Another skeptic story hits mainstream: Desiree Jennings

By Phil Plait | February 16, 2010 10:50 am

Via Rebecca I found out that Inside Edition did a rather skeptical story about Desiree Jennings, the woman who claimed a vaccine gave her dystonia, a nervous disorder that caused her to have difficult walking and talking.

A lot of folks knew right away that this was, um, unlikely, to say the least. Steve Novella from Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe has been very vocal about it, and I was surprised and pleased to see him in the Inside Edition segment!

So as usual, they have to leave room for the woo — TV has a product to sell in cases like these, more’s the pity — but it’s still nice to see a skeptical viewpoint get more than lip service. Of course, now that the story is getting old, the skeptical viewpoint might sell a little better; the controversy is no longer about the vaccination causing a problem, but whether Ms. Jennings is being honest or not. But the more we get our foot in the door, the more people are shown that there can be a more critical way to think, the better.


Comments (18)

  1. Denise

    But how many people watched this same news and will think it absolutely PROVES that the vaccine caused those symptoms? It is sad that many people will just continue to believe no matter what the proof is.

  2. Annalee Flower Horne

    Man, maybe I should pick up a pair of pom-poms. Apparently when cheerleaders fake sick, even if their symptoms are completely ridiculous, everyone believes them.

  3. Timmy

    Is she on disability? Nice gig.

  4. Kevin

    I’m still bummed out that I didn’t become a zombie after getting my H1N1 shot. :(

  5. Mark S.

    The best part of that video by far is her adopting a ridiculous fake accent and trying to claim it’s a lingering effect of dystonia.

  6. My wife has dubbed the sudden emergence of a foreign accent as “Madonna Syndrome.”

    I think the sad thing here is – and I know Dr. Novella wrote extensively about this but it didn’t really come across well in the clip above – that so many people assume “psychogenic” means “you’re voluntarily making yourself sick” and don’t understand that just because symptoms are psychogenic doesn’t mean they’re fake.

    That broad statement applied to patients of psychogenic disorders said, I had a lot easier time taking a bit of pity on this girl before I saw this video than I do now.

  7. Michelle R

    How many people didn’t get the shot because of that viral video?

    I think the H1N1 scare was a bit overblown, but the vaccine was perfectly safe. I had it after the crazy wait times of scared people were through… And I didn’t think one minute I was gonna turn like her…

    But man. Really. No conscience.

  8. Joey Joe Joe

    I find it a little disturbing that the Inside Edition crew were basically stalking her.

    With regards to whether she consciously faked it, I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt in situations like this unless someone can provide some evidence that suggests she did.

    I just wish they included the prediction Dr. Novella made before she was “cured”:

    “Further, Jennings is now in the hands of the Generation Rescue anti-vaccine quacks. I predict that they will be able to “cure” her, because psychogenic disorders can and do spontaneously resolve. They will then claim victory for their quackery in curing a (non-existent) vaccine injury.”

  9. Muzz

    “an Australian accent”, mmm indeed. More precisely “sounds exactly like the typical American actor trying and failing to do an Australian accent”

  10. The accent made me laugh out loud. It’s awful.

  11. Annalee Flower Horne

    Joey Joe Joe, I’d be more disposed to consider it a real psychogenic illness if the footage didn’t make it so obvious that she only has symptoms when she knows she’s being filmed. Walking normally, then developing a limp as soon as you see a camera is not psychogenic unless your alleged impairment is that you can’t walk when you’re being filmed.

  12. Blondin
  13. DaveS

    One of the telltale mistakes she’s making in faking foreign accent syndrome is that she’s picking British word choices, rather than speaking regular Ohio American English with a foreign accent.

    I don’t consider investigative journalism, or even private investigation to be “stalking”. It’s following someone in public for professional, not prurient, purposes.

    The last little thing about the “current doctor, who believes her symptoms are vaccination induced”–the last word lends way too much credence to the dishonest Miss Jennings, who’s simply trying to extend her 15 minutes of fame.

  14. Joey Joe Joe

    @11 “I’d be more disposed to consider it a real psychogenic illness if the footage didn’t make it so obvious that she only has symptoms when she knows she’s being filmed.”

    But we don’t know what other footage they shot. It could be selective editing to make a story. I still prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt, largely because I’d like to believe that no-one would stoop that low. I think you need some pretty compelling evidence before levelling that charge at her.

    I’d put it in the same bucket as false rape accusations. Sure, it does happen, but you want to be pretty darned sure you’re right before you accuse someone of it.

  15. Well, at least she knows how to dance to dubstep;

  16. Jimmy Olson

    I emailed Inside Edition a brief email with a couple relevant links and suggested they do a follow-up story to their original one that parroted the girl’s claims and became a Youtube hit. I wonder if my email had anything to do with them doing the followup.

  17. Courtney

    I think honistly its all in her mind.

  18. I have Dystonia NOS…… FOR REAL…….. and this woman makes me ill


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