Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another Big Pharma Conspiracy!

Jenny McCarthy sez: "Big Pharma is run by Zombie Hitler!"
This time, those evil cretins that run the pharmaceutical companies have gone too far... they have gotten a hold of the measles virus and secretly injected it into a bunch of unvaccinated kids in Brooklyn, in a futile attempt to discredit the courageous anti-vaccine movement!

Oh wait, sorry I think my brain must have been temporarily scrambled by oh-noes-teh-toxinz! What really happened is that a whole bunch of very stoopid famous people (of which Jenny McCarthy is public enemy number one) have managed to terrify parents into forgoing vaccinations -- all while accusing the other side of using fear as a lever -- resulting in a dropping compliance rate, weakened herd immunity, and now there is an outbreak of measles in Brooklyn. It is no coincidence that most of the kids who have contracted the disease are unvaccinated.

Jenny McCarthy sez: "Those kids got the measles because their mothers weren't pretty enough!"
Now, probably none of these kids are going to die. We don't know that for certain, of course, and their odds of dying from measles are much higher than their odds of having serious side effects from a vaccine... but this is a relatively small outbreak. This could be the tip of the iceberg if compliance rates don't come back up.

Good job, Jenny McCarthy.


  1. Hi, Jay! This was big news on our local (NJ) TV a few days ago, with the MD docs telling everyone to make sure their kids had their vaccines on time, and that there is NO link to autism from vaccines. I had let Orac know on our Facebook link, too, so we'll see if Respectful Insolence or SBM gets a posting on it. The sick kids are from ages 7 months to 4 years of age, if I recall correctly from the report. The reporters also mentions the nasty sequelae that measles can have. A good reporting on the truth.

  2. I have watched Jenny's numerous appearances on TV and, in fairness to her, she says she is not against vaccination; her main advocacy is for the CDC to research on how much the hectic scheduling of the now 32 shots might have some positive correlation with the rise of autism cases in recent years. And she is actually backed by her own son's pediatrician with this.

  3. So first of all, being backed by her own son's pediatrician is entirely irrelevant. If you look hard enough, you can find a doctor to back any kind of crazy idea you want, especially if you are a celebrity. So that really counts for nothing.

    The problem with McCarthy's nominal stance of "I'm not anti-vaccine, I'm pro-safe vaccine" is that it is a case of shifting goalposts. Has McCarthy ever once spelled out exactly what she wants? Exactly what research would be sufficient?

    Also, you have to put this in context. Yes, now she is pushing the "too many too soon" angle. That's because the angle she used to be pushing, the mercury/autism link, has been so thoroughly debunked that it's hard to even lend an getting-on-Oprah level of credibility to the hypothesis.

    If you look at the totality of what McCarthy has said about vaccines over the years, her actual position is very clear: She knows in her heart that her son's autism was triggered by vaccines, and if this is not supported by science then that inherently means more research needs to be done. If, hypothetically, the CDC was able to provide research that satisfied McCarthy on the "too many too soon" angle, she would surely find another. Maybe it would be aluminum compounds in vaccines. Maybe it would be

    So now to speak generally rather than about McCarthy in particular:

    My big issue with the idea with researching "how much the hectic scheduling of the now 32 shots might have some positive correlation with the rise of autism cases in recent years" is that there has already been a fair amount of research into this, and it's all turned up nothing. Does that prove 100% that there is no correlation? No, that is impossible. One cannot ever prove the null hypothesis, i.e. you can never prove with 100% certainty that a particular data set exhibits absolutely no correlation. This is a well-known aspect of statistics. For example, I cannot prove with 100% certainty that wearing a purple shirt doesn't increase your odds of getting cancer -- but I'm not asking the CDC to do more research on it!

    So we're faced with deciding whether, at this point, there is a more likely explanation for the rise of reported autism cases in recent years. Personally, I think there is some very convincing data that the vast majority of increased cases -- if not all of them -- are a combination of diagnostic substitution and increased reporting (the latter only in the case of Asperger's and possibly some kind of high-functioning autism, as clearly severe autism cases would never have gone undiagnosed... but there is some highly suggestive data that they used to be diagnosed as mental retardation, i.e. the increase in reported autism cases has tracked fairly well with a decrease in reported cases of mental retardation)

    But that's not necessarily the whole picture. Maybe there is some environmental trigger that's on the rise, I don't know for sure. However, I can say that if this hypothetical trigger exists, it's extremely unlikely to be vaccines.

    So the bottom line: The government's money would be better spent looking elsewhere. Right now, understanding the genetic component of autism seems to be a promising direction -- after all, if we understand what proteins are involved in the disease, that could conceivably suggest an effective mode of treatment.