On Jenny McCarthy, “The View” and snake oil — a dialogue

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Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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71 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    Thanks, Russell and Rose, for a very thought-provoking post. I have to admit that I’ve always thought of McCarthy as something of a bimbo, one of those perky blonde, perpetually cheerful types whom I have a difficult time taking seriously. I guess I’m guilty of profiling and will try harder to look at her more sympathetically.

    That said, I still think it’s an act of corporate irresponsibility on ABC’s part to provide McCarthy with a major platform from which to promote her views, which do pose a danger, both to individual children and to overall public health. I can see why she’s bought the snake oil, but I don’t think she should be put in a prominent position to sell it to others. Failure to win in job on The View doesn’t constitute silencing McCarthy. She has plenty of other places to spout her misinformed opinions. But I don’t think ABC needs to promote quack science. They should choose another replacement for the irritating Hasselback. McCarthy isn’t the only smart, articulate blonde out there.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

      To be clear, I don’t think she has a right to be on the show. Nor do I think it’s a particularly good idea for her to be on the show. But there are a lot of people whom I wish were not on TV. I don’t think we need to demand their removal.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Modeling as a career takes a specific personality type — or at least someone good at convincing others that they’ve got it.

      In this, it is remarkably like a certain set of CEOs…Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Thank you both for this.

    A few thoughts:

    1.) When I think of JMac, I tend to think of her on “Singled Out”, not in Playboy. Perhaps it is a generational thing. Regardless, what makes it a little hard to take her seriously is how unseriously she presented herself on that show, her first real foray into the limelight, at least with people my age. Perhaps she was playing a part, but she seemed to carry the party forward into other things that she did. I understand she has since done other work (I think a show with one of the women from “90210”?), but I never caught that. So for people like myself, you have a memory of silly Jenny McCarthy prancing around onstage on “Singled Out” and then a gap and then a seemingly serious Jenny McCarthy peddling nonsense about autism and you basically have unfettered silliness from her with nothing to balance it out. So I don’t doubt that there is indeed a great deal of sexism motivating the criticism she receives, with the whole Playboy = discredit as the most obvious example, I think it is possible to arrive at a place of discrediting her that does not necessarily rely on that. Until reading your piece here, I never saw anything that represented her as articulate or charismatic, but that is because I haven’t seen much of her beyond “Singled Out” and her anti-vax advocacy. Is that on me? Or on her? Hard to say… but if she wants to be taken seriously, I think she must bear some of the onus. Perhaps that is what taking a role on “The View” is all about. As I understand the show, she doesn’t seem out of place. Didn’t Hasselbeck get her part in the first place by being cute, going on “Survivor”, and/or marrying a middling NFL quarterback? She went to my alma mater, graduating with my brother, and reports were that she was nothing special, though I could be wrong there. So, yea, I don’t think someone needs to be MENSA to be on “The View” (again, as I understand it), so I don’t object to her presence reflexively. I will, however, if she is able to use it as an unchallenged soapbox for her wrongheaded views.
    2.) Even if we concede the fiction that vaccines cause autism, wouldn’t they STILL be the right course of action? What is the claimed incidence of autism among the vaccine? What is the known incidence of disease among the unvaccinated? It seems that even if the anti-vaxers are right, they are likely still wrong as far as sound medical advice goes. Which leads me to believe that it is much more about their own personal struggle (which Rose admirably describes) than actually countering the scourge that is autism.
    3.) As a couple that is currently struggling with breastfeeding (that is, the emotional and physical toll it takes on Zazzy to keep up with Mayo’s feeding schedule), is there really that small a difference between breastfed babies and formula fed babies? Or by “bottle feeding”, were you referring to expressed breast milk? Right now, we are exclusively using breast milk, some expressed, some direct from the breast, but are increasingly tempted to supplement with formula. Unfortunately, the lactation consultants and their ilk have planted in Zazzy’s head that such a course would be outrageous, a damnable thing to do to a new mother prone to guilt and anxiety. I realize this is a conversation we should have with our pediatrician, but, frankly, I trust you two more than anyone else.

    Okay, I’ve sufficiently ranted and gone in too many directions. I’ll cede the floor. Again, this was fascinating and I appreciate the thoughtful approach both of you took to a topic that so rarely receives such.Report

    • Unfortunately, the lactation consultants and their ilk have planted in Zazzy’s head that such a course would be outrageous

      Well, since you asked…

      There is no reason not to supplement with formula if that would make life easier. Feeding your child is not zero-sum, and formula does not somehow negate the value of breast milk. There are measurable benefits to breastfeeding, as Rose notes, but they are nowhere near as great as you’d imagine from listening to the lactation martinets.Report

    • Kazzy, we supplemented early on. The main concern, really, wasn’t that supplementation would destroy the baby’s immune system or whatever, but making sure that supplementation did not reduce the breastmilk supply.

