Monday, April 6, 2009

An open letter to CNN and Larry King Live

This is an expanded version of a note I did actually send to CNN and the Larry King Live show:

I have to say that I'm disappointed at CNN and Larry King Live for last week's show featuring Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey discussing the supposed link between childhood vaccination and autism.

It is irresponsible for CNN, with its reputation as the "most trusted name in news," to allow McCarthy, et al, to propagate unsupported claims about a link between childhood vaccination and autism for which the scientific evidence is not just weak, it is nonexistent (a fact acknowledged by McCarthy when she claims that she first diagnosed her son herself using her "mommy instinct," and that anecdotal evidence should be sufficient to conclude that vaccines lead to autism).

In fact, study after study shows that there is no causal link whatsoever between autism and vaccination. This isn't some cute story about a mom and her son overcoming an unfortunate affliction, this is a growing threat to public health. And it's an issue on which McCarthy is having a notable impact. Lives are at stake on this issue. People have died and will continue to die due to declining rates of vaccination, due in large part to the success of antivaccinationist rhetoric pushed by McCarthy and her ilk (indeed, McCarthy freely acknowledges that vaccine-preventable deaths are on the rise... and that she doesn't care).

As for what the evidence is, just this year Andrew Wakefield's study which began in earnest the vaccine->autism myth was found to be not just incorrect, but fraudulent; and the autism omnibus findings have lain waste to antivaccinationist claims. (Check out this post at Science-Based Medicine for a thorough excoriation of such claims. Be warned, it's a long article, but very much worth your time).

As I do not have children of my own, I cannot understand the pain that parents, including McCarthy, must go through upon discovering a developmental disability, such as autism, in their children. I do understand the desire to want to find something to hold on to, some kind of explanation, something or someone to blame. I believe that McCarthy is going down this road earnestly because she truly wants to have a positive impact...

But, as unsatisfying as it may be, autism can't be blamed on childhood vaccination. The evidence contradicts the claim.

Letting McCarthy and Carey present their unsupported claims on CNN is very much akin to letting a climate change denialist promote his particualr brand of unsupported nonsense, or letting Kevin Trudeau hawk some "miracle cure" as news. CNN's name would lend these views credibility, credibility they do not deserve. Though LKL did allow for a rebuttal, it would be wonderful to see a more thorough explanation of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and an objective analysis of the supposed link to autism.


  1. Wow, I didn't catch the broadcast, but that is a bit shocking. Only a bit, because the pandering to the pseudo-scientific has always been there to increase ratings. However, Surprising that LKL didn't even question their claims? Great letter!

  2. They allowed a rebuttal, which sort of guts your point...

  3. @Anonymous,
    I admit, I did not see the original broadcast and what I did see did not include a rebuttal. Knowing that one was presented is indeed a good thing. I ave edited the text accordingly. I apologize for my assumption.

    That said, the point remains: By giving far more air time to the antivaccine team (depite their own claims to not be antivaccine, histroy has shown otherwise). King addressed McCarthy and Carey credulously and asked questions so as to allow them to get their talking points out, rather than challenging them. I realize that to some extent that is the nature of King's show, but I do not feel that it is in any way responsible to treat this subject this way. Would King have treated his guests this way if they were holocaust deniers? Would he have referred to them as experts on the holocaust, said they "knew the subject very well?"