We can argue about whether Virginia Heffernan’s anti-science creationism is important or not, but I don’t think we’re going to argue that Jenny McCarthy’s anti-science anti-vaccination stance isn’t dangerous. After all, the woman has a body count.
Which raises the question of why she’s slated to replace Elisabeth Hasselbeck as a co-host on The View. What exactly is America’s most prominent anti-vaccine activist doing on a popular news discussion show?
Part of the problem seems to be that the media treats matters of medicine the same way Virginia Heffernan treats the origin of the universe: you have your story and I have mine. Over at Salon, Alex Pareene notes the way USA Today frames the controversy:
… infuriatingly the press’ false equivalency addiction has even infected coverage of whether or not vaccines cause autism, a debate featuring, on the one side, the entire medical establishment, and, on the other, one totally discredited doctor and a bunch of random non-experts, some of whom are famous for reasons unrelated to medicine or scientific literacy. Here’s USA Today reporting the news:
Not everybody shared Walters’ delight. McCarthy, who has embraced the controversial claim that vaccinations cause autism, has drawn the ire of pro-immunization advocacy groups.“Controversial claim.” “Pro-immunization advocacy groups.” Another name for “pro-immunization advocacy groups” would be “the entire mainstream medical profession.” This is a perfect example of the sort of case the nonpartisan reporter should feel free to referee.
Time Magazine’s television and pop culture reporter James Poniewozik is also enraged. He points out that even if McCarthy is silent on vaccination, damage is being done by the way the media is approaching the issue:
To say that you can simply shrug off differences about medical fact as “outrageousness” or “controversy” is to feed the belief that science in general, be it vaccines or climate change or evolution, is simply subjective: you have your truth and I have mine. But we don’t. The Earth didn’t revolve around the sun only for Galileo.
The problem with treating factual matters of science like opinion debates is that as soon as you do that, anti-science has already won.
That argument may lead us back to Virginia Heffernan. If we’re to argue that truth is just a matter of competing narratives, then we have little ability to argue with people like McCarthy. Her new age spin, with indigo children and green vaccines, produces compelling stories that are consoling to the people whose children suffer from autism.