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November 20th, 2007 · 12 Comments · Useful idiots

Vaccines are arguably the greatest medical achievement of the modern age. Each year they prevent 14 million infections, tens of billions in medical costs, and over 30,000 deaths. But vaccines have been so successful at wiping out scourges such as polio and whooping cough that today’s parents are unfamiliar with the diseases they prevent. That’s where Jenny McCarthy steps in.

McCarthy is the D-list Hollywood celeb who combines soft porn with comedy to make some of the worst movies ever sent straight to video. She also has a five-year-old autistic son, Evan, and a penchant for self promotion that has metastasized as the Jenny McCarthy Traveling Medicine Show. She visited Madison, Wisconsin, over the weekend, and sat down with a credulous nurse practitioner for a fawning celebrity interview.

How is Evan doing now?
Thank God, he’s perfect. He’s in a typical school. There is no sign of autism.

A child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes in the United States. What advice would you give to that mother or father who is leaving the doctor’s office right now with that diagnosis?
Hope. Faith. Recovery. Say those three words and make them your mantra. Then educate yourself on everything you need to know about autism. From biomedical to diet to conventional therapies, get on it. Don’t delay. There is no time for self-pity. The time is NOW to get up, move forward and get your kid better – because it is possible.

I’ll give Ms. McCarthy this much: she does stay on message. Her publicist can sleep well knowing his ethically-challenged client will never detour into science-speak, or attempt some incomprehensible definition of “recovery”. Jenny-Science doesn’t come from books or university research centers or a mechanistic universe. Her spring of knowledge is a heady brew of talk show gossip and magazine wisdom, cold filtered through internet chat rooms. And parents are lining up from coast to coast for a pint of Jenny’s wishful thinking.

Forty years ago, a psychologist named Bruno Bettelheim was doing the talk show circuit, telling credulous hosts that autism was caused by cold, unemotional “refrigerator mothers”. And even though science closed that door long ago, the draft that Bettelheim let in still lingers. You can feel the chill whenever McCarthy tells us children can recover from autism, or that her son no longer acts autistic. McCarthy claims in her book, Louder than Words, that her son’s autism was caused by vaccines, a claim she’s repeated on Oprah’s show. This is a dubious claim at best, and even fringe scientists have a hard time being taken seriously when they advocate for the link. Jenny’s defenders, who are legion, say their hero is bringing attention to autism, and incredibly many deny she ever blamed vaccines for autism. “Read the book. Don’t listen to the media” they say, oblivious to the irony of denouncing that which gave McCarthy life.

One person who read the book and did not like it one bit is Austin pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown, who wrote her own review for the Wall Street Journal:

McCarthy told Oprah that her son was a normal toddler until he received his measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (at 15 months of age).Soon after – boom – the soul is gone from his eyes. Yet she contradicts herself in her book: “My friends’ babies all cracked a smile way before Evan did . . . he was almost five months old.” Which is it? Was he normal until his MMR vaccine or were some of the signs missed before he got that shot?

Ms. McCarthy also contends that mercury in vaccines caused damage to her son’s gut and immune system leading to autism. Yet the mercury preservative Ms. McCarthy assails was removed from the childhood vaccination series in 2001. Her son, Evan, was born in 2002. It’s hard to trust Ms. McCarthy’s medical degree from the University of Google – she comments about the hepatitis C vaccine that wreaked havoc on a friend’s child. An inconvenient truth: There is no hepatitis C vaccine.

More here.

McCarthy doesn’t bring attention to autism – she shares it. Autism is her star vehicle , her ticket to the C list. In flyover country, her star power shines brighter than the brave maverick doctors who hold fast to improbable suppositions. Unburdened by tenured teaching responsibilities or mere conscience, she stakes her claim in the green fields of autism, mining fame and fortune until the next claim jumper comes along.

UPDATE: More Jenny fallout here.

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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Maddy // Nov 20, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    To be honest, before the book I had never heard of her. So to sum up you would say that you’re not very impressed then?
    Best wishes

  • 2 Ms. Clark // Nov 20, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Oh, the instructions are easy, you see, according to Jenny all you got to do is start really early and do everything conceivably possible (how many “therapies” are there anyway and how many hours in a week does a kid have), even if you have to sell your body like a cheap street walker to make the $$$$$ to save yr baby!!!(Why not, Jenny did!)

    And don’t forget to pray to an angel for the right kind of Hollywood boyfriend who will give you the right kind of support.

