Oprah drinks the antivax Kool Aid

By Phil Plait | May 4, 2009 12:32 pm

I knew that Oprah Winfrey was prone to antiscience; she has all sorts of New Age nonsense on her show, and the one time Randi was on in recent years he found the experience frustrating; Oprah unabashedly promotes all kinds of superstitious garbage.

But now she’s gone way, way too far: she’s signed Jenny McCarthy — notorious for her misleading statements about vaccines and autism — on for a multi-platform deal.

McCarthy has advocated a link between autism and vaccinations for years. She has written and spoken about it at length in very large venues like Oprah’s and Larry King’s shows, but her claims are wrong. Worse, they’re dangerous: by claiming vaccines are dangerous, she is scaring parents into delaying or even preventing their children from being vaccinated.

I don’t think this threat to the health of our children can be overstated: we have already seen a dramatic rise in outbreaks in preventable diseases due to the rise in media presence of antivax claptrap, and there have been deaths of children, deaths of babies, because of it.

And now Oprah is giving the premier mouthpiece for this movement a huge loudspeaker.

The timing of this couldn’t be more ironic, with Australian TV slamming the antivax movement due to the death of a four-week-old infant girl from whooping cough — a death directly related to the antivaxxers in Australia — with a growing response online to the distortions and outright lies of the antivaxxers here in the U.S, and with antiscience knee-jerking exacerbating the global reaction to swine flu.

Oprah: you have screwed up on this one, and in a huge, huge way. Jenny McCarthy has loudly and publicly increased fears over vaccinations based on nonsense and bad science. By giving her a platform, you are virtually guaranteeing that vaccination rates will decline further, there will be more outbreaks of easily preventable diseases, and therefore we’ll see an increase in deaths of children all around the world. You have claimed to want to make the world a better place — and you have actually done so in many ways — but this one act will completely negate any good you’ve done in the past.

Antivaccination rhetoric kills. It is that simple.


Comments (144)

Links to this Post

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  1. As if daytime television wasn’t already bad enough, now it’s also hazardous for your health!

  2. FH

    This will not end well. As if division over stupid things wasn’t bad enough in this country

  3. Dear, dear Oprah: would you consider risking your viewer ratings by letting real scientists get a platform? No, didn’t think so. Even a nice guy like Carl Sagan would stand no chance with her anymore, because he made sense.

    The irony is, her own fanbase will be at risk. The dark side is, these lemmings will cause collateral damage.

  4. I had actually given a good amount of credibility to Oprah, but now with this Jenny McCarthy thing, any positive view I had of Oprah is now out the window.

  5. Justin

    Via the link posted by BA, I see that McCarthy is posting for Oprah about giving something up for the summer. Too bad she gave up sugar and not this antivax nonsense.

  6. Ad Hominid

    Given Oprah’s almost god-like authority to a large segment of the media-conformist population, this could be a genuine public health disaster.

  7. Umm…eep!? Now this is scary.

  8. where, specifically, do we write to (even though I dont watch her show) to let her know how badly she boinked it this time? Seriously, between your viewshipo, oracs and PZs there must be 10s of thousands of emails that can be written.

  9. Kentuxy

    It seems that there is a disconnect that is proportional between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain. Sadly many of the daytime TV personalities have this problem.

    Keep up the great work on the skeptic front, B.A.

    Your loyal fan and twitter follower,

  10. mk

    I’ve been harping on this over at Orac’s place, but here it is…. Discover, Seed and Scientific American should get together (The way Dawkins and Gould intended to do with NY Review) and create an all out media blitz, shaming Huffington, Oprah, Larry King, and their ilk into addressing this. As you say, this is a public health concern now. It’s not just goofy little bits of woo to laugh at anymore.

  11. Ala'a

    Oh, I can see the headlines already:
    “Oprah succumbs to a severe form of S**t Hideous Maximus!”

  12. Tech Skeptic,

    Unfortunately for Oprah, millions of people who listen to her with religious zeal overrules even a hundred thousand e-mails from skeptics and medical experts, no matter how well founded, worded and backed up by volumes of solid data.

  13. Also excellent timing because the novel H1N1 flu vaccine is being developed. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to be hitting infants as hard as people in the prime of their lives. Maybe it’ll be lucky and the fatalities expected when it resurges in the Fall (expected to be right around when the vaccine will be developed and distributed) will hit the antivaxxers without much collateral damage.

  14. Cheyenne

    She made the Time Magazine top 100 most influential people of the year. Again. And “It’s no wonder she’s the only person to appear on this list every year since it began.”

    At least her core audience isn’t young(ish) stay-at-home moms. The key decision makers that would be susceptible to this kind of ridiculous gargage. Oh wait….

  15. Jeff

    I fear that, no matter how polite, civil, and nice opponents of the anti-vax are, they will STILL be regarded as the crazy minority that doesn’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. Again, the skeptic will be labeled the “kill-joy.” Sad sad sad.

  16. BJN

    “Antivaccination rhetoric kills. It is that simple.”

    Are you saying antivax speech should be banned and prosecuted? That’s the only rational conclusion that I can derive from such a statement. At the very least you appear to favor blacklisting. What other “deadly” rhetoric should we punish?

    Your rhetoric here isn’t far from the anti abortion “baby killer” language.

  17. @zandperl

    The flu vaccine bit is coming up a lot, with ties to the 1976 situation and news about Baxter’s recent QC mistake in Europe. I had a back-and-forth for quite a bit with a conspiracy theorist on the Vaccine Safety thread about that. Painful.

  18. Ad Hominid

    Antivaxers do not profit directly from their efforts, but the antivax movement is a powerful weapon in the propaganda war against scientific medicine.
    That, in turn, benefits the entire alternative/quack healthcare industry, which definitely is profitable.
    Ever notice how so many anti-science websites, from creationists to Moon hoaxers and reptilian conspiracy loons, also peddle “alternate health care products” and the like? This is not coincidence.

  19. Brandon

    While what she’s doing is undoubtedly wrong, throwing all of this attention towards her (even negative attention) simply gives her more viewers. A few non-science types may read this, and decide to watch the show to figure it out for themselves. A few of these will end up getting hooked to the show, boosting her ratings and giving her more sweet, delicious money.

