Jenny McCarthy talks autism, parenting and science with Time magazine this week. I recently asked why Jenny still says vaccines cause autism when the science has so clearly left the building. She answers that question and many others in her lengthy interview with Time.
Why is she still crusading against science on behalf of autistic children? Because she believes in her son.
This is what makes Jenny so dangerous. She’s a passionate, honest person who is fighting what she sees as a corrupt institution, on behalf of children who in many cases literally cannot speak for themselves.
I want to love Jenny McCarthy. Really I do. She’s everything we love in an American folk hero: a gutsy, honest beautiful woman standing up for what she believes is right.
The problem is that what Jenny believes is wrong. Science is less subjective than most social causes. No amount of grassroots activism can make vaccines responsible for the upswing in autism diagnoses. No amount of honest, heartfelt, brave personal disclosures on Oprah can make chelation therapy the cure. The science just isn’t there.
One big message from the Time article though, is that while Jenny may be wrong, she is loud. Her books, talk show appearances and activism have given a public face to a movement that has been simmering for years on the margins of mainstream medicine.
Parents with autistic kids listen to Jenny because they are desperate and she offers them something the medical establishment just can’t: hope. Many parents have, like Jenny, been working their way through alternative therapies for years. They’ll try anything. And here’s this warm, friendly, powerful woman telling them not to give up. One of those therapies will work for their child someday. They just have to believe.
That’s a whole lot more comforting than cold science. It’s not likely to go away soon. That’s why doctors, public health educators and autism researchers should listen to Jenny McCarthy. She is genuinely speaking for a lot of frustrated, confused, scared parents. Even more grounded voices, like Temple Grandin talking to the Wall Street Journal this week, acknowledge that parents with autistic kids need a louder voice in the treatment and research.
If the medical establishment can learn to speak to her, it will be well on its way to reaching the thousands of parents like her who don’t get booked on Oprah.
Read Babble’s full timeline of the vaccine-autism debate, from 1998 to now.
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