How did Jenny McCarthy earn a platform at a cancer fundraiser?

The anti-vaccine crusader has just been dropped from an Ottawa fundraiser. Science-ish asks why she was there in the first place


Update Feb. 1, 5:15p.m.:

The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation has announced that Jenny McCarthy has been dropped from their fundraiser. 

“To be honest, we didn’t expect this kind of response,” Linda Eagen, president and chief executive of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation told the Ottawa Citizen. “When we started to get that (negative) feedback where people were talking about anything but cancer, we just decided to move away from that.”

McCarthy tweeted the change of plans on her Twitter account: “So so sorry Ottawa! I had to pull out of event because of my new show taping conflict but will be back in a few months to make up for it!”

Science-ish blogger Julia Belluz wrote this column before the decision was announced: 

They say all publicity is good publicity, which can be the only way to explain why anti-vaccine campaigner Jenny McCarthy has been invited to appear at an Ottawa breast-cancer fundraiser next month.

McCarthy will be a guest fitness instructor at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation’s March 2 “Bust A Move” event, which boasts Laureen Harper and an oncologist on its leadership committee. Inviting an anti-vaxxer to a health fundraiser is like getting Lance Armstrong to keynote a conference on honest sportsmanship. It’s just science-ish.

McCarthy is, after all, a pseudoscience peddler, credited with helping to bring back such vaccine-preventable diseases as measles and whooping cough. On the media rounds she has explained how vaccines gave her son Evan autism, which she cured with a special diet and supplements.  She also promotes other autism therapies, like the hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Sadly, there is no cure for autism. The link between vaccine and autism is not controversial within the scientific community because it’s been discredited. Read all about it here. In sum: The study on which the vaccine-autism theory is based involved 12 children and no control group. It has been retracted and revealed to be a work of data manipulation. Of course, Andrew Wakefield—who authored the report and lost his medical licence for misconduct—co-wrote a book with McCarthy, titled Callous Disregard.

Here’s how event chair Bernice Rachkowski explained the committee’s choice to the Ottawa Citizen: “She’s funny, she’s very much a people person, she’s vivacious and full of life.” Plus, Rachkowski added, “she also appeals to our target demographic because we want to engage younger women in being aware of breast cancer, how to prevent it and to be aware of all the help that is available if they, their aunt or mom are going through it.”

In response, one of Canada’s leading infectious disease experts, Dr. Noni MacDonald, told Science-ish, “Jenny McCarthy is likely all the things this woman is saying, but she also disseminates misinformation that may be harmful to children.”

Since the news of McCarthy’s Ottawa appearance, a #DropJenny hashtag has spawned on Twitter, and local skeptics have lashed out. Dr. Joe Schwarcz (PhD), director of McGill University’s office for science and society, told Science-ish, “If an anti-vaccine (promoter) is what is needed to attract young women, I’m worried.” It seems the only link McCarthy has with health research is that she likes to routinely deny it. 

Schwarcz questioned if a credible Ottawa foundation is doing public health a disservice by giving McCarthy a platform. Dr. MacDonald asked if McCarthy will be paid with funds that were raised for regional cancer services. “Who would want to donate to an organization that chooses to pay someone well known for spreading false and dangerous information?”

Science-ish also wonders what the event says about the state of public-health discourse in Canada. Why is McCarthy a go-to health promoter? She actively works against science, and the best-available research evidence contradicts her messages. It’s not clear what drives her work in health, other than the fact she makes money selling lies.

Science-ish tried but was unable to contact Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Susan Dent, medical expert on the Bust A Move board, and event chair Bernice Rachkowsk. The communications co-ordinator and CEO at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation also did not reply. 

In an effort to better understand how McCarthy became the celebrity face of breast health in Ottawa, here are questions Science-ish hopes the charity will answer. Science-ish will happily update this story when they do:

  1. Were you aware of McCarthy’s anti-vaccine views when you chose her for the Bust A Move event?
  2. Are you concerned about the public health implications of this choice?
  3. Do you see a conflict between McCarthy’s health messages and your work for health promotion?
  4. Do you really think McCarthy was the best choice to speak on health?
  5. How much is McCarthy being paid to appear at the event?
  6. Will those fees come from money raised for breast-cancer services?

Science-ish is a joint project of Maclean’s, the Medical Post and the McMaster Health Forum. Julia Belluz is the senior editor at the Medical Post. Got a tip? Seen something that’s Science-ish? Message her at or on Twitter @juliaoftoronto


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How did Jenny McCarthy earn a platform at a cancer fundraiser?

  1. I’m sure the Bust A Move team is a hard working and dedicated group. However, it sounds like their chair Bernice Rachkowski needs a little oversight by someone more attuned to the real world of cancer research and fund raising. If you read the Ottawa Citizen article, Rachkowski was aware of McCarthy’s controversial baggage but dismissed it, feeling it would have no impact on their BAM event. That’s a PR/marketing person that needs some supervision. The great work of BAM and now, as the McCarthy issue starts to build up steam, even the ORCF is at risk. Someone in authority needs to pull the plug fast.

