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Skeptics vs Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy has been spending her time and energy over the last couple of years trying to harm the health of Americans, or anyone who will listen to her. She is on a misguided crusade against vaccines, fueled by her arrogant ignorance. She believes that her son is a special “indigo child”, the next step in human spiritual evolution. No wait. Scratch that – he has autism, and McCarthy believes this must have been done to him by vaccines. No wait again – he has now been cured by quack therapies.

McCarthy suffers from a severe case of the arrogance of ignorance – she does not even have the common sense or humility to realize how ignorant she is. She believes that her “mommy instinct” is more reliable than scientific evidence, and that her degree from “Google Universtiy” makes her more qualified than trained experts who have spent a career studying autism.

I am long past any sympathy for her or granting her any benefit of the doubt. She is nothing but a pretty bully, exploiting her dubious fame (and now the real fame of her boyfriend, Jim Carrey) to promote harmful nonsense. She is doing this because she does not seem capable of entertaining the idea that perhaps she might be wrong. She does not seem to care how much harm she does. She has expressed pride in the fact that her position is backed up by an angry mob, and she has a habit of shouting down any scientist who has the misfortune of sitting across from her on an interview show.

The only reason anyone is taking seriously this former booger-eating, Playboy playmate, mother of an “Indigo child” is because there is a pre-existing anti-vaccine cult and they have seized upon her as a celebrity front-person. Like it or not, McCarthy has made herself the focal point of a cult-like group of anti-vaccine ideologues.

This cult has historically been all anti-vaccine all the time, and they drift from issue to issue – anything they can pin on vaccines. In the last decade the focus has been on the claim that vaccines are associated with autism. Unfortunately for their anti-vaccine cause, the scientific evidence strongly shows that there is no association between vaccines and autism.

Numerous studies in multiple countries have shown no association between vaccines and autism or thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) and autism, removal of thimerosal from vaccines did not decrease the autism rate (as anti-vaccinationists predicted), autism is increasingly understood as a complex of genetic disorders, early signs of autism manifest younger than the bulk of the vaccine schedule, and pre-natal vaccines do not correlate with autism. Scientifically, there’s no controversy.

Yet McCarthy and her cult plug away, preferring their gut feelings to all this scientific evidence.

The media has largely been gullible and accepting toward McCarthy, giving her a venue to spread her nonsense. There have been some good articles written by competent science journalists, but the TV media has been a disaster. The Queen of Woo, Oprah Winfrey, has given McCarthy her biggest venue, but so has Larry King and most of the morning shows.

The mainstream scientific community has tried to do damage control, but honestly most scientists and officials have no idea how to deal with angry conspiracy-fueled grassroots criticism. The CDC has all but played into the hands of the anti-vaccine crowd with their confusing rhetoric. Only Paul Offit, a pediatric ID specialist, has taken on the anti-vaccine movement head on. (We will be interviewing him next week on the SGU about his new book, Autism’s False Prophets).

Fortunately skeptical activists have taken up some of the media slack. Using our new web 2.0 powers, we have pushed back against McCarthy and her ilk, providing resources and information to parents and traditional media that would otherwise not be there. Skeptical science bloggers, like myself, Orac, various authors at Science-Based Medicine – even astronomer Phil Plait and many others, have exposed McCarthy’s foibles.

Now there is also a new website called stopjenny.com – started by skeptics who wanted to get involved. The site is already full of useful information and links. It still needs a lot of work- such single issues websites should strive to be as thorough a resource as possible. This is a huge and complex issue, and organizing it all on one site is a herculean task. They need to reach out a bit more (hint!) and tap into those who have been writing about this issue for years. I would also like to see a news/media-watchdog page keeping up to date on McCarthy’s media appearances and utterances.

The one problem with this site is that, ironically, it focuses on Jenny McCarthy. StopSylviaBrown (now StopSylvia) makes sense – the issue is primarily about one charlatan. But Jenny McCarthy is about the deeper issue of the vaccines and autism controversy – she is just a figure head. This needs to be made more clear, rather than giving undue attention to one crank. But all things considered, the site is off to a great start.

The International League of Skeptics – a group of SGU listeners who have also taken up the banner of skeptical activisim, are also planning a Youtube video about McCarthy. They seem to recognize that they are dealing with a complex topic, but they are plugging ahead. I wish them luck in this project.

What we are seeing is the spreading of the skeptical movement to the masses. This is a great thing – we need more activists doing more projects. My only word of caution is that often skepticism deals with very complex or technical topics, and the details matter. While the lateral spread of activity is great, it could benefit from some vertical integration as well. In other words, the skeptical activists need to tap into relevant experts and take the time to do due diligence. This is especially true of medical issues where people might actually make health decisions based upon the information provided.

More quantity is great, but we have to keep pushing the quality of skepticism high as well. Message boards and blogs are good tools for collaboration among skeptics so we can pool our expertise and keep the quality of our output as high as possible. But I think we also need to explore new ways of collaboration. There is just so much to do, and while we are growing we are still a relatively small movement. This means we need to make maximally efficient use of our time and energy. I’m open to suggestions.