  20. Brandon, I strongly disagree. Oprah has millions of viewers. She’s one of the richest people in the world. She already has a vast audience, and she’s lending that to McCarthy. There’s no way we could increase that audience in any significant way.

    But this move will increase the risk of infectious diseases globally, and therefore needs the bad publicity. You can bet any amount of money you’d like that the MSM will not post anything negative about this unless we raise a stink.

  21. Where is that image on people believing stupid stuff? It is as appropriate as “The Stupid, it burns!” image…

  22. José

    Everybody relax. Just make sure your gratitude journals are up to date, and everything will be fine.

  23. numsix

    @Erwin Blonk (and those thinking the same)

    “these lemmings will cause collateral damage.”

    Please, lemmings are not that stupid. Stop insulting the lemmings with this type of comparison.

  24. David

    how about adding Oprahs name to the Jenny McCarthy body count web page?

  25. Dewes

    Swine flu vaccine, will they take it? Or just wait to die?

  26. Unfortunately for Oprah, millions of people who listen to her with religious zeal overrules even a hundred thousand e-mails from skeptics and medical experts, no matter how well founded, worded and backed up by volumes of solid data.

    I agree, however, do you think it is likely that she will get thousands of emails that say “oh thank you for giving J-Dumb a new show and blog”

    Often, its the ones who find disgust in an action the loudest. I was hoping for tens of thousands of emails to get sent.

    If that truly is impotent, then what is left? Has it become so bad that the folks who actually have science behind them are emasculated? They certainly are if no action is taken.

  27. I wonder what her pal, Dr. Oz, thinks of this.

  28. WLW

    I am seriously beginning to wonder if the US is doomed because Americans seem to be so willfully ignorant. We almost take pride in it. I lack the perspective, so I have to ask here–are people this defiantly dumb in other nations?

  29. Michelle

    Yet another reason for me to bash my head on the wall when I catch my mother watching Oprah.

    Then she watches Ghost Hunters.

    Then she watches Medium.

    Then she watches Ghost Whisperer.

    Then she watches Twice in a Lifetime.

    Then she watches Dr. Phil.

    GAH! It’s PAINFUL! It’s my MOTHER!

  30. Reverend J


    Lose the straw-man argument. You know quite well what he actually said, go troll somewhere else.

  31. @Michelle,

    Don’t worry. You’re not alone. My father once tried to warn me of this crime spree going around where victims would wake up in a tub of ice with their kidneys missing. I told him it’s an urban legend and has never happened. He insisted it did and he saw it on a new program. So I asked which news program. After some back and forth dodging of the questions, I got him to admit that it was from an e-mail that a friend of his sent him. “But it did happen somewhere,” he insisted. Thankfully, he seems to have just enough sense not to send his bank information to any Nigerian princes. I must get my skeptical streak from my mother.

  32. Gary Ansorge

    Entropy sucks,especially when it comes to intelligence,,,

    I sent an email to Oprahs show with a link to the whooping cough death in Aussi land. I hope they read it.

    Gary 7

  33. Antivax is simple a ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ argument. These people will never learn to search for empirical evidence for their platform. Sad.

  34. Mark

    @Michelle : Join the club. I know your pain well. And no amount of trying to explain seems to work.

    Fear the power of day time television.

    Hey, perhaps we should get the BA a show.

  35. burning in the stupid

    Wasn’t Jenny on Oprah for the sole purpose of hawking the book she wrote about curing autism? If you prevent autism you lose your captive audience of desperate parents. Who will buy your snake oil books then, Jenny?

    Ron White was right.

    You can’t fix stupid.

  36. Jude

    I left this post up in Google Reader and a colleague dropped by who got into a heated argument with me about how wrong it is to vaccinate children, especially before they’re two years old. She claimed superiority to my opinion because her dad was a doctor (she’s an art teacher). I accept that I live in a world with irrational humans who don’t look at evidence, but what does she know, really? She denied that babies are dying because people in their areas aren’t getting vaccinated. I could no more argue rationally with her than I could with Jenny McCarthy. I hate the way people pick and choose when it comes to science–yes, we’ll accept the miracles of modern science as long as they serve our needs, but we’ll go all cosmic hoo-hoo when they don’t.

  37. @Jude

    Print out my summary post (linked via my name) and let her read it. Maybe some of it will sink in.

  38. Mild Euphoria

    Oprah has always been on the antivax bandwagon. Hollywood celebrities have attacked vaccination multiple times, with different arguments each time. In the 1990s I remember that she had a show where a panel of celebrities were denouncing vaccinations as dangerous. I only remember that one of them was an actress who played one of the kids on the Cosby Show. She was saying: “they are injecting CHEMICALS into our children!”
    qwbhbumnweuj sorry cat on keyboard gotta go cuddle time

  39. John Hurley

    I’ve looked but have yet to see a study on the epigenetic effects of vaccines. If methyl donors can have a tremendous effect on gene expression, why not the genetic material from vaccines? We already know it is making it’s way into our DNA code or what was called “junk DNA” until fairly recently. There surely must be some larger explanation of why one identical twin can have autism and the other not.

  40. deanna

    Do any of you know what toxic chemicals are in these vaccines? There is no way in hell that I will inject myself or my children with these harmful chemicals! I dont care what oprah or any other celebrity claims about vaccines and autism. Just look at the listed ingredients here. Why the hell are they needed in vaccines? To poison the body. If you or your child is sick STAY HOME. Dont eat junk food! Get plenty of water, exercise and rest. Your immune system knows what to do if you take care of it. I see my friends children constantly getting sick when they are fully vaccinated. My house is vaccine and illness free. Go Figure!

    Not going to inject this crap into my child! EVER!
    Aluminum Hydroxide, Aluminum Phosphate, Bovine Protein, Lactalbumin
    Hydrolysate, Formaldehyde or Formalin, Glutaraldhyde, Monkey Kidney
    Tissue, Neomycin, 2-Phenoxyethanol, Polymyxin B, Polysorbate 80, Yeast

  41. Blashy

    No one should be surprised. She is after all a big fake in my book.

