Nope. (Associated Press / File)

Well, here’s another good reason to not watch The View.

The talk panel is replacing Elizabeth Hasselbeck, known for being blonde and leaning right, with Jenny McCarthy, known for being blonde and leaning wrong. McCarthy, according to Wikipedia, is an “American model, actress, author, and activist” who got her start “in 1993 as a nude model for Playboy magazine and was later named their Playmate of the Year” but many on the Internet know her as the first name in Publicizing Deeply Misguided Ideas About A Link Between Vaccines And Autism. To say that this has been widely discredited is an understatement on par with saying that polio is few people’s idea of a pleasant way to spend a Tuesday. Here’s Phil Plait taking on her views, which he calls “a threat to public health.” 

I understand that TV stations are not obligated to vet all the opinions of everyone they give us to entertain us during the long daylight hours before “Family Feud” is on. There are many amusing and interesting people with dim understandings of medicine who should not be robbed of TV platforms. But most of them are wise enough to keep those dim understandings to themselves. Not Jenny, who will not stop waving hers in our face.

I realize it’s “The View,” not “The Correct View” or “The View That Is Actually Substantiated By Any Science Whatsoever.” There is no reason to assume that, just because someone is on your TV, that this person has opinions that are grounded in fact and that you should go about implementing in your life. In many cases, it’s the exact opposite. Usually, the presence of someone on television indicates little more than that this person is slightly louder than most people and would be unpleasant to sit next to on a long flight.

Celebrity advice is always a dubious proposition — for people with millions of dollars in annual income, they sound suspiciously gung-ho about drug store shampoo — but when it comes to medicine, you don’t even have grounds for suspecting they might know what they’re talking about.

Jenny McCarthy’s lack of information about medical science would not be our business if she didn’t keep crusading. But given her track record, she seems likely to use this new platform to continue to spread dangerous misinformation. For the sake of the kids, I hope she confines herself to generic The View behavior like yelling at Bill O’Reilly and walking off the set. But I worry she won’t.

When challenged about her anti-vaccine stance, she has backed down to the point of saying she’s just “raising questions,” which at a certain point you really don’t get to do. At a certain point, you are just wrong. You don’t get a free pass on inane science by sticking a question mark at the end. “I’m just saying, what if the earth is actually on the back of a giant turtle slowly crawling through space? Something to consider.”

I know it is hard to have an opinion about everything, and often all you can do is find someone you think is reliable and borrow hers. And perhaps if you decide that the person whose medical advice you are going to listen to is Jenny McCarthy, Playmate of the Year, a title that is in no way a medical credential, you should not be surprised when your kids come down with mumps. If it were just your kids who were affected, that would be sad and awful for your kids, but, I guess, within your rights as a parent. But one reason vaccination is so effective is because it produces herd immunity — that’s to say, the fact that there are so few people left to whom a given disease can spread helps protect children too young to be vaccinated, people with cancer, and others who would otherwise be vulnerable. When the vaccination rate drops because people have decided they would prefer to listen to Jenny McCarthy (a survey found that 24 percent of parents considered celebrities to be a reliable source of vaccine information) that leaves the children of parents who did not make the asinine choice of listening to Jenny McCarthy open to infection. And that’s just unfair.

 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.