Why I am not upset with Jenny McCarthy being a host of the View – Let’s bring the vaccination discussion public

16 Jul

Don’t get me wrong – I *definitely* have a problem with her. I absolutely disagree with how, without the support of scientific evidence, she tries to link vaccination to autism. I think it is extremely irresponsible and inappropriate of her, as a public figure, to spread her anti-vaccination “opinion” to the public as medical advice, and to convince some that a “therapy” with no scientific merit cured her son.

In fact, what Jenny McCarthy did – hurt public health in ways that we won’t know until maybe years later, and possibly set back autism research for many years, because funding that could have been used for autism cause/treatment research was diverted to looking for a connection (and usually ends up the lack thereof) between autism and vaccination.

When the news came out that she is going to be a host of the View, a popular day time talk show with majority of its viewer being females between age 18-49, I was annoyed, like many others are (Phil Plait from the Bad Astronomy, Michael Specter from the New Yorker, David Kroll from the Forbes, just to name a few). But I am not upset.

In fact, let’s talk about vaccination on the View. Let’s have a discussion about why vaccination is important on national television (US), on a show that is viewed by many mothers and mothers to be. 

For the longest time, we seem to be preaching to the choir – those who support vaccination, support vaccination, while those who don’t, don’t.  And this Jenny McCarthy hire, unfortunately, means that she gets a national platform to “spread her opinion.” But, with threats come opportunities. This is a great opportunity to bring this discussion public. Let’s push for having medical experts on the View to talk abut the benefits of vaccination and to respond to concerns. Let’s bring this issue upfront and start talking to the group that is most likely to affect children’s health in the next 5-10 years. Let’s make this the top news in the Entertainment Section (which is likely read by more people than the Health Section – I am being pessimistic here). True, scientific evidence is not really up for debate, but at the same time, we scientists continue talking among ourselves is not going to help much more. Actually, I would love to see Whoppi Goldberg publicly supporting vaccination (citing scientific evidence, of course), if this topic ever comes up on the show.

Trying to get Jenny McCarthy off the View is not going to get more people to trust vaccination and understand the science and reasons behind it. The way show business works, it doesn’t seem like the producers of the View will budge. In fact, I think McCarthy is actually earning some sympathy points now.

But bringing the issue to the public will. Let’s inject ourselves into public discussions and inform the public on the importance of vaccination. Let’s equip the public with enough knowledge about vaccination, so that they can decide for themselves that Jenny McCarthy’s view is simply her own “personal opinion,” NOT medical advice, and definitely NOT what they should trust their children’s lives with.


Postscript – After writing this post, I came across Bill Nye’s take on McCarthy taking the post as a host of the View (via the Huffington Post). While being very concerned, he also said in his email:

So, here’s hoping they [at the View] promote this conflict, or at least vigorous disagreement, about the role of science in medicine and in our technologically advanced society. I believe Ms. McCarthy’s views will be discredited.


13 Responses to “Why I am not upset with Jenny McCarthy being a host of the View – Let’s bring the vaccination discussion public”

  1. Jane O'Hara July 16, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I think you’re right, shushing her by not giving her the job is not going to make her go away, and anyway debate on an open forum will bring the issues more to light than segregating her ilk on one side and evidence-minded folks on the other. We’ll see what happens! Her and Whoopi going head to head would be entertaining alright…

    • Terrific T July 16, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      Totally agree! It is difficult to get science on national TV, so this might be a chance to bring this issue up and make people realize how un-scientific she has been! Fingers crossed and we will see…

  2. Artem Kaznatcheev July 16, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I dunno, I would hope that mothers would trust their doctors on these questions. Having a trusted figure like a View host promoting nonsense still seems a bit dangerous. It will (like for climate change, or evolution) give the impression of a ‘debate’ where there really isn’t one. Although as scientists we have a duty to engage in public debate, we should still pick fair venues. A talk-show host is not interested in an honest debate; she is just interested in promoting her kooky views in the name of publicity. Arguing against her with evidence will likely be counter-productive; it won’t convince anybody of anything.

    In general, I have very mixed feelings on these sort of issues. Free speech is important, but at the same time public figures should be held accountable for their speech… especially if the public is largely not educated enough to judge evidence.

