We are (temporarily) vaccinated against Jenny McCarthy

By Phil Plait | July 31, 2011 8:41 am

A couple of years back, Oprah Winfrey offered notorious antivaxxer Jenny McCarthy her own show on Oprah’s health network. Needless to say, a lot of people were unhappy about this, including me. Ms. McCarthy’s ideas about health and medicine are not only demonstrably wrong, they are what I consider to be a public health threat. She actively promotes people not taking medicine known to work, and to try things we know don’t work. That link above has copious examples.

So I was semi-delighted to hear that she will not be getting a show on Oprah’s network; apparently, she was unhappy with the negotiations and walked away.

Why only semi-delighted? According to that article McCarthy is being wooed by NBC, so she’ll still be able to sell her wares on TV, and she’ll still be getting the imprimatur of a network backing her. That’s too bad. Her beliefs about medicine are clearly contrary to what we know to be true scientifically, and people’s lives are actually impacted, hugely, by the kinds of misinformation that’s already far too prevalent out there.

Tip o’ the syringe to Fark

Related posts:

Oprah: Shame on you
Newsweek slams Oprah
Jenny McCarthy still thinks vaccines cause autism
Jenny McCarthy spreading more dangerous misinformation

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind

Comments (62)

  1. Keith Bowden

    And she’ll potentially have a much larger on NBC proper than a fledgling network. :( On Oprah, still harmful but we could safely relegate her to the fringe (basically).

    Basically, if you have medical questions, ask a doctor, not a comedian.

  2. Kingkaiju

    I wonder what the anti-vaxxers are going to do now that a study is showing that autism rates might be increasing, not through vaccines (which are safe), but through changes in fetal brain chemistry caused by taking anti-depressants during pregnancy?


    A number of factors seem to contribute to the causes of autism, but vaccines are not one of them.

  3. Kevin

    Maybe if she gets her own show, and it gets some mainstream press, the issue will come to the forefront enough that the rebuttals will start rolling out too. Maybe people’s attention span on the issue will prevail enough that common sense will win out in the end.

    I’d love for her to come out looking to the entire world like the dangerous, short-sighted ideologue that she is.

  4. We need to get Dr. Nancy Snyderman in on this. She’ll put the kibosh on any nonsense!

  5. Xeno

    “Maybe if she gets her own show, and it gets some mainstream press, the issue will come to the forefront enough that the rebuttals will start rolling out too.”

    I’m afraid that’s unlikely. Look at the global warming issue; plenty of rebuttals, but that’s no damper on the amount of people flocking to it or creating the appearance of a “muddled” issue. Same thing with creationism in the US. Or this antivaccine nonsense.

    Give nutty people a platform for their nutty beliefs and you can be damned sure they will pick up followers if they’ve got any showmanship in them. Unfortunately that seems to be the great divide between hucksters making a dime off propagating nonsense and people from a rational point of view. It also takes 2 seconds to make up a stupid statement that sounds authoritative, that can take perhaps 20 minutes to explain *why* it’s wrong. We need more and better science communicators.

  6. Chief

    How come she isn’t being held accountable for “selling” “snake oil” remedies and causing confirmed deaths due to something that is proven preventable.

    Now, how about getting her a show on Fox, everyone knows the science on that Network is based in reality…

  7. Robin Byron

    “We are (temporarily) vaccinated against Jenny McCarthy”

    I don’t believe we will ever be entirely free of cynical ignorance, proudly brandished, by the Jenny McCarthys of the world who view science as being elitist.

  8. Elmar_M

    I still can not and will never understand how on earth the opinion of a topless model for a “mens magazine” with not other credentials whatsoever could ever gain so much weight. It is a concept that is so alien to me!
    Human behaviour is something I could never quite grasp.

  9. Robert Gibson

    At least with a show on a national network advertisers could be targeted. I doubt General Foods or Procter & Gamble would enjoy the type of attention her pseudoscientific drivel would draw for very long.

  10. Grimbold

    “According to that article McCarthy is being wooed by NBC”


    I see what you did there.

  11. lqd

    It’s a shame that some people trust a former nude model more than scientists.

  12. VinceRN

    Personally I’d have rather seen her get a show on Oprah’s network. That’s where she belongs. Those viewers mostly already believe any crap that Oprah and her followers spew, Oz, Chopra, et all already have those millions of sheep convinced of all that crap so McCarthy could really do no harm there. With a show on a network that people other than Oprah cultists watch she can do real harm.

    @9 Robert – The pseudo-scientific drivel would draw controversy, and that would draw viewers. Advertisers would love it. The few educated people that would threaten not to buy their products, and the fewer that would follow through on it, would be meaningless to them.

