Jenny McCarthy and Fad/Fear-Based Parenting

New essay online, with a slightly shifted take from my earlier one. I move beyond the vaccine issue, as important as it is. Here, I focus on McCarthy’s epistemology and the ways that parents, buffeted by fear-based marketing, also encounter information and the consequences of giving McCarthy this big new platform.

The essay is here.

Some sections I like:

Parents are more likely to jump at “fads” rather than sticking to “evidence-based” parenting. It’s hard to blame them for this characteristic — they are primed to be afraid.
Parents are told that
unless they buy a given product, their child will get sick, learn too
slowly, fail to flourish, or even die. Being a parent requires so many
leaps of faith on a day-to-day basis. We just hope and pray that we’re
getting it mostly right.
When someone claims to
have answers, especially someone with the intelligence and charisma of a
Jenny McCarthy, parents are easy targets.


Enter Jenny McCarthy, a
woman who evangelizes. She jumps at fads, hunches, intuitions and really
bad ideas. She believes them. She makes them hers. Then she builds
institutions to promote them with the full-throated roar of a new
McCarthy has profited
handsomely from her outrageous views. She is intelligent, funny and
persuasive. She writes books that sell very well. Her organizations
throw successful events. She is a tireless promoter of her ideas. And
now she’s a host on “The View.”
What idea will she seize
on next? What dangerous fad will she claim needs more study? How many
parents, at home in the morning, will be persuaded? I’m deeply
disappointed that Barbara Walters and ABC have decided to let us find
out the answers to these troubling questions.

Let me know what you think. Thanks.

P.S. I’m still really angry at ABC and The View.

14 Replies to “Jenny McCarthy and Fad/Fear-Based Parenting”

  1. Anonymous says:


    I firmly believe that traditional medicine is woefully lacking in the areas of homeopathic and holistic medicine. By traditional medicine I mean the CDC, your general practitioner and nearly every physician. They learn in school that the protocol for a particular problem is to prescribe a drug. If they could and or would spend time understanding the whole patient in most cases these drugs would not be needed.
    Frequently lifestyle changes could relieve many of the symptoms that Americans are suffering from. I believe firmly that we over medicate as a society. People don't want to do the hard work they only want to take a magic pill that fixes the problem. There are numerous examples like Statins to bear out this addicted gene society we live in.
    I think you should look again at what Ms. McCarthy is suggesting. A gluten free diet is not a radical extremist idea. Conditions such as Crohn's Disease can be dramatically eased by eating a gluten free diet.
    I applaud what Ms. McCarthy is suggesting related to Autism as well. There are reasons why there is a rise in certain diseases and conditions like Autism, MS and Diabetes to name just a few. Many drugs are crucial to helping sufferers but frequently the answer is "not doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" as my father (God rest his soul) used to say.

    You go Jenny,


    1. David Perry says:

      I think you should look again at the long history of what McCarthy has suggested. Start with the crystal children, move to the mis-diagnosis of autism, the accusations of conspiracy, and work towards the present.

      Yes, there are cases in which diet is an important part of responding to key health conditions. Those cases are backed up by multiple scientific studies which can be replicated.

      When you just make things up and decide that they are true, with no understanding of causation, we are in a different kind of world. Parents of children with autism are feeding their children bleach. A few years ago, it was chelation. Then MMS (that's the bleach). Now it's stem cells. All of these have been promoted widely at AutismOne/Generation Rescue events. I don't know what comes next, but I worry.

      When confronted with data that demonstrated her errors, McCarthy responded, "My science is Evan. He's at home. That's my science."

      So she's in the realm of faith, a realm in which evidence simply cannot win. You can't even have a discussion with someone for whom evidence cannot win.

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. David Perry says:

      Anthony, I am deleting your post for the following reasons.

      1. The abortion debate, which is not relevant to this discussion.

      2. The fundamental confusion about science. Direct observation in fact does not have more weight, because our observation fails to take into account the complexities of correlation and causation.

      Have a nice day!

  2. Matt T. says:

    I don't really know what Jenny McCarthy preaches about other than what I've read in headlines over the years. But, unless you're a parent of a child with autism, PANDAS, asthma, or extreme allergies, and have struggled to find help or answers, then you really can't dismiss the gluten free/casein free diet and vitamin/supplement approach.

    I will never rely on a celebrity for medical advice or tips on how to raise my children. However, I will keep an open mind to books and studies conducted by medical doctors who make a solid case for why there is an epidemic with our children today (Dr. Kenneth Bock's book: Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies).

    Vaccines are critical, but there are excessive amounts of mercury and other toxins in them that can harm children–and we're finding that some children are more susceptible to these toxins than others.

    Again, I won't be asking Jenny for advise, but the fact she is bringing this to the main stream isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    1. David Perry says:

      Matt, I have a number of points in response, and I welcome debate. Please read my whole comment, because the last thing I say is the most important. Here we go:

      1. Thimerosal has been taken out of vaccines, just to keep parents happy, despite the data – In the meantime, autism rates have not declined. Therefore, Thimerosal (mercury) was not in any way involved. It also wasn't harmful.

