Yesterday the “news” was Jenny McCarthy had abandoned her medical degree from the University of Google, embraced science, and stated some version of vaccines are helpful and that her son never really had autism.
My twitter steam was broiling with people retweeting an article from Radar Online making this claim (the link is now dead), many railing against the damage she’d done to this point and wondering why she saw the light now?
The thing is, it’s all false. A quick check on Jenny McCarthy’s twitter stream indicates the “state of California” diagnosed her son with autism (that gave my a “huh?” moment, but perhaps she means he had an IEP based on his diagnosis of autism and that’s a little hard to clarify in 140 characters, so I’ll give her the benefit) and that this “news” is all rumor. See below for a screen shot from Ms. McCarthy’s Twitter account.
So as it stands, Ms, McCarthy is still anti science. Where did the rumor come from?
Well, here’s a screen shot from the Reddit thread “Today I learned” from January 2nd, 2014….
The “facts” are from a blog entitled The Sports Pig’s Blog that sources a 2010 Time article that hypothesizes that McCarthy’s son may never have had autism, but a different neurological condition and that all she really wants are safer vaccines. I’m not sure how one would ever know McCarthy’s son’s diagnosis without reviewing his medical records and an evaluation by a pediatric neurologist and the article definitely skirts around the possibility without truly laying claim. As much as I dislike Ms. McCarthy and her views I’m not going to question her child’s diagnosis without credible information to the contrary and the Time article just isn’t credible. A reporter for a national, high-profile publication shouldn’t be perpetuating a hypothesis. Yes, McCarthy by championing the anti-vaccine cause and talking nationally about her son’s autism does open herself up to scrutiny, but we shouldn’t be stooping to her level, meaning we need facts. It isn’t ethical to raise a question without some kind of evidence to back it up. If you don’t have any supporting facts then get them, put the story on the back burner until you can get the proof, or drop it.
The Reddit thread “Today I learned” is supposed to be for verifiable facts, meaning there is a credible source. I guess it’s hard to fault someone for thinking of Time as a valid source. However, a rule of thumb for medical information online that I use is if it’s over two years old you need another more recent source. It’s a good lesson in the viral ability of misinformation. Some reporters seem to be less and less concerned about the validity of content and more about page clicks (hey Vanity Fair and your poorly researched article on NuvaRing, I’m looking at you and your inability to interpret medical studies or perhaps even deliberate misquoting of study results!), so using one source often doesn’t cut it.
The other lesson is the Time article is behind a paywall. I wonder how many people upvoted (or whatever they do on Reddit) and retweeted without reading the full article?
Whether the Reddit post made the bad-to-begin-with Time article go viral (Reddit can lead to thousands of hits in a very short period of time, I know this personally as one of my posts was used as the source on a Today I Learned thread) and then Radar picked it up or vice vera or they both just added to the fray we’ll never know. However, the take away has to be, just because it’s on the Internet or in print doesn’t make it true. I see errors all the time with reporting on medical stories, so it’s reader beware. Always.
The anti-vaccine people cling to misinformation and we need to be better than that. Always.