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Who Cares What Jim Carrey Thinks?

Jim Carrey is a decent actor and a great comedian. My favorite role of his was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with The Truman Show as a close second. And of course, only Carrey could have pulled off certain roles, like The Mask.

And yet, I really don’t care to hear his opinions about medicine and science. The obvious point is that Carrey is famous for being a funny man, this fame gives him an audience, but it does not give him the expertise or background to formulate a meaningful opinion about complex scientific questions.

Of course, this kind of statement requires immediate clarification. Everyone is indeed entitled to their own opinion. Carrey has the right to have an opinion on any topic he desires. He can even express that opinion to his family and friends. Everyone also has the right to make their own medical decisions.  Opinions on values and aesthetics are all relative, so no one can claim that theirs are superior to others.

But it is an entirely different situation to express your opinion in public to a wide audience on a scientific question of fact. Within science, some ideas are better than others, and some opinions are better than others. The public is best served by being exposed to the opinions of leading experts and the consensus of the scientific community – not comic actors.

This then leads to the question of responsibility. Carrey is being irresponsible, in my opinion, for spouting off on medical questions to the public. It is the result of supreme arrogance – he thinks he knows better than the consensus opinion of medical experts. I wonder where he thinks his superior insight and knowledge comes from. He does give us a clue – he seems to think that doctors are all trained monkeys who cannot think for themselves or are compromised by “Big Pharma” money. But this opinion is really just more arrogance on his part.

You might think what set off my little tirade against the hubris of famous idiots was Carrey’s infamous embrace of anti-vaccine quackery. It is true, he has allowed himself to be a hapless buffoon of the mercury militia. Not content to be a public menace by increasing the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases, Carrey also thinks he can pontificate about mental health as well.

Carrey has informed that esteemed journal of medical science, People magazine, that:

“I think the medical establishment we’re presented with, it’s a system,” said the comedian. “They’re taught a certain thing. There is drug company money that goes into the educational system. I’m saying you have to look outside that, and consider the other possibilities for people.”

Right, so ignore your physician. What does he know? Listen to Dr. Carrey. He believes he cured his own depression with vitamins. He is even happy to agree with Tom Cruise on that point.

What about taking anti-depressants:

“I think Prozac and things like that are very valuable to people for short periods of time,” he said on the show. “But I believe if you’re on them for an extended period of time, you never get to the problem.”

Can you please give us some peer-reviewed references on which you based your opinion, Dr. Carrey. Or is this just fashionable, knee-jerk, anti-drug bias?

The hidden premise in Carrey’s statement is a false choice – medication or therapy to “get to the problem.” In reality the current medical wisdom is that the most effective treatment is a combination of both. In fact, in many cases the very purpose of antidepressant medication is to lift the pall of depression so that the patient can engage in meaningful therapy to deal with their cognitive issues.

Exercise and good nutrition also help, and I recommend them all the time. But like any medical question, there is a great deal of complexity in such questions. Some people have a chronic pathological depression. There is good reason to think that such depressions are biological at their base, and they require biological treatments like anti-depressants. Other people have situational depression, which is likely to be short term. A variety of more conservative approaches, or short term medical treatment, can be effective.

Many people with depression have either primary (meaning they cause the depression) or secondary (meaning they result from the depression, but then reinforce it) cognitive and behavior factors in their depression. These seem to respond best to cognitive behavioral therapy – but that is a complex controversy in and of itself. Whether or not talk therapy of some kind can succeed on its own, or requires short or long term medication, is a complex decision.

There may also be medical factors playing a role, again either primary (the ultimate cause) or co-morbid (not causing the depression but making it worse). Sometimes the depression is caused by a medical condition, like thyroid disease. Often it may be caused by sleep deprivation, which itself has its own cause.

And I am just scratching the surface of this topic. As always, I must point out that there are good and bad clinicians out there. And some of the bad ones can be truly terrible. What I am referring to is the generally accepted standard of care. It is also what I encounter most often in my experience – thoughtful clinicians who understand the evidence and the controversies, not the trained monkeys of Carrey’s self-serving fantasy.

To further clarify and anticipate the likely criticism – I am not advocating the paternalism of old where patients just did what their doctors told them. We live in a cooperative model of health care, where everyone is entitled to informed consent. But there is a healthy balance between informed consent and utilizing the expertise of the medical community.

Carrey’s hubris is not in having an opinion – it’s in thinking that because he is famous anyone should care what his opinion on a medical question is. It is in thinking that he knows better than those who have trained for years or decades in a complex and deep medical literature and practice. It is in the casual assumption of moral superiority (an admittedly common failing).

Perhaps more importantly, Carrey’s arrogance is simply part of a broader cultural trend. A proper respect for expertise has been partly sacrificed on the altar of egalitarianism. It still lingers, but in the public arena anti-establishment, sometimes post-modern, and irrationally egalitarian ideals hold sway.

This is why I felt I had to go to great pains in this article to explain what years ago was simply taken for granted – the nature and value of expertise.

14 comments to Who Cares What Jim Carrey Thinks?

  • Steve, as always you hit the nail on the head. The way you handle this nonsense is perfect, becuase there are no ad hominem attacks and the like. I think this kind of treatment is what will turn people on to scientific skepticism.
    Also, I assume Jenny McCarthy is making a killing off her books, could we say that this is “big anti-vaccination?”