      2. Embracing the language of epidemic for autism is deeply insulting, for the record, though I know it's common in McCarthy's crowd. It's not a disease.

      Let's talk about Bock:

      3. He promoted the vaccine-autism link and promoted Wakefield. That rules him out as a credible scientist. Bock said, "There is something that can provide an overarching explanation for this phenomenon of pervasive dysfunction. That is a toxic substance that we are all aware of; the mercury containing preservative, thimerosal." See point #1

      4. Bock, like McCarthy, promoted Chelation. Chelation is not credible – It can even be fatal.

      This is the most important:

      5. It's really hard to have a child with these conditions. I understand the search for answers, and I don't dismiss the notion that diet may be part of a solution to ameliorate certain kinds of challenges (let's just ditch the disease/cure dialectic). But Bock, Wakefield, and McCarthy are all profiteers off your hardship. They sell product. They sell snake oil. It's an old old game, and I can never tell who is a true believer and who is a con artist, but I know that they are not helping your children.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi, As a parent with a child with Autism I respecfully ask,,Is your child Autistic? Have you spent hours, no make that countless years wondering why did this happen, and why does it keep happening at such an alarming rate. Don't judge until you have walked for many miles in the shoes of others.

    1. David Perry says:

      No, my son has Down syndrome, which has a different set of issues.

      But it is precisely these hours of worry that leads to the vulnerability to hunch-based parenting. I empathize, deeply.

  4. Anonymous says:

    it is not only the Thimerserol
    It is the other adjuvants..
    it is the aluminum ..

    host of other chemicals that cross the blood brain barrier AND during the most important growth of the brain..
    there is a connection with vaccines AND poor health. Also, with death and disabilities..

    you have 2 factors to consider.
    1. the government has a vaccine injury compensation fund ( so damage has been done )
    2. too many parents have stated that their child was fine UNTIL that injection..and things changed.

    those are facts..

    if everyone smoked the same amount, not all people will get cancer of the lungs exactly at the same spot or same time..

    life ( health ) is dynamic…there is a correlation wit decreased health, including autism, allergies and asthma from vaccines..

    plain and simple..My name is Dr. Rich

    1. David Perry says:

      Hi Rich,

      The vaccine court is a VERY interesting body with a unique evidentiary standard. Basically, all you have to show is that your reaction could have come from vaccines and you get an award, even if it's highly unlikely that it did. Isn't that fascinating?

      The correlation data has not held up, but even if so, you do know the different between correlation and causation, yes?

    2. David Perry says:

      Also Rich, I deleted your other comments. I'm really not interested in being a vector for the proliferation of this kind of thing. The CNN comments are unmoderated, so you go to there, if you need to do so.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I read your article on CNN. I think that article is just as dangerous as anything McCarthy might have to say. I don't buy into everything she preaches, but there is value in some of it.

    My son had 30+ words when he was two, was developing normally, no odd behaviours. He had his normal two-year vaccinations, lost all of his words within two weeks or so, was completely non-verbal, and started exhibiting autistic behavoirs (repetitive tasks, lining up toys, etc.). My wife and I took him to a neurologist who basically wrote him off, said he'd never be capable of showing love and would likely require special assistance for the remainder of his life. My wife refused to accept that and started researching. (We'd never known about McCarthy and her beliefs until a few years later)

    The long and short of this whole tale is we did put him on a gluten/casein free diet. We also pursued other non-invasive treatments (dietary supplements, hyperbolic chamber, etc) to greater and lesser degrees of success. Ultimately, he has 'recovered'. He's now a typical, loving, funny, hyperactive and intelligent 8-year-old.

    I have no doubt that had we accepted the neurologists' diagnosis, our son would not be where he is today. That's why parents such as myself have so little faith in the popular medical community. That community wrote our son off, discarded him. That's basically what you're doing with that article as well. You're writing off all parents like myself and their children who have lived this, seen the fruit of some of these recovery endeavors. You're arguing again fear-mongering, but your article does exactly that. You're saying to fear everything McCarthy has to offer. You're mistaken.


    1. David Perry says:

      Mark – Thank you for writing.

      I'm glad your son is doing well. But you are arguing from the perspective of a causation/correlation error. If JM happen to periodically say something that works out, it doesn't undermine the literal deaths that her message has caused. And it doesn't undermine the danger of what she's going to latch on to now.

      In 2010, at the autismone/generation rescue conference, everyone was talking about feeding children bleach. Bleach, Mark. Spinal injections. This is the epistemology that you are endorsing when you support JM.

      There are ways to argue and … study, not just guess … without relying on her hunches.

  6. Mike Young says:

    David, thanks for spreading the word about McCarthy. Glad to see such critical thinking on the CNN web site. I hope you don't mind but I linked to it from a post on forum pages. You are to be commended for taking a reasoned and evidence based–and thus more productive–view of this issue, especially in light of the emotional burdens you surely must bare as the parent of a special needs child. Keep up the good work.


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