      (And we’re still bitter at our lactation consultant. A story for another time.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Thanks Will and Russ. We really should bring up La Leche on RICO charges.

        In our brief discussion, I proposed that Mayo breastfeed when he’s with Zazzy and formula when he’s not. If she needs to pump once a day to maintain flow, so be it. So long as she doesn’t need to spend the 2 hours+ a day that she is currently to pump (most of it at work).

        Of course, that led to her starting to cry over the guilt and I shook my fist at La Leche all over again. Then I puppeted Mayo to curse at her and demand more play time and less pumping time. Two can play the guilt game!Report

        • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

          FWIW, I couldn’t breastfeed. I would have if I could, but I couldn’t. My kid with Ridiculously Rare Syndrome received donated breast milk in the NICU. And I have only met one tolerable lactation consultant.

          I felt bad sometimes, but it was nice to get my body back, trade off feedings with my husband, not deal with pumping, etc. etc. I did a lot of research to assuage my guilt, and found, as Russell said, that the benefits are real, but generally grossly overrated. We did skin-to-skin contact, etc.

          FWIW, my typical kids who were bottle fed are both noticeably bright, not in the slightest overweight, and seemed to have no more than the typical course of childhood illnesses.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Thanks for the dialogue Rose and Russell. Or as I will call you know R & R.

    I have a hard-time wondering whether the anti-Vax crowd gets more heat for being women but then again, I can’t think of a single important man in the anti-vax movement. The spokespeople all seem to be women (from my not very careful following of the scene). There are guys in the anti-Flouride movement and I will mock them without mercy. Flouride in the water is one of the cheapest and most effective public health campaigns ever launched.

    This is where I think some people on my side (the left) get a bit silly. I think there are a lot of reasons to be suspicious of big Pharma. However, vaccines are not one of those issues. Big Pharma is a bete noir/bogeyman of the left generally, so I see a lot of posts from my more-hippie friends (including guys) on facebook about how most diseases can be cured with natural things like honey but Big Pharma does not want you to know this. I’m a “better living through Chemistry” kind of guy and never really bought into natural remedy path.

    The sexist thing is more interesting/complicated. There seem to be two types of places that cover the anti-Vaxxers, science places and parent reporting places (which tend to be but are not always in “women’s media”)

    I have been thinking about why certain issues get covered more by “women’s media” like the Double XX Blog on Slate than by the traditional media and I can’t think of a good one. A few months ago there was a thread on the Double XX Blog protesting that women’s magazines rarely win long-form journalism awards. Another contributor to Double XX pointed out that women’s magazines tend to bury their serious stories deep in the pages, tend not to put female politicians or business people on the cover, and go for cheaper interviews over long-form reporting. I’m not sure why this is because I am not a student of the media or in it. I’ve also noticed that the Double XX blog covers a lot of stuff but spends a lot more time focused on pop culture than other places.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      The most important man in anti-vaccination is unquestionably Andrew Wakefield, but his influence is more indirect; it’s his crappy, fraudulent study that gave the anti vaccine movement impetus, though you don’t see him speaking publicly a soften as McCarthy.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    And yet. Can you not understand, even a tiny bit, where she’s coming from? Can you not be sympathetic? Are absolutely all your beliefs true? Have you never once acted without waiting for the evidence to come in? Yes, her mistake is to a much different degree and possibly with sadly, sadly deadlier consequences. But can you not recognize, at all, the humanity in this?

    There are no shortage of examples of loving parents hurting their own children (with the best of intentions). There’s a place, I suppose, for feeling bad for the parents who are stuck using the only tools they feel they have at their disposal to deal with what they see are horrible problems.

    So let’s take a moment to feel bad for those parents.

    Polio is making a comeback. The Measles are making (is making?) a comeback. The last time I got a tetanus shot, it had a Whooping Cough booster… because Whooping Cough is making a comeback.

    On one level, there is nothing more human than coming down with polio, the measles, whooping cough… when I look at pictures of my surprisingly recent ancestors at my grandmother’s house, there are pictures of a man with a withered leg (I am told, rather proudly, that he was the equal of any man when he was on a horse).

    If we cannot prevent a future where our grandchildren’s grandchildren will not similarly look at pictures (or jpegs or whatever tech they’ll have) of their surprisingly recent ancestors without sneering at McCarthy, is that something that we should see as acceptable?

    Because, it seems to me, that providing her a voice, providing her a platform, and making room for how perfectly understandable her feelings are will result in polio, measles, whooping cough, and god knows what else to make even more of a comeback.

