I love the smell of the pharma shill gambit in the morning. It smells like…crankery.

I promised myself that I was done writing about Jenny McCarthy this week. Two posts, a lengthy one and a brief one, lamenting her being hired for a national daytime talk show was, in my view, enough. Unfortunately, something’s happened that makes me want to make like Arnold Schwarzenegger in that famous scene from the 1980s action flick Commando, in which he had promised one villain that he would kill him last. Later in the film while holding this same villain over a cliff, Arnold says, “Remember when I promised I would kill you last? I lied.”

Except that I wasn’t lying at the time. I really didn’t want to write any more about McCarthy for a good long while.

But then I saw who’s come out to play again, after a very long absence! After seeing that, I knew I had to take one more dip from the well. Obviously, I’m not referring to Jake Crosby. He’s been out to play for months now with his amusing stoking of internecine warfare among antivaccine cranks as the puppet of über-crank Patrick “Timmy” Bolen and now his brand new personal blog, created after he was finally booted from his previous gig at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (AoA). This time around I’m talking about the former big macher of the “mercury in vaccines cause autism” wing of the antivaccine movement, the man who just a few short years ago popped up regularly on television as founder and president of the antivaccine crank group Generation Rescue before Jenny McCarthy glommed on to the organization and was made President, the better to take advantage of her Hollywood glitz in the service of forwarding its aims. This is a man whose titanic ego, combined with his truly rabid anti-intellectualism and pugnacious manner that led him to lash out at people who had the temerity to suggest that GR in general (and Handley in particular) didn’t know what they were talking about and were promoting pseudoscience and quackery, led him to some monumental tirades.

Handley’s been gone for a while now, keeping a much lower profile. The last time I can remember writing anything about him was two years ago, when, after a hilariously bit of inept detective work in which he had embarrassed himself by concluding that one of our favorite pro-vaccine science bloggers, Sullivan, was in fact Bonnie Offit, wife of the Dark Lord of Vaccination (in Handley’s eyes) Paul Offit. Even more hilariously, Handley promised that, if he were wrong, he would give up ownership of the pauloffit.com domain, which he had been using to attack Paul Offit, and never mention Paul Offit again. As a result, a brief but amusing little meme circulated in which many of us declared, Spartacus-like, that “I am Bonnie Offit.” A few months later, it was revealed that Sullivan—surprise! surprise!—was not Bonnie Offit, leading to a demand to J.B. Handley to put up or shut up about Paul Offit. Surprisingly, he actually did give up ownership of the domain and, even more shockingly, stopped mentioning (sort of) Paul Offit for a while anyway.

Not anymore, apparently. It appears that the near-universal dismay and anger expressed by nearly everyone interested in the topic who is not an antivaccine activist over the hiring of Jenny McCarthy to be a regular panelist on the daytime talk show The View has prodded J.B. to make like the proverbial old gunslinger in a western who had hung up his guns for good to reluctantly put on his holster again, saddle up, and ride off to do battle with the ne’er-do-wells who dare to attack his Jenny as antivaccine. The truth hurts, apparently, enough for him to come out swinging again in a post on the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism entitled Pharma’s McCarthy-ism in Full View. Yes, it’s unoriginal, as usual. I particularly hate the play on McCarthy’s name to evoke the specter of Joe McCarthy, but I have to admit that both sides do it, although it seems to me that the antivaccine movement likes this particular ploy much more because it lets it paint itself as being a victim of a witch hunt whenever reasonable people point out that Jenny McCarthy has been an antivaccine loon. To nail home that connection, Handley even starts with a a quote of a definition of “McCarthyism.” Well, J.B. never was particularly subtle—the understatement of the decade!—so why should he start now? He also apparently has decided to break his pledge not to mention Paul Offit again. (Surprise! Surprise!) Because, you know, in the mind of an antivaccinationist, any time there is any sort of media campaign critical of the antivaccine movement, it must be because of Paul Offit. He’s just that powerful, which is why we, his pharma minions, worship him so.