    @#8 & #11 – Surely you’ve noticed before now that in western society breasts are far more important than brains?

  13. Slightly off-topic, but here’s a depressing consequence of the antivax movement’s influence in Europe and the US: recently the Mexican government has issued travel warnings for locals wishing to visit those countries to seek vaccination against smallpox: because at least one young child traveling recently from Paris to Mexico City was diagnosed with this illness on arrival. The catch is that after several decades of sustained, mature and serious public health efforts Mexico managed to eradicate smallpox towards the end of the XXth century – and neither the public nor the government have any desire to go back to the risky business of not being fully protected against preventable diseases.

    There is no antivax movement here. Nobody takes it seriously. Why would they? Vaccination worked. Full stop.

    Strange and frustrating that the tables have now turned, virtually full circle, in relation to those countries where vaccination was first developed and successfully deployed.

  14. meirelle

    I take a lot of medicine, for depression and for stomach issues. Last week, my mom told me, “I wish you’d do more for your stomach issues other than taking more medicine.” ಠ_ಠ

  15. Carlos: Surely you mean something like measles, right?

  16. Elmar_M

    @#8 & #11 – Surely you’ve noticed before now that in western society breasts are far more important than brains?

    That must be one of those “social conventions”.
    My hypothesis is that boob size is inversely proportional to the amount of braincells a woman possesses. This, so my hypothesis, is because the amount of blood in the female body is only sufficient for either brain or boobs, not both. Silicone breasts are a special case. I believe the silicone simply binds the blood oxygen, causing a reduced supply to the brain.
    I have not really tested this hypothesis yet in experiment, but I have certainly seen plenty of evidence for it.

  17. Yikes! I stand corrected! Comes from translating and posting all in one go…
    of course, the Spanish “sarampión” means measles.
    Many thanks for that heads up.

  18. Elmar_M, #16,

    That actually might have been funny, but it’s been seriously proposed in the past.

  19. VinceRN

    @#16 – Perhaps more accurate to say something line there is an inverse square law for the relationship between a woman’s bust size and the brain cells active in a (heterosexual male) viewer?

    Still fails to explain how anyone can take Jenny McCarthy seriously on any topic at all.

  20. QuietDesperation

    recently the Mexican government has issued travel warnings for locals wishing to visit those countries to seek vaccination against smallpox: because at least one young child traveling recently from Paris to Mexico City was diagnosed with this illness on arrival.

    I doubt it was smallpox- that would have been a *significantly* larger news story.


    Ah. Measles. Well, better than polio, I guess.

  21. QuietDesperation

    My hypothesis is that boob size is inversely proportional to the amount of braincells a woman possesses.

    I’d love to see you propose that to a former GF of mine. A brilliant chemical engineer and a 36D.

    Did I mention she knew martial arts?

  22. Christopher Ambler

    I, too, wonder why there hasn’t been a legal claim against her for causing direct and foreseeable harm.

  23. Matt B.

    Hey, I’m getting vaccinated this week for tetanus and hepatitis B. This is through work, and I jumped at the chance, since the life-long lack of health insurance means I haven’t been vaccinated for anything since I was 3.

    I would like it if JM were vaccinated against the idea of darkening her skin and lightening her hair simultaneously (see picture above). This has nothing to do with her anti-vax views, nor even her alleged bimbo-hood; it just never looks good to have an orange tan and peroxide blonde hair. The only color of hair that looks good while being lighter than the skin is grey.

    @QuietDesperation, the number in measurements such as “36D” is the circumference of the ribcage, and has nothing to do with the breasts.

  24. wendy

    Oh, measles. Whew! You scared the bejeezus out of me, Carlos!

    Anyway, I can’t believe anyone is thinking of giving this kook her own tv show to perpetuate this fraud. What was Oprah thinking? And what the HELL is NBC thinking? Ridiculous…

  25. Tony

    @Matt B, the D in 36D has some significance y’know.

  26. Don

    It was just reported today that Washington state leads the nation in immunization exemptions, over 6%. But a new state law that went into effect last week aims to lower that figure. Previously all that was needed was a note from parents stating a religious or medical reason. Now parents must consult with a doctor in order to obtain an exemption.

  27. Lawrence

    Don – thank goodness for that. I believe Orac posted something over at RI a while ago that WA was considering tightening up the exemptions, but the woo-activists were up in arms & really pushing back as well.

    Glad to hear that reason won out. I’ll take all the small victories we can get right now against this wave of irrationality.

  28. c

    @ Matt, 23 : the ‘D’ does refer to the size of breast – specifically the cup size. This is calculated by the difference between a) the rib cage below the breast and b) the breast at (um) optimum breadth.

    So AA is very small, C and D are fairly average and GG is for Good-God-how-are-you-standing-upright-and-doesn’t-your-back-hurt?

  29. The funny thing about the new WA law is that anti-vaxers are up in arms that parents should have the right to choose and blah, blah, blah. But the new law doesn’t take away any right to choose. The state still has exemptions for religion and personal/philosophical reasons. The only thing different is that parents need to show that they at least consulted with a doctor before making their choice to opt out.

  30. @Elmar_M,

    I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but my wife contradict’s your theory. She’s got a really nice, big pair of… hemispheres of grey matter. Also, her cup size is big. (No, I’m not going to share my wife’s boob size. I value not sleeping on the couch too much. 😉 )

  31. @Kingkaiju Says:

    I wonder what the anti-vaxxers are going to do now that a study is showing that autism rates might be increasing, not through vaccines (which are safe), but through changes in fetal brain chemistry caused by taking anti-depressants during pregnancy?

    Probably something like “Vaccines contain toxins in women which mix with anti-depressants taken during pregnancy to cause autism” (or, put another way, “Move the goal post over there”). Either that or they’ll just ignore this study because it really isn’t about autism anymore. It’s about being proven right that vaccines are dangerous despite any reality to the contrary.

  32. QuietDesperation

    @Matt B. Yeah, the 36 is. Did you miss the “D” part? Do I really need to explain this?

  33. Nigel Depledge

    Lqd (11) said:

    It’s a shame that some people trust a former nude model more than scientists.

    Hmmm . .. .then the answer must be for all climate scientists to take their clothes off and pose for Playboy, right? Then they’ll have the same credibility with the public as JMcC, right? Right?

  34. Bobbar

    The day she gets a TV show is the day I go buy a shotgun and shoot my TV…

  35. DanVeteran

    Maybe the Comedy Network will offer her a spot. That is where her show belongs.

  36. uudale


    Yes, do explain.

    Please do! :-)

  37. Michael Swanson

    @2. Kingkaiju
    July 31st, 2011 at 10:21 am

    “I wonder what the anti-vaxxers are going to do now that a study is showing that autism rates might be increasing…through changes in fetal brain chemistry caused by taking anti-depressants during pregnancy?”

    And you’ve said the important words of the day: “a study.” And then we ask, “Is it a reputable, unbiased study? Are the results reproducible? Peer reviewed? Have they been reproduced?” But idiot McCarthy would rather make snarky “Google University” and mom “instinct remarks,” which are really faith-based remarks, as in, “Being an Indigo mom, I will just KNOW what’s best!”

    Mom instincts are great for day to day care of your child, not for medical science.

  38. chrissy

    what does this have to do with astronomy?

  39. Keith Bowden

    One thing about Jenny – she has never, ever been afraid to look like a complete idiot.
    Sadly, she’s really succeeding these days.

  40. lars

    Why not stick to astronomy, what you know, and leave the other fluff alone! There’s enough interesting stuff in space without commenting on this crap.

  41. QuietDesperation

    what does this have to do with astronomy?

    The possible TV show or the breast size talk?

    To answer: Thanks to the interconnectedness of all things, it has EVERYTHING to do with astronomy!1!2!!! (shakes fist)

  42. Chief

    I recently watched the episodes of Two and a Half Men and some of the episodes had her in them. The part was basically about her scamming someone. Sounds like art imitating life eh.

    Who ever does offer her a slot on their network, think of the beginning of the Futurama “movie” called “Bender’s Big Score” and the FOX sequence.

  43. Chrissy (38) and Lars (40): I have a better idea: why not read this and then reconsider telling me what I can and cannot write about on my own blog?

  44. Elmar_M

    @21. QuietDesperation and TechDad

    It was just meant as a joke, no offense intended and even if my hypothesis was true, there are always exceptions to the rule 😉

  45. Steve Metzler

    Phil, hi,

    We’re forever pointing first time readers of BA at that ‘Politics, science, me and thee’ post. Perhaps you need to place a prominent link to it in the right-hand side bar?


  46. Ayn Rant

    Seriously? Jenny is all and just by herself a medical authority. At least she better be recognized as such. Just looking at her improves many heart-conditions blood-pressure-issues and some severe cases of ED. Much better than that flimsy stuff I should buy when checking my email. But again, seriously? All vaccinations are cool? Well, apparently I am not all for what is allegedly connected to anti-vaxing, but then there is nothing like the real thing. A real infection usually gives you better protection for the next round at almost no money; if you survive the first without repercussions. Now that is a really big if, but then not all vaccinations are created equal. And that is what I do not really like about the anti-Jenny sentiment that I feel is conveyed here. Some vaxes are incredibly safe and beneficial, some have side-effects not so easily dismissed, some have severe side-effects, questionable benefits and massive costs attached to them. Usually a balanced view is what is most favored and usually quite practically not every available vaccination is used all the time and everywhere. There is a reason for that I cannot find in all your posts pro-vax. I am pro-vax, generally. Small- and chickenpox, measles you know. Some make so much sense, it would be crazy to argue against the principle. But you seem to be overzealous in your wording. Dialectical, Marxist-Leninist, US-Republican. An Extremist. In a way, well, like, sort-of. I better try to excuse myself by now, but you get the point, anyway. Risk-cost-benefit should be determined individually for each vax in question. I like watching Jenny, because of my heart-condition. No one said listening to her is what the doctor ordered, or even having the sound above 0. Seriously.
    I wanted to comment on astronomy and all I got to was this fantasy about anatomy. Of an argument. It was nice anyway.

  47. Mark Hansen

    Chrissy and Lars, of the 8 topics prior to this one, 7 were about astronomy related subjects and 1 was about global warming. On those 7 you both posted… nothing. For 2 people that are so concerned that the blog is drifting away from astronomy, that seems a startling lack of interest.

    Oh, and what BA said.

  48. Joseph G

    At the risk of sounding like a brown-noser here, I don’t understand even a little bit why some readers would think that Phil’s post here isn’t absolutely relevant to his other writings. After all, even before this blog existed at Discovery, Phil was writing about the moon landing hoax conspiracy nuts and the ridiculousness of astrology, and refuting the “OMG killer asteroid!!!111” doomsayers du jour. In other words, he gained readership in the first place by educating the public about common misrepresentations of science. And misrepresenting science to the public is exactly what Jenny McCarthy is doing.

    Look, I love astronomy, and I certainly don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to diminish Phil’s contributions to it both as a scientist and writer, but I would argue that countering the dangerous misconceptions that people like McCarthy are spreading is about as high a calling as there is. And yes, I’d argue that it is in some ways even more important than astronomy.

    It would be so easy for anyone, astronomer or not, to ignore events on earth entirely and take refuge from human idiocy in the stars. In many ways, science, skepticism, and even critical thinking itself are all under attack from all sides, ranging from religious fundamentalists to “feeelings-based” new-agey mush-heads. The “candle in the dark,” as Carl Sagan beautifully put it, seems to be flickering in the gusting winds of capricious public opinion, and I for one am thankful that Dr. Plait is doing his part to help protect that flame. I say, if that means that we readers get one or two fewer nifty astronomy posts, it’s a miniscule price to pay.

    /end long-winded, self-righteous rant

  49. Chief

    Er. Some posters are obviously new here and have not been following or keeping up with the times. Yes, we have the option of if we want to get a shot or not.

    But we have been shown that those who have not gotten a shot put those who are not old enough yet to be done, at serious risk and yes, death. I would not want to put any one in this situation where you have to face this tragic situation.

    There is no way to sugar coat this and spreading the truth to prevent a proven preventable illness by a simple shot are words well said. I am glad I was born after the major breakouts of polio and wouldn’t want to see it come back. I’m sure a lot of those young pups questioning the whys and wherefores of shots have never seen a iron lung. (Or a child in one…..)

    As for the Autism link, forget it, I have friends who have a teenager who has it and they do a very good job with the care and training. And of course don’t think beans about the link to vaccinations and the cause of Autism.

  50. katwagner

    No, #35 DanVeteran, Jenny doesn’t either belong on Comedy Central. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are really sarcastic and smart. Jenny is a dumbbell and her drivel doesn’t even belong on the air, not anywhere.

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Lars (40) said:

    Why not stick to astronomy, what you know, and leave the other fluff alone! There’s enough interesting stuff in space without commenting on this crap.

    Erm … because Phil promotes critical thinking in all things.

    See here:

  52. Gunnar

    I wonder if Jenny McCarthy ever reads this blog or is even aware of it. It might be amusing to see her try to respond to the comments here.

  53. QuietDesperation

    I wonder if Jenny McCarthy ever reads

    You could have stopped the wondering right about there.



  54. Joseph G

    @QD: Did you hear that Jenny McCarthy was just hospitalized for heat exhaustion? She accidentally locked her keys out of the car.

    What’s the definition of gross ignorance?
    144 Jenny McCarthys!

    Did you know that Jenny McCarthy is missing 90% of her brain matter? It’s true – Jim Carrey is on a trip overseas at the moment.

