A Jenny McCarthy Reader, Pt. 1: The birth of a star and an embrace of “Crystal Children”

Note: Earlier today, . 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 first part is about McCarthy’s rise to fame and her embrace of a different theory regarding her son. There are three more parts: “Jenny brings her anti-vaccine views to Oprah,” “Jenny legitimizes the scientific fringe,”  and “The real dangers in following Jenny’s advice.” 

Jenny - The View 132467-9094

Jenny McCarthy’s career in the public eye began in October 1993, when, at the age of twenty-one, she was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. Not long thereafter, she was crowned the magazine’s Playmate of the Year, and for much of 1994 she hosted Hot Rocks, an hour-long Playboy Channel TV show that aired “uncensored” music videos.

Her rise to mega-stardom began in earnest in 1995, when MTV hired her to co‑host its new dating show, Singled Out.
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Category: Alternative treatments, excerpt, Journalism, Public health, Quacks, The Panic Virus, Vaccines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Today at 3pm: A live-chat with “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember” author/io9 editor Annalee Newitz

One of the nicest things about the science writing racket is how many incredible people there are in the field, people who not only are ferociously intelligent and omnivorously curious but are also tirelessly generous and endlessly kindhearted.

Exhibit #1 is Annalee Newitz, the founding editor of io9, the Gawker Media site that covers science, science fiction, and the future.


io9 editor and all-around awesome person Annalee Newitz

If you’ve never read io9, do yourself a favor and rectify that, stat — it’s a great site. Today’s the publication date for Annalee’s latest book, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it’s a doozy.
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Category: Live-chats | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Credibility in the Age of Twitter: A Town Hall on the Marathon Bombing this Wednesday at the Nieman Foundation

It’s been a hectic, stressful, emotional two weeks here in Boston. As some of you know, I grew up in the area — at the top of Heartbreak Hill, which comes at the end of four miles worth of hills that end just before the 21 mile mark. I’m obviously not the first person to say this, but it’s impossible to overstate how integral the Marathon is to the fabric of the region. From grade school through high school, I would hand out water and oranges at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Hammond Street.

My family now lives a few miles down the road, just outside of downtown Boston. On April 15, I took my three-year-old son to the annual Patriot’s Day Red Sox game.


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Category: Journalism, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Upcoming: Nate Silver and I talk politics, baseball, and more

I have a handful of appearances coming up, including two public talks that are part of MIT’s Communications Forum. The first, which is this Thursday at 5 pm, is a special one indeed: I’ll be holding a Q&A with Nate Silver, the powerhouse behind FiveThirtyEight, the stat-centric political blog that has roiled the punditocracy by forecasting the past two presidential elections with remarkable accuracy.

Nate Silver

Silver, of course, has not always been focused on politics:
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Category: Appearances, MIT | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New York Times with most detailed account yet of MIT’s role in Swartz case

Late yesterday, Noam Cohen of The New York Times published a nuanced account of the events that led to the arrest of Aaron Swartz in January, 2011 for using MIT’s computer networks to illegally download millions of research articles owned by JSTOR, a non-profit organization that sells subscriptions to academic institutions. Cohen’s piece relied heavily on “internal MIT documents” that, as far as I know, have not been reported elsewhere; these included a “detailed internal timeline” by a senior security analyst employed by the university. It’s is unlikely to change the mind of those already convinced that MIT acted overzealously in investigating the case, but it does fill in some crucial holes in this tragic story.
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Category: Ethics, MIT, The New York Times | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

MIT president asks for “a thorough analysis” of Aaron Swartz case

Yesterday, The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper, broke the news that computer prodigy Aaron Swartz committed suicide. Swartz was 26 years old — an age when many are still figuring out what they want to do in the world — and already a dozen years removed from his invention of RSS. He went on to found Infogami, which later merged with Reddit, and co-founded Demand Progress.

For the past several years, Swartz’s life was dominated by a federal investigation related to his Open Access activism: In 2011, he was indicted for breaking into MIT’s computer networks and downloading almost five million scholarly articles from JSTOR. I arrived at MIT, an institute with roughly 1,000 faculty members, a few months after that indictment. It would be folly for me to pretend I had any sense of the overall sentiment of the staff here, but I never heard anyone here speak disparagingly of Swartz — and I heard a lot of people talk admiringly of his efforts.

Swartz was, by his own admission, someone who struggled with acute depression and suicidal thoughts. A few hours ago, MIT president Rafael Reif sent out this email to “members of the MIT community”:

Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.

Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.

I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.

I hope we will all reach out to those members of our community we know who may have been affected by Aaron’s death. As always, MIT Medical is available to provide expert counseling, but there is no substitute for personal understanding and support.

With sorrow and deep sympathy,
L. Rafael Reif
Category: MIT | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finding time for fun: The Sabeti Lab goes Gangnam Style

One of the last pieces I worked on in 2012 was a profile of Pardis Sabeti for Smithsonian‘s “Innovators” year-end issue. Pardis is an inspirational figure for a number of reasons: Her work has transformed computational genetics; she does everything she can to make sure her research has a positive impact on people’s lives; she is, by all accounts, an amazing and generous mentor.

That said, one of the things I found most impressive about Sabeti was the way she finds time to have fun. Working as a research scientist has always been nerve-wracking and overwhelming; that’s more true than ever these days, when federal funding that’s been taken for granted for the past half-century is being called into question. Every since she was an undergrad, Sabeti has sought out ways to make sure she, and the people around her, are finding time to enjoy life.
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Category: Journalism, science | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

We interrupt this extended absence: Tonight only, The Panic Virus at Skeptics in the Pub, Harvard Square

It’s been a lonely few months here at The Panic Virus. There are myriad reasons for that, none of which I’ll bother you all with now. But…I will be coming out of my hole tonight to talk to the Boston Skeptics as part of their Skeptics in the Pub series.

The details:

What: Boston Skeptics SitP series
When: December 10, 2012, 7pm
Where: Upstairs at Tommy Doyle’s, Harvard Square
Cost: Free; donations welcome
Other info: Here’s the event’s Facebook page. Twitter: @bostonskeptics and @sethmnookin.

The nominal topic tonight will be what the group refers to as the Vaxx Wars and “why people believe false and ultimate harmful ideas.” As always, I’m up for talking about anything the audience is interested in. So come on out, interested audience!

Category: Appearances, The Panic Virus, Vaccines | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The state of science writing, circa 2012: The summer of our discontent, made glorious by the possibilities of our time

The summer has not been an easy one for aficionados or practitioners of science writing. There was, of course, the ongoing, death-by-1,000-cuts Jonah Lehrer fiasco, where, over a period of more than a month, one of the most popular and admired science writers working today was revealed to have promiscuously recycled his own work; was caught fabricating quotes by Bob Dylan; was fired from The New Yorker; and had his best-selling book withdrawn by his publisher. Before it was all over, the Lehrer mess had also sullied the reputation of Wired, one of the few popular magazines that runs long, narrative stories about science and technology, and Wired.com, which features a sterling lineup of science bloggers. (This wound was at least partially, and bewilderingly, self-inflicted.)

It would be folly to draw broad conclusions from the actions of one unscrupulous individual — but Jonah was far from the sole case of a journalist who writes about science misleading the public, either intentionally or (as hopefully is more often the case) not.
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Category: Journalism, Media, science, science writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments