone that’s injured is never fair & certainly never rapid. It takes years. Have you never dealt w/ the govt?

  29. Terra Hon 06 Oct 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Also, if vaccines work & most people are vaccinated how can epidemics start? Who is succeptible when vaccinated? How is that possible?

  30. sonicon 07 Oct 2008 at 2:24 am

    Terra-
    I am saddened to hear that your son is having difficulties.
    I don’t doubt that the diseases that he was being vaccinated for had much to do with his troubles.
    Please understand this- what your son is going through millions are saved from. You see, because of vaccines fewer people have to suffer the way your son is now.
    Vaccines have not saved everyone from these difficult fates. But they have saved millions from suffering diseases that used to be much more common than they are now.
    You can understand why Steven, who devotes his life to helping others, pays more attention to the millions being helped by vaccines than he pays to the few that are harmed. It is his nature to help.
    Please understand that millions and even billions of people are better off thanks to the miracle of vaccines.
    I am truly sorry your son has to be the reminder of why they are so important.
    Wishing you the best–
    Sonic

  31. Jeremyon 07 Oct 2008 at 4:22 am

    Terra H- While I have sympathy for you or anyone else with a child with such conditions I do have to comment on this,

    If you do not have a child w/ Autism your opinion doesn’t count.

    If Dr. Novella were make a statement like, “If you have not bothered to obtain a medical degree then your opinion doesn’t count”, would you think that that was the height of arrogent, close- minded dismissals of all opposing claims? I certainly would and if you would as well, then how do you think your statement above comes across?

    Sadly, the attitude you express here is not limited to you. Many others in the anti- vax camp, including McCarthy herself, have made similar statements. This alone indicates that they have no desire or intention to engage in rational discussions regarding the facts and are only interested in shooting down all objectors in any way necessary in order to advance their position, facts and evidence be damned.

  32. Terra Hon 07 Oct 2008 at 10:41 am

    I made the comment because unless you have an Autistic child you have no idea what our families go through. So therefore you can’t say what you’d believe. If your kid had a shot & the next day COMPLETELY changed you’d be singing a different song my friend. And Steven (& several others on here) very much take the attitude that unless I went to medical school I don’t know wthe facts. Sonic- what you said makes no sense. My son wasn’t vaccinated FOR a disease. He was vaccinated to protect against Measles & Hepatitis A. And to say that Autism is ok in the whole sacrifice one to save a million is completely ignorant. Millions of people have died from measles…really? You guys aren’t hearing what we’re all saying which is this: I personally understand vaccines. I believe in their ability to protect. My other children are vaccinated. BUT- my 1st son was sensitive to something in the vaccine. It triggered a bad reaction & he’s not the same kid he was. It’s really simple. Are people the same after a heart attack? Don’t they have lingering if not permanent effects? What about high fevers? Can a high fever sustained for a long period of time do damage to the brain? My son had a high fever for 2 and a half weeks. Can excessive vomiting for years offset the bodies natural chemistry? For a woman that makes herself (eating disorder) the answer is yes. But not for a child w/ gut issues that started after a bad reaction from guess what…a vaccine injury. All we’re trying to do is make sure that our children aren’t lined up like cattle & injected w/ a one size fits all vaccine. Because all kids aren’t the same. People can’t all eat the same, drink the same or have the same drugs. So WHY if SOME kids are being robbed of their futures & happiness is it ok to keep treating vaccines like a business instead of the medical issue that it is? We want research & tests. That’s what we want & that’s what MY child deserves. I would rather him have the measles, flu or chicken pox ANY day of the week than this. If science is so great why are we still relying on vaccines? Now in the age we live in the flu, measles & chicken pox are deadly? Are you kidding me? And if that’s true then my point is made for me. It’s possible for someone to die from a bad case of the measeles…but yet it’s impossible for someone to have a bad reaction from a MEASLES vaccine w/ other ingredients mixed in? Gee-I didn’t go to medical school but that seems like a no brainer. If Autism IS NOT caused from a vaccine injury then get off this blog, quit wasting time & find out the cause. Everyone ignores our evidence. It’s my son. And any day you wanna take a look at the before & after I welcome it. That’s the difference. I can’t hide, my evidence walks around everyday. Yours is where? From what I’ve read you guys think Autism is the thinning of the herd? What are you gonna do when the whole herd is autistic?

  33. Calli Arcaleon 07 Oct 2008 at 11:43 am

    Now in the age we live in the flu, measles & chicken pox are deadly? Are you kidding me? And if that’s true then my point is made for me. It’s possible for someone to die from a bad case of the measeles…but yet it’s impossible for someone to have a bad reaction from a MEASLES vaccine w/ other ingredients mixed in?

    Yes, people do die from flu, measles, and chickenpox in the 21st Century. Just not often in countries like the US, where herd immunity is high and outbreaks are rare.

    It is not impossible to have serious adverse effects from the MMR shot, and nobody here is suggesting that. This is why your doctor is required to give you a piece of paper listing the possible adverse effects, explaining how to recognize them and what to do if they happen. (Instructions range from “cold compress” to “call 911″, depending on the reaction.) Though still rare, allergic reactions are the most common side-effect of a vaccine. I don’t think that’s what happened to your son; sounds like he either got one of the really rare side-effects, or something completely unrelated happened at the same time. (Coincidences do happen, and unfortunately it can be very difficult to tell. The human body is a very complex thing.)

    And Steven (& several others on here) very much take the attitude that unless I went to medical school I don’t know wthe facts.

    Au contraire. Most of the people commenting here probably haven’t gone to medical school either. I know I didn’t. I’m a software engineer, with a liberal arts degree in English Lit and Computer Science. (Odd combo, I know. Originally it was going to be English/Chemistry, but then I took a programming class and fell in love!) You certainly have the right to express your opinion. It would be nice if you took the opportunity to learn the facts, though. A lot of what you’ve said makes it sound like not only have you not read much of the actual science about autism and vaccines, but you haven’t even read a lot of what is on this page. I know you’re upset, which makes it harder to read everything, but you accuse people of positions which are the precise opposite of their own. “You guys think Autism is the thinning of the herd,” you claim. But we don’t. I sure don’t. Autism-spectrum disorders run in my family, for one thing, even in those who didn’t get very many vaccines.

    Thinning the herd? No. If you want to see the herd thinned, look at infectious disease. If we stop vaccinating, the “weaker” elements of our population will start to die off once again. Besides, autism isn’t a thinning of the herd. Many autistics can grow up to live healthy, productive lives and have children of their own — and I think that’s a wonderful thing. Now, the eugenicsts of the early 20th Century didn’t think so; they had such people forcibly sterilized if they got the chance. Yes, even in this country. Horrible things used to happen. I’d prefer to see autistics get the chance to breed. Yeah, they think differently than most people. But whose to say that’s maladaptive? Our vision is much too short to answer that. We cannot see all ends. I think it’s worth letting those genes do what they’re going to do.

    Yes, *genes*. You say that if autism is not a vaccine injury, then we should get off this blog and go find the cause. Well, first of all, it’s awfully rude of you to say who can and cannot post on this topic — especially in a thread about hubris. You are essentially saying that statments which contradict your opinion should be supressed, and that’s not good. But more importantly, most of us are not qualified to find the cause, and even if we were, it is not a waste of time to talk about it. A lot of research is being done on the causes of autism, despite the persistent efforts to drain funding away in a pointless effort to link it to vaccines. A significant number of genes have been identified, consistent with the well-known fact (dismissed or ignored by the likes of Jenny McCarthy) that autism tends to run in families. There are also indications pointing to particular trends in brain organization, controlled by genes, which may cause autism directly and which may actually be treatable. There’s a fascinating study at the University of Minnesota right now exploring that option. It’s probably not very useful for older autistics, but it may work for very young autistics. (It exploits the plasticity of the young brain, basically.) But I digress.

    I see no reason to link vaccines to autism. Autism is a serious condition, but it is by no means a death sentence. A child with autism can have a very bright future. It may not be what you envisioned when you conceived your child, but the future never is what we expect. Don’t let it discourage you complete, nor let it blind you with anger. Don’t waste your energy in invective. Most of all, do not let your anger with “the system” rob your child of a happy future. He can succeed. He can be happy. It is your job as a parent to see to it, not to wallow in fury because you wish so very much that things had been different. Whatever you think of the medical establishment, true or otherwise, don’t let it interfere with your son’s future. Right now, I suspect it is interefering, given how negatively you speak of him. I don’t think it’s deliberate. It’s just that you’re caught in the “anger” stage of grieving, and I hope you can move on from it, for his sake and for yours.

  34. Terra Hon 07 Oct 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I was actually speaking directly to “Sonic” which I directly stated above & was replying to his/her comments. It’s an easy assumption to assume I’m angry, hurt whatever given that my child is autistic. I move on everyday. And every other day I have to take a step back when I see what people like you have written. I’ve read so much on Autism my eyeballs ached the next day. I’ve researched everything I can get my hands on. My whole point was to say that it’s very easy to deny MY point (stated above) when you’re looking through a different pair of glasses. My child will have a wonderful life no doubt. The grieving process is a lifelong deal. Because everyday you get slapped in the face w/ another autism surprise. Look, I didn’t expect to convert anyone, I just wanted people to hear my side. As much as you say Jenny & people like myself are “STUCK” on this cause, you too are just as stuck in your belief that it’s NOT POSSIBLE. Since the proverbial horse has been beaten enough I’ll leave you guys to bash Jenny & other people you don’t agree with in peace. It’s your right.

  35. sonicon 07 Oct 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Terra-

    I don’t doubt that your son’s problems had something to do with the diseases he was vaccinated against.

    I don’t doubt that getting the vaccine coulld cause all the problems you suggest.

    That is what I was trying to say earlier.

    I wish you and your son the best.

    Sonic

  36. Calli Arcaleon 07 Oct 2008 at 11:32 pm

    It’s an easy assumption to assume I’m angry, hurt whatever given that my child is autistic. I move on everyday. And every other day I have to take a step back when I see what people like you have written.

    I apologize for assuming that you were angry. It is difficult to make any other conclusion when someone accuses people of wishing for the herd to be “thinned” via autism. Eugenics is a horrific thing to accuse people of, and I would not have thought you’d have made such an accusation out of calm consideration.

    Am I to conclude you aren’t just lashing out in anger, and actually do think people here want kids to become autistic so as to “thin the herd”? I doubt that very much; I tend not to assume malice.

    This may come as a surprise to you, but I understand your pain. I have an autistic child myself, and yes, it is very stressful to cope with it. My youngest brother is also autistic. My eldest brother has ADHD, and probably would’ve been diagnosed with autism, if that sort of thing were commonplace in 1980. He was completely non-verbal until he was 4, and *hated* to be held. He’s got a PhD now, and is easily the most social person in the family, so I guess he’s an example of how a person can go from seeming like a severe autistic to virtually normal (apart from the ADHD). I know two severe autistics at my church. Lovely boys, both of them, even though they’ll probably never live independently. They both have awesome parents. One is adopted, so his parents are doubly courageous — they took him in even knowing his condition, and have been fabulous with him.

    I think the key to surviving being the parent of an autistic child is a strong social support system, whether that be the extended family, coworkers, a church, whatever.

    I am truly sorry I offended you. I just hope you understand that while I do respect your experience, I still hold the opinion that vaccines are a worthwhile intervention, and that autism is probably not caused by vaccines (though, very rarely, other neurological conditions can be caused by vaccines). I can hear your story and still think that; it is not a contradiction, and I never intended any disrespect to you personally.

  37. Jeremyon 08 Oct 2008 at 6:01 am

    I made the comment because unless you have an Autistic child you have no idea what our families go through. So therefore you can’t say what you’d believe.

    As I said before, it must be tough to go through what you are with your child, however, it does not change the fact that telling someone that, unless they are going through the same thing as you, their opinion does not count is rather arrogant. Almost everyone has had to helplessly watch someone in their life go through horrible illnesses, and possibly death, at least once. Seeing your child in this condition must be hard for you, but to say that no one else has any idea what it is like is condescending to the extreme.

    If your kid had a shot & the next day COMPLETELY changed you’d be singing a different song my friend.

    Two years ago my father went to the hospital to see about a pain in his leg. He left with terminal lung cancer. Did the trip to the hospital give him cancer? No. Did anything the doctors do while he was there give him cancer? No. The symptoms were there for months, if not for more than a year. Somehow no one ever noticed them until the tumor that had developed on his hip began to unbearably hurt him and inhibit his ability to walk. Signs with your child may have been there for months and you never noticed until they became too obvious (see here).

