Remember Dr. Jay Gordon? I haven’t written about him in a while because, well, as much as he’s descended into anti-vaccine apologia over the last few years, he really has nothing new to say. However, apparently he’s been Tweeting a lot lately, and he hasn’t exactly been doing himself proud. Earlier today, one of my readers sent me an example of a Tweet by Dr. Jay that sinks to a new low of argumentation:
So…should I call this particular logical fallacy argumentum ad television or argumentum ad bradi bunchium? Seriously, Dr. Jay, this sort of argument is pathetic, even by your standards. Just because a silly 40 year old sitcom treated measles as a joke does not mean that it is a joke. It is not. Just because the majority of children who contract the measles recover, there is the potential for complications in as many as 1 in 5. These include bronchitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, and others. These are not trivial, and as a pediatrician Dr. Jay should know that.
Besides, The Brady Bunch isn’t exactly a font of scientific knowledge. For instance, I remember an infamous three-part episode where the family vacationed in Hawaii, where Bobby found a tiki statue claimed to cause bad luck. Once the tiki statue was in Bobby’s possession, all sorts of bad things started happening to the family, including a surfing accident and Peter nearly being bitten by a tarantula. According to the show, there was a curse that couldn’t be lifted until the tiki was returned to an ancient burial ground.
Yes, indeed, that’s the quality of scientific information featured on The Brady Bunch; yet this episode is frequently invoked as “evidence” of the societal attitudes towards measles 40 years ago as not being that big a deal, which is exactly the same argument made by Lisa on this Yahoo! mommy forum. I like this response by Hobbesie to such a silly argument:
I really hope that your answer is a joke, and that you’re just trolling the board. Using an episode of The Brady Bunch as medical evidence is downright silly. Next up, you’re going to tell me that all the forensic tools used on CSI: Miami are real. Ugh.
Indeed, complete with the multicolored Eppendorf tubes, the DNA analysis that only takes a couple hours rather than weeks, and the Minority Report-style computer interfaces.
I suppose Dr. Jay would use the “Hawaii episodes” of The Brady Bunch as an example of how people understood back in 1970 that there actually do exist tiki statues in Hawaii that confer extreme bad luck onto their possessors. That’s the quality of argument Dr. Jay is making: Silly, vacuous, and a non sequitur.
In fact, I would argue that Dr. Jay’s Tweet shows a disturbing coldheartedness. For a pediatrician to blithely dismiss ten cases of measles as “not being an outbreak” and then compare them to a 1970s sitcom episode as though that episode was evidence that people didn’t worry about the measles 40 years ago and therefore you shouldn’t worry about the measles now is despicable. For shame, Dr. Jay! For shame!