    She goes to Africa and cries like a baby at the poor people, builds a few schools… then comes back to USA in a private jet in one of her 20+ million dollar homes.

    In my book ANY human who spends more than 1 million a year on himself (home, food, trips, cars, clothes,etc…) is selfish and I think 1 million is REALLY generous on my part.

    Give me 250K up front (buy a home, no payments after) and 1000$ a week for life (tax free) and I would be more than happy, anything else I would accumulate would be for charity (animals for me).

    Bono is another fake… moves his company to another country to pay less taxes. Taxes are there to HELP everyone, especially the less fortunate. Then he flies around like a multi millionaire asking others to give.

    I NEVER respond to messages from those that do not preach by example.

    /rant over 😉 .

  42. deanna, if you are willing to keep your kids — and you — away from all other people and anything they have ever come in contact with, forever, then great! But even that won’t necessarily keep them from getting the diseases that a simple and overwhelmingly safe vaccine would protect them against.

    And don’t forget about Dana McCaffery. That one month old infant died because enough parents felt like you do.

    If that seems harsh, then I suggest you watch the video with David and Toni McCaffery. Then imagine yourself losing an infant child to ignorance and antiscience.

    It may be harsh. It’s also reality.

  43. Nemo

    I think this could actually be a good thing. After all, you can’t make a whole ongoing show out of antivax (or can you?), and I doubt she’ll try. In fact, this could even mark the end of her heavy involvement in antivax, now that she’s got, you know, a real job.

    Or not. But I can hope.

  44. Nemo

    Er, by “her” I mean to refer to Jenny McCarthy, not Oprah Winfrey.

  45. Lawrence

    @Deanna – seriously? I’d be more than happy to take you to Haiti or even to Switzerland, where you can see the effects of these childhood diseases, first-hand.

    Parents in most Third-World countries would do just about anything to get vaccines for their children. In most of Africa, almost 50% of children die before they turn 5 & disease plays a huge factor in that number.

  46. Justin Olson


    Your immune system cannot defend itself from a pathogen it has never encountered before. Please, for the sake of your children and the children of others in your area, think it possible, just possible, you may be mistaken. Also, many of those “toxic” chemicals you list aren’t present in high enough quantities to affect you in any negative way. Ask your physician. Do you know your OWN BODY makes formaldehyde in higher quantities?

    And are you really saying that no one in your household has EVER gotten sick? Ever? Come on, tell the truth. Never? Not even once? Do you realize that that makes you and your kin a medical anomaly? You should be in medical books everywhere in the civilized world! You would be famous… on every front page of every newspaper everywhere in the world. We would all know who you are!

  47. Davidlpf

    What we need to do is build an island and put the homeopaths, creationists, antivaxxers and PETA on it. (I bet there is a lot of overlap.)

  48. Molechaser

    From http://famous-relationships.topsynergy.com/Oprah_Winfrey/Contact.asp:

    Oprah Winfrey’s Publicist:
    Lisa Halliday
    Harpo Productions
    Harpo Studios
    110 North Carpenter Street
    Chicago, IL 60607-2146
    Phone: 310-278-5559

    The website also has links for her agent and her attorneys. It almost certainly won’t do any good, but letting her know the facts couldn’t hurt.

  49. T.E.L.

    I recall that Oprah once had Marcello Truzzi on back in the late ’80s. His presence was to “balance” the panel of New Age metaphysicalists who constituted the remainder of the guests. Poor Marcello was barely able to get a word in edgewise as the panel essentially treated him like some sort of toy for their amusement, and Oprah couldn’t have cared less. I have never had the slightest respect for Oprah Winfrey.

  50. Mark

    Maybe Deanna should try and collect Randi’s $1,000,000

  51. Gwenny

    Look at the bright side. Perhaps survival of the fittest will kick in and we will start seeing a die off of stupid people. I mean, we are 7 billion. Even if we lost everyone with less than 120 iq there would still be plenty of people left.

  52. Davidlpf

    Reminds of poor Bill Nye the science guy with UFOers on Larry King.

  53. Techy

    Scientific studies have shown a correlation with smoking mothers and autism. Quotes from Ms McCarthy indicate she started smoking at the age of 12. I wonder why someone with such an interest in finding a cause for autism, doesn’t bring up smoking?

  54. Gary Ansorge


    Where are you going top find an island BIG enough?

    Most of PETA doesn’t deserve to be included with ant-vaxers. It is just their radical wing that needs to be dealt with.

    GAry 7

  55. Davidlpf

    Okay just the radical wing of PETA. Still working on which island, maybe just an isolated area maybe the far north.

  56. It simply doesn’t make sense to want scientists to work on a cure for autism, but reject the data produced by scientists showing vaccinations don’t cause autism. These people obviously don’t know how science works. To reject the findings about vaccinations just wastes time tracking down and fixing what is wrong.

  57. Davidlpf

    Maybe just the extremists of the all the groups should be live in isolation. The extremists in any camp are the ones that keep these stupid battles going.

  58. Nemo

    I would think there would be almost zero overlap between creationists and PETA. Creationists think man was given dominion over all animals by god, they’re here solely for our use, etc.

  59. “If that truly is impotent, then what is left? Has it become so bad that the folks who actually have science behind them are emasculated?”

    It seems that way. When famous people are hell bent on promoting something that hits scared, anxious parents in the gut with a steel toed boot, you can throw all the science you want and the public will go out of its way to ignore it because it’s frankly too scared and confused. I know I would be too if I took less science courses, had a small child due for a vaccination and all my research turned up conflicting information.

    And if I had a streak of anti-corporatism and was looking deep into New Ageism… I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

  60. Davidlpf

    @Jeri Meaux
    It is not about making sense but preying on the fear that something might go wrong with the child.

  61. Davidlpf

    @Nemo, maybe overlap between creationist and PETA but maybe between PETA and anti vaxxers (think where the vaccines come from) also between antivaxxers and homeopaths. Looks like creationist are the odd person out. But I remind it is usually the leaders/extremist that are the most dangerous.

  62. @jeri meaux,

    “It simply doesn’t make sense to want scientists to work on a cure for autism, but reject the data produced by scientists showing vaccinations don’t cause autism.”

    Actually, it makes “perfect sense” if you look at it from their perspective.

    In the first instance, they’re keeping scientists on task and thinking about how to cure autism. Of course that’s no easy task since autism is a wide collection of developmental conditions the proper diagnosis of which is still being debated by experts, but the scientists are the only ones able to do the job. No amount of Indigo Child/New Age Lake Woebegone woo is going to help here and even McCarthy and Carrey realize that. (Though there are plenty of anti-vaxxers who believe homeopathy can cure anything that ails them, like Meryl Dorey for instance.)

    In the second instance, they think they found a culprit for autism and if they keep hammering away at vaccines, they’ll somehow stem the tide of new diagnoses.

    In both cases, they see themselves as doing good: encouraging 100% safe vaccines (aka, the medically impossible) and keeping scientists on task in researching autism cures.

  63. @numsix

    My apologies to the lemmings, indeed. Having said that, I meant the proverbial lemmings, not the real ones. Seeing the anti-vaxxers attitude towards facts and truth, I felt proverbial would be more appropriate.

  64. Remember Oprah is a major supporter of Obama. Fortunately, I think he is bright enough not to be swayed by her on the vaccination issues…maybe he should give her a talking to!

  65. @deanna,

    “Why the hell are they needed in vaccines? To poison the body.”

    Yes, that makes perfect sense. Randomly poisoning people after approving it with whatever the local medical regulatory body. We all know that Big Pharma is paid a bounty for every person they inject with toxins…

    But back in the real world, trace amounts of scary sounding ingredients are usually needed to keep the vaccine fresh and ready for usage. When you use chemical names, everything sounds scary. Would you let your kids drink dihydrogen monoxide? Or consume sodium chloride, sucrose and aspartame?

    Scary chemicals, right? Now the translation: water, salt, sugar, sweetner used in a number of diet and regular soda pop. If I really wanted to scare people with something, I would use a lot of dire sounding chemical names just like you did. However, it doesn’t mean much when they’re not harmful or are present in such trace amounts, your body doesn’t even know they’re there.

    Have you ever used shampoo? There’s more formaldehyde there than in a vaccine. And you use it on a daily basis (I assume). If this was one of the components which caused autism or poisoned the body, half of the global population would be affected. Autism and other developmental problems would be as frequent as the common cold.

    “I see my friends children constantly getting sick when they are fully vaccinated. My house is vaccine and illness free.”

    Any statistics on that? Your kids never get sick? Ever? Your friends’ kids are always with a runny nose or a sore throat? Really?

  66. @deanna: You forgot to list the most deadly chemical found in vaccines, Dihydrogen Monoxide. This chemical kills hundreds to thousands of people around the world every year! Yet vaccines consist mostly of this horrifying poison! There is no way I would let any of my children be exposed to such an evil chemical.

  67. Wes Bowie

    Biggest fount of misinformation anywhere. 1st Amendment or no, we need to shut this woman down!

  68. Occam

    Commenters speaking to deanna:

    There is a great deal of disagreement about whether human behavior is susceptible to Darwinian forces of selection, adaptation, aptation, etc. In this case, however, the selection forces on hysteria seem conclusive. Who am I to stifle this woman’s beliefs? What kind of world would we live in if her right to her beliefs were respected completely? After all, my kids are vaccinated.

  69. Ad Hominid,

    Antivaxers do not profit directly from their efforts

    I disagree.

    Anti-vax/prodisease is big business. This is, at least in part, a business move by Oprah. She expects to make a lot more money off of this conspiracy. Jenny Killer McCarthy sells. People will pay to be told that their crazy ideas are not so crazy. The ideas are still crazy. The ideas are still deadly.

    Now the person can point to a voice outside of his head and say, See! I’m not crazy. Vaccines are evil. Does the agreement of Jenny Killer McCarthy mean he is not crazy? No, but he doesn’t know that.

  70. Pieter Kok

    McCarthy is edging closer and closer to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

  71. Just because you don’t know how to pronounce a word does not mean it is deleterious. If I listed the helpful compounds in broccoli, you probably wouldn’t be able to pronounce them either and you might be scared of them too.

    A few definitions and associated comments, good and bad.

    Aluminum Hydroxide, Aluminum Phosphate-adjuvants, meaning they work to help the body mount a larger immune response to the antigen in the vaccine than if they weren’t there. With the implications of aluminum in Alzheimer’s, ok, one has to wonder if this is the best bet, but then again, it is in tiny amounts….there is probably more in your antiperspirant or in the coke one would drink from an aluminum can.

    Bovine Protein, Lactalbumin Hydrolysate, yeast protein–usually one or the other, fairly innocuous carriers

    Formaldehyde or Formalin, Glutaraldhyde(sic)–fixatives, so antigen and carrier proteins don’t degrade, it is usually one or the other, not both

    Monkey Kidney Tissue–Depending on your vaccine, they are either made in eggs or in cultured cells, either way, they remove the antigen from the culture media or eggs and don’t use the tissue. Yes, there was that unfortunate simian virus 40 incident from the modified monkey kidney cells they used (Cos 7) that happened with polio vaccine before 1964 that may be responsible for cancers. lesson learned, definitely not used anymore.

    Neomycin, Polymyxin B–antibiotic and antimycotic that prevent bacteria and mold/yeast from growing in the vaccine batches, same stuff that’s in your antibacterial ointment at home.

    Polysorbate 80–an emulsifier. Found in your ice cream, like having a little soap (very little)

    2-Phenoxyethanol-a bactericide (again, because bacteria are different and require different ways to prevent their growth) Because of the phenol, I personally don’t much appreciate it’s presence, but it is not in EVERY vaccine and it is very small amount. Funny thing is, in manufacture of anything requiring cell lines, industry cannot use the pH indicator in the growth media that contains phenol red (FDA regs), so maybe this is deemed GRAS (generally regarded as safe)

    If your child lives a healthy life, as you suggest, his/her liver should be healthy enough to clear any of the minute amount of toxins from their systems and then they have the plus of a stronger immune system.

  72. Now that I come to think of it, there probably should not be any residual formaldehye or glutaraldehyde in the final product. It should be rinsed out.

