A Jenny McCarthy reader, Pt. 4: The real dangers in following Jenny’s advice

Note: Earlier today, Jenny McCarthy was officially named as a new co-host of the popular daytime talk show The View. As many people have already noted, this is an extremely unfortunate move on ABC’s part: It’s giving the network’s imprimatur to someone who has worked, methodically and relentlessly, to undermine public health. 

In (dis)honor of McCarthy’s new perch, I’ve decided to post a chapter of my book The Panic Virus titled “Jenny McCarthy’s Mommy Instinct” on the blog. Since it’s well over 5,000 words, I broke it up; this part final installment is about the dangers in following McCarthy’s advice. You can go back and read Part 1 (“The birth of a star and an embrace of ‘Crystal Children“), Part 2 (“Jenny brings her anti-vaccine views to Oprah,” and Part 3 (Jenny legitimizes the scientific fringe“). 

James Laidler, a medical doctor who teaches in the biology department at Portland State University, has firsthand experience with the lure of this approach. About a year after his oldest son was diagnosed with autism, Laidler’s wife returned home from an autism conference flush with stories about how seemingly intractable cases of the disease had been “cured.” While initially skeptical, Laidler agreed there was no harm in seeing if their son responded to some of the vitamins and supplements that had been recommended. Soon after that, the couple removed gluten and casein from their son’s diet. The next thing they tried was hormone therapy. “Some of it worked—for a while—and that just spurred us to try the next therapy on the horizon,” Laidler wrote in an essay about his experiences. When the Laidlers’ second son started showing autistic-like symptoms, they decided to treat him as well. It was around this time that Laidler went with his wife to an autism conference and saw firsthand what had so impressed her. “[I] was dazzled and amazed,” he wrote. “There were more treatments for autism than I could ever hope to try on my son, and every one of them had passionate promoters claiming that it had cured at least one autistic child.”

This was how the family found themselves headed to Disneyland with forty pounds of preapproved food for their two boys, “lest a molecule of gluten or casein catapult them back to where we had begun.” That’s exactly what they were convinced would happen when, during an unobserved moment, their younger son ate a waffle he’d snatched off a table. “We watched with horror and awaited the dramatic deterioration of his condition that the ‘experts’ told us would inevitably occur,” Laidler wrote. “The results were astounding—absolutely nothing happened.” Over the next several months, the Laidlers stopped every treatment except for occupational and speech therapy. Not only did their sons not deteriorate; they “continued to improve at the same rate as before—or faster. Our bank balance improved, and the circles under our eyes started to fade.” During those years in which he and his wife had been religious devotees of various biomedical treatments, Laidler wrote, they’d just been “chasing our tails, increasing this and decreasing that in response to every change in his behavior—and all the while his ups and downs had just been random fluctuation.”

In some ways, the Laidlers were lucky: The cost of trying every new treatment that comes along can be more than time, money, and dashed hopes, a fact that is tragically illustrated by chelation, the favored cure for ridding the body of “environmental” toxins. A large part of chelation’s appeal among parents lies with the way it tackles the putative problem head-on: It results in the literal expulsion— or “excretion,” to use the phrase favored by its proponents—of the hypothesized poisons from autistic children’s bodies. Unfortunately, as can be expected from a chemical cleansing process originally designed during World War I as a treatment for mustard gas exposure, chelation comes with a significant amount of risk. When Liz Birt’s son, Matthew, was chelated, his condition seemed to worsen, and in one instance, chelation preceded a grand mal seizure. Colten Snyder, whose family’s suit claiming the MMR vaccine had caused his autism was one of the Vaccine Court’s initial Omnibus Autism Proceeding test cases, had an even worse experience: After his second round of chelation, a nurse wrote in his medical records that he went “berserk.” He also became aggressive and noncompliant, became more prone to tantrums, and exhibited increased repetitive behaviors. After his third round of treatment, he was brought to a medical facility due to severe back pain, which is one of the procedure’s known side effects.