    It seems to me that, in this very particular case, the price of keeping an open, sympathetic mind is higher than the price of deep intolerance to her opinions on vaccines.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      I agree. This is not someone who should be given a media platform.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

      I am more in the mind of not calling her horrible names and making unscientific claims about her connections to deaths. I would not put her on my TV show. I would rather she not be on a TV show. But I don’t think someone who decides otherwise should be denounced.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It’s weird to talk about the rights of the unborn (and by “unborn”, I mean not just parasitic clumps of cells but the yet unconcieved) but it seems to me that civilization has fought and clawed its way to something as magnificent as the polio vaccine and future generations are entitled to that particular bounty. The gift of growing up with TWO LEGS.

        What Jenny McCarthy is doing is the agnostic/atheist version of Faith Healing.

        We’re talking about the denial of the accumulated knowledge of millennia of civilization in service to some whackadoodle religion that doesn’t even have the benefit of being able to say “well, it’s a tradition”.

        A child being denied vaccines is similar to a Christian Scientist child being denied insulin. Or a snake-handling child being denied anti-venom.

        It’s all well and good that people have religious beliefs and that’s awesome. When it comes to denial of vaccines, it’s neglect. Benign? Sure. It’s benign neglect. It’s neglect with the best of intentions. It’s neglect with the intention of saving the eternal soul of the child. These parents, I’m sure we all agree, have the absolute best of intentions and should not be vilified.

        In the exact same way that we shouldn’t vilify parents who deny their kids health care for religious reasons.

        Should we get the government involved? Well… at this point you’ve got me. No. Of course not.

        When it comes to our response? We should acknowledge their intentions as being really special and awesome and bright and shiny and, when we’re done with that, hold their backwards retrograde views in open contempt.Report

        • Avatar George Turner says:

          From her interviews I’ve read, like this one by PBS, she’s not against vaccines, just against too many vaccines being given over a short period in a very young child that might have immune system issues.

          She might have a valid point about that. Ken Alibek, who ran the Soviet Union’s biological warfare efforts, says he and a lot of his fellow scientists ended up with immune problems because they were vaccinated for all the diseases they were trying to weaponize (the list of weapons program includes anthrax, glanders, smallpox, marburg, tularemia, brucellosis, Q-fever, etc). His recommendation to the US Congress was against a massive vaccination program for US soldiers and civilians covering the range of possible biological weapons that terrorists might use, since there are so many that the side effects of so many vaccinations might outweigh the threat. Interestingly, he said a better option might lie with all the progress being made on anti-viral drugs as part of the battle against HIV/AIDS, giving us new broad spectrum tools against viral threats like we already have against bacteriological threats due to antibiotics (one of the reasons the Soviets didn’t consider the Black Death to be particularly effective as a military weapon).Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            There are also interviews from 2007 that are, well… not in line with what she argues in 2010.

            Perhaps the charitable interpretation is that people’s viewpoints should be expected to evolve when they get new information.Report

          • Avatar George Turner says:

            Well, she said “I’m not against vaccines” so many times in media interviews that her organization made a montage of it. It’s in the video on the main page, right in the middle.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              Sorry George, I watched the clip hoping this was indeed just a big misunderstanding, but in the one instance where McCarthy expands on that statement, she says: “We’re not against vaccines … but we do believe there ought to be safe ones”. You’re a critically thinking person, you’ve obviously thought about both sides of this issue, what do you think that statement implies?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That current vaccines are a too-blunt a tool which could be improved if they were more fine-grained?Report

              • Avatar trizzlor says:

                I think “could be improved” is being overly generous, it’s pretty clear that something which “ought to be safe” is not currently safe, and we should not be administrating unsafe things to our children. That’s both unscientific and dangerous. “I’m not against fluoridation, I just think it ought to be safe” is qualitatively different from “I’m not against fluoridation”.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                It may be qualitatively different, but isn’t it also less ig’nrint?

                She has worries – and evidence she accepts – that vaccines can cause harm to some kids. I know a few people like that myself. They have kids with autism and believe with 100% certainty that immunizations were the cause. They’re all rational, intelligent, clear thinking, Western materialist types. So they know – and admit – that vaccines have tremendous social value. Personally speaking, I don’t think they’re disputing that fact.Report

              • Stillwater, I don’t know your friends and I would never presume to tell them how to understand their own lives. All I can say is what I’ve said before:

                1) I have personally vaccinated, at this point in my career, thousands of children. I have worked with colleagues who have vaccinated their own thousands of patients. The number of cases of autism that I have encountered that could be in any way plausibly linked to vaccines, either directly or by anecdote, is precisely zero.

