I’m no fan of Jenny McCarthy, especially given her anti-vaccination views. I think that most of her arguments are invalid; she insists on perpetuating long debunked myths about vaccines, and seems to refuse to look at the actual evidence regarding vaccines. For that she needs to be criticized as much as we, politely but strongly, can. Nevertheless, it troubles me to witness ad hominem attacks, and the use of logical fallacies against McCarthy. One such argument that seems to have gained a bit of popularity these days goes along these lines:
Jenny McCarthy speaks of dangerous “toxins” in vaccines, yet she gets Botox shots, which include botulinum, one of the most toxic substances around, right on her face.
Unfortunately, even the one who is recently threatening to become my favorite active skeptic around (James Randi of course is on a category of his own, I’m talking mere mortals here), the Bad Astronomer himself made a similar comment at his Bad Astronomy blog.
I see. So injecting kids with scientifically-proven medicine that can save their lives and the lives of countless others is bad because of a fantasy-driven belief that it causes autism, but injecting a lethal pathogen — in fact, the most lethal protein known — into your face to help ease the globally threatening scourge of crow’s feet is just fine and dandy.
I’ve also heard a similar comment being made in an episode of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, fairly recently.
Now, as satisfying as taking shots to people we whole-heartedly disagree with may be, I fail to see what the above comment adds to the vaccine discourse. Jenny McCarthy is wrong because of what she’s choosing to consider evidence, and due to poor critical thinking about the issue at hand, not because of her personal, adult live-style choices. Think about it; it is a non-sequitur, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand, and I’m not even sure what it is supposed to highlight about Jenny McCarthy herself.
If you are not convinced, let us do the usual experiment and replace the word “Botox/Toxin” with something else, smoking for example. Now let us assume for a second that teachers can smoke in the classrooms and McCarthy was advocating against smoke in the schools. Also assume she was a smoker herself and had said the following about cigarettes:
I love smoking, I absolutely love it,” she said. “I get it minimally, so I’m not a chain smoker. But I really do think it’s a savior, when I’m stressed and tired.
Now ask yourself: would her own personal love & consumption of tobacco, invalidate her arguments against smoking in schools? Of course not, and for the same reason her own personal use of Botox is not an argument against her anti-vaccine views. It is not related in any way; it is a non-sequitur and using it amounts to nothing more than an ad-hominem, or a poisoning-of-the-well, logical fallacy.
We skeptics take pride in our allegiance to logic and evidence; we are aware of our own shortcomings; we are aware that we are fallible and that we make mistakes. In my opinion the above comments about Jenny McCarthy are a mistake that we should own up to and make amends, and stop using it. If you really want to counter Jenny’s anti-vaccine views, choose one of the claims she makes, do some research, and write a nice blog entry showing where she goes wrong and what the evidence says, but do not resort to ad-hominem attacks. We are skeptics and we ought to be better than that.
The Initiative is plowing along and picking up speed. Thanks to a RT by Simon Singh, at @SNSingh, many people have gotten involved. Now, as usually happens, as more people join in there is the risk for the tone and direction of the Initiative to be adversely affected. As such, I would like to take this chance to make some suggestions to anyone who wants to chip in.
- The goal of the initiative is to scour the web for stories of people being hurt due to antivaxx/lack of vaccination and send a tweet to @jennyfrommtv to point the story out and ask her to change her stance on vaccines. POLITELY! The point is not to rehash all the counterarguments to the anti-vaccine crowd; that’s been done perfectly well on major skeptical blogs. The idea is to counter emotions with emotions. Logic rarely can tame feelings; only other feelings can. Hopefully, if we point out enough stories of people being hurt from lack of vaccinations, Jenny will change her stance on the issue. Why do I care to change Jenny’s mind? Because I believe she cares just as much as we do, but I also believe that she is misinformed or her strong emotions do not allow the facts to get through. Also, she has the ear of hundreds of thousands of people; she does have the power to influence countless others and to hurt or help many, due to that popularity (over 126,000 followers on Twitter at last count, to contrast Phil Plaitt has 38,000). She can be quite an ally in helping eradicate some horrible childhood diseases and reducing the negative effect that the movement she supports unfortunately has on people’s well-being.
- If someone joins in, form the other side, regurgitating the old and tired arguments though, do feel free to point out the existing counterarguments, preferably from sources that link to the original data source. But after linking to the response try not to get drawn into long, pointless Twitter fights. Again the point of this campaign is to point out the human suffering that is resulting, not to get into arguments with the antivaxxers.
- Do provide links to as many well done studies about vaccines and their safety as you possibly can; if the full study is available link to that, if not the abstract will have to do.
- Please ask your followers to join the initiative and let us make #educatejenny a big trend in Twitter. Who knows we might even succeed!!!
- Contact the big names in skepticism that you know off on Twitter and ask them to support the Initiative. We need them to throw numbers our way. The easiest way is to send them a Tweet asking them to support our campaign.
