Posted by: Ticktock | May 14, 2009

Spinning Jenny McCarthy – A Cautionary Tale!

Have the skeptics gone too far in their attacks against Jenny McCarthy?

Brian Thompson of Amateur Scientist has collected images of children suffering from diseases for a music video for an original anti-Jenny song. Forgive me for not jumping on the skeptic’s band wagon, but this video will do nothing but make rational science advocates look like even bigger jerks than our opponents think we are. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use images of children suffering from diseases to appeal to emotion any more than it’s appropriate for Jenny to thrust her own child into such a controversial spotlight. I also think we should avoid arguments that are strictly ad hominem without directing the recipients of the message to more reliable information. Brian Thompson missed an opportunity to correct Jenny; he chose to mock her instead.

Another site that I disagree with is the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, a counter that adds another digit every time a child dies of a vaccine preventable disease. First, I think it gives Jenny too much credit. Second, I think it’s unfair to pin deaths on one person in the name of cleverness. And finally, it treats a child’s death as just another number to be tallied for the sake of misplaced irony. On the other hand, the site does link to resources where parents can find good information, so I give them credit for that.

Stop Jenny is a site that attempts to challenge Jenny’s claims in a responsible (yet justifiably annoyed) manner. We may need a resource like Stop Jenny, since Oprah is giving Jenny her own television show where she can spout nonsense daily without censor.

I would like to think that ignoring Ms. McCarthy would be the best option, but she doesn’t go away – no matter what the evidence. Since the media usually dances around her conspiracy claims and ignorance and only seems to challenge her with the obligatory CDC message, the skeptics (and a few others) need to take the lead by engaging her claims responsibly.

I know that I’ve been unfair to my opponents in the past. Being so involved in the debate makes me hyper-aware of every vaccine-preventable death, and it gets frustrating to debunk the same claims made by antivaccine cranks over and over. But as this war or words ramps up, skeptics need to elevate the discourse and earn the respect of the public. Most pregnant moms are smart enough to know that Jenny McCarthy is famous for picking boogers and posing nude in her catholic school girl uniform, but they may not be smart enough to know where to go to get reliable information about vaccine safety. So, instead of stating the obvious, that Jenny McCarthy is a dim bulb in a sea of stupid, start pointing people in the right direction where they can get reliable information about vaccine safety.

Appeal to the intellect, not to emotion.



  1. I think I disagree. Appealing to the intellect is one method of argument…but it’s only one. I teach logic in high school, and I often have students who are also in the debating club. We go through fallacies and rhetoric as part of the course, and one item we always show is that it’s not always the valid & sound argument that wins the judges, but the one that uses rhetoric the most effectively.

    I hate debating.

    But, I try to emphasize that having a solid science-based argument with sound logic should be the core of the rhetoric. This is the side of “good”. “Evil” is using rhetoric to achieve a goal, regardless of whether or not the argument itself is true.

    Rhetoric is just good advertising. Deliberately refraining from its use seems like deciding to lose the argument.

    The Jenny McCarthy Body Count is an excellent example. Yes, it’s over the top. But if it catches the attention of someone and they decide to investigate further, it’s done its job.

    I often read your blog, it’s been a great source of info.



  2. I want to agree with you-really. But I can’t.
    It is a catch-22 situation. Because of vaccines-most parents today don’t have any idea of what the measles etc. can do.There is no visual-no experience. Horribly enough-sometimes seeing is believing.I’d rather they get jolted by a picture, than by an epidemic.

  3. “Have the skeptics gone too far in their attacks against Jenny McCarthy?”

    I think it is unfair that you are referring to us (including yourself) as the skeptics!

    We are not skeptics, regarding this. The evidence is overwhelming vaccines do not cause autism. Jenny is the skeptic and is dangerous.

    Regardless, I agree the song is a bit tasteless, but how else can you get people not interested in fact to listen.

    • I don’t see why it’s unfair that I refer to the community of critical thinkers as “skeptics”, since many of us, including myself, label ourselves that way. The term is not a synonym for doubt. Jenny is not a skeptic, as I define it, because she doesn’t factor the scientific evidence into her reasoning, and that’s the distinction that most skeptics give to the term.

      How is anyone to know that Brian Thompson is correct if he doesn’t give any information (at least link to the CDC). His video will only serve to please an audience of skeptics, but it will seem smug and inconsiderate to those sitting on the fence.

      I could agree that jolting the opposition with photos of children with measles is a good way to give the argument context, but unless he specifically asked permission to use the photos, I have trouble with it ethically.

      -skeptic dad

  4. I agree about the ethics of using those photos-It would be worth knowing where he got them..even if they were from a text-book, using them for this type of video (without permission) doesn’t make it right. good point. Yes, a link to the CDC would have been nice…but even with that, the anti-vax movement has done a wonderful job of instilling a deep fear of both them and big pharma.

  5. I agree that logical fallacies are still logical fallacies, even if you’re right. But I haven’t seen too many ad hominem attacks against McCarthy, except for the indigo/crystal woo which is relevant to her credibility. I don’t mind showing pictures of what these disease can do to children. A lot of people really don’t know how devastating these diseases can be. The body count is a little extreme, but people need to realize that these diseases are deadly. McCarthy might not care about kids dieing, but most other people do. I think a lot of people who are on the fence about vaccination just don’t realize how much they are risking by refusing vaccines for their children.

  6. What will you say about any doctors, researchers and healthcare professionals who might appear on Jenny McCarthy’s show?

    What will you say about public health officials and autism advocates in Maine who realize that diseases can be deadly but vaccine safety concerns should be addressed?

  7. No doctor or researcher in their right mind would go on her show because she shouts down reasonable arguments with her conspiracies and anecdotes. So, if no reasonable doctor or researcher would go on her show, then I presume her experts will be part of her angry half-cocked menagerie of pseudoscience nitwits. I guess I’ll wait and see on that.

    I would say to Maine that vaccine safety concerns are constantly being addressed. This might be hard to believe for the people of Maine, but public ignorance of vaccine safety does not justify a pharmaceutical lynching.

  8. I am an autism advocate-and hey, I happen to live in Maine! What Ticktock says in last comment!

  9. Jenny continues to live under the mistaken impression that if she’s talking so loudly that she can’t hear what anyone else is saying, she wins.

    I sometimes think that Jenny’s bigger issue–more personal–is that she can’t believe that she produced a child with a serious neurological disorder. Whether the child has autism or not is obviously in dispute. But I often feel, when I listen to her, that she really, really wants someone else to take the blame for this. Babies don’t show up with a guarantee. Genetics is tricky. Science can’t always explain it perfectly. I suppose this is where even a little faith helps.

    I have a child on the spectrum, she’s vaccinated, and I would not change a thing about that. She may not be able to have a conversation with you, but she also won’t die from the measles.

  10. I’m feeling a bit more optimistic-Oprah has given Ms.McCarthy blog space on the Oprah website-Where Jenny has blogged about (gulp) her own poop. (eeeeuuuu)perhaps maybe now people will finally see what she is admittedly full of!

  11. Newsweek (June 8) comments on Oprah’s ability not to question celebrities who have let their opinions magically cement into scientific fact. Maybe one of her minions, sorry viewers, will notice – HA ha.

  12. That was Newsweek June 8, 2009 not Eight and Closed Parentheses thus COOL SMILE but i guess your blog is smarter than I.

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