  73. Stepping On Legos

    Ok I guess I don’t get it. Her blog is obscure and isn’t about vaccinations. Also I’ve heard her speak and while I don’t personally agree with her autism platform or with a direct link between autism and vaccines, I also have heard her say on more than one occasion that she is NOT against vaccines, that she DOES vaccinate her children selectively. Certainly you must have bigger fish to fry than this, no?

  74. Jason

    What is the best email address to write a complaint letter to?

  75. Richard

    One day, I was looking at YouTube for videos on infamous magician, Uri Geller. (Of course, he’s an “infamous magician,” because the tricks he performs so poorly he passes off as “psychic powers.”)

    So, I found one from way back in the day when he was still regarded by too many as the genuine thing. Of course, he was still performing his most famous trick (spoon bending) poorly back then, too.

    I watched the video, and I saw someone very familiar.


    Yes, this video is on topic, and yes, that is Oprah.

    She’s been on the woo-train for decades.

  76. Paul M.

    BJN @1:13pm

    I think you are reading far too much into Phil’s statement that “Antivaccination rhetoric kills” To say that the only rational conclusion is that this is advocating the restriction of such speech and the prosecution of it is – not to put too fine a point on it – irrational. People may well have a right to be frootloops – but when they are given a platform by the likes of Oprah it is quite right that she (Oprah) be derided for doing so. It is probably too much to hope that it will make her change her mind on this one but the consequences of giving up this fight are just too horrendous to contemplate.

    I see nowhere that Phil is advocating any restriction to the freedom of speech – indeed he has even allowed you to post a comment on his own blog.

  77. I Doubt It

    Couple things I notice – we all feel like we want to DO something. I want an outlet, not just to preach to the choir. We have some impressive numbers. Second, Phil, you know a lot of doctors. Why can they not at least make a collective attempt (especially under the banner of a organizational header) to politely say, “Gee, Oprah, you are really f-ing up this time and kids will die.” Honestly, I wonder we have to wait for some famous person’s kid to die from a preventable disease before the tide turns.

  78. Reggie


    Link NSFW. Nice to see a “non-skeptical” source slam Jenny with such tenacity.

  79. Steve Ulven

    Hey Phil (and/or anyone at the JREF), just letting you know the page on Randi.org about Oprah needs an update. The link to Hal Bidlak’s article on StopSylviaBrowne.com needs to be updated to the new site.

    Great articles! Thanks for everything you do!

  80. Steve Ulven

    Oh, and that link is immediately under the Oprah article. Sorry, forgot to mention where it was.

  81. @Stepping On Legos
    Bigger fish to fry? In regards to anti-vax? I don’t think so. Jenny is the pin-up girl for the pro-disease movement. And her pro-vaccine stance? A bit disingenuous on he behalf I think. A little like Dr Giselle Cook who appeared on the Channel 7 Vax forum who said she wasn’t anti-vax but had never vaccinated a kid in 18 years of practice.

    Even your first amendment doesn’t allow anyone to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.

  82. JB

    I say let the antivaxxers spread their lies to Oprah’s viewers. That way, when there is a severe outbreak the first ones to die will be these antivaxxers and the gullible idiots who watched and listened to Jenny McCarthy on Oprah. When they are done removing themselves from the gene pool, the only ones who will be left alive will be the ones who have the good sense to trust science.

    It would be one of the more poignant examples of “survival of the fittest”, but I think will be a good thing for humanity moving forward.

  83. ccpetersen

    Deanna, when your disease carrier child infects an innocent pregnant mom in your neighborhood with measles, what will you say to that mother? That her child in utero was less important to you than letting your child run free with a communicable disease that could have been prevented by a safe vaccine? That it’s okaaay to damage a child in utero because you’re too ignorant to understand what it means to NOT vaccinate your child? It WILL happen. And you will be responsible for a damaged child that is not your own.

    Spouting nonsense as you did shows gullibility on a high scale. Please go educate yourself on the many chemicals (scary sounding ones) that are naturally in the body before you start overdosing on rhetoric about scary-sounding ones purportedly in vaccines. Don’t let anti-vaxxer idiots occupy space in your brain rent-free.

  84. Phil, your posts about anti-vaxxers make me so mad and so angry…because you are so right! I’m tempted to call these people evil, but most of them are simply ignorant. Not so the leaders of this movement, though – they are willfully ignorant, which is a whole other can of worms altogether.

    My blog is not nearly as popular as yours, but I already know what my subject matter for tomorrow is going to be, and I’ll do my small part to try and spread the word on this nonsense. Psuedoscience affects (and sometimes takes) lives, and antivax psuedoscience provides some of the clearest examples of that fact. Keep at it Phil – you’re doing everyone a great service by tenaciously refusing to let go of this. Thanks for sticking with it.

  85. ccpetersen

    I ask again, who’s making the money on the anti-vax campaign? Follow the money…

  86. well here’s an idea –

    let’s ask her to put her money where her mouth is.

    if at some later date, it’s inconclusively proven that vaccines have no connection to autism – she will have to forfeit some obscene amount of money to charity – as payment for the harm she’s caused.

    if she truly believes she’s right, she shouldn’t have any problem agreeing to this.

    but somehow i suspect she’ll balk.

  87. Chris


    Well first there was Wakefield who took in several hundred thousands of pounds of public money for legal research fees: briandeer.com/wakefield/legal-aid.htm … now he is raking in money giving dubious tests and cures at Thoughtful House…

    Speaking of dubious tests, there are Doctor’s Data and Great Plains Labs who “analyze” hair and other kid bits claiming that they have high chemicals…

    … Then there are the Geiers who are “expert witnesses”, and are now trying to push their cure which consists of chemical castration of children: neurodiversity.com/weblog/article/109/

    … Which brings us to the lawyers, including the idiot who is on the board of NVIC (also known as the National Vaccine misInformation Corporation) and rakes in a bunch of public money: neurodiversity.com/weblog/article/149/

    Oh, and of course there is the chemistry professor who first got folks scared about tooth fillings, and is now selling an industrial chemical as a “supplement”: neurodiversity.com/weblog/article/169/

    … and then there are those who sell the various supplements, chelators and the new-fangled HBOT machines, like this: leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=2265

    Remember, the Supplement, Complementary and Alternative Medicine business makes lots of money. Oh, remember that can be shortened to “SCAM.”