                2) Along those lines, for there to be a discernible link between vaccines and autism and yet for physicians to keep administering them anyway would require a massive and deeply malign conspiracy. The medical community would be guilty of terrible recklessness and callous indifference, for what purpose I cannot imagine. Either you believe doctors and nurses and the entire lot of us are monsters, or the “vaccines cause autism” story simply doesn’t add up.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor says:

                If this was one of my friends talking about it then I’d agree that they are more enlightened on the issue than someone who says “No vaccines never!”. But coming from a national spokesperson, I can only interpret this kind of stance as manipulation. When you’re advocating for what people should do with their kids, there is no longer a difference between “no vaccines never” and “no vaccines until they’re safe”. The video that George linked to is full of this kind of double-speak: she doesn’t say that vaccines cause autism but that it can be triggered by “environmental stimuli” and vaccines just happens to be the one she focuses on. Frankly, I’d much rather she was just honest about her proscriptions, because at least that is something that science can respond to: here are the decades of testing we’ve done, here are the minuscule negative side-effects we’ve seen from millions of applications, here is the highly increased risk from non-application. But McCarthy gets to say she’s not against vaccines while setting up a maze of Hobson’s choices where you can either go with Big Pharma and vaccinate or you can listen to Jenny and do what’s safe for your child, the choice is entirely up to you!

                It’s this appearance of impartiality that’s the most offensive (and effective) part of her whole campaign.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                Hey, she has some rhetorical skills (misused, perhaps) and is smokin’ hot.

                I’d give her a pass because most of Hollywood is always off their rocker with some kind of wacked out pseudo scientific worry or other. I’ll bet everyone else on The View is always about five minutes away from a freak-out over herbicides, pesticides, depleted uranium, fracking, high-fructose corn syrup, genetically modified crops, mercury, or carbon pollution. Heck, they even had Rosie O’Donnell explaining how fire can’t melt steel.Report

        • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

          Right. Hold their views in contempt. Not the people.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            In a weird bit of synchronicity, the episode of Babylon 5 we’re watching this week is about a couple of religious parents who withhold medical treatment from their child due to their religious views.

            There’s a whole bunch of stuff that happens and a whole bunch of arguments are made about what the right thing to do is… but, most importantly, the parents are not shown as morally monstrous. They’re deeply sympathetic, they love their child to distraction, it’s just that their religion prevents them from seeing medical treatment that involves deliberate cutting of the flesh as an option.

            The show does a very good job of showing the parents as having the best of intentions… even as they take a path that will inevitably lead to the death of their child.

            There’s a part of me that says “why in the hell do their intentions matter”, even as I look for a box of Kleenex, as I watch the episode.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I have two feelings about this:

            1) I have no reason to think that McCarthy doesn’t believe the (mis)information she spreads about vaccines. If I believed something was potentially dangerous for people, particularly children, and I had the visibility she does, I’d feel compelled to tell people too.
            2) I do have contempt for people who spread misinformation from a position of authority (and like it or not, she is in a position of authority, even if that authority derives only from her being recognizable, well-spoken, and being on television).

            These are in direct conflict with each other. On the one hand, how could I expect her to behave differently, if this is what she believes? On the other hand, she and the movement of which she is a part are causing real harm, and I seriously doubt no one has pointed this out to her. So I do have contempt for her, but sympathy as well. I don’t know that there’s any other way I could approach it.Report

            • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

              Chris, I have these thoughts too. So this is how I hash it out in my mind.

              1) Intentions matter. Of course. Otherwise, tigers would be guilty of cruelty to animals. Children would regularly be guilty of assault. Etc.

              2) Someone who harms people through malicious intent is doing something worse than someone who acts through misguided good will. If her beliefs were correct, what she is doing would indeed be morally correct. (A much tougher case: what about a racist who believes that racial segregation is a moral imperative?)

              3) However, we have an obligation, especially when the matter is a very weighty one, involving life and death, to make sure our beliefs are correct.

              So McCarthy, I think, is (as I said above) seriously morally culpable. But not as morally culpable as the jerks who ridicule her (instead of arguing with her) believe.

              Our society is morally culpable, too. We don’t teach philosophy, particularly philosophy of science, in a public school education. Not to toot philosophy’s horn. I know we can be very useless. But here’s where we can be useful. Philosophy of science teaches you which science to trust, and why you should. I note many of the supposedly pro-science people are grossly mistaken about the nature of science (e.g., they think the body of knowledge that makes up science is inviolable and should be embraced uncritically) and make unscientific statements themselves (e.g., that children’s deaths are “directly attributable” to McCarthy).

