Jenny McCarthy shows off her knowledge of science


While I’m on the topic, blog bud has proclaimed that he loves Jenny McCarthy’s new blog at the Oprah website, in particular her Poop Stories. Personally, when I first saw Jenny’s blog, my first thought was that a question I had always had ever since Jenny McCarthy became the chief propagandist for the antivaccine movement had finally been answered. I now know why that cesspit of anti-vaccine lunacy, The Huffington Post, had never invited Jenny McCarthy to blog. HuffPo may not have standards when it comes to science, but at least it has standards when it comes to writing, and Jenny’s writing, as shown on her blog, is so inane that it reminds me of a 15-year-old girl, except that would be an insult to most 15-year-old girls. However, after reading PalMD’s take on it, I can sort of understand why he likes it so much. Not only does it provide endless examples of burnin’, burnin’ stupid to provide blog fodder, but its language is almost self-parody, or some sort of highly warped version of e.e. cummings as filtered through the mind of a demented Valley girl.

I have to admit that Jenny supplies me with blog fodder at times, too. Mainly, it consists of my utter disbelief that anyone can be so consistently ignorant (and demonstrate so consistently the arrogance of ignorance), coupled with the need to counter the pseudoscience and anti-vaccine lies that she lays down so regularly. That’s exactly why, when SciencePunk showed me a video from the Generation Rescue website of Jenny McCarthy called Biomedical Intervention 101 (scroll down to the list of videos or use this direct link), in which Jenny walks families through the basics of Biomedical Intervention, I was morbidly curious to see if she was still laying down the same line of nonsense that she’s been laying down for nearly two years now. Is she still using the formaldehyde gambit? Did her son’s pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon, having learned from his slapdown at my hands last year, tell her just how idiotic the “toxins” gambit is?

Apparently not. Actually, I’m not sure that Dr. Jay has even learned that lesson.

In any case, because it’s clear that Jenny McCarthy just won’t stop, I subjected myself to as much of her video as I can stand. Because the video is 15 minutes long, there’s just too much misinformation there to counter in one post, and I don’t even intend to try. Instead, I’ll emulate what antivaccinationists do with scientific studies and cherry pick the bits of Jenny’s “science” I want to mention. But, please, do feel free to chime in about anything I’ve missed. In any case, I’m quite sure I’ve lost neurons doing so, so intense is the black hole of stupid in the video, but I do it all for your education and entertainment. No, no, don’t thank me. Just link to me, baby. Link to me and drive my traffic through the roof. That’s all the reward I require.

The video starts out with happy, cheesy graphics and fades to Jenny sitting in front of–gasp!–a black Mac PowerBook! Jenny’s a Mac person. Oh, well, I guess it just goes to show that it’s not just the cool, smart people who use Macs. In any case, if you want to know the answer to my question, you don’t have long to wait. First, Jenny asserts disingenuously once again, “I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-toxin.” (One wonders if, being “anti-toxin,” as she says, Jenny can counter snake toxin.) She then launches into that hoary old antivaccine lie, saying:

I want the mercury, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze, and human aborted fetal tissue to be removed.

Ah, yes, the “toxins” gambit strikes again. But I did notice one thing. Did you? That’s right! She didn’t mention formaldehyde! Maybe Dr. Jay did give her a lesson after all. Yay, Dr. Jay! Well, maybe not. Jenny continues to mindlessly parrot even dumber aspects of the “toxins” gambit. For example:

Mercury. The level of mercury in vaccines has been reduced to trace levels for all but the flu vaccine, and a thimerosal-free version of the flue vaccine is available. Mercury exposure due to vaccines among children is lower than it’s been in over 20 years, which, coincidentally enough, was a couple of years before the beginning of the “autism epidemic.”

Ether in vaccines. Really. I don’t understand why antivaccinationists keep repeating this misinformation, other than sheer ignorance of chemistry or for the same reasons they keep repeating the “formaldehyde gambit.” When chemists refer to “ether,” most of the time they are referring to ethyl ether, and there is not any ethyl ether in vaccines. What has confused the science-challenged anti-vaccine zealots whose propaganda Jenny McCarthy is parroting? The only “ether” I could find in the CDC’s list is polyethylene glycol pisooctylphenyl ether (Triton X-100), a common detergent agent used to make cell membranes permeable. Alternatively, the origin of this gambit may be similar to that of the formaldehyde gambit, as I have been able to find in the literature examples of papers in which virus is isolated and purified using the Tween-ether method of extraction, described thusly:

The procedure of Mussgay and Rott (10) for extraction of Sindbis virus with Tween and ether was followed closely for CHIK virus. Clarified virus harvest was mixed with Tween 80 at a concentration of 5 mg of the surfactant per ml of virus harvest and was shaken for 15 min at room temperature. An equal volume of diethyl ether was added, and the mixture was shaken for 15 min at room temperature. Ether was separated from extracted virus by centrifugation at 1,200 X g for 20 min. Residual ether was removed from the aqueous phase by aeration with nitrogen gas. This procedure was found to give the highest yield of hemagglutinin (HA) from live-virus harvests, resulting in a four- to eightfold increase in HA titer.

So, even if ether were used to extract virus, it’s completely removed from the final solution of virus particles by aeration with nitrogen gas. That makes the “ether” gambit at best the equivalent of the formaldehyde gambit, only stupider.

