4.23.2009

Reading this crap, so you don't have to

I think my opinion about celebrities and their opinions is pretty clear by now. I have a special place reserved in the tar pits of my heart for celebrities who do genuine damage to public health by conflating their fame with some kind of expertise. Exhibit A is Jenny McCarthy, who has managed to segue from short-lived MTV and Playboy fame to her new role as aggrieved anti-vaccination crusader without skipping a beat. Unsurprisingly, her boyfriend Jim Carrey has decided to jump onto the bandwagon. He has seen fit to grace us with this shockingly dishonest jeremiad in Huffington Post, your one-stop destination for empty-headed celebrity pontification.
In this growing [autism] crisis, we cannot afford to blindly trumpet the agenda of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or vaccine makers. Now more than ever, we must resist the urge to close this book before it's been written. The anecdotal evidence of millions of parents who've seen their totally normal kids regress into sickness and mental isolation after a trip to the pediatrician's office must be seriously considered. The legitimate concern they and many in the scientific community have that environmental toxins, including those found in vaccines, may be causing autism and other disorders (Aspergers, ADD, ADHD), cannot be dissuaded by a show of sympathy and a friendly invitation to look for the 'real' cause of autism anywhere but within the lucrative vaccine program.

[snip]

I've also heard it said that no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found. That statement is only true for the CDC, the AAP and the vaccine makers who've been ignoring mountains of scientific information and testimony. There's no evidence of the Lincoln Memorial if you look the other way and refuse to turn around. But if you care to look, it's really quite impressive. For a sample of vaccine injury evidence go to www.generationrescue.org/lincolnmemorial.html.
Friends, I have done you a solid. I have actually clicked on that link. It leads you to the "Generation Rescue" home page, where you can learn all about Jenny McCarthy and how to buy her book. You have to look around for the evidence in question, but eventually you can find this page, supposedly just chock-full of evidence linking autism and vaccines. I sincerely wonder how much, if any of it, Jim Carrey has read, much less understands.

It is full of citations and abstracts, which I have taken the time to actually review. While the overwhelming majority deal with autism (though whole sections have nothing to do with autism at all), almost none of them mention vaccines. As in, well less than 5%. (Yes, I kept a tally.) If you don't believe me, please click on the links on this page and look for yourself. Of particular irony, the Autism and Rubella page references articles that link autism and congenital rubella, which has been all but eradicated since the advent of the rubella vaccine.

Of the few references that do discuss autism and vaccines, many have no abstract for review. One is from some "journal" called Medical Veritas, whose scientific standards one might question. Then, there was this (reference about halfway down the page):
Taylor, B., E. Miller, et al. (2002). "Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study." BMJ 324(7334): 393-6.

[snip]

Conclusions: These findings provide no support for an MMR associated "new variant" form of autism with developmental regression and bowel problems, and further evidence against involvement of MMR vaccine in the initiation of autism.
Lest you think this is a fluke, on the page of references collected by one Teresa Binstock, there are these, right at the top:
2: Andrews N et al. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):584-91.

3: Heron J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):577-83.

[emphasis mine, in both cases]

Mr. Carrey is guiding you toward a resource he does not understand or has not bothered to review himself, for within it are numerous citations that refute his very argument, and many, many, many more that are totally unrelated to it. (There is also a lot of hearsay, which you are free to review at your leisure.) What is evident from reading through the pages and pages of citations is that a lot of research has been done about autism, and no clear cause has yet to be determined.

Mr. Carrey impugns science he cannot fathom, and organizations who have done invaluable work to make the world a safer and healthier place. His commentary is disgraceful, and he should stick to making mediocre movies and pulling funny faces.

Update: Oh, the glories of the Internet! I've spent the past evening reading numerous incisive take-downs of the anti-vaccination crowd, and they're all excellent. For one particularly fantastic, thorough and well-written piece, click here.

Update #2: Since I originally wrote this post, the Carrey-supplied link has changed destinations. It now leads you to a page titled "More Vaccines -- More Autism," with a bunch of charts. Unsurprisingly, it provides no more scientific evidence against vaccines than does the information in this link, about which the above post was written and about which my opinion has not changed. I will write a new post about the new destination shortly.

8 comments:

  1. Do check out this comment at Bad Astronomy, which fisks a great many of Carrey's distortions and fact-free assertions:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/04/23/jim-carrey-loves-the-pro-disease-movement/#comment-176349

    I've got a series going fisking some of the other lies:

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2009/04/jim-carrey-a-few-pieces-of-bloviating-on-autism-36-vaccines-vaccine-profitability-profiteering-and-l.html

    I'll add this post to part II

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  2. I am sincerely grateful for the link, Liz. (Particularly given how much time I spent reviewing every bloody reference on that page.)

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  3. you would probably also enjoy "the skeptics' guide to the universe", a weekly podcast hosted by steve novella (a neurologist at yale). vaccines and autism are discussed frequently on the show, and he usually goes off on jenny mccarthy every other week or so...he has another blog called "science based medicine" that you'd probably enjoy as well:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/

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  4. Don't forget Pusware, LLC, and the Quackcast podcasts about vaccines and the immune system, among other topics, by an infectious disease doc.

    Check out iTunes and search for Quackcast.

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  5. Thanks for the writeup, Dan. After the mental headache of disassembling Mr. Carrey's screed for fallacies, I simply lacked both the energy and time to bother to go see what his "pile of evidence" looked like, especially when the link in the HuffPo article didn't actually lead to a list of references. I call lazy on myself, but I was hoping that someone out there on the Interwebs would do the job for me. Now I have a nice link to shore up the weak spot in my own screed :)

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  6. Yeah! Links! It makes the two hours (yes... two hours) spent checking and counting those damn citations suddenly seem worthwhile!

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  7. Thank you Dr. Dan, from someone with a 4-month-old. We are two rational parents, but every reminder helps.

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  8. In her 2008 study refuting Wakefield, Mady Hornig lists 23 papers that failed to find evidence of an association between MMR and autism. Hornig's study makes 24. There are others.

    Hornig is the author of the notorious "Rain Mouse" study that anti-vaxers cite as evidence that thimerosal causes mice to act autistic. Hornig's conclusion, not surprisingly, finds no such association.

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