  88. Chris

    Other things I’ve seen for sale include cranial sacral therapy, RNA drops, B-12 shots, various oils, chelation in the form of pills, IV and cream, Vit D, nicotine patches (for kids!) and various bizarre bits that may or may not be part of DAN!.

  89. Brenda

    I saw a preview for the day time show ‘The Doctors’ (produced by Dr Phil) that during May they are going to have a show dedicated to the anti-vaccine movement. The shows lead doctor gets into an argument with someone over the promotion of not vaccinating. Does anyone have any info on the exact day it will air? I want to make sure and record it.

  90. Davidlpf

    lets put this way
    Oprah bought the Kool aid
    Oprah mixed the Kool aid
    Oprah drank the Kool aid

  91. alfaniner

    If you do not vaccinate your child, your child may DIE, and it will be your fault!

  92. Chris

    Oh, and another thing about DAN! “doctors”, Roy Kerry got certified as a DAN! doctor after he chelated a kid to death. And it was not a medical error, he never kept anything but the stuff he used, it was in his testimony.

  93. Ala'a

    “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” -H. L. Menken

  94. DEANNA: That list sounds scary indeed. All those complicated names that sound something like rocket fuel mixed with rat poison. But do you know anything about any of them except that they appear on a list of toxins?

    Did you know that copper, zinc, manganese, iodine, chromium and cobalt are all toxins too? Will you now ensure you never consume anything containing these toxins? They are essential trace elements – micronutrients. You’d be unhealthy if you didn’t get them in your diet. Remember, they are known toxins. Some are carcinogenic. What will you do?

    The point is the word “toxins” is scary but shouldn’t always be so. A lot of “toxins” are only seriously toxic above certain levels. Listing toxins is easy. Listing “chemicals” is easier still. But if you know nothing other than “it’s a list of toxins”, then you have no idea if the list has any relevance whatsoever – just like my list of “toxic” trace elements.

    I’ve written about this very subject at: Toxic formaldehyde in vaccines

  95. CS

    I would encourage anyone who still believes that child diseases, such as measles, are not dangerous and that vaccines can be safely avoided, to look at what is currently happening in Burkina Faso.

    “Epidemiologist with Burkina Faso’s Health Ministry Ousmane Badolo
    told IRIN that, as of Sun 5 Apr 2009, more than 19 000 measles
    infections have been reported, with 150 deaths. ”

    “In 2007, an estimated 197 000 children died worldwide because of
    measles, a 74 percent drop since 2000, according to WHO. Children
    missing routine and mass vaccinations increase the chance of an

    ProMed Mail
    Archive Number 20090412.1399

  96. Muzz

    “Davidlpf Says:
    lets put this way
    Oprah bought the Kool aid
    Oprah mixed the Kool aid
    Oprah drank the Kool aid”

    I get it: “Oprah Is the Kool Aid”

  97. Clive DuPort

    I saw this very sensible comment on the BBC news magazine monitor website today. I don’t know who Tim is but he knows how to put things into perspective. I hope he won’t mind me posting it here.

    “You can prove anything with the right statistics. (“Ten things” No 7) “An outbreak of swine flu in 1976 killed one person but a vaccine for it killed 25″. So? The death rates were in fact one in 200 flu sufferers, whilst the vaccination was fatal in 25 cases out of 40 million, which is one in 1.6 million). As one in 200 who caught the flu died, that vaccine must have saved thousands of lives, even if it didn’t help 25 of them.
    Tim, London”.

  98. Charles Boyer

    The answer is really simple. If you don’t want to vaccinate your children, fine.

    Society then has the right to deny them public schooling, access to public hospitals, access to public libraries, in fact ALL public facilities. After all, if you have the right to “protect” your children, society has the right to protect itself from your decisions.

  99. …the good news is that, even w/ O-backing, McCarthy’s talk show is highly unlikely to succeed. very, very few daytime talk shows last even (close to) a full season, even those w/ vastly more interesting, well-known, etc. hosts.
    *knocks on wood*

  100. Stepping On Legos,

    Ok I guess I don’t get it. Her blog is obscure and isn’t about vaccinations.

    Consider the amount of time that Jenny Killer McCarthy has been on various talk shows. How much of that time has been spent on vaccines?

    A lot.

    Is that likely to change?

    Why would it? Ratings? She is one of the leaders of the prodisease movement. People expect her to talk about her plans to bring back measles and polio and other things that she tinks weren’t that bad. Oops, I used the verb thinks in a sentence with Jenny Killer McCarthy as the subject.

    Also I’ve heard her speak and while I don’t personally agree with her autism platform or with a direct link between autism and vaccines,

    don’t personally agree?

    What does that mean?

    You agree, but only a little bit?

    You disagree? If so, why not admit it, rather than qualifying it?

    I also have heard her say on more than one occasion that she is NOT against vaccines,

    If her lips were moving and you believed her, that is your fault.

    Usually in the next few sentences after she makes this childish claim about not being against vaccines, she makes some statement about being only against bad vaccines. Then she acts as if she would have any kind of a clue about what the difference between good and bad is.

    Jenny Killer McCarthy wants to bring back preventable illnesses, because she thinks they are safer than the vaccines. She is an idiot. The words coming out of her mouth will lead to the permanent disability of some children and the death of other children, but she cannot begin to understand that. What kind of cruel person would wish this on children.

    that she DOES vaccinate her children selectively.

    “Oh, that disease isn’t so bad. I’ll take some of that for my victim, I mean child.”

    Certainly you must have bigger fish to fry than this, no?

    Jenny Killer McCarthy!

    What part of being a killer is small fry.

    Parents who selectively vaccinate are not much different from parents who selectively stop at STOP signs. Eventually somebody goes to the hospital and somebody goes to the cemetery.

  101. @deanna

    Please click on my name for some apparently much needed educational material.

  102. John

    It is very interesting that public listen to Oprah who is an entertainer but they refuse to listen to scientific facts and rational arguments. They fear to engage themselves in any scientific debates. This is just wrong.

