Is Larry King Live the ideal venue for a reasoned discussion about a controversial topic in science? That was the question Wednesday when one of Kingâ€™s guests was former actress and model Jenny McCarthy, whose 5-year-old son, Evan was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
To many, science has already ruled that vaccines are not linked to autism. (Link old blog.) The debate rages, however, in certain segments of the public. McCarthy is not anti-vaccine, but thinks the 36 shots recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics should be staggered throughout a young child's life, rather than given all at once. She believes the load of all these shots could trigger autism.
No doctors or scientists arrived on the scene until halfway through the show. In the meantime, McCarthy said, "I believe that parents' anecdotal information is science-based information." (Full transcript of show, here.) Also, her son has apparently "recovered" from his autism, thanks to a gluten- and casein-free diet, a "detox of metals" from his body, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis. (Iâ€™m unaware of other cases in which a child has recovered from the disorder, so any readers who have any information should post it as a comment on this blog.)
When the medical cavalry finally did get called in, Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, lost it in the face of McCarthy's pointed questions. An exchange: McCarthy pointed to a chart of the 36 childrenâ€™s vaccines and asked, "Do we really need all of these, though?" Karp: "Which disease do you want your child to get?" (See minute 9 of YouTube clip.)
That wasnâ€™t helpful. Sure, McCarthy was badgering him, but Dr. Karp's comment does a disservice to him and all the scientists and doctors who agree with him. It gives ammunition to those who would portray scientists as unfeeling slaves to data with no ability to empathize. Iâ€™m pretty certain talking down to someone isn't going to help promote the scientific evidence. Isnâ€™t it just going to make a television audience more sympathetic to McCarthy's claims?
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.