    • Terrific T July 16, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      I would love a fair venue – except she is not playing fair, and discussions of scientific research in a fair venue is not reaching beyond those of us who already trust in scientific evidence. So yes, I think mothers should talk to their doctors, and we should definitely do our best in fair venues. But in reality many people listen to Oprah and Dr. Oz. We need look at how we can engage in discussions in the public (which, unfortunately might mean places like, the View), using evidence supported by science.

      I know, public figures should be held accountable, but they are not and it is sad 😦 There is still much to do to inform the public. But, if McCarthy is the only voice in “public debates,” then that’s the only voice that the public will hear.

  3. Eric July 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    The history of pitting evidence based science against populist non-science doesn’t give me much hope here. How many times has climate change, or evolution (or nuclear safety, or gun control, or….) been debated in an open forum? And has it ever reduced the number of people willing to believe what they want? I’m not really sure what to do at this point. It seems like ignoring people lets them promote their views unopposed, while engaging them creates an illusion of equal debate. Maybe if we had some sort of tireless science robot that could be sent to media outlets every time a debate came up…

    • Terrific T July 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      I like the robot idea…

      I think ultimately it really comes to education in the long run. Making more people aware that evidence-based policy is necessary in science and medicine (so it is not a matter of “opinions”). But, education takes time, and it is not always accessible for some. I almost wish that there is a big time celebrity who supports science and be willing to go against people like Jenny McCarthy. Or we groom someone to be a “celebrity scientist” (like a celebrity chef). I know, it is not really the scientific way, but I don’t really know what else we can do other than to use the tool that was used against us, for good.

      I think we need to start looking at unconventional ways now. At least with a public debate/forum, there is a chance to go against the non-scientific views, and introduce the importance of evidence-based knowledge.

  4. Rawb July 17, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    Here is something that might be worth referring to if it can be verified. http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Anti-Vaccine_Body_Count/Home.html

    • Terrific T July 17, 2013 at 1:41 am #

      Thanks Rawb. I actually just re-tweeted that myself! I believe that these numbers are general ideas of vaccine preventable illnesses/deaths, as the authors of the website stated:

      “Is the United States Anti-Vaccination Movement directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, the United States Anti-Vaccination Movement may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.”

      But, I would trust the big ZERO underneath the “Number of Autism Diagnoses Scientifically Linked to Vaccinations.”

      • Rawb July 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

        That is the right thing to emphasize (that we must be careful in attribution). While those who would argue against rationality argue in black and white (or perhaps their own invented colour) there are things that can’t be known and embracing that ability to see the grey tones is not a weakness.

  5. Dood July 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    The thought controllers cannot allow anyone to express an opinion, even once, that is contradictory to the agenda. Speak up even once, even when you’re not on the air, and you’ll be smeared, ridiculed, hit with blanket derision, sarcasm, criticism and condemnation by ALL in every high profile position (that’s because everyone in those positions are part of the ‘brotherhood’). It is a form of discrediting someone or some process by mass disapproval which can lead to control by the consensus.

    • Terrific T July 18, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Please see my full response below.

  6. Dood July 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Hey, if you want to shoot your kid up with thimerosal, mercury, squalene, formaldehyde, pig’s blood, monkey DNA, and aborted fetus tissue, beat my guest. You better leave my kid alone though. I know doctors and nurses that refuse to give their kids vaccines anymore. What do they know? They might have been a good thing at one time, but these days they put so much garbage in them – they pulled a bait and switch on us.

    Vaccines are the backbone of the entire Pharmaceutical Industry. The vaccinated children become customers for life.


    • Terrific T July 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      Hello Dood,

      Thank you for your comment. In fact, your comment is very interesting, because we scientists actually feel that it is the other way around – what celebrities talk about (on or off camera) tend to be reported widely by the media. Their celebrity status somehow give them certain credibility even though they have not spent years professionally studying the subject. On the other hand, what we scientists said tend not to make it to the public. And, if we are thought controllers, then I really didn’t need to write this blog post.

      But, this is also exactly why I think it is important to have an open conversation/discussion – to talk about what parents’ concerns are, and to see if we can work on addressing the concerns scientifically – let’s talk about it. Pharmaceutical companies’ involvement could be one of such concerns indeed, and should be discussed and addressed, but for me that issue is completely separate from public health and children’s health.

      PS. Perhaps some doctors and nurses do not give their kids vaccines. But there are certain situations (such as allergies) that it is reasonable to do so. And, for every one doctor that doesn’t give his or her child vaccination, there are 10 or 100 or even more who do give their kids vaccination. So I don’t think your point actually makes sense.

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