  • tvmode1

    Steve, a terrific post, but I would sugges,t when making a series of intellectual arguments, to proofread your post before you submit it 🙂 Jim Carrey is a decent actor, not a descent actor and you recommend exercise, not recommen it.

  • I usually get to the proofreading eventually. Corrections made.

  • Actors get to where they are by wearing blinders. They must have the ability to ignore other people’s opinions. To succeed in Hollywood (along with luck) you must have persistence. Persistence entails the ability to ignore everyone around who may not agree.
    You must ignore critics who question your ability. (That is to say the people criticizing the process by which you do things). You must ignore friends that might tell you it’s time to give up this acting thing and get a real job (that is accepting results). And you must ignore the mathematics that tells you the chances of succeeding are one in a million. All those qualities that make for a successful actor make for a lousy scientist.

  • DLC

    You’re right in saying that Carrey is entitled to his opinion, but I would say he is not entitled to state his misinformed and often willfully ignorant opinion in a public forum and go unchallenged. But unfortunately it happens all too often that he mouths such things and that these things go unchallenged. No editor’s notes at the back of the story, or disclaimers that “Mr Carrey’s opinions are his own and do not reflect actual medical science”

    Like I’ve said before: people have the right to their opinions, and the right to express those opinions. However, the right to express your opinion does not come with the right to an audience, or to approval.

  • danielzig

    When people take strong opinions like that, I always wonder what lies behind it– I wonder why his anti-vaccine position makes sense to him. I think for the vast majority of people, as soon as they are exposed to intelligent sounding “true believer” nonsense it becomes very hard to convince them to look at the contrary evidence… this is his “cause” ya know. Very much the ego buster if he backs down, and so I’m not holding my breath that he’ll ever clue in. You should have him on the show 😉

  • gr8googlymoogly

    I think Mr. Carrey has the right to any opinion he chooses. I long for the day when only a few ignorant rubes want to hear his opinion.

  • […] Jim Carrey, unless it’s for a movie, please just shut up! Ugh, Jim Carrey, unless it’s for a movie, please just shut up! – I’m a huge fan of Jim Carrey’s work. I think he’s an extremely talented actor […]

  • Another great article Steven. You continually write lengthy and quite frankly magazine quality articles and post them as blog posts(as do a lot of the bloggers for SBM). It is appreciated that you and others take the time to use your expertise to educate the public. Some of us still value such expertise.

    There is an old saying that goes something like(and I am paraphrasing) “You don’t want to meet you heroes”. This is basically saying they will disappoint you. This is why I generally refuse to have heroes at all. Totally opposed to the idea. That said I do admire certain people(scientists, philosophers, writers, activists, some actors(not many)) and I am also fond of certain people that you can’t help but see in the media. I was a fan of Carey is his early comic roles when I was young and like yourself enjoyed him in the Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind but now, ultimately, every time I think of him or see him what I think is “What a douche”. I myself am in 4th year of a Microbiology Honours Degree and the amount I have had to learn for my course(and through my own study) in that time is enormous. Medical school is probably more extensive and put on top of the the years of experience doctors eventually get, its astounding(even more astounding is you can get Egnors after all that education).

    Jim Carey, Jenny McCarthy and the rest of the loony tunes gang think their opinions are as valid as a wealth of people with decades of experience, studying and practising behind their belts. The arrogance is palpable and almost chokes me if I think about it too much.

    No amount of weird face contortions or picking your nose on MTV substitutes for experience and actual knowledge. No matter if your kids autistic.

    Their egos are massive but ultimately when their life is at risk you won’t see them refuse surgery.

    There should be a world wide programme to incorporate the teaching of philosophy at as young an age as possible. Teach kids how to think in a logical and coherent manner. Sceptical tools from the outset. Perhaps we would have less arrogantly credulous egos in the world.

    Thank you again

    I am done.

    That’s all folks!

  • Carey seems to be simultaneously credulous and incredulous.

    1) He accepts bullshit from the Mercury Mafia.
    2) He rejects the massive evidence against his opinion.

  • […] celebrity has indeed made her dangerous. She has also managed to rope in her boyfriend, Jim Carrey, who is also as clueless as he is […]

  • Richard

    That was a rousing blog post, Dr. Novella, but what is it doing on an obscure skeptic’s blog. Blast him on YouTube! Another celebrity who sticks in my craw is Suzanne Somers (or should I say Dr. Suzanne Somers, ha ha!), who was on Larry King last Saturday, although at least she doesn’t oppose vaccinations. What do you think of Dr. Suzie?

  • The Blind Watchmaker

    We made him popular by buying movie tickets. Being popular means that people will listen to what he has to say and accept it (argument from authority). He has his opinions, as do many people have opinions. Carey finds himself in a position where lots of people listen to him and agree with him. This reinforces his own stance (argument from popularity). It seems that a feedback loop could easily grow.

    Too bad his opinion is contrary to evidence.

  • John Draeger

    Perhaps this comment is a little late, but it seems to me that people in perceived positions of authority often suffer from inflated egos. So we get successful actors thinking they are qualified to tell others what to do concerning health decisions, and Nobel laureates like Linus Pauling preaching that megadoses of vitamin C can cure or prevent all sorts of health problems. It’s an overconfidence in oneself (a form of self-deception) that is the genesis of such behavior…or maybe they’re just being jerks.

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