  103. Seriously, how far do these Anti-Vaxxers need to push their agenda before we classify them as Public Health Risks. First Oprah starts a multi-million dollar buisiness and now she wants McCarthy to get her own outlet!?! What next? The blood of our first borns? Well I guess the apocalypse got here a bit earlier than I expected.

  104. Chem Man

    Let me just state 2 things.

    One, I don’t agree that the term “antiscience” is being used correctly here. “Antiscience” refers to those that oppose the scientific method of testing and discovering. However I do have to agree that there are many antivax statements that are based on “bad science” which was stated earlier. “bad science” is non the less science not “antiscience.” If people speak out with bad science it only states we need to do more research. but research takes money… blah, blah, blah. I could go on for hours.

    Two, daytime television is exaclty that daytime television. People with decent productive lives, and mothers who raise the worlds successful and influential people, don’t have the time to watch oprah, or other daytime shows. Let them share their opinion on the squak box, opinions never hurt people, it’s what the people do with the opinions that can hurt people. In other words Oprah’s opinion means as much to me as all the opinions shared on this blog. Should it mean more just because she’s on daytime television? Maybe we should teach that rather than saying antivax supporters are of the devil and kill babies!

  105. At the end of the day, we will know who is right in this debate. Until then I am going to take the side of safety first. The Swine Flu Pandemic is a classic example of not seeing the giant elephant in the the room. As a handful of people got the flu and got better the world went crazy. During this same time period over 800 People were diagnosed with Autism for life. IF not vaccines then what is causing it? I want for there to be a emergency war room set up for Autism and some action taken. Right now the mainstream medical community does its best to lie deny divide and ignore. Well folks we are not going away. You can not Kill babies and call it SIDS, Young women with Gardasil, Children with Autism, Lobby for a 140 more vaccines, boosters, and boys HPV with out a little vocal outcry. I believe in vaccine for acute disease not for economic benefit.

  106. Lawrence

    @Tanner – ummmm, safety first? So, you’d go hog while to “avoid” autism but make your kids 100% vulnerable to measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and polio?


    Again, I guess it all goes back to “acceptable losses.”

  107. Tanners Dad

    But what is the safe side then?

    As far the vaccination argument, there are a million other things correlating but correlation is not causation. Autism, especially as a broad spectrum, is fairly new. It was not too long ago, and in some parts of the world, even in developed countries, these people were either labelled retarded on the low functioning end of the spectrum, or derailed, anti-social kids (or what have you) on the high functioning side (the latter is still prevalent, you can take my word for at least that). There will be wrong diagnoses, like with Landau-Kleffner. The child seems autistic but when treated with corticosteroids and therapy, it can disappear. This in turn can be misinterpreted as a case of healed autism, which it is not.
    Expect more children and adults (who were vaccinated before the schedule now under suspicion by vaccination doubters – unless they commit the logical fallacy of moving the goalpost) to be diagnosed. Also, expect diagnoses to be recalled. And don’t forget diagnoses that should be recalled but the doctor in case, although knowing it should be, will not do that because claims for medical errors are bordering on the edge of science fiction.
    Autism, despite claims to the contrary, is being researched. Part of this research is being severly hindered by calls to research matters (like the vaccination-autism link) that have been through the process already and only need revision if there are valuable reasons for it.

    What makes me angry is that vaccination doubters (see, I have a friendly description) are trying to hinder real research that may benefit my son. They are indirectly, and with glee (refer to Jenny McCarthy’s answer to the question of how she feels about children dying due to low vaccination rate – her cursing, to me, is a sign of a dangerous cynic with possibly symptoms of Munchausen By Proxy) hurting him. I don’t think Jenny even cares so much about the books she sells but about her elevated hero status. I have no money or fame and the only things that bothers me about that is the net effect: she can buy being right, by which follows I have to be wrong. As soon as I win the lottery, this will change ( <- that was sarcasm)

  108. Once again two posts that do there best to lie divide deny and ignore. First of all I want safe vaccines for acute diseases. So I am OK w the 1989 schedule. I want study done that looks at vaccinated vs Un-vaccinated populations. I want links to real studies. http://www.fourteenstudies.org refutes the bulk of the “Large Number” argument. Not anti vaccine anti toxin and pro safety for all children. One is too many on both sides. We can do better. Vaccination rates could stay high if something was done to help families dealing w Autism. Now!

  109. Lawrence

    @Tanners – didn’t you read the news today? New “SCIENTIFIC” studies have discovered potentially important genetic links to Autism. I think there are maybe some people working on it.

  110. TheBlackCat

    @Chem Man: They reject any scientific evidence that contradicts their totally unsupported beliefs. What would you call it?

    @ Tanners Dad: in 1918-1920 an influenza pandemic killed 50-100 million people worldwide, at a time when the U.S. population was only 103 million and the world population was only 1.8 billion. We are talking at least 0.5% of the world population being killed in 3 years by a single influenza outbreak. 1 in 5 people were affected, often incapacitated. And that was before massive air travel, the interstate system, and such a high population density. Further, it preferentially affected healthy adults, cutting people down in their prime. So please don’t tell me this is an overreaction.

  111. Lawrence

    The working hypothesis for the 1918 Flu being so deadly to healthy adults was that it “over-stimulated” the immune system. The very act of the body trying to fight the disease is what killed the individual.

    Of course, this is still being researched, but makes sense given the symptoms and the lethality of the disease to a very specific segment of the population.

  112. @Tanners Dad

    Can you provide links to well-controlled studies showing a causal link between vaccines and autism?

  113. Paul M.

    Chem Man

    Congratulations on point number 2 – you are not credulous enough not to swallow everything you see on TV whole. But you said it yourself: “it’s what the people do with the opinions that can hurt people” You don’t suppose there are people out there that take what they see on Oprah as truth?

    There is plenty of evidence here of people trying to educate, plenty of links to real information – Todd W’s link is a pretty good place to start.

  114. Troy

    If she will not have a skeptic on to grill Jenny McCarthy, perhaps they’ll have some of the families who lose children to preventable diseases on a later episode.
    The sad thing is that Oprah’s audience is very impressionable and very vast and yes you’re right Phil, people will die because of it.