Antifreeze in vaccines. No. Quite simply, no. There’s no antifreeze in vaccines. There just isn’t. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol. Some vaccines contain polyethylene glycol, a polymer used in many personal care products, such as skin creams and toothpaste. Continuing to parrot the “antifreeze in vaccines” line is more than intellectually dishonest. It’s just plain dishonest. Either that, or it’s evidence of an ignorance so profound that nothing can penetrate it.

Human aborted fetal tissue in vaccines. More idiocy. There is not “aborted fetal tissue” in vaccines. It is true that the virus stock for some vaccines is grown in a human cell line derived from an aborted fetus back in the 1960s. That cell line has been propagated continuously ever since. There’s a huge difference between “human aborted fetal tissue” and a cell line that’s existed nowhere other than in tissue culture growing in tissue culture media. Moreover, when the viruses are isolated, the cells are removed. There are none left in the vaccines.

Jenny then launches into a discourse in which she pits her Google University “education” against actual science, dismissing the genetic basis of autism with a blithe statement that, “contrary to traditional medical wisdom,” autism is not genetic, her babbling on and on like a brook about how autism “can’t be genetic” because there’s no such thing as a “genetic epidemic” reminding me of the babbling bubbles that must be flowing through what passes for her brain. Clearly the concepts of expanding the diagnostic criteria for what is counted as autism and of diagnostic substitution are too much for her fragile eggshell mind. She then goes on to liken a genetic susceptibility to autism to that of a genetic susceptibility to type II diabetes that manifests itself if one gets too obese. This “susceptibility,” to Jenny, is to all the nasty toxins that she visualizes in vaccines. Unfortunately, the evidence just doesn’t support her. (So what else is new?) There is clearly a fairly strong genetic component, but it is multifactorial. No single gene has been identified yet, although through linkage studies candidate genes have been identified. Meanwhile, although there may be environmental factors, none has been convincingly demonstrated yet. Yet Jenny boldly proclaims that the “toxins” cause autism in “susceptible” children. And where do those “toxins” come from? Jenny tells us they come from not just vaccines but…pesticides! Her idea is that autism is a “toxic overload.”

And what happens when a child reaches a “toxic tipping point” from those vaccines and pesticides? All sorts of horrors other than autism. Oh, yes. There are food allergies and immune system “overload,” malnourishment, seizures, constipation, diarrhea, and sensory issues. Her answer? Food, supplementation (yes, indeed, lots of those expensive supplements), detoxification (of course!), medicine, and positive thinking (whatever that means; maybe she’s referring to The Secret). She then goes into each one. I won’t. It’s all woo. Again, I’ll cherry pick. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll take a more “wholistic” view.

First off, Jenny buys into the whole concept that casein and gluten result in “intoxication” and that casein-free, gluten-free diets are the answer to autistic symptoms. This idea has largely been discredited. The proposed mechanism was known as the “opioid hypothesis,” because the milk protein casein is known to break down to casomorphins, peptides that have opioid effects and release histamine, and (or so it was thought) these breakdown products of casein exacerbate the symptoms of autism. This was the hypothesis that launched a million quacks advocating milk-free or casein-free diets. It’s also the idea that launched the idea that gluten-free diets might alleviate autistic symptoms, based on the observation that casein has a similar structure to gluten. Indeed, a Cochrane review from last year concluded:

In the first version of this review we argued that exclusion diets are not without cost in terms of inconvenience and extra financial cost and limitations on foods of choice for the affected family member and that we could not recommend their use as a standard treatment on the basis of the limited data available. The only trial identified since the first review shows no significant difference between the intervention and control group and, again, we cannot recommend these exclusion diets as standard treatment.

These diets are also not without risk. A recent study suggested that such diets may contribute to bone loss in developing children.

Jenny talks about how much she really loved her marijuana when she was in college. While I’m not surprised to learn that Jenny really, really loved her pot (it explains a lot), I was very surprised to learn that she actually had gone to college. From this lovely background of understanding, Jenny explains about autistic children that “when they want that wheat you’re giving them a joint.” If only it were that easy to get high. Unfortunately, Jenny’s understanding of pharmacology is about as good as all of her other understanding of science. She seems to think that the canniboids in marijuana are the same thing as opiods. Really.

At around halfway to two-thirds of the way through the video (by which point, I think, blood was coming out of my ears), Jenny gives a discourse on neurology. I rather suspect the shock would cause poor Steve Novella to clutch his chest with crushing chest pain if he tried to watch it, as she describes neurons as the “kings” and the glial cells the “chefs,” which, according to her, can “morph into Rambo” and fight off Iran and Iraq. In fact, she even describes it and acts it out. Her analogy? Allergies change the “chef cells” into “Rambo cells,” and the “king cells” starve.

It wasn’t just my ears that were bleeding at this point. I think my eyes were too. Hell, if I had kept watching I suspect I would have started bleeding out of every orifice. It was at this point I had to stop watching. I couldn’t take it anymore.

This, my friends, is the face of the antivaccine movement, a woman so scientifically ignorant but so sure that she knows what she’s doing that she will pump her kid full of supplements, subject him to all manner of detox woo, and rant against “toxins” in vaccines, all the while piously telling us she is not “anti-vaccine,” even though she has admitted that children may die because of her efforts.


Generation Rescue deleted the video, apparently in embarrassment. However, YouTube knows all, and here it is: