Never look a blogging gift horse in the mouth, I always say. Well, sort of. It just figures that I could only do two posts that weren’t about vaccines before circling back around to the topic of the antivaccine movement. For that, I have Jenny McCarthy to thank. McCarthy, as anyone who pays attention to the antivaccine movement knows, is the most famous antivaccine activist in the United States, if not the world. She’s a woman who’s used her celebrity to promote the notion that vaccines cause autism, so much so that she willingly lent her name to a notorious antivaccine group (Generation Rescue), whose presidency she took over several years ago. Indeed, in 2008, she even led an antivaccine “march on Washington,” whose organizers, as they rallied behind the slogan “Green Our Vaccines,” couldn’t hide the rabidly antivaccine nature of the “protest.” Of course, since she somehow scored a sweet, sweet gig as one of the regulars on The View last fall (and even before), McCarthy’s been a lot quieter about vaccines and autism, most likely because she didn’t want to endanger her awesome regular gig, a gig far above any sort of talent or insight that she possesses.
Now, apparently, she’s trying to rewrite history.
Over the weekend, an op-ed by Jenny McCarthy, entitled The Gray Area on Vaccines, was published. “Gray area.” You keep using that term, Jenny. I do not think it means what you think it means. It’s a short article, but packed full of disingenuous nonsense masquerading as wounded self-righteous denial.
She begins by repeating the same lie that she’s been repeating for several years, now, mainly that she’s “not antivaccine but ‘pro-safe vaccine.’” Anyone who looks objectively at her statements and activities will realize immediately that such a claim is a stinking truckload of fetid dingos’ kidneys, but I’ll let McCarthy make her claims before I have some fun with them. Here we go:
I am not “anti-vaccine.” This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, “pro-vaccine” and for years I have been wrongly branded as “anti-vaccine.”
Let’s see. One would think that if McCarthy were truly not antivaccine and were indeed truly “pro-safe vaccine,” that she might have had something to say about the blatantly antivaccine signs and rhetoric that participants in her “Green Our Vaccines” rally were displaying. It’s not as though the signs weren’t clearly visible. Of course, one might be able to forgive such silence. Maybe she didn’t want to say something that would upset her supporters directly to her supporters, as antivaccine as they were (and still are). So let’s look at things she actively did. For example, let’s take a look at this video, which I had some fun dissecting a few years ago. It’s in two parts because the original was deleted
In it, notably, McCarthy disingenuously claims that she is “not antivaccine, but ‘anti-toxin,’” after which she says that she wants “the mercury, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze, and human aborted fetal tissue to be removed.” Holy antivaccine trope, Batman! Yes, McCarthy was repeating common antivaccine tropes, such as the claims that there are antifreeze, ether, and “human aborted fetal tissue” in vaccines. There isn’t any of the above in vaccines.
The origin of the “ether” trope, as best as I’ve been able to tell, is that some vaccines are purified by Tween-ether extractions, which might leave trace amounts of ether in the vaccine, which are harmless. Also, there’s no antifreeze in vaccines. There just isn’t. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol. Some vaccines contain polyethylene glycol, a polymer used in many personal care products, such as skin creams and toothpaste. Continuing to parrot the “antifreeze in vaccines” line is more than intellectually dishonest. It’s just plain dishonest. Either that, or it’s evidence of an ignorance so profound that nothing can penetrate it. Finally, there is not “aborted fetal tissue” in vaccines. It is true that the virus stock for some vaccines is grown in a human cell line derived from an aborted fetus back in the 1960s. That cell line has been propagated continuously ever since. There’s a huge difference between “human aborted fetal tissue” and a cell line that’s existed nowhere other than in tissue culture growing in tissue culture media. Moreover, when the viruses are isolated, the cells are removed. There are none left in the vaccines. Moreover, she’s repeated that same trope again and again, saying:
I’m calling for cleaning out the toxins. People don’t realize that there is aluminum, ether, antifreeze, still mercury, in the shots…People are afraid of secondhand smoke, but they’re OK with injecting the second worst neurotoxin on the planet in newborns.
Of course, Jenny McCarthy thinks nothing of injecting one of the world’s worst neurotoxins into herself and has even boasted about it.
So what do you call someone who repeats common antivaccine tropes? Either she’s antivaccine or she’s so scientifically ignorant as to be uneducable. Take your pick about McCarthy. Personally, although I’m not impressed in the least by her intellectual firepower, I don’t think she’s more than a standard deviation below the mean in IQ. However, there’s no way I can see her scoring above 100 on an IQ test, either. She’s probably just below average in intelligence and makes up for it with obnoxiousness. Whatever her intelligence, to my view McCarthy is antivaccine, even more so because of how she blamed the MMR vaccine for her son Evan’s autism. She’s even been widely quoted as saying that the “lights went out” after her son Evan received the MMR vaccine. She’s also said that “Boom! Soul, gone from his eyes.” Whether or not this is antivaccine can be argued (it could just be massive confirmation bias), but what can’t so easily be argued is whether what Jenny McCarthy said a few years ago in an interview with TIME Magazine is antivaccine:
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.
Can you say “false dichotomy”? Sure, I knew you could. Actually, if there’s one thing I (sort of) agree with Jenny McCarthy about, it’s that she hasn’t changed her views. She was antivaccine then. She’s still antivaccine. She’s just gotten better at hiding it. Her silence on autism and vaccines is very much more likely to be part of a plan to resurrect her career. She’s become “respectable” enough to land a high profile gig on The View. She is no longer disreputable enough to be denied such a gig. Never mind that she remains a rabid defender of antivaccine icon Andrew Wakefield.
It’s also extremely disingenuous of McCarthy not to mention that quote in her TIME Magazine interview, even though she mentions the interview. Of course what she mentions shows her antivaccine proclivities:
People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the fucking measles.
None of which isn’t antivaccine, given how it’s based on antivaccine misinformation and tropes, such as “too many too soon” and the “toxins gambit.” It’s a repeat of the same false dichotomy that it has to be either the measles or autism, which is a false dichotomy because there’s no scientifically convincing evidence that the measles vaccine causes autism. Of course, over the years, McCarthy has said many such things that lead reasonable people to the conclusion that she is antivaccine, such that there are a whole bunch of other such quotes, of which I will provide a small sampling right here:
- “People are also dying from vaccinations. Evan, my son, died in front of me for two minutes. You ask any mother in the autism community if we’ll take the flu, the measles, over autism and day of the week. I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.”
- “The reason why [the medical community] is reluctant to talk about it is because there’s such a huge business in pharmaceuticals.”
- “I look at autism like a bus accident, and you don’t become cured from a bus accident, but you can recover.”
- “Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.”
Sounds pretty antivaccine to me, a repeat of the same false dichotomy Instead of being antivaccine, McCarthy proclaims herself as being the only person able to see the “shades of gray” of vaccine science:
A recent column by a blogger named Nancy Colasurdo states:
“Here’s how it goes in this country, like everything else — black or white. Those are your choices. You either fall in line with 40-plus vaccines your doctor recommends on his or her schedule or you’re a wack-job ‘anti-vaxxer.’ Heaven forbid you think the gray zone is an intelligent place to reside and you express doubt or fear or maybe want to spread the vaccines out a bit on this tiny person you’ve brought into the world.”
Her words echo and articulate my concern with inflexible thinking. This is the real view I, Jenny McCarthy, hold. The gray one!
I will continue to say what I have always said: “One size does not fit all.” God help us all if gray is no longer an option.
Gray area. You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. No, Ms. McCarthy, people don’t call you a whack-job antivaxer because you see things in shades of gray. People call you a whack-job antivaxxer because you are a whack-job antivaxxer. You’ve proven it time and time and time again over the last six or seven years. I do have to admit that McCarthy did amuse me quite abit when she said “This is the real view I, Jenny McCarthy, hold.” This sort self-referential speech reminds very much of how a certain even crankier crank than Jenny by the name of Patrick “Tim” Bolen writes. Seriously, if Jenny McCarthy doesn’t want to be perceived as a crank, she shouldn’t write like the very crankiest crank I know, a man who makes Joe Mercola, Mike Adams, and Gary Null look downright reasonable by comparison.
Of course, McCarthy has been very good at rewriting her history and sending the inconvenient bits down the old memory hole. Before she emerged as the antivaccine “warrior mom” trying to rid the world of autism by blaming it on vaccines and promoting biomedical quackery, Jenny McCarthy promoted New Age in which she ran a website devoted to what was referred to as Indigo Moms, believing that her son Evan was a “Crystal Child.” Tellingly, her IndigoMoms.com website disappeared shortly before the release of her first autism book in 2007, Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism. She obviously made the strategic decision that she couldn’t be seen to be associated with such New Age nonsense if she was ever going to be taken seriously as a crusader for autism. So she sent her old website down the memory hole, never to be seen again.
To be honest, I’m only surprised that she hasn’t dumped her antivaccine crusade now that she has a high profile gig as one of the hosts of The View. Certainly she’s toned it down. We rarely see her going full antivaccine on us any more; indeed, the last time I remember her doing it was in her full-throated defense of Andrew Wakefield three years ago. I don’t believe that she’s any less antivaccine than she ever was. After all, she hasn’t resigned as president of the antivaccine organization Generation Rescue. Basically, she just appears to be trying to have it both ways.
Same as it ever was.