Anti-science watch: Jenny McCarthy has her own show

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 4, 2009 23:44 EDT
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Anti-science warriors, who are beginning to cross ideological boundaries, have just won a major media battle. Anti-medicine, pro-disease quack Jenny McCarthy is getting her own TV show, at the behest of Oprah Winfrey.

Following in the heels of Dr. Phil and Rachael Ray, McCarthy has signed a deal with Harpo Productions to develop multi-platform projects, including a syndicated talk show and a blog, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

McCarthy’s blog launched Friday on Oprah.com and already features three entries from the actress.

In recent years, McCarthy has been a frequent guest on Winfrey’s talk show, discussing her efforts in helping her son, Evan, combat autism. She also appeared this past Friday as part of Winfrey’s Friday Live panel.

This is a complete disaster. For reasons I can’t quite understand, Jenny McCarthy is dedicated to fighting medical science on multiple fronts on the theory that she, as a celebrity who has given birth, understands way more about disease and biology than mere doctors and scientists, with their facts and their evidence. I know that there was some hope expressed that now that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published the study that supposedly showed a link between autism and vaccines, has been exposed as a fraud, the anti-vaccination movement would wither away and die. Unfortunately, I’ve been watching the anti-choice and creationist movements for a long time, so I know that cranks not only don’t care about the facts, scientific evidence against them just redoubles their enthusiasm for the cause, because now they can feel like they’re fighting reality itself. Overcoming a foe like that is a feather in your cap indeed. And McCarthy’s acquisition of a TV show demonstrates that I was right—if they can’t win on the facts, they’ll dominate the media discourse.

The first three blog posts at McCarthy’s blog are the sort of thing that give people who promote healthy eating a bad name. It’s not that she’s wrong to suggest that eating a bunch of sugar isn’t good for you. But this is coming from McCarthy, who actually claims to have cured her son of autism through obsessively monitoring his diet.

We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism.

Her article is hard to read, seeing as how it’s laced with her determined belief that her son “caught” autism. The evidence is piling up quickly for the best theory regarding autism, which is that it’s genetic. Even if and when they conclusively prove that autism is genetic, though, McCarthy and her comrades will not give up claiming you get it from “toxins” in vaccines. That’s just not how anti-science nuts operate. They need to believe in their heart of hearts that they’re smarter than people who actually know what they’re talking about. I’m not surprised that McCarthy is obsessed with food to the point where she thinks about it in near-magical terms, either. Women are already deluged with all these pressures to eat and not eat and be able to eat a lot without gaining an ounce and know how to cook but know how to say no and find that perfect diet solution. Add to that a career where it’s not important merely to be thin, but to be perfectly thin with no bumps or wrinkles, and food is going to move from being a constant issue to a real obsession. But that doesn’t make her an expert, nor does it mean you can cure someone of autism by refusing to feed them wheat.

The food quackery is a minor issue compared to her anti-vaccination crap, though. Despite her and Jim Carrey’s claims to desire “green” vaccinations (whatever that means), they’ve made it incredibly clear that there will ever be a time when they accept any proof whatsoever that vaccines are safe. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s schtick about how she’s a mom and gosh, don’t we moms know better than anyone else about anything (even though we have an endearing humility) is really appealing to a lot of people who are in charge of small children. Hiding behind the feelings of parents of autistic kids to push this nonsense is even more despicable. People aren’t well served by being lied to, and the only people out there really doing anything to fight autism in the reality-based world are the much-despised and spat upon scientists and doctors who actually fight disease, including those that you fight off with vaccines.

The good news is that despite the economic and celebrity power of the anti-vaccination movement, some people are bravely fighting back, even though they know that even bringing up the subject means that anti-vaccination folks will try to wear them into shutting up through relentless bullshitting and guilt trips. They had a Momversation video about it, even though it’s just inviting trouble:

It’s imperfect, of course. There’s all this discussion about “beliefs” instead of facts, and suggestions that someone is “researching” something if they read a whole bunch of unscientific, fact-free screeds and believe those above the evidence-based information out there. But even as they hedge and try to avoid insulting people who think this is a matter of “belief” instead of facts, they make the important points: not vaccinating your kids is stupid, there’s no science on your side, and the guy who had the one study that seemed to find a link between vaccinations and autism is a fraud. We need to see more of this, and less of Jenny McCarthy.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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