  2. Jenny McCarthy is an odd choice to appeal to “young women”, anyway. I wonder how many young women are in Rachkowski’s circle that she thinks that McCarthy is a suitable choice.

    • As a young(ish) woman, I can state with some authority that you’d have to pay me — substantially — to sit through the vacuous ramblings of a woman who started her career as a Playboy centrefold and has since then primarily been in the public eye only to promote her own egregious stupidity and shill quack remedies. Memo to ORCF — just because she has a pair of breasts, doesn’t mean she has anything of substance to say about them.

      • Funny. Jenny is a highly attractive cougar but fact is Playboy was her name to fame ticket. Like a fruit flay specialist, she is no scientist. Some say far too close to the problem to be objective.

  3. Julia, there is a spelling mistake in the headline

  4. Well Science-ish, don’t take it personally that the CEO of the ORCF and their media relations officer didn’t respond to you. They ignored me too, when I wrote to them yesterday stating pretty much what you’ve stated. Of course, I’m not media, just an ordinary female Ottawa resident expressing outrage. Just exactly the kind of person they claim is their target, but, oops, I don’t find Jenny “appealing.” I urge others to write to the ORCF and tell them why Jenny shouldn’t be coming to town at their behest, because clearly, they just don’t get it.
    sbain at ottawacancer dot ca (Shannon Bain, VP communications) and leagen @ ottawacancer dot ca (Linda Eagen, Pres and CEO).

  5. Any other consumer product with an almost 50% injury rate would be laughed right out of existence but not if its a worthless and dangerous vaccine. Then we have to put up with articles written by Bimbos like this. Julia, you couldn’t differentiate legitimate science from medical industry BS if it bit you in the behind.

    • That’s the spirit Bob! Soon you’re contribution to the gene-pool will be lessened!

      • That is the good part. But our socirty is sort of rigged that those with poor genes have other people pay for their kids. A good movie is “Idiocracy”. I can see some realism in it.

    • Citations, please.

      • Bob105 cannot provide a citation for a claim of an “almost 50% injury rate” for vaccine as no citation exists. He and the anti-vaccine crowd regularly make fantastic and outrageous claims regarding the dangers of vaccine and they NEVER have any vigorous scientific research to back up any of them.

        • Yep. It is baseless, but that is how many people think. Sad to say, irrationality and delusion is a rampant disease. Or is it poor genetics? Or just undisciplined liberal child rearing?

    • Bob, clearly YOU can’t differentiate legitimate science and statistics from pseudoscience and misinformation being spread by people as easily fooled as yourself. How do you explain the fact that since the anti-vaccination campaign has begun, incidence of vaccine-preventable illnesses (and deaths) have increased around the world? However, I have heard no where that “injury rates” have decreased as a result (including rates of autism).

      I would refer you to some of the hundreds of articles, studies and reviews that have proven the effectiveness of vaccines, but I doubt it would make a difference. You think the medical industry is spouting BS so they can take our money, eh? So, I suppose the rich and famous Jenny McCarthy isn’t interested in money?

    • “A consumer product with an almost 50% injury rate”….hmmm…I think you might be thinking about cigarettes, not vaccine Bob105. You are right. Cigarettes should be removed from the shelf with their rate of injury to human health. Amazing they haven’t been.

      • Could say that about booze, hormone chemical meat, Monsanto on greens, Dupont on fruit, vegan diets of malnutrition, illegal drug abuse which we can’t control anyway.

        If stupidity was classified as a disease, half of us would be classified as sick. As lets face it, where does an attractive Playboy girl/MILF have expertise in vaccinations? So many don’t even question her credentials or no one would watch the hype. We as a society celebrate idiocracy!

    • Oh, Bob. Bless your heart. I, too, am suspicious of a lot of corporate propaganda and cover-up PR mumbo-jumbo, but when it comes to vaccines, this is where you and I part ways. I appreciate that you have an opinion on the matter, but to be honest, I can’t understand it, nor can I abide it. I feel you’re wrong, as I do Miss MacCarthy is, and just as I suspect you both feel I am. That’s ok. We don’t have to agree, but what we do have to do is respect others who don’t feel as we do. See how polite I’m being to you?

      Now, if you are a real man of intelligence, I won’t need to point out you were rude and own the author of this article a public apology. Intelligent people don’t need to stoop so low – especially on the faceless internet.

      • Apologies for the typos and grammar errors. I am being distracted by my husband and lack of coffee at the moments. Will do my best to proofread my comments 5x before submitting in the future.

        • ;-)

          • keep taking your shots Stac & ALL YOU OTHER FOOLS OUT THERE!

