The Lesson of Jenny McCarthy (Updated)

Measles returns: Of vaccines and vacuous starlets | The Economist.

Buried in Jenny McCarthy’s well-intentioned but horribly mis-informed campaign against vaccinations lies a critical lesson for all of us.

There is a tremendous amount of research being conducted that is unfit to be called science. Whether because of poor research design, bad data, stupid conclusions, or because the researchers seek to attract attention to themselves and build sinecures based on their counter-intuitive (but faulty) conclusions, much that comes out of labs in America today is an embarrassment to the great men and women who toil in anonymity because of their dedication to science as a discipline rather than a ladder.

We have all been the victims of such dreck. Vaccinations do not cause autism. Eating cholesterol is not bad for you. GMOs are safe to eat. Fallout from Fukushima did not cause 14,000 American deaths. But you wouldn’t know it if you believed even a fraction of the river of junk science that pours into the media mainstream every day.

Those of us who respond to bad science as if it were gospel, forwarding and sharing sensationalistic scientific claims only make the bad even worse. In the case of the spurious measles-autism link, they take a bad thing and turn it into a disaster. Willfully propagating such ill-informed half-truths is ill-advised. Doing so for material gain or political affirmation is beneath contempt.

If statistics are to be believed, the vast majority of those of us using social media have actually taken classes where the scientific method was taught. We would do well to go back and refresh ourselves. This video from Cognitive Domain might help.

The best defense against junk science is to reject the findings of isolated studies, and to seek out where the preponderance of scientific evidence lies. We also need to resist the temptation to spread (and give credit to) such nonsense. It only serves to pollute the national dialogue with non-issues, distracting us from the real problems that confront us.

UPDATE: Added video and cleaned up the writing.

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