Way back on May 25, 2005, I first noticed something about a certain political group blog. It was something unsavory, something vile, something pseudoscientific. It was the fetid stench of quackery, but not just any quackery. It was anti-vaccine quackery, and the blog was Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post, where a mere 16 days after its being unleashed upon an unsuspecting world I characterized the situation as Antivaccination rhetoric running rampant on The Huffington Post. It was the start of a long running series that rapidly resulted in parts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the course of a mere month before I gave up counting. Now you can just search for “Huffington and vaccine” on this blog and pull up dozens of examples of HuffPo’s support for the most insane varieties of anti-vaccine nuttery. Dr. Jay Gordon? Check. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.? Check. David Kirby? Check. Bill Maher? Check.
Jim Carrey? Extra double triple check. (Man, the level of burning stupid in that one was beyond anything I had seen before.)
Through it all, I had noticed that there was an anti-vaccine activist missing from the pseudoscientific roll of shame that regularly appeared on HuffPo. As you may have guessed, for some reason, in the three years or so since she became a “mother warrior” anti-vaccine loon, Jenny McCarthy hadn’t blogged for HuffPo, even though she’s an ideal candidate. She’s a celebrity. She’s anti-vaccine. Most importantly, her brain consists of two neurons connected by a spirochete. She seemed to be perfect. On the other hand, I speculated that maybe–just maybe–even HuffPo has standards, and, as McCarthy has shown on Twitter,without a
ghostwriter coauthor she appears unable to handle stringing even a mere 140 characters together into a coherent thought. Trying to produce a full 1,000-word post with such thin gruel would strain even HuffPo’s woo-friendly readership.
I guess I was wrong. Yesterday, there appeared on HuffPo a post under Jenny McCarthy’s name entitled Who’s afraid of the truth about autism? Yes, the stupid continues to burn, except this time it’s metastasized to HuffPo, to add to its already existing flame of burning stupid.
Somehow, I can’t help but get a picture of Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup shouting at Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” Except that it isn’t supporters of science-based medicine who are constantly trying to swat down the lies of anti-vaccine propagandists like Jenny McCarthy and the organization for which she and her boyfriend Jim Carrey have become spokescelebrities who can’t handle the truth. It’s anti-vaccine loons like Jenny McCarthy, J.B. Handley, and the organization they represent who can’t handle the truth, which is that there is no scientifically credible evidence to support their belief that vaccines are a major cause of autism. Jenny McCarthy goes on to demonstrate just that from the very first sentence:
Parents of recovered children, and I’ve met hundreds, all share the same experience of doubters and deniers telling us our child must have never even had autism or that the recovery was simply nature’s course. We all know better, and frankly we’re too busy helping other parents to really care.
How many quacks dismiss criticism, excuse their inability to provide scientific evidence, and justify their use of anecdotes and pseudoscience by saying they’re all “too busy” helping others to bother with little things like evidence, science, or reason. They just know. They don’t need no steekin’ science!
Of course, as Kev points out, Jenny’s track record with regard to the truth isn’t so hot. In fact, it sucks. She and her boyfriend have spread egregious misinformation about vaccines, in particular the “toxin” gambit, and her knowledge of science is so risibly lacking that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I watch this video. She keeps spreading lies about there being antifreeze and “fetal parts” in vaccines. Nothing she says about vaccines, autism, or science can be considered the least bit reality-based, as we see with McCarthy’s question:
Who’s afraid of autism recovery? Perhaps it’s the diagnosticians and pediatricians who have made a career out of telling parents autism is a hopeless condition.
Actually, no one’s afraid of autism recovery! At least no one that I’ve ever seen. Certainly scientists aren’t. As Prometheus points out, as many as 19% of autistic children recover. As Kev points out, Helt et al report that between 3% and 25% of autistic children recover. Even if it’s only 3%, that’s still a heck of a lot of “recovered” children, and almost none of them received any “biomedical” intervention. It’s impossible to know if any of the “biomedical” quackery that people like McCarthy promote does any good except through randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Absent a finding of a higher percentage of “recovered” children in the treatment arm of the trial, there’s no reliable basis to claim a benefit from any of the “biomedical” woo that McCarthy has been selling since 2007.
Not that that stops Jenny from spewing yet more anti-vaccine lies:
The idea that vaccines are a primary cause of autism is not as crackpot as some might wish. Autism’s 60-fold rise in 30 years matches a tripling of the US vaccine schedule.
