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.