Handley starts off by trying to make it seem as though McCarthy isn’t a crank by invoking—you guessed it!—other celebrities who have “expressed concerns” about vaccines and autism, apparently because no one has more scientific knowledge than celebrities:

What do Dr. Bernadine Healy, Don Imus, Donald Trump, Doug Flutie, Gary Cole, Ed Asner, Charlie Sheen, Holly Robinson Peet, Deirdre Imus, Bob Wright, Aidan Quinn, Andrew Wakefield, and Jenny McCarthy all have in common?

Of course, we all know the answer: they have publicly expressed concerns about the relationship between vaccines and autism.

If you just started reading newspapers this week, you may not realize all the company Jenny has in a controversy that’s far from over. Wasn’t it just a few short months ago that a congressional panel was hammering CDC employees in a hearing about this very same link? Where are all the articles calling for all these powerful elected officials to step down?

OK, Bernardine Healy was a real scientist and director of the NIH, but for some reason she turned antivaccine crank later in life to the point where she was even named Age of Autism’s “Person of the Year” for 2008. If that’s not the mark of an antivaccine crank, I don’t know what is! As for the rest? Don Imus? Seriously? That tired old washed up shock jock’s basically been “thimerosal causes autism” conspiracy loon since long before I even took an interest in the topic. Donald Trump is so stupid when it comes to vaccines that he can’t even get the tropes right. I know, I know, as I pointed out at the time, I realize that criticizing Donald Trump for being an antiscience idiot is rather akin to criticizing water for being wet or Donald Trump’s hair for having a life of its own, but sometimes a blogger’s just gotta do what a blogger’s gotta do, particularly when he’s preoccupied with real science. The same goes for the rest of the celebrity cranks who spew antivaccine talking points. Basically Handley’s gambit boils down to one big appeal to authority, except that the authorities to whom he’s chosen to appeal aren’t exactly authorities on autism or vaccines.

One other point: I’ll call Handley’s bluff. Darrell Issa, the Congressional Representative who called that antiscience “autism hearing” in November, should not be reelected. He’s an antiscience crank on many levels, not just vaccines and autism. As I learned at TAM from Michael Mann’s excellent talk, he’s also a climate science denialist. There are many reasons for him not to be re-elected. Ditto any elected representative who works to endanger public health by working with the antivaccine movement.

So who’s orchestrating this “vicious” campaign against Jenny McCarthy, in which dozens of articles have been published in the mainstream media over the last few days, ever since the announcement was made on Monday that she would be joining the cast of The View? I think the title makes it obvious. To Handley, it must be big pharma, of course, and it must be doing it because it’s terrified of the platform that McCarthy will have to expose its evil machinations in her new gig. What’s really hilarious is just how thin the evidence is that Handley can dig up to “prove” his point. Who’s responsible for this barrage? Obviously, it must be Every Child By Two, Paul Offit (of course!), and affiliated pharma drones. Don’t believe me? Just listen to J.B.:

Every Child By Two, a Pharma front group, leads the charge. ECBT’s funding comes from 2 sources: Wyeth and Sanofi (any reporter could easily confirm this by reading their 990, but they don’t.) They appear to be a responsible advocate for vaccinating because they were founded by Rosalyn Carter thirty years ago, so the group is a great way for Pharma to hide behind something credible-sounding. ECBT takes charge of press briefings, etc.

It would be quite amazing and gratifying if ECBT and Paul Offit had that sort of influence. The world would be a better place, and antivaccine activists like Jenny McCarthy wouldn’t have such sway. In fact, it would be awesome. Sadly, it’s just a fantasy in Handley’s conspiracy-addled mind. This backlash against the hiring of Jenny McCarthy was her own doing. If you promote dangerous pseudoscience for so many years, quackery that can and has endangered public health, then you shouldn’t be surprised when people react with revulsion when a major network (in this case, ABC) gives you a high profile position where you’ll be seen every day by millions. My first reaction was to shrug my shoulders and go, “Meh!” However, after thinking a bit about it I changed my mind. Also, even though I sometimes wonder whether Jenny McCarthy on The View might be a good thing because it might force her to resign as president of GR and stop showing up at the yearly antivaccine quackfest known as Autism One to give a keynote address because ABC might have demanded it in her contract, it remains to be seen whether any of these good things might come about. In the meantime, I do know that she has potentially been given a high profile platform from which she might be able to spew her antivaccine drivel, and that’s a bad thing, as is ABC’s apparent lack of concern about its appearance of endorsing (or at least not condemning) her previous assaults on public health.

