The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘measles outbreak’

Shout Out: An Open Letter to Oprah

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 17, 2009

In keeping with Carl Sagan’s adage that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, I want to pass along something which I think does just that.  I recently blogged about Oprah Winfrey’s ill-conceived decision to give anti-vaccinationist Jenny McCarthy her own show.

Personally, I have been at a loss as to how to respond – but fortunately, Shirley at the “I was lost but now I live here” blog has a great response, and I wanted to share it with you here.  Please consider passing it along, so that perhaps we can get Oprah to rethink her decision…

An Open Letter to Oprah

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Oprah Winfrey Gives Platform to Anti-Vax Movement

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2009

Oh boy, this is not good news.  It seems that media mogul and daytime diva Oprah Winfrey has given a platform to the face of the anti-vaccination movement, Jenny McCarthy, by giving McCarthy her own show.  I cannot even begin to express how colossally stupid this is…

mccarthyoprah_l

Jenny McCarthy inks deal with Winfrey’s Harpo

McCarthy has inked a multi-year deal with Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. to develop projects on different platforms, including a syndicated talk show that the actress/author would host.

The first collaboration under the pact is a blog by McCarthy on Oprah.com, which launched Friday. Like other Winfrey proteges-turned-TV moguls, among them Rachael Ray and Dr. Phil, McCarthy has been a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

McCarthy talked to the chat queen about her struggles with her son’s autism in conjunction with the publication of her best-selling books “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism” and “Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds.” McCarthy also has participated twice in Winfrey’s Friday Live panels, most recently this past Friday.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Jenny McCarthy: When Ignorance Kills

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2009

When it comes to woo & pseudoscientific nonsense, there are times when it is just an annoyance. And then there are times when such ignorance can literally kill. Such is the case with the anti-vaccination movement (AVM).

The anti-vaxxers have found a celebrity spokesperson in Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy playmate and squeeze of actor Jim Carrey. Jenny’s son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism and she has since blamed his being vaccinated as the cause of his autism. Never mind that there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or the other horrible things espoused by the AVM, Jenny continues her anti-vax crusade, appearing on talk shows and in other venues spouting her nonsense.

**Aside: Keep a watchful eye out for an organization which McCarthy promotes – Generation Rescue – because this group is essentially a front for the AVM and other dangerous medical woo-woo.

Well, this is really bad, because the ignorance that Jenny McCarthy and the AVM spreads can be lethal. As an illustration of this fact, there is a new website online called Jenny McCarthy Body Count.

jenny mccarthy

While this site does not blame her directly for the deaths accounted for there, it does state (and I think correctly) that her actions as the public face of the AVM has contributed to the hysteria against vaccinations and hence the spread of diseases which would otherwise be kept in check.

As the website states on its front page…

In June 2007 Jenny McCarthy began promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric. Because of her celebrity status she has appeared on several television shows and has published multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children. This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of vaccine preventable illnesses as well as an increase in the number of vaccine preventable deaths.

Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name. This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines.

Is Jenny McCarthy directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, as the unofficial spokesperson for the United States anti-vaccination movement she may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.

Since June of 2007 and as of this writing, the website documents the following numbers – verified through the Centers for Disease Control

Number of Preventable Cases: 720
Number of Preventable Deaths: 142

Fortunately, not everyone in Hollywood is as ignorant & dangerous as Jenny McCarthy in their promotion of woo – there are those who are willing to take her and her AVM ilk head on and call them out on their deadly nonsense. I’m speaking specifically of actress Amanda Peet, who in an article last year publicly took the AVM to task…

Peet’s analytical urges are comical when she’s talking about kids’ gear, but not when she’s discussing a subject she feels is among today’s most pressing public-health issues: infant vaccinations. “As soon as I was pregnant, the neuroses kicked in,” says Peet, 36, who is married to screenwriter David Benioff. She began calling her older sister’s husband, a Philadelphia pediatrician, “every five minutes” with all kinds of questions, especially about shots. “I asked him, ‘Why are all of these necessary? Why are some people staggering them?’?” Eventually her brother-in-law arranged a series of phone calls between Peet and his own mentor, Paul Offit, M.D., who is chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and a board member of Every Child by Two, a pro-vaccine organization cofounded in 1991 by former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

