Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jenny McCarthy is slowly killing us

Social scientists are supposed to observe society with a bit of detachment, maybe even bemusement. But this piece from Wired about the anti-immunization movement will likely get your blood boiling. I don't know what's more outrageous:
  • The folks who are angry at immunologists for getting rich by injecting kids while content to have hucksters take their money in exchange for advice like, literally, “No vaccines + more vitamin d = no autism."
  • The fact that children's diseases long thought eradicated in the U.S. are now on the rise due to various populations refusing to immunize their children.
  • Jenny McCarthy claiming that her child has been cured of autism through dietary changes.
  • Jenny McCarthy being accepted as an authority on anything.
But I think the author is right about the following:
Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard.


Cory said...

I don't know a thing about Jenny McCarthy and I do vaccinate my kids but I do say that there's some science somewhere to the gluten/dairy free diet and kids on the autistic spectrum. People have proposed that the dairy and gluten proteins are larger than other proteins and perhaps they irritate the brain of a spectrum kid... I don't really know why it works, but for a decent amount of kids on the spectrum (I think the percentage is around 60%), autistic symptoms can and do dramatically lessen or even disappear.

I don't think that the vaccines are causing such a tidal wave of autistic kids, but something sure is. Who knew about autism when we were kids? It was so rare and now it's simply flooding special ed departments all over the nation. I can see why people think it's vaccines (what else do all these different kids have in common other than shots?), but I'm not sure that's the answer.

I agree with the author that there are some serious hacks making money off of people's fears as well as celebrities really shouldn't be a reliable "expert" on much unless they truly happen to be an expert.

I have a friend who works at the CDC with polio eradication and she shares the same frustration with parents refusing vaccines with such a serious disease which is entirely preventable.

My .02 cents.


Seth Masket said...

I don't think that the vaccines are causing such a tidal wave of autistic kids, but something sure is. Who knew about autism when we were kids?

The author makes this point, saying that the rise in autism diagnoses is due to improved ability by doctors to detect it. When we were kids, some of our peers who actually had autism were just diagnosed as retarded or slow or weren't diagnosed at all. So there hasn't been a dramatic rise in autism -- just in our ability to detect it.

Jeremy said...

^Yes, and now there are also now more categories (Asperger's, High Functioning, etc) that didn't "officially" exist as diagnoses at the time. So the "higher" rate is also just more people counting into the more generalized autism definition that wouldn't have had a label previously.

The vaccination nonsense has been mostly if not entirely disproved by now and was always just anecdotal anyway; yeah, most autistic kids had gotten vaccines, but so had most kids PERIOD. You could just as easily blame television, toaster ovens, or whatever else that autistic kids all "have in common" nowadays by sole virtue of them just being facts of modern life for most people.

bshor said...

But should we tell all celebrities to pipe down and "stop raising awareness" even when we agree with them? That's the tough question. It's too easy to beat up on ridiculous figures like McCarthy... Should celebrities in general be the filtering mechanism for passing information to the public?

Seth Masket said...

I don't have a problem with celebrities becoming informed about an issue and speaking up about it. They'll get attention no matter what they do; there's nothing wrong with trying to use that attention to further a cause they care about.

Jenny McCarthy crossed a line for me when she went on Oprah and made a lot of claims about autism that, a doctor on the show pointed out, were totally unsupported by scientific research. She countered, "My science is named Evan, and he's at home. That's my science." She asserted that she should be listened to, and scientists should be ignored, precisely because she is famous.

Anonymous said...

It's particularly galling when it's a celebrity speaking on a scientific matter where really is an objective right and wrong, *and* when that celebrity attained her fame merely by displaying her junk for pay and telling poop jokes.

Seth Masket said...

In her defense, she was a much better "Singled Out" host than Carmen Electra.