    It’s hard to think of such things. I have asked myself many times why I never noticed with my father. I heard the coughing and saw him slowly weaken but I never made the connection. Looking back now I can see it clearly but I couldn’t then for whatever reason.

    And Steven (& several others on here) very much take the attitude that unless I went to medical school I don’t know wthe facts.

    I’ve never seen Dr. Novella or any one else make such claims here. Can you point out where someone has displayed this attitude? They might have said that someone with a background in medicine would have a better ability to accurately interpret the facts and data, which is true, but I have never seen where anyone has said that only people with medical degrees could.

    BUT- my 1st son was sensitive to something in the vaccine. It triggered a bad reaction & he’s not the same kid he was. It’s really simple.

    Possibly. There are children that cannot or should not receive vaccinations. Have you ever tried to find out what he was sensitive to? Have you ever tried to find out what was in the vaccination that caused the reaction? If not, how can you say for definite that that was it?

    All we’re trying to do is make sure that our children aren’t lined up like cattle & injected w/ a one size fits all vaccine. Because all kids aren’t the same. People can’t all eat the same, drink the same or have the same drugs. So WHY if SOME kids are being robbed of their futures & happiness is it ok to keep treating vaccines like a business instead of the medical issue that it is? We want research & tests. That’s what we want & that’s what MY child deserves.

    Is this the only post of this blog you have read? We know that some children cannot receive vaccinations. In fact Dr. Novella has stated this before, both here and on the science- based medicine blog. One such example:

    Widespread compliance is critical for “herd immunity” to be effective. This is critical because some people cannot get vaccines for medical reasons and they depend on the rest of us to be vaccinated.

    So doctors are not exactly lining children up “like cattle” to get stuck. If a doctor knows that a child has a medical condition that will react adversely to the vaccination they will advise against it. Is this information always available? Sadly, probably not. Are there bad doctors out there that will ignore such information? Sadly, yes. However, neither of these things are reasons to align one’s self with people that wish to see all vaccinations stopped or to denigrate those that speak out against such people and show them to be the irrational and harmful agents they are. Instead this is a reason for parents to educate them selves as much as possible with real science, evidence and facts so that they can work in concert with their doctors to make the best decisions for their children.

    Further, if there were a reason to think that there was a huge population of children that have reacted badly to vaccinations they would be discontinued, either indefinitely or until more testing was done to remove any harmful causes from them. How do I know this? Because it has been done numerous times before. Do a search and you will find that many drugs or treatments have been discontinued, either for certain markets or completely, due to negative reactions or side effects that were not seen in testing before production.

    If Autism IS NOT caused from a vaccine injury then get off this blog, quit wasting time & find out the cause.

    Do you think that no one is doing just that? Maybe if there weren’t people like McCarthy out there spreading disinformation and fear researchers and doctors could concentrate on finding an effective treatment or cure. Instead, they have to stop to correct the falsehoods.

    Everyone ignores our evidence.

    No one has ignored the evidence presented by the anti- vaccination crowd. We have said that it simply is not evidence for a link between autism and vaccinations.

    From what I’ve read you guys think Autism is the thinning of the herd? What are you gonna do when the whole herd is autistic?

    Then you read incorrectly. What you read was that there is no link between autism and vaccinations. That you translated that into something different cannot be helped. You have my sympathy that you have an autistic child but it isn’t due to vaccinations. The evidence for that is simply not there and sympathy can only go so far in the face of condescension. If you truly want for a cure or treatment for autism, then this is not the way to go about it. Instead this is the way to ensure that nothing beneficial is ever done.

  38. Apatheticon 09 Oct 2008 at 12:57 am

    Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I think the problem here is basically just the numbers. What I mean by this is that with numbers high enough rare coincidence becomes absolute certainty. Millions of kids every year get vaccinatedm millions of kids get sick every year. Simply by the numbers a HUGE number of kids will get sick right after they get thier shots. Most of those will be minor things but many of them would have to be major illnesses simply going by the numbers.

    Now I my child was at the doctors and got sick right after getting his shots I might be inclined to conclude it was the vaccine that caused it. If we extend this to getting sick the next day or even anytime within a week. The numbers are staggering. I am very very surprised the numbers of people who believe vacs are dangerous isn’t higher.