With so many kids with autism, the environment has to be to blame, and vaccines are an obvious culprit. Almost all kids get vaccines — injected toxins — very early in life, and our own government clearly acknowledges vaccines cause brain damage in certain vulnerable kids.
Actually, yes, the idea that vaccines are a primary cause of autism is a crackpot idea, a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. It’s an idea that has been refuted time and time again through scientific and epidemiological study, and there is no credible evidence that vaccines cause autism. That’s why people who think that vaccines are a primary cause of autism are…well, crackpots–like Jenny McCarthy. Also note how the crackpot Jenny McCarthy characterizes vaccines as “injected toxins.” Clearly, the many attempts of proponents of science-based medicine to point out that (1) many of the “toxins” that Jenny believes to be in vaccines are in fact not in vaccines and (2) the dose makes the poison and that the “toxins” in vaccines are not toxic at the doses present in vaccines. None of this stopp Jenny from proceeding to lay down a swath of flaming stupid so intense that it threatens to cleanse the entire surface of the earth of anything resembling intelligence above that of a paramecium:
Time magazine’s article on the autism debate reports that the experts are certain “vaccines don’t cause autism; they don’t injure children; they are the pillar of modern public health.”
I say, “that’s a lie and we’re sick of it.”
My retort: Jenny McCarthy is lying, and I’m sick of it. I’m particularly sick of straw men like this:
How do you say vaccines don’t injure kids, when a government website shows more than 1,000 claims of death and over $1.9 billion paid out in damages for vaccine injury, mostly to children?
Perhaps its better to say vaccines have both benefits and risks? Who’s afraid of being honest about the good and the bad of vaccines?
No one in the medical establishment, Jenny McCarthy’s straw man argument notwithstanding, claims that there are no risks to vaccines. No responsible scientist or physician denies that vaccines have risks, as do all medical interventions to some extent or another. What McCarthy’s dim intellect cannot fathom is that it is a question or risks versus benefits, and the benefits of vaccination far outweight its tiny risks. Once again, the nirvana fallacy (a.k.a. the fallacy of the perfect solution) rears its ugly head. To Jenny, vaccines must be absolutely, positively, 100% safe or they are far too dangerous to use. Binary thinking. Either or. No shades of gray. It’s fundamentalism at its finest, although not so fundamentalist that McCarthy can’t proclaim just how much she loves to inject a real toxin into her skin in order to stave off aging. Apparently for the sake of maintaining a youthful appearance McCarthy can understand the concept of risk-benefit ratios, but when it comes to protecting children against infectious diseases even a one in a million risk of serious adverse reactions is too high for her to accept.
She doesn’t even know the real story of Andrew Wakefield:
In the recent case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, why did the press constantly report that his 1998 study said the MMR caused autism when anyone could read the study and know that it didn’t? And, why did we never hear that the actual finding of Dr. Wakefield’s study — that children with autism are suffering from bowel disease — has been replicated many times?
Does Jenny mean “replicated” the way that Mady Hornig replicated Wakefield’s findings? Oh, wait. Hornig tried to replicate Wakefield’s study and found exactly the opposite of what Wakefield reported. She found zero correlation between vaccines and GI sypmptoms or measles virus in the gut. Zilch. In fact, the only “replications” of Wakefield’s study have come from groups associated with Wakefield or the anti-vaccine movement and have all been just as bad in terms of science.
Of course, it’s also highly amusing that McCarthy would wonder why the press reported that Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper showed that vaccines caused autism. It is true that the study itself didn’t explicitly say that vaccines cause autism, most likely because peer reviewers wouldn’t let Wakefield conclude something like that from the incredibly thin gruel of “data” from 12 children reported in Wakefield’s case series cum study. As I’ve pointed out before, Wakefield was out and about giving press conferences and interviews to any bunch of
dupes reporters who would listen around the time his study was released. With no evidence to support him, he proclaimed to anyone who would listen that the MMR vaccine was too risky for children and instead recommended that children receive the three component vaccines of the MMR separately. Thanks to Wakefield’s fear mongering and his credulous, sensationalist lapdogs in the press, soon the message was being spread far and wide throughout the U.K. that the MMR vaccine causes autism and/or “autistic enterocolitis.” Soon fear of the MMR vaccine drove MMR uptake rates in the U.K. to dangerously low levels, as low as 50% in some regions. The result was predictable. Measles came roaring back with a vengeance to the point where it is once again endemic in the U.K.
