OP-ED

Hostility Towards Scientists And Jenny McCarthy’s Latest Video

Val Jones, M.D., is the President and CEO of Better Health, LLC. Most recently she was the Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health, a consumer health portal with over 120 million page views per month in its network. Prior to her work with Revolution Health, Dr. Jones served as the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. She currently blogs at Get Better Health, where this post first appeared.

I’ve been fairly quiet about Jenny McCarthy’s campaign against childhood vaccinations, partly because Dr. David Gorski has covered the issue so thoroughly already, and partly because of my “do not engage” policy relating to the deeply irrational (i.e. there’s no winning an argument with “crazy.”) But this week I was filled with a renewed sense of urgency regarding the anti-vaccinationist movement for two reasons: 1) I received a personal email from a woman who is being treated with hostility by her peers for her pro-science views on vaccines and 2) a friend forwarded me a video of Jenny McCarthy speaking directly to moms, instructing them to avoid vaccinating their kids or giving them milk or wheat because of their supposed marijuana-like addictive properties.

Anti-Vaccination Views Are A Status Symbol?

I was surprised to discover that some pro-science moms are being mocked by peers who are uninterested in evidence, choosing to believe any dubious source of health information that questions the “medical establishment.” This concerned mom writes:

I am the mother of two young children, and I live in the trenches of the anti-vax woo.  In my circle of about 14 mothers, my anecdotal analysis is that the rate of complete vaccination hovers around 60%.  The mothers in this group are all very well educated, middle-class or affluent, predominantly stay-home mothers. One problem is what they consider reliable sources of information.  They rely on anecdotes and dismiss scientific evidence in part because they are very anti-medical establishment.  The group is self-validating and many shared values (and myths) increase in intensity over time.

Many of the mothers practice “Natural Family Living” which has some appealing aspects, but also harbors elements of a cult.  In this environment, anti-vaccination becomes a very powerful status symbol… I have lost friendships and been partially ousted from this circle because of my views.

This note struck a chord with me, since I experienced similar hostility in the past for voicing my concern about pseudoscience and misleading consumer health information. I was accused of being “paternalistic, narrow-minded, a dinosaur – part of a dying breed, a racist against complementary and alternative medicine, and a Bible school teacher, preaching evidence-based medicine,” insulted for my desire to be accurate about what was known and not known about treatment options, and my expertise, training, and academic credentials were called into question publicly on many occasions. I endured all of this primarily at the hands of someone who supposedly believed in “natural healing” and the “art of kindness” as an integral part of patient care.

I am troubled by the mounting antagonism towards those of us who’d like to use critical thinking and scientific reasoning to learn what we can about medicine and our health. I’m not sure what to do about it except to encourage one another to stand strong for science and reason – to expect all manner of attacks and insults, and to be firmly committed to the objective quest for truth. It shall set us free.

Jenny McCarthy – Inaccurate, Unhelpful And Dangerous Advice

Although I find Jenny McCarthy’s advice and opinions painful to watch, I committed myself to viewing her recent video at my friend’s request. In order to spare you similar discomfort, let me simply summarize what she said so you can get a high level overview of the sort of bizarre and misinformed claims she promotes (feel free to check out the video for yourself).

“Autism is not primarily a genetic disorder, but caused by vaccine-related toxins (including mercury, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze ,and human aborted fetal tissue) and pesticides.”

“Kids get ‘stoned’ by wheat and dairy toxins. Giving them wheat or dairy proteins is like giving children marijuana.”

  • There is currently no evidence that any diet improves or worsens the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.  In fact, whole grains and dairy products are an important part of a healthy diet for most children.

“Food allergies are like Iran and Iraq. Glial cells (they’re like chef cell) provide food to the neuron kings. Glial cells can turn into Rambo to fight Iran and Iraq. If a child is allergic to everything, the Rambo cells stop feeding the neurons and the neurons starve. That causes the symptoms of autism.”

  • I don’t know what to say about this strange analogy – clearly no science-based information here.

“To treat autism, you need to give your child supplements to fight off the yeast in their bodies. I recommend Super Nathera, Culturelle, Cod Liver Oil, Caprylic Acid, CoQ10, Calcium, Vitamin C, Selenium, Zinc, Vitamin B12, B6, and Magnesium.”

  • There is no evidence of efficacy for any of these supplements in the treatment of autism.

“You need to consult with a DAN! Practitioner.”

  • DAN! Practitioners recommend chelation therapy for the treatment of autism. There is no evidence that chelation therapy has any benefit for children with autism, and in fact, can be fatal.

“Whatever you think becomes your reality. Imagine your child going to his/her prom and he’ll be cured.”

I think it’s pretty clear that Jenny McCarthy’s recommendations range from ineffective (imaginary healing) to harmful (malnutrition related to absent dairy and wheat in the diet, excessive levels of vitamins) to deadly (chelation therapy with DAN! Practitioners). Will mothers watching her new show on Oprah fall for her pseudoscience and poor advice?

I was pleased to see this open letter to Oprah from one concerned mom. Here’s an excerpt:

To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.
Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.

We have come close to eradicating life-threatening and crippling illnesses because of vaccines, but are now struggling to prevent outbreaks because of parents’ philosophical beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Realize this: when someone chooses not to vaccinate their child, they aren’t just putting their own child at risk, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. Diseases with vaccines should normally be of little concern even to unprotected individuals due to herd immunity – with the majority of the population immune, unprotected individuals are less likely to come into contact with the pathogen. Unfortunately, herd immunity disintegrates as fewer people are vaccinated, putting everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated at greater risk for infection. Now, the rates of infection by diseases for which we have safe and effective vaccines are climbing, thanks to anti-vaccination activists like Jenny McCarthy.

You reach millions of people everyday and your words and endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you…

Conclusion

A certain segment of society appears to be emotionally invested in medical beliefs that are not based on science, but rather anecdotes, conspiracy theories, and magical thinking. Those who recommend a more objective method of inquiry may be subject to ridicule and hostility by that segment. Nonetheless, it is important (for public health and safety purposes and the advancement of science) for critical thinking to be promoted and defended. While some celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, are committed to misinforming the public about their children’s health – parents who recognize the deception are speaking out against it. Perhaps the best way to combat Jenny’s propaganda is to boycott Oprah. Refusing to support the promotion of dangerous pseudoscience may be our best defense.

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18 replies »

  1. The problem with your line of reasoning is that you’re making statements like “the Mercury-autism link has been debunked” and “the aluminum-autism link has been disproven”, perhaps without realizing where the studies you’re quoting came from.
    The studies that you’re referring to come from two primary sources – a study by the Center for Disease Control, and a study in Denmark that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. People have widely quoted that these studies “debunked” the connection, when in fact the studies were shown to neither prove nor disprove the link. But what is NOT said is that of the eight authors of the Denmark study, three are employed by one of Denmark’s largest pharmaceutical companies, four had financial links to that same pharmaceutical company, and the other one was employed by the CDC. AND, the results of the Denmark study have been studied by independent statisticians and found to have serious flaws. As for the CDC’s study: the Center for Disease Control has refused on countless occasions to provide full discovery to plaintiffs trying to be compensated for damages due to vaccinations (for those unfamiliar with ‘legal-ese’, that means that they do not give plaintiffs full access to their files and studies on vaccines). Are you really going to trust an organization that works that hard to keep its data secret? One would think that if its data suggests there is no link the CDC would WANT that data made public.
    And if there IS no link, how is it that it’s been proven IN COURT (not an easy task) that cases of Autism have been directly caused by vaccinations. Don’t believe me just because I’m typing this, by the way – check out these cases:
    Lassiter v. US Federal Court (note the court’s findings: “The court finds that the symptoms claimed are supported by a preponderance of evidence and may be relied upon as a credible account of events.’’)
    Cindy Oxley and Steven Oxley v. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (note the court’s findings: “Richelle’s disabilities include autistic-like behavior [autism-like and autism are used interchangeably in the medical literature and in many court cases, see Lassiter Vs. US Federal Court], hyperactivity, and partially controlled seizures.” and “The court finds that there is not a preponderance of the evidence that Richelle’s condition is due to factors unrelated to the administration of the vaccine.” [Meaning it was related to the vaccine]
    Banks v. Health and Human Services
    By the way, the cases above are just a few examples. The U.S. Government has quietly doled out $2 Billion dollars over the past 20 years to families who have been able to prove IN COURT that their children were harmed by vaccines. And that’s not including the other families who have had their children damaged by vaccines but have not had the time or vast amount of money necessary to wrangle a win out of our ridiculous justice system. But the same government continues to claim that vaccines are perfectly safe and there are no known dangers associated with vaccination.
    Think about this: When someone is on trial for committing a crime, one of the first things the prosecutor looks at is MOTIVE. So who’s got the greatest motive for publishing misinformation? Jenny McCarthy, who’s sidelined her multi-million dollar acting career and started a non-profit organization dedicated to giving a voice to countless DOCTORS who are sounding a warning bell and are trying to find alternatives? The countless mothers and fathers who are dedicating all their free time – unpaid – trying to find out what happened because they had healthy children until the day their child got an immunization shot? Or do you think that there just might be a small motive for pharmaceutical companies to put out a little misinformation because they make several BILLION dollars a year by pushing their mandatory vaccination agenda?
    I’ll close with a small tidbit of fact, easily researchable: compared to 1900, by the late 1950’s the death rate from measles had declined well over 99% from a rate of over 100 per million to a rate of approximately 2-3 per million. This was before there was a measles vaccine. That means that the most likely decrease in death was due to more sanitary living conditions in the U.S. and better nutrition. Since vaccines became available the measles rate has dropped – at exactly the same overall rate as it was dropping before the vaccine was created. At its historic rate of decline, the mortality rate was on track to bottom out at virtually zero sometime in the late ’90’s/early 2000’s. Guess when it bottomed out? Huh. Same result as with the vaccine. Except the drug companies are billions of dollars richer and we have an unexplained spike in autism, ADD, ADHD, etc. ever since the introduction of widespread mandatory vaccinations.