              And again, what should I do in my case? I sometimes research an aspect of my kid’s condition, and I think my doctor is making a mistake. In fact, there are several times when I know a doctor has been wrong. (One said, e.g., before it was confirmed that my kid couldn’t possibly have Ridiculously Rare syndrome because they all have cleft palates. I actually don’t know any with cleft palates. Indeed, my husband and I said we suspected Ridiculously Rare syndrome, and a large majority of doctors told us it couldn’t be that. He presented very atypically, so it makes sense, but still.) Should I substitute the doctor’s judgment for my own? Luckily, there has been only one time recently where I thought the doctor was making a mistake of any gravity. I insisted on a confirming test (realizing that she saw me as a pain in the a** whiny hysterical special needs mom), so then she recognized her mistake.

              However, I do try to understand what constitutes good evidence. McCarthy has an obligation to do that, too.Report

        • Avatar Pierre Corneille says:

          “It’s weird to talk about the rights of the unborn (and by “unborn”, I mean not just parasitic clumps of cells but the yet unconcieved)”

          If you’re referring to the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control, my understanding is that its opposition is based on a view of the proper role of sex and not on the presumed rights of the unconceived.Report

  5. Avatar Kris37 says:

    1. I am more concerned about Whoopi Goldberg’s dangerous campaign against the germ theory of diseases.

    2. I was already boycotting the View, but this McCarthy thing now gives me a reason to boycott the View. It’s a win-win.

    3. I think people’s worries about boycotting things (the OS Card debate, too) are overblown. Boycotts are a reasonably decent and good tool to effect social change in lots of cases. I wouldn’t boycott the work of anyone dead like Wagner. But if Wagner were alive, I’d boycott him. I also wouldn’t boycott anyone who had apologized and recanted. (Michael Richards is fine.) And I wouldn’t boycott anyone who promised to keep their personal views and work (movies, TV, whatever) wholly separate. What do I mean by “wholly seperate?” Well, that is a tough question. I think the person would have to promise not to use their fame to advocate for their position or their wealth generated from their work to campaign for their position. (IMO, there are pro-life people and anti-gay people who I would boycott if they didn’t pass the “wholly separate” test, but they do pass it.)

    But OS Card and McCarthy are using their fame (in interviews for OSC and JM or even on her show now for JM) and the money generated from their fame to support homophobia and anti-vaccine lunacy. So if you give them any support through money or ratings, you are indirectly supporting those causes, which should be avoided, when avodining it is very easy. (I don’t blame people who have trouble boycotting things, e.g. a starving actor who got offered a role in OSC’s movie.)Report

    • Avatar Matty says:

      Whoopi Goldberg is what?
      I really don’t follow these things but campaigning against germ theory is so far from my experience my first instinct was to assume it can’t be true. Then I remembered there are people, even people I know and respect who think the Earth is only 6000 years old and all species once fitted on a single boat.

      Do you have any more details.Report

      • I can only assume that comment was meant facetiously.Report

        • Avatar Matty says:

          No just ignorantly, I know Goldberg was the bar tender on Star Trek TNG but other than that I’ve heard nothing about her and I really haven’t heard of any movement that denies bacteria and viruses cause illness.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        The anti-vaccination movement is a campaign against the germ theory of disease, isn’t it?Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Anti-vaxers don’t dispute that diseases are caused by germs and many , like McCarthy, don’t dispute that vaccines are effective against those diseases. Rather, they claim that vaccines carry an unacceptably high risk of inducing irregularities in brain development that manifest in autism or other similar sorts of conditions.Report

  6. Avatar trizzlor says:

    In terms of body count, Hasselbeck being a vocal supporter of the Iraq War actually means this is sort of an positive development.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      In Hasselbeck’s defense, even IBC’s count is less than half the low-end estimate of civilians who would’ve been killed had Saddam stayed in power (based on how many people he killed per day during his 8,000 day reign), and a fourth of the high-end estimate. Plus, the IBC inflates their figures by a factor of two due to the nature of their data collection (each body is counted twice). Since the invasion, Iraq has only had about a fifth as many people killed as Brazil.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I think what I will chew on most is the confluence of factors Rose points out in the McCarthy hate: she’s a mother and therefore irrational especially about her own kid so it’s no wonder she won’t listen to reason and examine evidence objectively, she’s an attractive woman who posed for Playboy so she must necessarily be mentally simple and therefore easily fooled, and she’s bought in to a fringe theory that contradicts mainstream scientific medicine and therefore must be a weirdo who should be ignored and shunned in all things.

    That’s a seriously uncharitable attitude and Rose’s diagnosis of it makes me wonder about the degree to which I’ve adopted it.