    She refers to those sleazy jobs she took in this article. She had to take them to make money to save her baby… and she had to take out loans, too! Yes! So every mom out there who doesn’t take out loans to pay for quack labs and Big Pharma cures for non-existant yeast infections, is just a bad mom who isn’t trying enough. She may have done some legitimate educational therapies with her son, but she’s pushing the garbage, I guess because it’s controversial and “controversial” keeps her in the news.

    Before, in interviews she described this rapidly closing window that was just about to slam shut on any small autistic kid leaving him or her trapped in the dungeon of autism… now Jenny says, “you gotta hurry and take out those loans when they are three, ….” and the window never closes.

    OK. Which is it?

    And does Evan get to go back to being a psychic crystal kid now that he’s no longer autistic? Did he lose his psychic abilities with the diflucan treatments?

  • 3 isles // Nov 20, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    “Her spring of knowledge is a heady brew of talk show gossip and magazine wisdom, cold filtered through internet chat rooms.”

    Love. This.

  • 4 Kristina Chew // Nov 21, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Resuscitation of flagging career, via self-refashioning as autism/TACA mother?

  • 5 AnneC // Nov 21, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Ms. Clark: Yes, I’m guessing that diflucan probably reduces a person’s psychic abilities. You see, “yeast” is actually just another term for “midi-chlorians”. :P

    (PS: That was a Star Wars reference, and yes, a joke).

  • 6 passionlessDrone // Nov 21, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Hi Ms. Clark –

    “So every mom out there who doesn’t take out loans to pay for quack labs and Big Pharma cures for non-existant yeast infections, is just a bad mom who isn’t trying enough”

    How many times have you inferred this exact argument out of anyone who has offered an explanation on how biomedical treatments have helped their children; or at least, how they have perceived biomedical treatments have helped their children? I’ve seen it again and again, and I have read only a sliver of your postings.

    Jenny McCarthy isn’t about pushing guilt; but you sure are all about finding people you think are pushing it. Why not try some psycho analysis on that one for a while?

    – pD

  • 7 autblog // Nov 21, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Your comment is confusing. Are you aware of any science that explains and confirms the efficacy of bio-med treatments? Or is the “science” based on perceptions, which is to say anecdotes?

    Jenny’s not pushing guilt; she feeds off of it. She’s a remora fish suckling on a Great White Bettelheim.

  • 8 Prometheus // Nov 21, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I’ve never quite understood where the “window of opportunity” concept came from in autism.

    I understand that there are some data that suggest children who do not learn language by a certain age – primarily due to hearing problems – may never be able to learn it as well as those who can hear well, but I’m not sure that this translates to the situation seen in autism.

    This is especially relevant in light of a recent study showing that children with ADHD can “catch up” to their non-affected peers and another recent study showing that autistic people continue to “improve” even after age 18 years.

    Unless someone can point to a study that shows a “window of opportunity” in autism, I have to assume that the “opportunity” is the opportunity to sell unproven (and dis-proven) “therapies” to parents while they’re still distraught and desparate.

    I’m open to any data (i.e. NOT anecdotes or “testimonials”) that people can provide about a real “window of opportunity”.

    Prometheus

  • 9 Joseph // Nov 25, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve never quite understood where the “window of opportunity” concept came from in autism.

    That or something similar is actually a mainstream view, mind you. But it’s true that no randomized trial of anything has ever demonstrated this common belief.

  • 10 autblog // Nov 26, 2007 at 11:42 am

    I think the premise of Head Start and Birth to Three is that the early formative years are critical to later success in life.

  • 11 Beth // Nov 27, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Critical to learning, sure, but that applies to all kids and it certainly doesn’t mean that a window closes. A child with a developmental delay at 4 may seem like a NT child who is 2. That same child at 12 may be similar to a NT child of 8. The delay is still there but there is still much progress.

  • 12 maggie // Jul 22, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    You can question her-but she is doing what she thinks is right. She has turned down big rolls that would have garnered millions-she did not need this to be on anyone’s list. My entire family was up to date on their MMR shots and got it anyways- same story with chicken pox. All those shots did for my youngest son was poison him. You don’t have to believe that. But, you have to believe that we got the vaccines and the mumps because I have the blood tests to back that up. So when the CDC talks about the epidemic of unvaccinated people with mumps think about the fact that they are not giving you the whole story!

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