Jenny McCarthy--yes, that Jenny McCarthy, Playboy playmate, actress, model, ex-girlfriend of Jim Carrey, and notorious proponent of a vaccine-autism link--has been hired by the Chicago Sun-Times to write a daily blog on parenting, dating, and "family issues," the paper reports.
McCarthy's blog will run Monday through Friday. In addition, she "will debut a cheeky weekly advice column called 'Ask Jenny' inside the Splash print edition," the Sun-Times says. "Splash" is the paper's Lifestyles section, which runs daily online and is where McCarthy's blog posts will appear. (I'll have more to say about Splash in a moment; it has serious problems of its own.)
Knowing nothing about McCarthy's personal life, I'll grant that she is a mother who cares about her child; I don't have any reason to question that. But the issue here is scientific credibility--and the judgment of the Sun-Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for a series on violence in Chicago neighborhoods.
McCarthy has become a prominent voice for those who believe, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism. More than that, however, she has promoted an anti-science view of autism in which her "mommy instinct" trumps any scientific finding. In 2007, a day after the appearance of her book Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, she was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. According to Seth Mnookin, who wrote about this in his book The Panic Virus, McCarthy told Winfrey she got her "degree" in autism from "the University of Google."
McCarthy talked about putting her son on a wheat- and dairy-free diet, saying it had led to considerable improvement in his condition. And how did she know that this would help him? "Mommy instinct," she said. Winfrey asked her what she thought caused autism. "We vaccinated our baby and something bad happened," McCarthy said.
That was five years ago, but McCarthy is still promoting these ideas. (See the website of Generation Rescue, of which she is president.) Such notions, based on nothing more than "mommy instinct," are diverting attention from a search for the real causes of autism. And idiosyncratic, unproven diets are no substitute for the interventions that could help many children with autism.
McCarthy is entitled to her opinion and her mommy instinct, but she's not entitled to the validation and amplification that come with a job as a daily blogger for the Sun-Times. As Maria Puente writes at USA Today, "She definitely has a voice, and now she has a megaphone."
The credibility of the Sun-Times, however, is clearly not what it once was. I took a quick walk through Splash, its lifestyle pages, and what I found was not encouraging. Michael Ferro, the chairman of the Sun-Times, is apparently a regular columnist there, where he extols prominent Chicagoans. Each of two columns I saw concludes by saying that Ferro made a donation to the Sun-Times Foundation in the name of the person he's writing about. The prominent Chicagoan Ferro is really promoting is himself.
Earlier this month, the Sun-Times ran a post by Lindsay Avner about the upcoming activities of Bright Pink, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young women at risk of breast cancer. Bright Pink was founded by--Lindsay Avner. It might be a wonderful group, but Avner, like Ferro, is promoting herself. And the Sun-Times allowed her to do it.
An Oct. 2 McCarthy post didn't deal with autism, vaccines, or quirky diets. Instead, McCarthy wrote about how, as a little girl, she wanted to become a nun. But she has since "come to realize that you can still fight for justice and truth without having to wear a habit. I chose to wear a push-up bra instead."
Oh, and were we just talking about self-promotion? McCarthy concluded her post by writing that her new book, Bad Habits: Confessions of a Recovering Catholic, was going on sale that day. And she helpfully told us where she would be signing books.
This post originally appeared at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.