I do think that collectively focusing our efforts on a few high-profile issues is generally a good idea. The anti-vaccine, autism fear-mongering, Jenny McCarthy anti-scientific idiocy is a good and worthy target. The other side is getting some traction and vaccine rates are actually dropping, leading to measles outbreaks and perhaps more to come. This is a great target issue for skeptics, and we should begin the pig pile.

Let’s do it.

17 comments to Skeptics vs Jenny McCarthy

  • IPVlazy

    I agree this is a very important issue. We cannot let people like this try destroy our society using fear, this could even be described as something close to terrorism using fear to trick people into thinking that vaccines are bad for them. I will blog about this. BBlogofPeter.blogspot.com

  • bigjohn756

    “She is nothing but a pretty bully…

    I don’t think she is so pretty. Stand her next to Sarah Palin, for example, and she would look downright plain. Of course, if you did that then you might be tempted to compare intellectual(it may not be fair to use that word though) attributes between the two and that would be a tie.

  • I agree with what Jenny MCarthy is doing and the accusation of ignorance should be pointed the other way. Do you have any knowledge of what is actually in our vaccines? Vaccines are full of toxins such as mercury, fermaldehyde (a known cancer causing agent), Phenol (a common disinfectant, dye, and a ddeadly poison), aluminum phosphate (toxic), acetone (a solvent used in FINGERNAIL POLISH), dead animal cells and proteins, Mercury, the list goes on. Vaccine research is outdated and there has been direct evidence that 1 in 150 children vaccinated with the MMR and Measles vaccine have an adverse reaction AND 1 in 150 children are Autistic!!! So who is the one putting our children at risk by their ignorance? It is not about to vaccinate or not to vaccinate but more along the lines of Forcing a Safer Vaccination and are they currently worth the risk?
    http://www.peacehealthandfashion.com

  • I agree with what Jenny MCarthy is doing and the accusation of ignorance should be pointed the other way. Do you have any knowledge of what is actually in our vaccines? Vaccines are full of toxins such as mercury, fermaldehyde (a known cancer causing agent), Phenol (a common disinfectant, dye, and a ddeadly poison), aluminum phosphate (toxic), acetone (a solvent used in FINGERNAIL POLISH), dead animal cells and proteins, Mercury, the list goes on. Vaccine research is outdated and there has been direct evidence that 1 in 150 children vaccinated with the MMR and Measles vaccine have an adverse reaction AND 1 in 150 children are Autistic!!! So who is the one putting our children at risk by their ignorance? It is not about to vaccinate or not to vaccinate but more along the lines of Forcing a Safer Vaccination and are they currently worth the risk?
    http://www.peacehealthandfashion.com

  • skepacabra

    Thanks for the shout-out, Steve. Your support means a lot. The skeptical community has really been helping us tremendously in building this site and supplying us with more detailed information. And of course your suggestions are always welcome.

    -Michael
    http://www.stopjenny.com

  • stopjenny.com

    As Michael said, Thank You! There have been some hacking and technical issues. The old site is currently being replaced. Once these issue, and logo issues, have been resolved, then the site will be expanded as per the recommendations. There is no limit as to what can be done with the site now. We are currently working with many others to increase the information and explore the issues in greater depths. Many of the links lead people to the broader issue, but now they can be expanded upon at the Stop Jenny McCarthy website.

  • Just heard about your blog on the podcast, i’ve been a fan for a long time, good to see this happen.
    Now your stop jenny link is broke, also when you search for stop jenny and find this site:http: //www.site.stopjenny.com/ it seems to have been hijacked.

    Finally, whats going on about The international league of skeptics? Great name, great idea but no website? I think uniting as skeptics is a much better approach than uniting as atheists, I think it would be a great thing to have a website where folks could sign up as practicing skeptics, its like the opposite to a religion, you could even have a creed, starting with: don’t believe what anyone says, not even us, without examining the evidence. The thing is, every atheist has a different idea about the big questions, but skepticism sidesteps that problem by simply taking the evidence based, scientific approach, so it could be argued that all true skeptics do share a common set of ideas, a mental toolbox for evaluating competing theories regarding how the world we live in works. Now i’d like to start up a website like that, but if its like my blog, no one would ever visit, but you guys…

  • Sorry,my mistake, the second link provided by skepacabra works.

  • HCN

    Gypsyllibi shows her lack of research and knowledge by claiming that mercury is the culprit, and then singling out “MMR and Measles vaccine”… Um, the MMR is the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and has never contained thimerosal (perhaps much of the list you had).

    Also, the majority of the scary 1 in 150 are of the high functioning Asperger’s type of autism that was added to the diagnostic manual in 1994. She continued with “So who is the one putting our children at risk by their ignorance?”

    Well, I would say any an uneducated actress and her followers who do not understand the difference of risk between the vaccine and the actual disease. Right now there is a serious upsurge of measles in the UK, where two young men have already died from measles. Measles, mumps and rubella are major causes of permanent brain damage, deafness, blindness and death (about 1 in 1000 who get measles actually die, as in dead, as in never getting to grow up). Also pertussis causes about a dozen American babies to die. How does that compare to the risks of the DTaP (which has been thimerosal free for several years)?