  2. My child does not have classic autism but she is on the spectrum. I do have her on a wheat and dairy free diet. It has helped her along with cod liver oil for vitamins A and D. I do think it is a shame that Jenny McCarthy is giving out health information. She is not a doctor. Please check out http://www.autism.com. It is the autism RESEARCH institute and the book, Changing the Course of Autism by Brian Jepson, MD. It is my resource for autism and has the scientific studies to back up information regarding diet, supplements and treatment. They also recently worked with the AAP. Please don’t let Jenny deter you from finding out factual, reasearch based information on autism.
    Mom of a daughter on the autism spectrum (PDD-NOS)
    Tracey

  3. Finally, someone who agrees with my opinion of Jenny McCarthy’s “helpful” tips! My son has Classic Autism which was not caused by vaccinations. I also have two daughters who have had all of their vaccinations as well and both of them are “typical”. However, I cannot count the number of mothers and fathers of children who are on the spectrum tell me that I should do all of the above treatments to cure my son of his condition. Vaccinations are there to prevent everyone alike from contracting deadly and non deadly diseases and if they really caused Autism Spectrum Disorder, then we would all have it. It just goes to show that Jenny definitely needs some serious psychiatric treatment!

  4. It does seem that our children receive a lot of vaccines, especially compared to the number we received as children. However getting the vaccines beats getting the illnesses they prevent. Many of the illnesses can be fatal or have lifelong consequences; one of my best friends has severe hearing problems because she had the measles as a child. Other diseases which aren’t typically fatal or don’t usually cause child death (although they can do this in some children) can still disrupt life and be quite unpleasant. In high school I missed two and a half weeks (thoroughly miserable weeks) of my senior year because I caught the chicken pox form a child whose mother brought him to the grocery store where I worked while he was ill. Vaccinations are too important to skip. All three of my sons are fully immunized and only one of them is autistic.

  5. Thank you for adressing the issue so clearly.
    I’m so glad to live in a country when medical advice given by non-medics is brought to court.
    But alas, I’ve shared the fate of being the target of aggression of american people when I write that vaccinations are not the cause of autism.
    Not only normal scientific data are clear, but also my observation of my 4 autistic children. They all displayed autistic behaviour before they got vaccinations.
    I’m worried about all those miracle cures and I plead for a better diagnostic protocol for autism as I’ve written on my autism site and as is used here in The Netherlands.
    http://actionforautism.blogspot.com/2009/05/whats-good-diagnosis-of-autism.html

  6. Thank you so much for speaking out for vaccines! I have met several wonderful parents who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that no other family will suffer the loss of their children to a vaccine preventable diseases. The loss of their children will forever burden them but they have chosen to speak out and fight against the misinformation about vaccines. I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of mass polio vaccination campaigns in Africa where mothers begged us for measles vaccine b/c, while grateful for the eradication of polio, their children continued to die from measles and malaria. Here in the U.S. people take good health for granted, but I can assure those people that diseases are lurking right around the corner and delaying vaccines puts children at grave risk. Children are dying in this country because of misinformation about vaccine safety..and that is a true crime!