    But like Russell, I’m certain that a charitable attitude doesn’t mean that McCarthy ought to get license to spout off views that really do contradict science, especially given that the anti-vax viewpoint can and has caused tangible harm (see Jaybird’s comments above about the rise of preventable diseases).

    This becomes a rather difficult needle to thread, particularly in a social forum rather than the formal structure in which I’m used to presenting disagreements. In the courtroom, there are rituals and conventions by which people disagree, vehemently, with one another and in which sometimes people are given license to advocate for things that are plainly incorrect. When it’s all done, the disputants (well, their advocates, in any event) generally easily set aside the intellectual daggers they had at one anothers’ throats moments before and exchange kind thoughts about family and commiserate with one another about professional obstacles. It’s actually quite pleasant.

    Without those rituals and conventions and without the presence of an arbiter to rule on one side or the other being correct and thus ending the dispute, it becomes much more difficult to deal with someone who insists on the veracity of something that all available reliable evidence demonstrates is incorrect. The frustration of failing to convince only contributes to the temptation to hold the opposing disputant in contempt.

    It’s a bit like blogging, actually.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      It’s not that she posed for Playboy—it’s that she’s famous solely for being a model and an actress. There’s no evidence that she’s in any way qualified to present herself as an expert on these topics, and yet she does. I don’t see that this is really any different from “Shut up and sing,” or the mockery of male actors by people who disagree with their political opinions.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        As I mentioned in my long, meandering comment above, many people (my generation in particular) were introduced to McCarthy not through Playboy or modeling, but “Singled Out”, where she played the role of the buffoon. Maybe she was acting, maybe she wasn’t… but she appeared as herself and acted the clown. Whether that is representative of her or not, it is the lasting impression for many people who saw her there and then few places else.

        So when you have “acting a fool on a dumb MTV show” followed by years of apparent silence followed by “vaccines cause autism” it becomes easy to think, “This woman is a very real fool,” without necessarily relying on sexism and the like.

        Of course, we could dissect her role on “Singled Out” and determine how much of the expectations of her were based on sexist tropes; if I recall, Carmen Electra played it quite similarly.Report

        • I thought Ms. McCarthy found a way of being funny and charismatic and appealing, and never saw the same appeal in Ms. Electra.

          But I didn’t watch all that often, either.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Some quick GoogleFu tells me I was 12-14 when McCarthy was on and 15 when Electra took over. At the risk of being presumptuous, I think you and I might have been watching with slightly different eyes.Report

        • Avatar Adolphus says:

          Well she also had her own television show for about 6 episodes and wrote and starred in her own movie vehicle called Dirty Love. It got a whopping 4% on Rotten Tomatoes and its comedic peak was her throwing a temper tantrum in a grocery aisle while sitting in a pool of her own menstrual blood.

          Without her anti-vax cause, she is a C-list celebrity at best.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I’m pretty unfamiliar with The View, except that Casey did an appearance on it on Sports Night and took undeserved credit for picking out his on-air wardrobe. Checking Wikipedia, I see luminaries like Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Joy Behar. Does appearing on it actually increase anyone’s credibility?Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      From the same Wikpedia page: ” ABC Daytime shows, four soap operas and The View, were the top five shows for 18-49 women television watchers.”. Their daily ratings seem to hover around 3mil. (for comparison, the Mad Men season finale got 2.7mil, Monday Night Football gets their weekly haul – 15mil.). That’s huge. And it’s all presented as just five girls hanging out which makes any sort of subversive message way more effective than on the news shows where everyone knows the slant.Report

      • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

        Again, just because it’s “five girls hanging out” doesn’t mean they never discuss issues of import or disagree with one another. Hasselbeck, whom McCarthy is replacing, was the show’s lone conservative, and there were often arguments between her and the co-hosts. E.g., see here and here. I don’t watch the show ever, but older female relatives do, and they always seem to be talking about arguments among the hosts.

        I am reasonably certain, actually, that her anti-vax views would not go unanswered.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          Again, just because it’s “five girls hanging out” doesn’t mean they never discuss issues of import or disagree with one another

          Oh, I agree, I did not mean to denigrate the format but rather the opposite. The fact that the tone is conversational rather than adversarial means that individual opinions are more likely to gain traction even if they’re contested. I have no doubt that O’Donnell’s 9-11 trutherism got more people considering her position than if she’d gone on Fox & Friends (where they would have cut her down) or on Olbermann (where there are very few undecideds to convince).

          But I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that as long as equal time is given to her co-hosts to respond then order is mostly restored. McCarthy doesn’t just have some vague notions about this, it’s her primary advocacy and she’s extremely skilled at discussing it. Her co-hosts, on the other hand, while skilled and accomplished women, do not spend their time thinking about rebuttals to the anti-vax argument. In that format, I would not be surprised if this type of scenario happened, and I think it would be a shame on the apart of ABC for allowing it.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Jenny McCarthy is hardly the only anti-vaccination advocate. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also the Boko Haram in Nigeria, preach that vaccinations will convert a child to Christianity. The correlation is wonderful: Christian medical missionaries have been vaccinating children for as long as there have been vaccines. My parents stopped a smallpox epidemic in Niger Republic.

    Nor is Jenny McCarthy the only good-lookin’ mama on television preaching idiocy. Let’s not get confused here, Jenny McCarthy is on television because she’s good looking, not because she’s smart. Smart people write peer-reviewed papers. The salubrious winds of doubt fill their sails as they advance the cause of science, one little nagging doubt turns into an experiment and our view of the world is changed forever. Not many people read those papers but it’s an important audience.

    The domains of smartness and good-looking are not exclusive: having seen the latest LeagueCast, I can vouch for the fact that at least one of its participants is as good-looking as she is a competent philosopher. But then, such telecasts will never bring in the ratings and share of The View and we will not soon see an eminently qualified philosopher on The View to discuss the nature of fiction. We will, however, be presented with fiction, simple, stupid, fearful views of the world, larded throughout with lies and advertisements. That’s what the folks want and that’s what television is gonna give ’em.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    Personally I think it bears repeating, loudly, that there are children, -other- than the children of anti vaccination advocates, who are directly harmed by this irrational snake oiling.
    There is a not insignificant population of children who are for various empirical reasons (allergies or compromised immune systems off the top of my head), cannot be vaccinated. They are directly vulnerable through no choice of their own or their parents and have been protected indirectly by vaccination through herd immunity.
    Now I’m pretty pissy about parents irrationally sentencing their own little darlings to horrible suffering and potential death and disfigurement but it is when I factor in that their little bio-bombs are potentially taking out innocent by standing children when they pick up an olde fasion plague or two that I want to break out the torches and pitchforks.
    While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that government should be parachuting into each household to mandate vaccination I would say that government should at least be making proof of vaccination mandatory before children can enjoy use any public services that puts them into a massed child population.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

      True. And let’s not forget also that vaccines are not a hundred percent effective. Your little darling could give it to someone who actually was vaccinated.

      And there is the free rider problem. Our kids are taking a risk so that their kids stay healthy. Not cool.

      If anyone takes from the above that I think Jenny McCarthy is helpful or not to be held morally responsible, please do not take that. I just think holding her as the sole responsible figure is ridiculous. And she’s not Hitler. There is no one I hold in more contempt than snake oil salesmen who take advantage of sick kids and parent love.Report

  11. Avatar Just Me says:

    Wouldn’t Jenny have to knowingly being saying things she doesn’t really believe in order to be a snake oil salesman? To me there is a difference between someone who honestly believes something is hinky with the way things are done and someone who says don’t do this in order to make themselves rich and or powerful. If Jenny really does think that vaccinations are somehow causing unintended consequences is that the same as someone selling a cure all knowing it is tap water?

    Would those who back in the day said that bloodletting is hinky be defined as snake oil salesmen too? Bloodletting was practiced for a couple of thousand years and believed to be a sound medical treatment. Some thought, hey, maybe this bloodletting shouldn’t be done all the time for every ailment; it might cause some unintended side effects…..like death. Were they whack jobs who just weren’t educated enough to know that when their loved one died maybe the treatment of bloodletting might have had something to do with it.

    As Burt stated, anti-vaxers believe that we (the public and the doctors) don’t know all of the consequences or side effects of using vaccines. If we want to argue that some children possibly having medical side effects is okay as long as more children are saved from horrible diseases so be it. Argue that instead of trying to belittle or demonize the people who just aren’t as knowledgeable and grounded in scientific study as you believe you are but think that maybe we should do more research on vaccines.

    BTW, great discussion and thanks for sharing your thought Rose and Russell.Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:

    This seems relevant: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/13/a-maddening-case-of-the-measles-in-orthodox-jewish-brooklyn.html

    This is of particular interest because my town has its own community of Haredi Jews, who I presume hold similar beliefs. We take Owen for walks in shared public spaces and he has not yet completed his vaccination schedule. Gulp.Report

  13. Avatar dhex says:

    i think i can (abstractly) appreciate the desperation that drives parents to do crazy stuff like chelation therapies.

    and i think you’re right about some of the sexism, especially from the pz myers nerd rage dudebro contingent.

    however, you failed to point out that one other downside to the sexism is that people are far less negative toward jim carey. this is unfortunate because he’s just awful at everything.

    that said, i do think we’d be a better country if she were shunned for publicly advocating for the suffering and pain of others, no matter whether she genuinely believes it or not. not having tomatoes thrown at her shunned, but you know, regular shuns.

    though cynical me’s not sure how genuinely she believes it – the son’s autism may have been “autism”, etc. and people have done worse things to stay in the spotlight. maybe it’s one of those “oh wow people think i’m like jesus and mlk put together” things. i would imagine that’s quite addictive, especially coupled with cycles of despair and hope.Report

  14. Avatar Allen says:

    I wish my memory were better, but did not the original controversy revolve around the vaccine medium, not the virus itself? The medium being a mercury compound. It always struck me that being in objection to a vaccine medium containing mercury as being quite reasonable.Report

    • The objection to vaccines is a moving target. Some days it’s the preservative, some days it’s the adjuvant, and some days it’s the number or combination of antigens themselves.

      And the mercury question regards thimerosal, a preservative in rare use in the United States. It is safe.Report

      • Avatar Allen says:

        Thanks for the reference. I can understand the concern that parents might have concerning heavy metals but it’s always nice to see that the concern has been addressed.Report

  15. Avatar Melanie says:

    Alll of u should just WAKE UP n realize that what she is saying is TRUE!!! We dont just have higher autism rates because of NOTHING…there are MANY doctors and scientists that back this information. Are u all going to also tell me that CANNIBUS OIL doesnt cure cancer. Oh of course you would because your all bloody fools, IVE SEEN IT WORK N IVE DONE it, So u jus keep on pumping your children with these fluids that u and the doctors are giving them have NO IDEA how your child may react. If you knew anything about MEDICINE OR the practices of Medicine, we are all not straight across the board here, everybody is DIFFERENT, and yet the orthodox way continuies to treat us allll the same, its PISSES ME OFF AND ITS SOOOO STUPID I HAVE TO lLOL AT MOST OF U, I back this lady 100% n I hope sh
    e gets even LOUDER…P.S. Chemo/radiation DO NOT WORK 90% of the time, n YET u alll still believe it cures or helps ..its the biggest SCAM out there jus like VACCINES, ill stick to natural n my cannibus oil. Have a nice day fools!!!!!!!!!Report

    • Well, that took longer than I thought.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        The syntax/grammar and the typing (with the CAPS) are always so similar on these things. Is it possible that there’s just one person that posts all these? Or does someone else try to imitate them so as to troll? So strange…I wonder if all their writing looks like this, or just on their topic of choice, and what that means.Report

        • If it’s the same disaffected individual responsible for all of them, I’d like to commend him/her for including “cannibus oil” in this one. I’m always grateful for a new wrinkle, and had not heard of the mystic healing powers of cannibus oil (or even of such a thing as cannibus) until just now.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          It could be some devious PoMo poseur giving us one of Guattari’s agencements, a metacritique.Report

  16. Avatar Darwy says:

    My main issue with giving JMcC a platform such as “The View” – it lends a tacit approval for her claims – all in the quest for a spurious notion of ‘balance’ in journalism.

    The science behind vaccines is clear: they are an important tool to safeguard the public health, and they are safe and effective* to the best current manufacturing guidelines.

    (*No vaccine – or medicine, medical intervention, etc -is ever going to be 100% safe or effective. But what we have works!)Report

  17. Avatar ktward says:

    I’ve no idea what The View’s viewership stats are. Is it really that much of a cultural influence that we care who’s on the show? That’s my immediate question.

    I’m not suggesting that I’m somehow representative of the masses, but I don’t watch it. I tried watching the show a couple of times for whatever reasons (probably for a specific guest), but as much as I might genuinely like any of those gals on their individual merits, and I do, listening to their chatter as they talk over one another is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

    I dunno. I won’t mince words here- McCarthy’s whole anti-vac thing is founded upon medical quackery. I’m sure she’s sincere in her quest to find pat answers to complicated questions, but aren’t we all. But does a gig on The View cement a person as a voice of authority? I mean, it seems that the crux of the concern here is that McCarthy will gain some extra measure of cred just by virtue of being a View gal. Have any of the other View gals experienced that kind of perk? Anyone paying more attention to whatever Whoopi has to say?Report

    • I don’t know that it confers credibility, per se. But it certainly gives her a bigger platform than she has ever had before in her career.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        Well, said bigger platform presumes she’ll have the network nod to go ahead and make some seriously controversial hay. I’m skeptical that’s the case. In fact, I’d sooner believe that in order to secure this sweet network gig, she’d have had to sign in blood her promise never to mention her crazy anti-vac drivel. I suspect that The View’s producers were simply looking for a gregarious and shapely blonde. Not whacky fringe controversy. (Melanie’s got that covered, though, jic.)Report

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