Next up, Handley appears to believe we’re all pharma shills:

– The writers and quote-makers are called in on all fronts:

1. Pharma-whore writers who are literally on Pharma’s payroll

2. Pharma-benefitting writers (think Seth Mnookin) who have benefitted greatly from Pharma’s largesse (speaking fees, etc)

3. Orac-types who work in medical facilities that rely on Pharma’s funding

4. And, finally, publications that receive a majority of their ad dollars from Pharma

– Then, Pharma’s army of paid trolls start dominating the comment boards to make it appear like the public is equally outraged.

Handley is so full of number two, that the feculent discharge can be detected from his enclave in the Pacific Northwest all the way to the East Coast. It’s the pharma shill gambit in such an obvious, silly form that it’s hard for me not to laugh a little, particularly at his mention of me. (OK, I laughed a lot.) To conspiracy theorists like Handley, apparently the power of pharma lucre is so powerful that one only has to work at an institution that has received pharma funding to be tainted. It’s just that magic, and you don’t even have to be aware that your institution is receiving that filthy pharma lucre, much less how much or for what. No doubt Lord Draconis Zeneca is pleased. I also can’t help but express a little pedantic, style Nazi amusement at one of Handley’s sentences: “Pharma-benefitting writers (think Seth Mnookin) who have benefitted greatly from Pharma’s largesse (speaking fees, etc).” There’s a word “redundant” that J.B. apparently doesn’t know. Learn it. Use it. Love it, J.B.

Of course, two can play that game. Who, one wonders, is funding Generation Rescue? Who, one wonders, is funding Age of Autism? Inquiring minds want to know!

To counter what he sees as “misinformation,” Handley makes the following assertions:

We should all be pleased with the violent reaction from Pharma. It shows how deeply the concerns about the vaccine-autism link have spread. Parents are doing their own research! I sincerely hope ABC has done their own independent research to discover what’s actually true:

  • The majority (certainly not all) of parents of children with autism believe vaccines played a role in their child developing autism
  • Nearly half of new parents are concerned about giving their babies vaccines
  • Millions of moms trust Jenny to be honest, courageous, and fearless about her feelings and beliefs, no matter how much pressure there may be to hide or change

To which I can’t help but respond:

  • Citation please
  • Citation please
  • Citation please

OK, it’s probably true that half of new parents express concerns about vaccines, but in general by “concerns” we’re not talking about the kind of demonization and fear of vaccines that Handley expresses. He also forgets to mention that this is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy. It is due to the efforts of people like Handley spreading antivaccine pseudoscience, quackery, and lies, aided and abetted by a credulous press that values false balance over scientific accuracy, that so many parents have concerns, to the point where Handley gloats over it.

When McCarthy was first announced as a new permanent of the cast of The View on Monday, I was rather surprised that the usual suspects in the antivaccine movement were so silent. There were, at least initially, no congratulations to her and no gloating. It made me wonder whether antivaccinationists knew that she might very well be on the verge of abandoning them, now that her strategy of downplaying the antivaccine quackery over the last couple of years has finally payed off in resurrecting her career. It may well still be that that’s true. However, the overwhelmingly negative reaction from pretty much everyone not part of the antivaccine movement to her hiring stung them. It was enough to cause them to circle the wagons, and it was even enough to prod J.B. Handley out of semiretirement to break his promise from two years ago not to mention Paul Offit anymore. Unfortunately, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to see how this plays out over the next several months.

There. Now I hope I can abandon this topic for a while and move on to other science, medicine, pseudoscience, and pseudomedicine topics.