I finally broke down and got some antibiotics from the Wal-Greens clinic on Sunday to kill off this ear-sinus thing of mine. My illness has hindered my commenting on a far more insidious disease: Jenny McCarthy’s wrongheaded campaign against childhood vaccination, now brought to you by Oprah.
With any luck, given Oprah’s sway with the disconnected masses, this new alliance means kids will soon be dropping in great numbers from measles, whooping cough and other diseases of the Oregon Trail days. I mean, you saw what happened with Oprah’s KFC coupons, right?
Here’s Jenny’s story in her own words. As Slate points out, she doesn’t give a shit about kids getting sick or dying. What she does give a shit about, in this Time snippet, is dropping the f-bomb on the vaccine-industrial complex:
I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.
Yikes. Sounds like a lot of pent up frustration and guilt. And as my war with Steven Pinker proves — temporary ceasefires notwithstanding — you can’t fight emotion with Science. Because a) confirmation bias; b) the asymmetrical advantage of bullshit.
Or in other words, I do sadly believe we’re in for another protracted cultural contest along the lines of evolution vs. creationism.
Chris Mooney has a thorough run-down of how the new McCarthyism has mutated under the selection pressure of trend data such as these from California. Originally, autism was supposed to have been caused by thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, even though it had been phased out of vaccines (except for flu shots) by 2001. But that didn’t pan out.
So, according to Mooney:
Advocates have begun moving the goalposts, now claiming, for instance, that the childhood vaccination schedule hits kids with too many vaccines at once, overwhelming their immune systems. Jenny McCarthy wants to “green our vaccines,” pointing to many other alleged toxins that they contain.
Naturally, the pro-vaccine camp wants to close off any avenue for debate. But you don’t want to start backtracking, which will be seized on by opponents as evidence the scientists are full of it. Mooney notes the evidence doesn’t rule out “some small subgroup of children might have a particular vulnerability to vaccines and yet be missed by epidemiological studies.”
Which leads you in to arguments about how big that group might be, where your prior assumptions will depend on whether or not you believe in your bones that doctors are corrupt assholes. Which in turn depends on your experiences with doctors.
I guess the root cause is a generation of parents who know that autism is a thing kids get but are struggling to cope with it and are looking to vent their pain, which is reasonable enough. And it’s easy pickings to target a public health intervention that’s more invisible the more successful it is. Plus, some doctors are insensitive jerks, and healthcare sucks (I’m told).
Can blogger activists like David Gorski and skeptic-in-chief Phil Plait do anything to help? I think you have to present the case against vaccine refusers, partly for the sake of integrity and the public record; partly to shore up the hesitaters, concerned parents who have no axe to grind but are simply unsure what to make of McCarthyite arguments.
It may all come down to state policies and doctors’ attitudes, and that’s terribly unsexy. Damn you, Oprah.