  115. Chem Man,

    One, I don’t agree that the term “antiscience” is being used correctly here. “Antiscience” refers to those that oppose the scientific method of testing and discovering.

    If the results do not agree with what the anti-science crowd believes, they deny that it is possible without fraud. They do oppose the scientific method any time it does not give them the answer they want. That is the antithesis of science.

    However I do have to agree that there are many antivax statements that are based on “bad science” which was stated earlier. “bad science” is non the less science not “antiscience.”

    No. Corrupting science to try to make it mean exactly the opposite of what science does mean – that is anti-science. Science means accepting the results of well done research, moving on to other, possibly productive areas that are not being researched as thoroughly, as exhaustively, as the search for an excuse not to vaccinate.

    If people speak out with bad science it only states we need to do more research. but research takes money… blah, blah, blah. I could go on for hours.

    No. Throwing a tantrum, demanding more research, hoping that some aberrant study will show a problem with vaccines, is anti-science. This is preventing scientific development in other areas.

    Then there is the morality of those hoping that vaccines cause problems. That’s all it is – hope that vaccines are dangerous. Hope not for something good, but hope for harm to millions of children. Actually hope for harm to billions of children. Hope that all of the science has been wrong. Ignoring the science and hoping for damage to children from vaccines.

    The research shows no connection between vaccines and autism. If you care about children, you should want to do research that will make their lives better. Repeating studies over and over and getting the same result. This helps nobody. This is deceitful. This harms children.

    Two, daytime television is exaclty that daytime television. People with decent productive lives, and mothers who raise the worlds successful and influential people, don’t have the time to watch oprah, or other daytime shows. Let them share their opinion on the squak box, opinions never hurt people, it’s what the people do with the opinions that can hurt people. In other words Oprah’s opinion means as much to me as all the opinions shared on this blog. Should it mean more just because she’s on daytime television? Maybe we should teach that rather than saying antivax supporters are of the devil and kill babies!

    People should not be influenced by daytime TV. You seem to be ignoring the size of the audience. people who watch daytime TV vote> their votes count just as much as your vote counts.

    If I stated that prodisease people are the devil, I was using a bit of hyperbole. This is not anything that I will apologize for. Prodisease people are trying to sicken, disable, and kill children. Hyperbole is acceptable.

    I certainly did state that the prodisease people kill. I wish they would stop killing. jenny, please stop killing.

    Children are being killed by diseases that can be prevented with vaccinations. The people encouraging parents to not vaccinate and/or selectively vaccinate are responsible for these deaths. The prodisease anti-science people are killers.

  116. Peter B

    Tanners Dad said (among other things): “…You can not Kill babies and call it SIDS…”

    You might want to seriously rethink that accusation.

    How certain are you that children who died of SIDS had been vaccinated?

    If vaccines are responsible for SIDS deaths, how is it that the rate of SIDS has dropped (in Australia at least) by over 75% since the late 1980s?

  117. Cheyenne

    @Tanners Dad-

    “mainstream medical community does its best to lie deny divide and ignore”. Actually, they have done more to save and improve lives than you ever could. Try to go get a medical degree and then I’ll listen to you. Until then I’ll stick with the people that are smart enough and hard working enough to become experts in this complicated topic.

  118. The alternative-minded and vaccination-doubters keep carpetbombing science. If a study does not give a result they are content with, they demand more study.
    It sounds reasonable but more study is like more salt: to a degree it is good, to a degree it makes your food taste better but enough is enough, keeping the option of revisiting it to a certain extent.
    Holding real autism research hostage is not acceptable. Trying to win the argument by a real-life version of a Denial-of-Service attack isn’t either.
    I will not hold this against all vaccination doubters, the remark of Jenny McCarthy about that children getting ill or dying from low immunisation rates is something the works positively for vaccination doubters for she feels it can be blamed on the pharmaceutical industry (which I find a form of very twisted logic) and should be a motivator. While I provisionally retract my statements on how that makes me feel about Jenny McCarthy, I remain of the opinion that it is extremely cynical.

    I will make an effort not to try to oppose vaccination doubters with their own weapons (spreading doubt, making insinuations and such), although I make one exception, the ‘parent intuition’-argument. While I feel that intuition only has its place in mainly time-restrained emergency situations or as a start for inquiry (as opposed to using it as a conclusion a priori), I do not see why my father intuition should be of less value than Jenny McCarthy’s mother intuition and thus why my gut feeling that my son’s autism is not caused or in anyway influenced by vaccines, is worth less. In this case intuition, while able to start a question, cannot in any way answer it.

  119. ccpetersen

    Greg Fish said:

    When famous people are hell bent on promoting something that hits scared, anxious parents in the gut with a steel toed boot, you can throw all the science you want and the public will go out of its way to ignore it because it’s frankly too scared and confused”

    Yes… and grifters instinctively know that scared and confused people are ripe for exploitation. They will buy anything (books, TV shows, sacred water, holy towels, videotapes, self-styled “expert” advice from self-trained “healers) that will help them feel better without actually curing or changing anything. That’s why I keep saying, “Follow the money trail of these anti-vax people.

  120. ccpetersen

    Tanner’s Dad,

    The mainstream medical community you’re slandering has saved MY life and that of people I know. And they haven’t done it with lies and ignorance. They’ve done it with information and choices and chances to learn. Your blanket statement slanders a lot of very hardworking human beings who are not easily categorized as you think.

    Your comment makes me take YOUR other other statements less seriously since it seems to stem from ignorance and frustration. Frustration I can understand, but ignorance IS curable.

  121. Kevin

    Phil et al…

    Slate Magazine has now questioned Oprah’s sanity…


  122. debbie

    let’s bring back the ‘science guy’ on TV, so Oprah can get a clue

  123. Ryan

    There has always been something I didn’t like about Oprah Winfrey and now I know what it is; she is prone to mysticism and woo woo.

  124. What’s with all the anti-vaxxers seeing elephants? In the room no less? There’s your problem right there.

    How can you tell an elephant has been in your fridge?
    Footprints in the butter.

    I’m not helping am I.


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