    Sorry, I thought we were doing jokes now.

  55. abadidea

    Elmar_M: I know you meant it in jest, and I know you will probably never see this comment, but that sort of stereotype is *genuinely harmful* to women like me. I have ACTUALLY been told that since I am (no joke – got measured at Victoria’s Secret and they told me they didn’t have anything appropriate in stock) a DDD, I can’t actually be as smart as I “pretend” to be. Computer science degree and academic honors be darned. Effort be darned. People joke that women get job offers based on their good looks, but I have the opposite problem… I can see the “take them seriously” factor vanish from the faces of industry contacts when they lay eyes on me, even though they knew I was a woman in our phone or email conversation and seemed totally cool with it…

  56. Gunnar

    @QuietDesperation , #53.

    Good point!

  57. Cerebral Magpie

    I’d like to make a really basic point: attack the words, not the person.

    It’s sexist to slam a person because they have breasts or certain arbitrary standards of beauty, and use them for their career. Jenny McCarthy’s breasts do not talk anti-vax nonsense, Jenny McCarthy does.

    You might be angry right now thinking “I’m not sexist, I love the women in my life” (even if you’re a woman yourself!), but these are socialized ideas hammered into us from birth, hard habits to break. Don’t be angry, just recognize it for the privilege it is, and try harder.

    I am not defending Jenny McCarthy. I believe her anti-vax nonsense is wrong. But I am defending a woman’s right to air her opinions, right or wrong, without the debate being turned against her gender or sexuality.

  58. Sure…keep running that mouth, Phil. Why don’t you just go ahead and call Jenny a terrorist, you know you want too. It is so sickeningly typical of all the pro-vaccine activists to attack the messenger and dismiss the message or outright choke and spew over it.

    But you fools all clam-up at the $10 Million Reward that has gone UNCHALLENGED/UNCLAIMED for THREE YEARS. You’re not vaccinated against that and never will be.

    VACCINES ARE OBSOLETE…Wake up. Got Bionaid and ZeoHeal? This blog advertises for vaccines.

  59. bbmcrae

    Wow, Elder. I definitely agree it’s important to spew defensive accusations and paranoia when trying to convince people that you’re right and they’re wrong.

    I saw the Bionaid site. Its poor design is only surpassed by its poor grammar. I salute you, sir, and your snake oil!

    (Btw, can you accuse someone of shilling and then shill for your own thing? Just curious.)

  60. Matt B.

    @#25 Tony, #28 c, and #32 Quiet Desperation: Wow, I said that the number in bra measurements has nothing to do with breast size, and you “correct” me that the letter means something? Letters aren’t numbers.

    I really just came by to compare comment systems, since Discoblog (and presumably all the Discover magazine blogs) had switched to Disqus, and I thought it might be informative to check up on a post that I had commented on that I knew hadn’t been using Disqus at the time, but was after posts on Discoblog that used Disqus.

  61. Fred

    The problem with Jenny McCarthy is she jumped on the my son has autism hay ride and the media didn’t do their homework. Had they investigated, which good journalists do, they would’ve seen her story had huge gaps. For instance, her son radically improved after given seizure medications. As many doctors believe, this is more consistent with the diagnosis of landau kleffner syndrome, a syndrome easily misdiagnosed,even by experts, as autism. It would look better for Jenny to come out and deal with the seizures being the real reason her son regressed and exhibited autistic like behaviors that led to diagnosis. Unfortunately, she was picked up by media and others who have made a lot of money off her son’s misdiagnosis and they don’t want to lose that money now. There are books. Endorsements. Connections. Ties. Her name is on the my child has autism payroll and it’s making people in some places money. They don’t care if her son really has autism. Yet, at same time, these same people will attack BIG PHARM saying all they care about is making money. Well this appears to be the pot calling the kettle black. Jenny should be a spokesperson for Landau Kleffner, not autism. Her son obviously has issues and hopefully continues to progress, but her chronic misrepresentation of autism has rightfully angered many people. It’s equally disturbing that the website Age of Autism has a relationship with her that blinds them to the fact her son was never autistic. Now does she have a right to criticize vaccines? Of course she does. She’s a mom and wants to be sure what is going into her son isn’t poisonous.

  62. joejoe

    The autism/vaccine link is real, there is plenty of non-pharma funded scientific evidence available to prove this.At the present time there are no studies for the cumulative effect of vaccines on the developing immune and nervous system, it seems to me that Jenny is much more informed than her critics, translation she’s done her homework. I suggest you do yours before coming on here and repeating old, fabricated information by Big Pharma, nobody is buying it anymore!


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