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.