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.
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.