    You really need to get your medical information from places other than “celebrities” and people just because they are on TV. Try going to your library and reading books by people who know what they are talking about, including parents who have children with autism (Jenny’s son actually has a seizure disorder much like my own son, it is different and has nothing to do with vaccines… especially since my son had his first seizure as a newborn before any vaccine).

    Some suggested reading includes:
    Unstrange Minds by Roy Richard Grinker (check out his website on the changes in the diagnostic criteria, http://unstrange.com/dsm1.html )…
    Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins
    Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
    Autism’s False Prophets by Paul Offit
    … also go see the websites of the those parents, autistic people, educators and researchers at:
    http://www.autism-hub.co.uk/

  • mattdick

    I just wrote in to stopjenny advocating a letter-writing campaign to U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson. I think we should implore him to request time on Oprah’s show to discuss the issue. Public health is his charter, and it seems to me that Oprah would probably be inclined to have him on. If it happened it would be one of the great outreach activities he could do to try to get people back to immunizing their children.

    I’ll coordinate the effort if people are interested.

  • Gypsilullabi – the “toxin gambit” Utter nonsense. There is no evidence that there is any toxicity from the doses of anything in vaccines. There is more formaldehyde made naturally in your body than in vaccines. Mercury was removed from routine childhood vaccines by 2002 – 6 years later there was no dip in even the rate of increase of autism diagnoses. So much for mercury in vaccines.

    Vaccines are extensively tested for safety. Numerous studies in multiple countries show no correlation to autism. This is pure anti-vaccine pseudoscience.

  • I think the correct link to the “StopJenny” site is http://www.stopjenny.com/

    Somehow the word “site” got inserted by mistake.

  • jo5ef wrote:
    “Finally, whats going on about The international league of skeptics? Great name, great idea but no website?”

    We’ve just started, so for now we’re doing all our work on the SGU forums. We’ve registered a youtube channel, but haven’t completed any videos yet: http://www.youtube.com/user/leagueofskeptics

    We’ll probably create a website if everything keeps going like it is at the moment. (I’ve already registered a blogspot blog just in case.)

  • dacy_ebd

    The fact that Gypsilullabi would listen to an ex-Playmate of the year about vaccines over an actual doctor clearly demonstrates his/her galactic scale delusions. It would be like me getting a 5 year old to explain to me how to drive a car over say…..a driving instructor.

    The mercury thing especially does my head in. It’s not like they were putting pure mercury in it surely? It’s a compound. You don’t worry about the sodium and chlorine on your french fries.

    People in the UK a few years ago when the media were playing up the MMR vaccine crap were instead turning to non MMR vaccine alternatives made in Eastern Europe that were choc full of retro-viruses (this info came from a biochemist friend of mine, i can’t reference it, call me on it if you know better). People are scared about their children’s health so they put their children’s health at risk. We have to destroy the anti-vaccine movement, it is one of the most dangerous pseudo-scientific groups out there in quackland where Jenny freaking McCarthy appears to be the president.

    Meh

  • wastrel

    Finally, whats going on about The international league of skeptics? Great name, great idea but no website? I think uniting as skeptics is a much better approach than uniting as atheists, I think it would be a great thing to have a website where folks could sign up as practicing skeptics, its like the opposite to a religion, you could even have a creed, starting with: don’t believe what anyone says, not even us, without examining the evidence. The thing is, every atheist has a different idea about the big questions, but skepticism sidesteps that problem by simply taking the evidence based, scientific approach, so it could be argued that all true skeptics do share a common set of ideas, a mental toolbox for evaluating competing theories regarding how the world we live in works.

    We are just getting started up. Thanks for the vote of support though!

    We are discussing our current projects on the SGU forum, you can view the HQ here:
    http://skepchick.org/skepticsguide/index.php/topic,15147.0.html

    We have a Facebook group, but it is mainly just a meet and greet type of place.

    Finally, we just registered our incredibly cumbersome domain name:
    http://internationalleagueofskeptics.com

    If you want to help, please sign up. Any and all expertise and desire to participate will be much appreciated.

  • Thanks guys, I don’t make movies, but i still love the name, and i really think that skeptics uniting worldwide is a great idea. I was just reading on another article on this site that Bill Maher doesn’t accept the germ theory of disease – this is is exactly why i think the various attempts to unite atheists are misguided. Despite his atheism Maher is clearly no skeptic as he’s rejecting strong evidence in favour of weak evidence in that case, and i for one don’t want to be lumped into the same category as him.
    Skeptics unite!

  • stopjenny.com

    Hi there,

    Please change the address in the stopjenny.com link in the above article to http://stopjenny.com instead of http://site.stopjenny.com. The one with “site” in the address was used at first because smartspace was being used. The domain name to keep the address current no matter what happens has always just been http://www.stopjenny.com though. Thank you!

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