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Ratings Over Science: Jenny McCarthy on ‘The View’

July 16, 2013

Science took a hit yesterday when ABC named Jenny McCarthy to be one of the co-hosts of The View. Of course, daytime talk shows court controversy, as well as telegentic blonde former models, but giving the celebrity spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement a place at the table is a very disturbing move.

You may dismiss the show, as many do, as silly talk, but a good deal of that talk is about politics and serious issues—not to mention serious guests who include sitting presidents and their wives. So it was fairly stunning to hear Barbara Walters, in announcing the hire, describe McCarthy this way: “Jenny brings us intelligence as well as warmth and humor. She can be serious and outrageous. She has connected with our audience and offers a fresh point of view.”

A “fresh point of view” is a shameful way to sugarcoat McCarthy’s campaign against medical science and leadership of an anti-vaccine movement that endangers lives. Treating science as just one opinion among many is anything but harmless. As Time TV critic James Poniewozik puts it:

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.

Even if McCarthy has been told by ABC management that the subject of vaccines is off the table, the hire gives her credibility, which can only inflame the vaccine conspiracy that she has been the voice of for years. As Alex Pareene points out on Slate:

“Vaccine conspiracies, like so much modern cult conspiracy culture, perpetuates itself and lives on indefinitely thanks to the community-building and archiving of the Internet. With the help of some very prominent advocates, with huge audiences and a great deal of influence, it has spread far beyond the fringe.”

If you want to see what lots of other people had to say about the hire, read the comments of some of the 2,000-plus people who have signed a petition on to urge a boycott of The View over the McCarthy hire. I’ll give the last word here to one of them, Pennsylvania pediatrician Jane Longacre:

Vaccines have saved more children’s lives than any other public health intervention in history other than clean water. Don’t allow ratings to take precedence over children’s health!

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