The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘Jenny McCarthy

Wakefield remains firm about “fraudulent” study

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Photo by Steve Parsons, PA Wire

The discovery of “doctored information” on Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study linking vaccinations to autism has generated a lot of publicity and fuel for news outlets, and little time was wasted in pursuing the major angles involving this week’s development.

Although evidence refuting a link continues to grow, support for Wakefield and his study in question has yet to shrink. An independent survey reported 58.3% of respondents dissatisfied with research investigating a relationship conducted and/or funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which may stem from a general distrust in government, as Congress has had dismal approval ratings for years while conspiracy theories remain abundant). 90% of those surveyed want to see studies comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated people to see if there’s a difference (Frontline addressed this issue with The Vaccine War last year). Wakefield still supports his study, first published in 1998.

Jenny McCarthy’s organization, Generation Rescue, claimed the media was mischaracterizing Wakefield’s work. McCarthy was quoted on The Vaccine War saying she’d rather risk her child getting mumps than autism and is a strong supporter of reducing the number of vaccinations a child receives.

Most who follow and/or studied media will tell you that media’s a popular target when news is reported that contradicts an argument for a sensitive topic. Media’s fluidity and the rapid pace news spreads certainly contribute in the present, but “blaming the media” existed as far back as Senator Joe McCarthy’s “witch hunt” of the 1950s, when he accused Edward R. Murrow of supporting Communists after Murrow published several reports with CBS on McCarthy’s activities.

Jenny, while not related to the late U.S. Senator, isn’t any more immune to blowback than Joe was. The Generation Rescue statement has Twitter users taking a swipe at Jenny for a perceived lack in parenting skills. And we’re only through the first week of 2011. Imagine what the next 51 could bring to this debate.

While the developments are new, the story itself hasn’t changed. In effect, AOL News considered Deer’s research that led to his suggestion of Wakefield’s study being fraudulent represented one side of the argument; that his research is invalid because of “tainted evidence.” While I doubt any reporter would be accused of bias simply for running that story, AOL News deemed interviewing the flip side of the debate, where belief that vaccinations are responsible for causing autism, worthwhile. Deborah Huso’s article effectively illustrates what I explained yesterday about two sides of an argument always attempting to one-up each other, resulting in a never-ending debate. The other factor, of course, remains the lack of a concrete detection method. Until that day comes, the cycle of latching on to a theory that appears to make sense will continue.

The most intriguing element in the vaccine debate’s latest chapter is the response toward Wakefield’s supporters. While a continuously present stream of thoughts exist on Twitter due to its nature, this is the first time I’ve seen social media used in a news story related to Deer’s investigation. While it’s technically impossible to gauge why McCarthy is taking a Twitter assault, consumers are known to grow weary over denials in the face of indisputable evidence or even an association to the contrary. Although it’s illogical to judge parenting skills based on one element of being a parent, that won’t stop opinions from being expressed online, and that in itself could indicate public perception of a controversial topic.

Deer’s discovery and reaction won’t be the last chapter in the vaccine debate. In fact, the recent news has already made a local impact in the Twin Cities area (my “home base”), and I’ll examine how they approached the fraudulent data claim in my next post. Until then, expect the patterns I’ve detailed in this post to persist when a future development is published about the refuted link between autisms and immunizations.

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Here’s Jenny…again!

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Photo courtesy of Cookie Magazine

Photo courtesy of Cookie Magazine

There’s a good chance you heard something out of former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy’s mouth if you’ve even remotely followed anything about autism. While I definitely don’t read too many entertainment articles (I find them to lack substance), but recalling her position on autism’s most controversial subject, I wanted to see what she had to say for the August issue of Cookie Magazine.

Cookie was nice enough to recap her story to this point in case any newcomers drop in. To make a long story short, her son Evan was diagnosed five years ago after suffering a life-threatening seizure and was originally diagnosed with epilepsy. McCarthy’s instinct thought otherwise, and Evan was diagnosed with autism soon after. McCarthy continues to voice concerns parents have about vaccinations causing autism. She joined the board for Generation Rescue last year, an organization calling for the elimination of toxic materials in vaccines and delaying shot schedules, suggesting they can overwhelm a child’s immune system. McCarthy isn’t completely against vaccines, suggesting that they work for some children, but not all. McCarthy also has Evan on a gluten-free diet, which means no wheat or dairy products.

McCarthy also referenced but didn’t really take a shot at fellow actress Amanda Peet for her comments about autisms and vaccines. You’ll find a link to Peet’s interview in the McCarthy article. Peet called parents who didn’t vaccinate their chidren parasites, and McCarthy said she was just like Peet prior to her son’s diagnosis.

Reading this continues to indicate McCarthy’s transition from her early days of Playboy and Singled Out to an activist for a disability that still hasn’t completely saturated the public. In fact, her former identity can prove to be an advantage if the notion is true that men will follow anyone who’s even remotely hot. It also helps to appear on Oprah.

Regarding her vaccination claims, I’m still skeptical as no concrete evidence has come forward to support the claim that autism is caused by materials used in vaccines while several major studies conclude the opposite. But without the skeptics, there’s no incentive to get the science right, so her views on the topic do not affect me. Based on what I’ve read, I have no doubts that her son is autistic. However, because of her son’s reaction to going gluten-free and reports coming out suggesting an increase of human intolerance to gluten and dairy products, whether it’s an actual disease (KARE 11 story) or allergic reaction (WCCO story), the evidence is there to make a theoretical argument that Evan may have an allergy to gluten or dairy products. I’m autistic too, but at 22, I still have yet to develop any food allergies. In fact, I’ll eat just about anything :-).

Overall, the profile story done by Cookie did reveal some things about McCarthy’s plans to ramp up her activism and told me a few things I didn’t know before. In journalism, that’s a sign of the reporter telling a good story.

Written by TheSportsBrain

August 9, 2009 at 5:52 pm