Then there’s the case of Abubakar Nadama, who moved with his mother to Pennsylvania from Batheaston, England, because chelation is not permitted for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in the U.K. On August 23, 2005, Abubakar went into massive cardiac arrest and died while receiving intravenous chelation therapy from a sixty-eight-year-old ear, nose, and throat specialist named Roy Kerry. In a 2009 lecture titled “Starting the Biomedical Treatment Journey,” Lisa Ackerman told parents they couldn’t let Abubakar’s death dissuade them. “I’m going to not be politically correct again,” she said. “There’s a child that passed away from chelation and it was extraordinarily sad and tragic. . . . The guy that gave the chelator to that little boy gave the wrong dose and the wrong type, and the kid had a heart attack because the doctor erred.”

Lisa Ackerman and Jenny McCarthy

Lisa Ackerman and Jenny McCarthy

That didn’t mean, Ackerman said, that parents should be “afraid”; after all, they were going to need to “step it up” if they wanted their kids to get better. Ackerman failed to mention that less than a year after his patient died, “the guy that gave the chelator” was recognized as a DAN!–approved clinician, a designation which is obtained by attending a thirteen-hour seminar conducted by the Autism Research Institute, signing a loyalty oath to the organization’s principles, and paying an annual fee of $250. (In order to maintain certification, doctors must attend a continuing education seminar every two years.)

Another of Ackerman’s recommendations that morning was to buy some of the “thousands” of supplements marketed to parents of autistic children. Her personal favorites were those produced by a company called Kirkman Labs. “Go get their handy-dandy resource guide called ‘The Roadmap.’ That will tell you what supplements do what,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Kirkman’s because they’ve been around forever and their products are tried and true.” Less than nine months later, Kirkman did a voluntary recall of seven of their products because they contained high levels of antimony, a chemical element used in flameproofing, enamels, and electronics—and one that some anti-vaccine activists had recently been proposing as a potential cause of autism.

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25 Responses to A Jenny McCarthy reader, Pt. 4: The real dangers in following Jenny’s advice

  1. Mahi says:

    “Then there’s the case of Abubakar Nadama, leave in current location who moved with his mother”. Is that a typo or am I reading it wrong?

    Not sure how that got in there or why it was in there — but regardless, I took it out. Thanks — Seth

  2. Elle Esse says:

    Much of the information in this screed is out of date. Boring anyway. Jenny McCarthy is now dating actor Donnie Wahlberg. That’s all one really needs to know.

    • James says:

      Hahaha. Man, oh man.

    • Chris says:

      It is still relevant if you care about how disabled children are treated, and how their parents are used as walking wallets by those who promise “cures.”

      It is also not out of date because she will get a bigger soap box to preach her nonsense.

  3. Abe says:

    As a long time fan of your writing on this important topic, I have to quibble with one particular sentence: “… antimony, a chemical element used in flameproofing, enamels, and electronics …”

    Well I can make similarly scary-sounding claims about absolutely any element or compound.
    Hydrogen: Used to make H-bombs!
    Oxygen: causes forest-fires!
    DHMO: don’t even get me started.

    The point being that the antimony in the supplements was presumably dangerous because of its specific physiological effects at the levels it was present. Its being used in “flameproofing, enamels, and electronics” is neither here nor there. Lets not fall for this scare-tactic more commonly employed by the anti-science community.

  4. Anna says:

    Boring and out of date information? Giving Jenny McCarthy a national platform from which to spew misinformation that negatively affects all of our public health is irresponsible. Perhaps an outbreak of measles will get your attention! I appreciate the chapter and I’m going to buy the book.

  5. Twyla says:

    Seth Mnookin, I’m very disappointed that you are back to blogging about vaccines and autism. I was hoping you had had a change of heart.

    • Seth Mnookin says:

      Twyla, this isn’t a matter of the heart, it’s one of the mind. The only thing that would change my mind is verifiable, peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

      • Chris says:

        A couple of years ago I went to a library foundation sale and picked up McCarthy’s Mother Warriors book for 50 cents. It is pristine, and looks like it was never opened. Like it was given as a gift to someone who did not want it, and then donated to the sale. (I also picked up books the library did not need anymore).

