Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy bunny turned anti-vaccination advocate, is the new co-host on ABC’s talk show The View. Really? What has happened to news and advice? What qualifications do you need to be a trusted advocate for a cause?
Ms. McCarthy, an actress and model, has been an outspoken advocate of the scientifically disproven theory that mercury in vaccines is associated with Autism. She published the book Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide, and also wrote the forward to a book written by Andrew Wakefield, a British physician who published fraudulent data about the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield has since retracted his data, and he is no longer permitted to practice medicine in the UK. Ms. McCarthy has also promoted many controversial therapies for autism, many of which can be harmful.
The scariest part is that parents really DO take celebrity advice seriously. Who do parents turn to for advice on the highly controversial issue of vaccination? An April 2011 study published in the Journal Pediatrics, showed that 24% of parents trust celebrities for advice on vaccines. That’s right—almost a quarter of parents are willing to turn to a celebrity for vaccine advice. And Jenny McCarthy is the most outspoken celebrity when it comes to vaccines.
What makes Ms. McCarthy’s voice so believable is her personal story of raising a child who, at one time, was diagnosed with autism. No one doubts the challenges of her personal situation, nor her passion to do the best she could for her child. But when does passion and personal experience become more convincing than science? Too frequently. That’s why The View hired her.
As a blogging pediatrician, I’ve had parents comment that they don’t trust doctors’ opinions anymore. Some have stated that they find doctors condescending and presumptuous. Others have said that doctors don’t recognize that moms can do their own research. I recognize that moms are highly educated and very motivated to research parenting and pediatric issues themselves. I also know how hard it is to sift through the huge body of information on the internet and try to figure out what is accurate. I find this hard myself. Most articles are followed by a comment section full of passionate rebuttals, and everyone quotes their so-called science. Who should a parent believe?
Here at ChildrensMomDocs, the gift we have to offer to other moms is our ability to critically read peer-reviewed medical literature, much of which is subscription based and funded by Washington University. Then, our five blogging mom-pediatricians make our best recommendations to other parents based on this data. But we just don’t get attention the way a former Playboy model does…
Let’s face it—being a celebrity gives you an automatic platform to get attention and influence views. The more outrageous you are, the more attention you get. But media outlets like ABC have an ethical obligation to the public to at least pick celebrities who partner with reputable scientists as the basis for their activism.
For more on Jenny McCarthy and her unfounded views on vaccination, see this article by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a mom-pediatrician blogger from Seattle Children’s Hospital.