Seeing the utter idiocy that is Jenny McCarthy’s latest post in HuffPo, I am left with questions. First, did Jenny MCarthy really write this post? I highly doubt it. She has shown no evidence of being able to write coherently before and a lot of evidence that she can’t string two sentences together. Despite spreading anti-vaccine propaganda for nearly three years, she has never blogged for HuffPo, even though I’m sure HuffPo, seeking yet another celebrity anti-vaccine pseudoscience maven for its stable of celebrity anti-vaccine pseudoscience-loving bloggers, has almost certainly invited her many times. That leads to two more questions: First, who actually did write this bit of idiocy? Who in Generation Rescue is stupid enough to fall for the “toxin” gambit but still able to string together the occasional article that is semi-comprehensible? David Kirby is much too clever to use such obvious and easily debunked tropes. Mark Blaxill might have written it, as it echoes much of what he wrote just last week, and the writing style seems potentially consistent. Yet doubts persist because, although not as slippery-clever as Kirby, Blaxill isn’t as rock dumb as Jenny McCarthy. That’s why I’m not sure. It could be J.B. Handley too, although the writing style seems too restrained, insufficiently vicious, and lacking in testosterone-laced braggadocio to be J.B. On the other hand, the post does repeat J.B.’s frequent talking point about the MMR vaccine.
Whoever wrote this tripe, the second additional question that comes to mind is: Why now?
That’s a tougher one to answer. Why would Jenny McCarthy, after two and a half years as a “mother warrior” anti-vaccine activist finally decide to write for HuffPo, either herself (unlikely) or through a ghost writer (far more likely)? My guess is that Wakefield’s fall has hurt the anti-vaccine movement more than they’re willing to admit, in particular Generation Rescue. After all, all within less than a month, Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of ethical lapses in research, had his 1998 Lancet paper revoked, saw his last hope for scientific “redemption” (his “monkey study”) withdrawn, and was then fired from Thoughtful House. GR had staked its reputation on Wakefield, even going so far as to liken him to Galileo and the General Medical Council to the Inquisition. Wakefield’s collapse threatened GR’s ability to agitate for the pseudoscience that vaccines cause autism; so they brought out their big guns.
Sadly, Jenny McCarthy appears to have sunk so deeply into anti-vaccine woo that she may well be beyond redemption. Thanks to Oprah, she has her television show, which, from what I read, seems to be on track for debuting in the fall. Backing away from her anti-vaccine views would take two things she clearly doesn’t have: integrity and brains.
As for HuffPo, it is the most hilariously hypocritical of venues, and Jenny McCarthy is a perfect fit for its anti-vaccine propagandizing. My only remaining question is: What took HuffPo so long? Of course, what’s even more amusing is this notice from HuffPo when its editors removed a post by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who had posted a conspiracy-laden article agreeing with several of the lies of the 9/11 Truther movement:
Editor’s Note: The Huffington Post’s editorial policy, laid out in our blogger guidelines, prohibits the promotion and promulgation of conspiracy theories — including those about 9/11. As such, we have removed this post.
In response, Alex Pareene at the Gawker noted drily that there is another post that HuffPo should remove using the same policy:
Because today, the very same Huffington Post published this wonderful post from dangerous nutcase Jenny McCarthy about how autism is caused by vaccines and can be cured with experimental treatments that the established medical community doesn’t want you to know about. We can only assume that as soon as the editors discover this conspiratorial nonsense, they will promptly remove it.
Good luck with that Alex. Given that anti-vaccine conspiracy theories were ingrained into the DNA of HuffPo from its very beginning and Arianna Huffington herself is a big fan of woo, there’s about as much chance of that happening as there is that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by cruise missiles disguised holographically as airplanes. Come to think of it, there’s about the same chance that (1) Andrew Wakefield is a competent, honest scientist; (2) vaccines cause autism; or (3) Jenny McCarthy will ever understand science as the “no plane” conspiracy theory for 9/11 has of being true. Ditto the chance that McCarthy will ever learn the error of her anti-vaccine ways through science and reason. Why should she anyway? It’s so much more profitable to be a “mother warrior” against vaccines.