Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy split. Yeah, I'm all broken up about it, too.
I haven't cared about those two idiots for some time—he hasn't made a funny or interesting movie in a over a decade, and the last thing I remember her in was some crappy sitcom—but they have certainly pissed me off in a big way with their anti-vaccination stance. Long story short, McCarthy has an autistic son, and for years she has gone around talking about the link between autism and vaccines. I first became fully aware of their involvement in this ignore-the-science issue when I saw them both appear on Larry King Live last year. I was struck by their smugness ("Oh, you silly non-celebrities...we obviously know so much more than you do!") and their easy dismissal of doctors and scientists who stated that study after study showed no link between vaccines and autism.
McCarthy can speak about the issue as much as she wants, but merely being the mother of an autistic child (or in Carrey's case, the boyfriend of the mother of an autistic child) does not make her an expert. I wonder at our willingness to accept as experts those who have not been trained in a particular field, merely because they've had some experience with the situation. I'm sure she's an expert in dealing with her own autistic child; that does not make her an expert in scientific research and study.
However, she has positioned herself as just that. Partly because of her influence, many parents have chosen to forgo certain vaccines for their children, resulting in an increase in preventable infectious diseases such as mumps, measles, and meningitis. I believe this is negligent on her part, and on the verge of criminal, because it's not just those unvaccinated kids that are affected; it's all those who come into contact with them, and some might be immunocompromised and in more danger of severe illness and death. Some see her as a menace to public health, and I agree. It is very much a case of how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. If you are not fully versed in all the aspects of an issue, you can cause much more harm than good.
In the March 8, 2010 issue of Time magazine, she is quoted as saying, "Come and see our kids. Why won't the CDC come and talk to the mothers, talk to the families? Then tell us there isn't a link." It doesn't work that way, you silly bitch. You don't prove theories by "talking to the mothers." I absolutely despise such an attitude, and I'm seeing it more and more from people so willing to discount scientific evidence whether it concerns evolution or the importance of the flu vaccine. It's an acceptance of others who are "just like us" and a distrust of the "elite." Just a thought: doing some online research and reading up on something does not make you qualified to make decisions concerning matters of public health, and it does not make you a doctor. People go to school for that, and it's a smart idea to accept their expertise (nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, of course, and that's recommended for major diagnoses) rather than believing that you know more than they do because you "read up on it."
I'm not implying that doctors or scientists are infallible. In the Microbiology lab, we would occasionally get calls from doctors wondering what to treat an infection with. We couldn't issue recommendations, but based on susceptibility patterns we tracked over the previous year and on known resistance mechanisms, we could often say that a particular antibiotic wasn't effective for that organism. This wasn't just our opinion; it was based on solid data and documented studies.
That's where people like McCarthy and Carrey are dangerous. They base their statements on opinion and theoretical assumptions rather than relying upon empirical evidence. Because they are in the public eye, there are people out there listening to them who decide it's a great idea to also be a dumbass, and follow along with whatever they say. (McCarthy also said that if there was a "purpose from God," it's that she could get booked on talk shows in order to spread her anti-vaccination rhetoric.)
Despite the recent retraction of the 1998 Lancet article, due to unethical practices and faulty conclusions, that started all this nonsense, McCarthy and her adherents continue to cling to this bad science and misinformation and support its author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. In the meantime, how many children have died from diseases that could have been prevented? How many kids have gone deaf because they got meningitis, and how many little boys were rendered sterile because of the recent mumps outbreak? Not to mention the buckets of money that have been thrown at multiple studies disproving the connection that could have gone towards finding causes and cures for autism. Alison Singer of the Autism Science Foundation said, "I felt that 22 vaccine studies were enough. Given that we don't have unlimited resources, it made sense to say we looked at vaccines and found no causal relationship."
According to the CDC's website:
Recent estimates from CDC's Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network found that about 1 in 150 children have ASD. This estimate is higher than estimates from the early 1990s. Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that "the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines an autism." CDC supports the IOM conclusion.
Here is a partial list of several studies cited by the CDC in support of its conclusion. You can find the entire list here: Chart of Autism Studies.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine August 2003: This study took advantage of the cessation of thimerosal use in Denmark and Sweden in 1992 to conduct a before and after comparison of the incidence or case numbers of autism. In both countries, autism increases throughout the years 1987-1999, contrary to the decrease in autism that would be expected after 1992 if thimerosal exposure was related to autism. The increasing trend for autism is most notable in Denmark where the number of autism cases rises substantially even after the discontinuation of thimerosal use.
Pediatrics November 2003: No association was shown with autism.
New England Journal of Medicine September 2007: The weight of the evidence from this study does not support an association between early ethyl mercury exposure from thimerosal-containing vaccines and/or immunoglobulins and neuropsychological functioning at ages 7 to 10 years.
Pediatrics February 2009: The overall results of the study [conducted in Italy] do not support neurological or developmental harm to children resulting from thimerosal exposure. This strong study adds to the body of scientific evidence that thimerosal in vaccines is not harmful to children.
New England Journal of Medicine November 2002: This study [conducted in Denmark], which followed more than 500,000 children, over 7 years, found no association between the MMR vaccination and autism.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders April 2006: The study provided no evidence of an association between regression in ASD and MMR vaccination.
William Schaffner, professor and chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, "Since Wakefield's study came out, some 20 other studies have come out, and each one of these studies, done by different researchers, in different populations and in different countries, has denied the associations between vaccines and autism. Scientifically, this story is over."
Scientifically, this story is over. It's time for wannabe scientists like Jenny McCarthy to start following the science and stop preaching about the dangers of vaccination. The risks of death and disability from preventable infectious diseases is far greater than any alleged (and now disproven) risk of autism.