        I started to read the tiny tome last night. It is horrifyingly bad. On page 35 she states: “Rubella is alive virus, the common European strain of measles.” Obviously she does not understand that being called “German Measles” has nothing to do about where it is, and it is isn’t even the same kind of virus as rubeola (red measles).

      • Twyla says:

        @ Seth
        Well then, I wish you’d had change of mind.

      • Twyla says:

        Funny, I just read this four-part series on Jenny McCarthy and I don’t see any scientific studies in it. You’re just basically telling about her, ridiculing her a bit, telling an anecdote about a couple of parents who thought their son was being helped by diet and supplements but then decided these treatments weren’t helping, mentioning a boy who tragically died during chelation when he was given the wrong chelator in error. If you are interested in telling this story about which you form opinions based on your own perceptions and thoughts, why is it so out of line for parents to also form opinions based on whatever they have learned and witnessed? Clearly scientific studies are not the only prism through which you perceive reality.

        Jenny McCarthy’s not perfect, and she doesn’t have a PhD or MD degree. But the fact is, she and Dr. Jerry Kartzinel recovered her son from autism. This should be a topic of great interest, not ridicule.

        And the reason her story had “legs” was because thousands of other parents had similar experiences.

        • Seth Mnookin says:

          Twyla, I understand you disagree with me. What I don’t understand is why you insist on doing things like — making obviously inaccurate claims and odd attempts to create some sort of false equivalence between how you arrive at your opinions and how I arrive at my conclusions. The Panic Virus is a 429-page book. This is a 16-page chapter. Arguing that because you don’t see any scientific citations in this chapter — which is four percent of the book’s total — that means that I’m basing the conclusions I reach in the other 96 percent on vague premonitions or instinct is risible. It’s like my taking seven words (which is four percent of the 179 total words) in your comment — say, “Funny, I just read this four-part” — and then accusing you of writing a comment on a post about Jenny McCarthy and the lack of scientific basis for her claims without once mentioning Jenny McCarthy or scientific studies. Kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?

          Judging from your frequency with which your comments describe some bizarro-world version of my work, it’s very possible that you’ve never actually read any of it. That’s fine — but you should know that The Panic Virus includes a 35-page bibliography, a full 12.5 of which are comprised of scientific journal articles. There are also 49-pages of source notes, in case you’re ever curious as to how I reach my opinions. If you want to read about the dozens of scientific studies conducted by hundreds of scientists involving millions of children, all of which show that Jenny McCarthy’s claims lie somewhere between being blatant lies (Vaccines contain antifreeze!) and being horribly irresponsible (My mommy instinct tells me you shouldn’t vaccinate your child!), I suggest you check out any of these chapters: (8) Enter Andrew Wakefield (9) The Lancet paper (10) Thimerosal and the mystery of Minamata’s Dancing Cats (11) The Mercury Moms (12) The Simpsonwood Conference and the Speed of Light: A Brief History of Science (17) How to turn a lack of evidence into Evidence of Harm (24) Casualties of a war built on lies.

          Of course, I don’t expect you to do this — just as I don’t expect you to engage in an actual discussion about the merits of my conclusions. You seem to think that public health decisions should be made based on propaganda and scare tactics and Mommy instinct. I think they should be based on scientific evidence. I’m never going to waver in this — so if your goal is to convince me that I should ignore the evidence and embrace some touchy-feely, relativistic notion of truth, you can save your proverbial breath. If your goal is to pick up a convert or two through the sheer volume of your comments and the persistence with which you spout misinformation, by all means, have at it.

