Between climate change deniers roaming the halls of Congress and public schools teaching stealth creationism, there is no shortage of anti-science in the public sphere. However, making Jenny McCarthy the newest co-host of ABC's "The View" would give a new, huge platform to the pseudoscience brigade. (Rumors have swirled that McCarthy will replace Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who is headed to Fox News, on the morning talk show.)
McCarthy has been at the forefront of spreading the myth that childhood vaccines cause autism, pointing to the case of her son, Evan, whom she claimed was made autistic by the immunization shots he received and is now "healed," as Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams writes. Never mind that an extensive body of research has found that there is absolutely no link between childhood immunization and autism.
In 2011, a review by the Institute of Medicine of more than 1,000 research articles showed that "there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism." A 2013 study in the Journal of Pediatrics, likewise "found no connection" between vaccines and austism.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has put it, "The medical and scientific communities have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the evidence concerning the vaccine-autism theory and have found no association." The major study from 1998 that did find a connection between the two was later revealed to be an elaborate fraud.
By giving a purveyor of faux science such a prominent platform, ABC could be contributing to serious health problems and the spread of some of the globe's nastiest diseases, the suppression of which has been a public health success story for the ages. According to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund, 2.5 million deaths a year are prevented due to vaccinations against just four diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. Small pox was eradicated due to vaccinations, and polio is no longer the threat it once was in the western world.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 99 percent reduction in bacterial meningitis cases in the United States since vaccinations were introduced in 1988. Many other diseases, including mumps and rubella, have been all but eliminated in the U.S. But pockets of vaccine resistance remain. Last year, the worst whooping cough epidemic in decades hit the U.S., centered on Washington and Oregon, a relative hotbed of anti-vaccination activity. A measles epidemic in the U.K. last year was also pegged to the anti-vaccine movement.
McCarthy dresses up her pseudoscience in the guise of looking out for the best interests of children, which, understandably, has a way of sticking in the minds of concerned parents. As MIT's Seth Mnookin said, "Once you introduce misinformation into a society, it then lives on its own. And, it's, as we've seen with vaccines, it's impossible to unscare someone. Once an idea is planted in your mind, especially about your children, you can't just then sort of wipe the board clean."
McCarthy has even said that some horrendous diseases should be allowed to reemerge in order to boost the creation of "safe" vaccines: "I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe … If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism." That's not a message that should be given pride of place for the millions of people watching "The View," any more than we need climate change deniers on the Senate floor.