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Celebrities and Science

Sullivan at Left Brain/Right Brain comments in the post Forbes on “Stars Vs. Science” once again the autism community looks bad
Once again, the Autism community takes it on the chin that our representative in the public eye is, well, in a league of her own when it comes to understanding science. Even though the story is about celebrities and science in general, autism plays a big part in the story as a whole.

Autism and the "controversy" over whether or not vaccines cause autism feature prominently in the Forbes article Stars Vs. Science that discusses the maddening phenomenon of people taking medical advice from Hollywood celebrities.
When the medical journal Pediatrics released a consensus report early this year concluding that autistic children do not benefit from special diets, ABC News' Diane Sawyer knew just whom to call. Jenny McCarthy, former MTV game host, nude model and now mother of an autistic son Evan, enthusiastically denounced the study. "Until doctors start listening to our anecdotal evidence, which is it's working, it's going to take so many more years for these kids to get better," she opined.

Stars are almost never doctors, but all too often they try to play them in real life. It's a rare week that passes without some celebrity weighing in on a scientific topic or medical controversy. Sometimes it is funny.

But some of the best-known celebrities use their soap boxes to spread scientifically dubious--and potentially harmful--messages. Jenny McCarthy believes vaccines cause autism, despite numerous studies to the contrary. She campaigns against child vaccines that have been shown to save lives. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported that measles outbreaks had spiked because more parents were deciding to leave their children unvaccinated, thanks to the burgeoning anti-vaccine movement.

"These are folks who really don't have the best information, but because they are vocal and well organized their message has gotten out," says William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. As a result, "around the country pediatricians and their staffs are having to spend more and more time persuading parents to have their kids vaccinated in a timely fashion. It is an enormous problem."

Seriously, of all the people who study autism ABC could only come up with Jenny McCarthy for comments? When your main goal is to entertain of course the pretty blond starlet mommy is going to win out over some plain Jane egghead scientists who actually know what they're talking about. I totally confess to being the kind of elitist snob that will take the advice of people who spend decades earning their advanced degrees and working in their area of expertise over that of someone who essentially makes a living being pretty and playing make believe whether they've got an autistic kid or not. But that's just me. We (autistic people, their families and their friends) have got enough to deal with with out having such questionable spoke's people supposedly representing our cause.

The Forbes article ends with this,
Why do celebrities feel the need to spout off on medical or scientific matters? Because they've excelled in one field, stars "think they're an expert in many things," says the vaccine expert [Paul] Offit. "That part doesn't bother me. It's the part that we listen that bothers me."

It bothers me too.


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