          • Twyla says:

            I didn’t say that there is no science in your entire book. I said that there is no science in this excerpt.

            re: “Judging from your frequency with which your comments describe some bizarro-world version of my work…”
            Huh? I can’t recall describing your work in my comments — this occurs rarely if ever.

            re: “You seem to think that public health decisions should be made based on propaganda and scare tactics and Mommy instinct. I think they should be based on scientific evidence.”
            No, I think that public health decisions should be made based on scientific evidence, not propaganda and scare tactics. Govt agencies and other vaccine defenders use propaganda and scare tactics. People with concerns about vaccine are asking for more and better scientific research.

            re: “if your goal is to convince me that I should ignore the evidence and embrace some touchy-feely, relativistic notion of truth”
            My point in the above comment is that what you have posted here in these excerpts is simply your intuitive perceptions, observations, and anecdotes, and yet you totally discount parents’ perceptions and observations and anecdotes, saying that only published science counts.

            re: “I’m never going to waver”
            Alas, this is apparent, so I am wasting my time posting here.

            I don’t “spout misinformation”. I’m very careful to be accurate in my comments. And my “volume” here has been very low for a while now.

          • Seth Mnookin says:

            Twyla, you make it so easy I barely need to bother responding!

            My actual post: “I think [public health decisions] should be based on scientific evidence. I’m never going to waver in this.”
            Your selective, bizarro-world rendering of that quote: “I’m never going to waver,” to which you answer, “Alas, this is apparent, so I am wasting my time posting here.”

            Obviously, you’re trying to make it seem like the thing I’m never going to waver on is my conclusions about vaccines and autism, thereby painting me as someone who, like you, refuses to consider facts. If you weren’t trying to mischaracterize what I said, it would have looked like this:

            re: “I’m never going to waver in [my belief that public health decisions should be based on scientific evidence].”
            Alas, this is apparent, so I am wasting my time here.

            You see what just happened? If you’d quoted me accurately, you would have been admitting that the fundamental difference between us is one based on the acceptance or denial of science.

          • Twyla says:

            You left off part of the sentence: “I’m never going to waver in this — so if your goal is to convince me that I should ignore the evidence and embrace some touchy-feely, relativistic notion of truth, you can save your proverbial breath.”
            The problem is, you ignore so much evidence that I think is very compelling, and you label as “some touchy-feely, relativistic notion of truth” what I consider to be valid facts and logic. So it’s not so simple. You don’t waiver on summarily dismissing the observations/reports of thousands of parents, discounting evidence of a vaccine-autism link, characterizing scientific studies one way when I see them another way. You generally don’t waiver in your opinions, most of which I disagree with. We can totally agree that public health decisions should be based on scientific evidence, yet we have such different views on what constitutes valid evidence. I’m not mischaracterizing what you said. And the difference between us is not that you accept science and I don’t. I’m actually a big fan of science. (And please don’t make fun of me for putting that in a colloquial way.)

        • elburto says:

          Evan McCarthy never had autism though, he has Landau-Kleffner Syndrome.

          Also, autism is developmental delay, not developmental stasis. Just as a child who’s short at age four will probably catch up with his peers by puberty, children with ASDs may be delayed at four and then with Work (actual work, not biomeddling crap) and time they can make strides so great that they no longer even qualify as DD,

          With LKS- that Evan has – once the seizures are brought under control with a regimen of neuroleptic medication, “normal” functioning resumes.

          That’s why Evan is better. Jenny just twists and morphs the poor kid’s life history and personal medical history to fit whatever agenda she’s pushing on a given day. What saddens me is that one day he’ll get to read all her toxic hate speech about how he had no soul, no light in his eyes, that he was “broken”. Nobody deserves that.

          • Twyla says:

            Evan was diagnosed with autism by qualified professionals who examined him and reviewed his medical records.

            Bloggers who have never met Evan proposed that he actually had Landau-Kleffner based on nothing more than a desire to say that he did not have autism.

            “Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS) is a childhood disorder. A major feature of LKS is the gradual or sudden loss of the ability to understand and use spoken language. All children with LKS have abnormal electrical brain waves that can be documented by an electroencephalogram (EEG), a recording of the electric activity of the brain. Approximately 80 percent of the children with LKS have one or more epileptic seizures that usually occur at night. Behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness and depression can also accompany this disorder. LKS may also be called infantile acquired aphasia, acquired epileptic aphasia or aphasia with convulsive disorder. This syndrome was first described in 1957 by Dr. William M. Landau and Dr. Frank R. Kleffner, who identified six children with the disorder…

            “LKS occurs most frequently in normally developing children who are between 3 and 7 years of age.