- And lastly remember: keep it civil and polite. Most people on the other side care just as much; most don’t do it out of a desire to hurt people. In their mind they are helping; we just need to show them that their efforts are having unfortunate effects. We just need to point them in the right direction; they will have to make the “conversion” themselves.
I am announcing a new project, my Educate Jenny project on twitter. If you are on Twitter please follow/use the following hash tag #educatejenny. The idea is to gather stories of people being hurt or dying due to antivaccination/lack of vaccination, send her the link via Twitter and ask her to kindly change her stance on vaccines. Here is the latest tweet I send her. Please RT and use it as a template to send other information her way.
In less than three months, a measles outbreak in Africa has killed 185 children . the UN is asking for help to increase vaccination efforts in the affected areas. As it stands, only about 80% of the population is vaccinated, quite below the desired level of 95%. These low levels of vaccination means that outbreaks, such as the one gripping the continent now, can be expected every 3-4 years. I send Jenny McCarthy a tweet pointing her attention to this issue and asking her to change her stance on vaccines. Do you think this story will change her mind at all? …..we can only hope!
By offering the vague caveat that “there is no cure” while peddling her Generation Rescue’s slogan “autism is reversible” and telling parents that “for a moderately autistic kid the best prognosis is full recovery,” McCarthy makes a promise that no one on the planet has the authority to make. It’s one that puts the onus of failure on parents whose kids can’t or simply don’t make that “full recovery” and opens up those who take her advice to “try everything” to a buffet of expensive to downright dangerous quackery. Hey cautious party line that she supports a modified vaccination schedule while resolutely insisting on her Web site that “the nurse gave [Evan] the shot … and soon thereafter — boom — the soul’s gone from his eyes” is similarly disingenuous.
Can anyone tell me what this means? How can I be the #8 Jenny McCarthy blogger? I HAVE ONLY 50 SUBSCRIBERS! This is wrong. Here’s the link (rankings may have changed by now) and here’s a screen shot. Something is very wrong with teh intertubes tonight!
As the daughter of two scientists, it never occurred to me growing up that science as a profession or a method of inquiry could be controversial. How else were we to discover life-saving treatments, develop better technologies, or advance our understanding of the natural world? I took for granted the fact that science is the foundation of modern civilization and makes improved standards of living for more people possible.
My recent forays into blogging, however, have shown me that nearly everything is debated, even things that should not even seem debatable. Evolution is one of them, and, apparently, so is vaccination. My open letter to Oprah sparked an unexpected flurry of responses from many scientists, parents, and concerned citizens, giving me a taste of the kind of “discussions” people have on issues near and dear to them. I realized that people on both sides genuinely care about improving health, but also that productive conversation is elusive when the assumptions and objects of trust are different.
Needless to say, I trust those who use the scientific method to probe and learn about the world. Science is an iterative cycle in which we observe phenomena, make testable hypotheses concerning the phenomena, devise experiments to test these hypotheses, evaluate and draw conclusions from the results using rigorous statistical analysis, and form new hypotheses based on our improved understanding. The experiments, including controls, should be devised to help ensure that 1) the procedures we’re using to gather data are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and 2) other hypotheses or explanations aren’t responsible for the outcome we observe.
There is inherent uncertainty built into this process – for one thing, we can’t definitively rule out all other possibilities because there are, in theory, infinitely many possibilities (but only a few that are reasonable). Then there is the fact that science can never disprove anything, it can only collect evidence supporting a hypothesis or not. If twenty independent and methodologically sound studies all produce the same finding and no other studies show the opposite, we are confident that the finding is accurate. But all it would take is a few studies (again, independent and sound) showing the opposite to make us modify our confidence. As more studies accumulate, the weight of the evidence usually tilts definitively towards one side or the other, and this – the accumulation of evidence – is what should form the basis for technology development, policy, and future science.
And the check speller. Now, it’s one thing to write a little free blog, in some dark corner of the blogosphere, where your stated goal is to get to 50 subscribers, and it’s another thing to write a blog as part of a deal with Oprah. So you’d expect at least a quick spell check before hitting the publish button. But that’s too much to ask of Jenny McCarthy. Who knows, maybe she was in a rush, or maybe it’s the lack of sugar, but check out the incredible mistakes on her latest entry. The areas of interest are in bold!
Im watching Larry King right now.
Amazing to watch. amazing to see how far weve come.
I dont believe you have to be famous or rich to have power or self worth.
Its so true!!
That bitch comes out when I PMS and I cant get her to shut up.
…take care of yourself, be self sufficiant, love yourself and that chatter becomes a whisper.
Kicking sugar along with all the other things Ive given up makes me believe that because Im taking care of myself Im building up my self worth.
If youve been on this journey with me this month or just joining, you too are coming into your power. Woo hoo! Ladies! The era of enlightenment is here!
Well let the enlightenment begin with the formal introduction of Jenny to apostrophes. I’ve done my job, I don’t think I could have made it any clearer. I’m out! And so should Jenny!
But I couldn’t leave the stadium wholly inspired by you, as I’m sure many others did. 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.
I’m a little late to the game, but this is just too much fun.