  7. Check out the Newsweek Article on Oprah (week of 6/8/09).
    It addresses some the “celebratization” of mis-information transfer – refers to Susan Sommers and extreme stuff she does to stay young and adives Oprah’s zillions of viewers to try.

  8. If Autism was really toxic overload, as Jenny states, wouldn’t Ms. McCarthy be Autistic herself?

  9. I am sure that vaccines are not the cause of autism. And I vaccinated my kids. But I do wonder if there should be some consideration of the increasing numbers of vaccines we do give our children. There were several times that my sons could have or did receive multiple injections that contained multiple antigens. Sometimes I asked my pediatrician if I could wait and space the vaccines out a bit. Sometimes it was possible, and he trusted me to return, and of course I did. Other times the schedule would not allow it. As we know, sometimes things in medicine are done without full and true understanding of the longterm outcome. We must admit that we don’t really know what it will ultimately mean for kids to get potentially a five in one shot as an infant, and potentially a total of close to 15 antigens over the course of childhood.
    As far as autism is concerned, I will continue to treat it the way I do, behaviourally and interpersonally. And when parents express their concerns to me about vaccines, I will tell them my truth – that from what I understand it has genetic underpinnings but that it is still largely not understood. And I will acknowledge their fears. Because not knowing – how one’s child could have such a devastating disease, and how the medical establishment, with the best of intentions, can still do things without fully understanding the ramifications – is understandably scary.

  10. Thank you for your reasoned voice. For parents on the fence about whether to vaccinate their children, please remember that it is vaccination that keep horrific diseases at bay. Diseases like measles, rubella, and polio are all but eradicated in the U.S. because of vigilant vaccination – but they are still active in countries that don’t have plentiful access to vaccines – and could rebound here. Indeed, the recent outbreaks of measles and Hib disease, with their dramatic impact on unimmunized children, remind us of how tenuous our protection is. Fears that we have opened the back door to autism by protecting children against infectious diseases are unfounded. Studies specifically designed to look at the causal association between vaccines and autism have consistently show no scientific link between vaccines and autism. The alleged culprit, thimerosol, was removed from almost all vaccines in 2002, yet the rates of children with autism continue to grow. We need ongoing research into the causes and cures for autism, but we cannot let false fear hold us back from protecting our children from the real threat of infectious diseases.

  11. Val,
    Your voice of reason has been a most valuable point of reference for the non medical world.
    Thank you from the many parents of autism who are desperate for answers, but respect medicine and science as well.
    Regards,
    Robin

  12. It was difficult, but I resisted the temptation of clicking on the link to watch the video. With the mammoth task of system reform in front of us, the last thing we need to do is waste our time with garbage like that. I’m all for engaging patients/healthcare consumers, but this is the risk we face when they completely take matters into their own hands.

  13. I work the next town over from a place where this kind of thinking is rampant. As a result our county has had more than one outbreak of pertussis, which can be lethal in babies and a month of misery for everyone else (including adults whose childhood immunity has waned). I wish 30 days of nonstop coughing til you gag on Jenny McCarthy. When I was a resident I treated dozens of kids with H. flu meningitis; that has basically disappeared due to vaccines. I use that story for moms that are on the fence about vaccines, and also offer to print up the news stories about how the data in the paper that started this whole mess was falsified. That usually works, but it is ridiculous to have to spend that kind of time educating people because Oprah has decided to give a soapbox to someone who spouts dangerous nonsense. I could be spending that time seeing another pt that needs healthcare.
    How about Oprah give some equal time to polio survivors to talk about what vaccines mean to them?

  14. Thanks for posting about this. As the author of the letter quoted above, I just want to clarify that I’m not a mother (yet, maybe in a few years) but I am indeed concerned!

  15. This is almost same as those arguments given to many minorities in Asia that the polio vaccination is almost like controlling population growth. Well….UN had trouble achieving its goal.
    I hope science is put forward so that these demogogues are not misleading people to do wrong thing.
    rgds
    ravi
    blogs.biproinc.com/healthcare
    http://www.biproinc.com

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