“Once we had spoken, I was shocked at the amount of misinformation floating around, particularly in Hollywood,” says Peet, who quickly boned up on the hot-button controversies surrounding the topic, including the unproven link between certain vaccines and autism; the safety of preservatives like mercury-based thimerosal; and the fear that the relatively high number of shots kids receive today can overwhelm young immune systems. Her conclusion? Well, not only is Frankie up-to-date on her vaccines (with no staggering), but her mom will soon appear in public-service announcements for Every Child by Two. “I buy 99 percent organic food for Frankie, and I don’t like to give her medicine or put sunscreen on her,” says Peet. “But now that I’ve done my research, vaccines do not concern me.” What does concern her is the growing number of unvaccinated children who are benefiting from the “shield” created by the inoculated—we are protected from viruses only if everyone, or most everyone, is immunized: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”

Incidentally, here are two great websites out there on this whole vaccination issue – one is called Stop Jenny McCarthy, and it has more info about the AVM & autism specifically, and the other is Every Child by Two, a pro-vaccination group which Amanda Peet supports and promotes. If you are at all interested in getting more informed about the AVM and how to tackle its bogus & dangerous woo, I suggest you check them out.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Good News: Anti-Vaccination Nuts Lose, Big Time

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 13, 2009

One of the more recent & despicable forms of woo that has come out over the last few years is that of anti-vaccination or vaccine denial. It all started back in the late 1990s when a researcher named Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed that he had discovered a connection between administrations of the MMR vaccine and incidence of autism in young children.

mmr vaccine

At this point, I think it is very important to note that Wakefield’s work has just recently been shown to have been the product of fraud. Here are some key points at that link…

The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

So the original research which supposedly showed an autism-vaccine connection was faked! And this revelation comes as no surprise considering as how literally a decade of medical research since then has clearly shown there is no connection between the incidence of autism and vaccination.

But this evidence matters little to some people who have used this supposed “connection” as a way to further their anti-science ideology – which is what is particularly disturbing about Wakefield’s fraud. When his work was publicized in 1998, it started what Dr. Steven Novella of Skepticblog refers to as the “Mercury Militia” – a pseudoscientific movement to ban all mercury (in the form of the vaccine preservative thimerisol) from vaccines. Worse yet, it also helped to spawn something even worse – the modern Anti-Vax movement which maintains that vaccines don’t work, are not necessary, and are just part of a conspiracy by “Big Pharma” and the government to get our money.

Unfortunately, the anti-vaxxers have some star power on their side. A good example is Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey – McCarthy has drunk the anti-vax Kool Aid big time and is thoroughly convinced that her son’s autism was caused by him getting vaccinated. So she has become the de facto celebrity spokeswoman for promoting the anti-vax nonsense, appearing on talk shows like Oprah, Larry King Live, etc. But despite the level of righteousness she feels in her cause, Jenny McCarthy is dead wrong!

jenny mccarthy

Thanks to the efforts of idiots like McCarthy and other anti-vaxxers, the rates of childhood vaccine use have dropped significantly in both the United States and United Kingdom – with predictable results. In areas where parents refuse to vaccinate their kids, out of the false fears spread by the anti-vaxxers, diseases that were once basically wiped out have started to have a resurgence. Here’s two articles on this point…

In the United States
Vaccine refusals fuel jump in measles outbreaks

… and in the United Kingdom
Rise in measles ‘very worrying’

This is bad, folks. This is bad because this is a perfect example of how accepting pseudoscientific nonsense can actually adversely affect the health of people or even possibly get them killed.

Fortunately, in addition to the recent revelation of Wakefield’s fraud, there is some other good news. It seems that an anti-vax parent lobby was recently attempting to sue in federal court for compensation from the U.S. government because they claimed that getting their children vaccinated through government programs led to their kids’ autism. They just lost the argument – the special court, after a thorough review of all the scientific & medical research on the question of an autism-vaccine link, concluded that no such link exists…

The evidence “is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive,” concluded Special Master Denise Vowell. “Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding” of autism.

So there you have it. The anti-vax nuts have lost in two big ways: the creator of their movement has been publicly discredited as a fraud, and they have lost in court cases to push their claims. And we know why – because there is nothing to their claims, however heartfelt they may be, that vaccinations cause childhood autism.

However, I think the reaction from the anti-vaccination true believers such as Jenny McCarthy is predictable. Rather than accept the findings of the scientific & medical communities, as well as the federal courts, on this subject, the hardcore anti-vaxxers will likely spin the renewed scrutiny of Wakefield’s fraud and the court findings as part of a vast, widespread conspiracy – which is usually the last resort of true believers when their backs are against the wall.

Hopefully, those parents who are on the fence will evaluate these findings in a rational manner and get their kids vaccinated. Let’s hope so, for their kids’ sake.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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