The Sciences

Jenny McCarthy: spreading more dangerous misinformation

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJul 6, 2009 1:30 PM


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If you haven’t had your quota of shockingly wrong medical advice for the year yet, try watching this video by Dr. Jenny McCarthy, as she manages to squeeze about a metric ton of misinformation into a two-ounce package.

[Update (July 6 2009): I checked this link last night, but in the meantime Generation Rescue — Jenny McCarthy’s antiscience organization and the hosting site for the video — removed the page for some reason. I don’t know why they did that, but the video is cached online and you can see it here. SCAM Blasting also has the video online.]

(Incidentally, as if her antiscience nonsense isn’t bad enough, this video is in flash, so you cannot fast forward or rewind; making it far less useful for its purported purpose: to "educate" parents, so I guess that’s a good thing). It starts off with the nonsense right away, when she says, "I am not antivaccine. I am antitoxin," then barely takes a breath before saying that vaccines are full of toxins, and that toxins cause autism.

Repeat after me: Vaccines do not cause autism! We know they don’t. The tests have been done, the studies examined, and we know that vaccines have nothing to do with autism. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.

Things goes even farther off the rails from there, with her making all sorts of ridiculous and unfounded assertions. One of the first things she says is that autism isn’t genetic, and then confuses the issue with a statement about epidemics. But she’s wrong (which is pretty much the case with everything she says); there are strong genetic indicators of autism, but the underlying cause is still unknown. She makes claims about what triggers autism, when in fact no one knows what physically causes autism. But we do know vaccines do not cause them.

I hear antivaxxers all the time saying that if we don’t know what causes autism, how can we know vaccines don’t? But that’s just more empty rhetoric. It’s possible to not know something’s cause while still eliminating possibilities; that’s one way how medicine and science work. Start with an event and possible cause — for example, does chocolate cause acne? — then test the idea. If it comes up negative, move on. And, as I said, there is a lot of research on vaccines, and the conclusion is clear. When people like McCarthy say vaccines cause autism, they are ignoring the tsunami of evidence showing they are wrong.

We know a vast amount about children’s health issues; pediatricians devote their lives to them, and the antivaxxers are bent in throwing all this knowledge away, replacing it with fairy tales.

Vaccinations rid this world of smallpox, a scourge that killed millions of people. Measles was on the decline, pertussis was on the decline, rubella was on the decline. We are seeing a surge in outbreaks from these and other easily preventable diseases — including, tragically, deaths of children, deaths of babies — and a lot of it is traceable to the misinformation from the antivaccination movement.

I’m not a medical doctor. But I do understand science, and I have talked to many friends who are doctors, including one who is a pediatrician. So here’s my advice: Don’t listen to Jenny McCarthy. Talk to a doctor instead. Get real advice, based on actual science, knowledge, experience, and above all, reality.

That seems to be a place with which Ms. McCarthy is unfamiliar. But if you have young kids, reality is where you have to be. Your kids depend on it.

Tip o’ the syringe to BABloggee Jarno Verhoofstad.

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