    Another factor you may wish to take into account is that simply getting a needle even if it was filled with saline is often enough to make many children freak. One of my sons hadto be held down and wasck for the whole day just from the experience of giving a blood sample,in fact he slept most of the next day as well. Might the shock of such an experence not trigger and bring to the surface a condition that may have laid dormant for a while longer yet?

  39. Ms. Clarkon 10 Oct 2008 at 4:22 am

    “Another factor you may wish to take into account is that simply getting a needle even if it was filled with saline is often enough to make many children freak. One of my sons had to be held down and wasck for the whole day just from the experience of giving a blood sample,in fact he slept most of the next day as well. Might the shock of such an experence not trigger and bring to the surface a condition that may have laid dormant for a while longer yet?”

    I have wondered the same thing. Lots of babies totally freak about getting vaccinated. I can’t remember how upset my two got being vaccinated, but I remember they reacted strongly. I’d hear about babies who hardly noticed, but mine noticed, and others would totally become extremely upset.

  40. SheilaKon 20 Oct 2008 at 9:38 am

    I just love how people so often post in these discussion “If you do not have a child w/ Autism your opinion doesn’t count.”

    It’s as though they think the child’s autism really belongs to the parent!

    You know, those autistic children grow up! They become autistic adults! They, much more than any non-autistic parent, are the ones whose experience of autism really counts.

    But if you’re one of the people who post this crap about how only parents of children with autism count, then it never occurs to you that an actual autistic person might also being posting on the thread.

    (But of course, if you can post on the internet, then they will insist that you have Asperger’s, or that you are “high-functioning” and therefore “not as autistic” as their child.)

  41. cmanneringon 14 Dec 2008 at 10:08 am

    Coming to this discussion late I see. Hi, my name is Christy, I’m 27 and the Mom to a wonderful 5 year old, with another baby on the way. My son does not have autism, he does however have an IgA immune deficiency. Much of what Jenny McCarthy said in her book about her son’s reactions to different elements of his diet and different medications, reminded me of how my son reacted. So I love her book and found it be hopeful and inspiring.

    I am not against vaccinations. I think they should be given and if you read the book, you would know Jenny thinks they should be given too. She says she thinks vaccinations are a great thing. She also feels there is a link to vaccinations and what triggered her son’s autism. She does not believe they caused his autism, only triggered and heightened the symptoms.

    I am not a doctor, I have not studied science my whole life, but I can tell you that I have read countless books, articles, columns, blogs related to immune deficiencies. I want to absorb it all, embrace it all, every possible avenue and path of what might help my son. And even though his immunologist says there is nothing I can do, I won’t stop learning and trying to make his life better. I think that is exactly what Jenny is doing for her son and I applaud her for that.

    She states many times in her book that she spent nights researching. That some of the things she tried didn’t work even though they had worked for other children with autism. She said you should always ask questions, research on your own and see what works for your child. I see nothing wrong in those statements. I think she is a fantastic woman and Mom.

  42. motherof4on 26 Feb 2012 at 12:10 am

    I realize that no one has posted to this blog since 2008. I have an autistic son who is 8. I hope that when he is old enough he will join blogs like these and share his firsthand experience, which I can only represent here in the crudest and most ill-informed way. I am not autistic, so my perspective of the world is much different than his. I would never seek to “cure” him, instead I try to learn from him. He is every bit as wise as any of us. Probably more.

    I did not observe a sudden change in him after his vaccinations. I believe that he was born autistic. That is not to say that his autism was not triggered by an environmental factor prenatally or soon thereafter. However, I do not believe that it was due to vaccines. If there was a trigger, I really would be interested to know what it is. If the medical community did not have to devote so much time to addressing the fears of “vaccine cranks” like Ms. McCarthy, perhaps we would be closer to an answer. TV? Pesticides? Mercury? Prenatal stress? Trauma during delivery? All of the above?

    I do not believe that vaccines cause my child to be autistic, but even if it did I stand by my decision to vaccinate my three other children. One hundred years ago, I could have expected to lose one of these children to a disease which is now completely preventable. All of my children’s’ lives is worth saving. Even the life of my autistic child.

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