            “The cause of LKS is unknown. Some experts think there is more than one cause for this disorder. All of the children with LKS appear to be perfectly normal until their first seizure or the start of language problems. There have been no reports of children who have a family history of LKS. Therefore, LKS is not likely to be an inherited disorder…”

            Note that the cause is unknown. Even if Evan had L-K syndrome that would not rule out vaccine-induced encephalitis. L-K syndrome is not an explanation, just something offered to cause confusion.

            And Even was diagnosed at an earlier age than what is supposedly the norm for L-K.

            L-K syndrome may just be regressive autism striking at a later age.

  6. Pingback: Jenny McCarthy Joins the View, Makes Show the Most Watched Science Program in North America | By Sydney Rudko – The Wanderer

  7. Jake Crosby says:

    “I think [public health decisions] should be based on scientific evidence. I’m never going to waver in this.”

    Well isn’t that just funny? I brought up scientific evidence to you that CDC of all agencies produced associating earlier MMR vaccine exposure to autism, and asked you if you thought CDC should retract its conclusion of no association that’s completely contradicted by the results.

    You refused to respond, called the study I plugged “insignificant minutia,” said my question was “devoid of facts,” complained of my past criticisms of you online and ultimately refused to answer my question.

    So then how can you make the following claim that: “…this isn’t a matter of the heart, it’s one of the mind” when you take criticism you don’t have a response to so personally?

    Speaking of which, of the “dozens” of studies you claim prove vaccines don’t cause autism, IOM only uses four to say thimerosal doesn’t cause autism and four to say thimerosal doesn’t. This is an organization that has been caught saying it will never come down that autism is a true side effect of vaccines before looking at any evidence, and it obviously does not even think most of your “dozens” of studies are any good. Pretty bad, don’t you think?

    • Chris says:

      Mr. Crosby:

      I brought up scientific evidence to you that CDC of all agencies produced associating earlier MMR vaccine exposure to autism, and asked you if you thought CDC should retract its conclusion of no association that’s completely contradicted by the results.

      Excellent! So you found the literature that showed autism increased in the USA that is dated before 1990? The American MMR with the Jeryl Lynn mumps component was introduced in 1971, and the preferred vaccine for the 1978 Measles Elimination Program. That means there is over a decade of use before the three different MMR vaccines were licensed in the UK.

      So obviously Wakefield had more than a decade of data on the MMR causing autism in the USA during 1970s and 1980s. So can you please provide that study that is dated before 1990? It would go so much into dispelling the common idea that Wakefield only studied the MMR in the UK because the (taxpayer) money from Richard Barr.

    • Ren says:

      Because, as we all can see in your body of work, Jake, your responses are not personal at all. You don’t go out of your way to try and get people fired from their jobs. You don’t go out of your way to confront people at invitation-only events. You don’t take it personal that you’re “toxic.”

      Please, Jake, get a life. Finish the damned MPH and let your peers judge your evidence of a link between vaccines and autism, not your echo chamber audience.

    • Jake Crosby says:

      *…and four to say MMR doesn’t.

  8. Pingback: Crosby’s labyrinth, or why I couldn’t stop myself from replying to the vaccine conspiracy theorist to end all conspiracy theorists. | The Panic Virus

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  10. Carrie says:

    I am glad to have found your blog and I look forward to reading your book The Panic Virus. It is worth reiterating how important it is to trust scientific evidence and not listen to the media or politicians in these matters as their intentions are almost entirely and without a doubt seriously maligned. I am a parent of a young child living in a community that is very divided on the issue. I vaccinated my son as recommended. I am looking to better understand the source and allegations of the so-called debate upheld by folks who are against vaccinations. I believe vaccinations are safe and effective however its not enough to simply combat my beliefs against someone else’s; we would just go round in circles. I am looking to strengthen my own somewhat limited understanding of vaccinations in general and to foster truth and understanding in support of science within the public realm. It looks as though I have plenty of reading to do. Thank you, Mr.Mnookin

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