          • And you keep checking yourself for those warts!

          • I’m not sure if you’re saying this to me or Bob, but I’ve never had a wart in my life. But, thank you for your “concern.”

    • Bob105, you forgot to mention the nanotechnology included in the vaccines that is used for mind control. You gotta stay current….

      • Best mind control is TV, that is why Ottawa owns CBC.

    • Hey Bob105. While we appreciate you chiming in on this, please refrain from name-calling, or we’ll have to remove you from the conversation. (I’ve never seen, nor will I ever see again, Ms. Belluz being referred to as a bimbo.)

    • Good thing you documented that claim.

    • You should be ashamed to call the author names. Grow up. If you disagree, say so, but why should she even acknowledge juvenile insults?

    • Only if you think like a ditz.

      Vaccinations are about statistics. If you can save 500,000 from polio, but one gets sick, have you not saved 499,000 the grief? Ditto fluoride, salt, fat intake. Right amounts are healthy.

      Sure, some fallout exists but only emotional basket cases go on the warpath. We don’t an planes and autos for occasional accidents as the benefits on a world/society level outweigh the problems.

      Vaccinations are no where near 50%, stop making stuff up, just shows the ignorance.

  6. McCarthy would be against the HPV vaccine. Does this mean the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation is against the HPV vaccine too? If not, do they not think her invitation will lend credence to her message against vaccines and cause less parents to get their daughters and sons vaccinated against a cancer causing virus?

    “She’s funny, she’s very much a people person, she’s vivacious and full of life.”

    There are no other celebrities with those qualities? Did the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation not look very hard? Maybe she was easy to get. Did they not think she’s happy to do these things because she knows such invitations from legit health charities lend her credibility she does not deserve?

    • Just wait – a month from now, Jenny will have “Hosted a Cancer Foundation gig” and she’ll use it as proof that she knows what she’d talking about with regard to vaccines. Maybe she’ll explain how people on chemo don’t need herd immunity.

      • Ya, but Hollywood is loaded with self important people for other peoples money.

        Only places I know that are worse is Ottawa and DC. Its all b-ll—t. As George Carlin says, just more BS. Wish we still had George.

  7. Whether Rachowski agrees or not, providing Jenny McCarthy any credibility whatsoever on any subject promotes the sale of her books (ORCF did on FB and Twitter promote Jenny McCarthy as an author)

    Books that defend and promote (with hyperbolic fear-mongering, pseudo-science, 1 fabricated study and intentional misinformation) the anti-vaccination premise. She used those same tools to promote the movement FAR beyond its actual ability to sway public opinion with many television appearances and speaking events.

    She gave a tin-foil hat fringe group credibility, power to sway un-ill-informed young parents seeking to do the best thing for their children, to have those people deny vaccinations, now to the point that herd immunity has been broken for diseases that had been well controlled.

    Had she not misused her celebrity in ignorance and for gain, some children who have passed away likely would be here today and their bereaved parents would be whole people as well the many who fell ill and recovered. And because of how vaccination programs protect, people will yet die and suffer for their successful efforts in lowering vaccination rates.

    This movement has costs the Canadian people lives and good health, it has and will continue to cost Canadian health care systems millions of dollars annually.

    The only legitimate use of Jenny McCarthy’s name is within statements decrying her views and actions, past or present. For so long as her books remain published, for so long as she remains on youtube, for so long as her agents continue to try and put her in the spotlight, that (anti-vaccination) movement will use her actions to further their dangerous misguided movement.

    The damage done will take many years to correct. Rachowski’s intentions may be noble, to raise $500,000 for local cancer care is something no one would oppose, but that is a paltry sum with negligible benefit, that can be had in any case without McCarthy’s involvement, when it is held against the costs involved in giving Jenny McCarthy any voice, especially as she has to date never recanted or accepted responsibility, even where she is misused by that movement. This indicates only a profit motivation or an outlook so deranged that it must be quashed in every possible instance.

    Rachowski has no right to ignore that.

    For goodness sake, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister is an honourary Co-Chair of an event that at the time I am writing this, still has Jenny McCarthy as their celebrity representing the event. That is an association that the anti-vaccination movement will attempt to capitalize upon no matter what anyone, including Stephen Harper’s wife says to the contrary. To date, Laureen Harper has remained silent on McCarthy’s involvement with the event.

    I hope when ORCF eventually sees reason, that Ms. Harper will take the opportunity to disavow that (anti-vaccination) movement and lend her powerful voice to support Canada’s robust and beneficial vaccination programs.


  8. The Encyclopedia of American Loons, a representative sample of American loons from A-Z.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011. #262: Jenny McCarthy

    Diagnosis: Stupendously moronic crank whose level of lunacy is only matched by the firmness of her conviction that she is right, regardless of what reality says. She is zealous, and must be counted as one of the most dangerous loons in existence.

    For more go to:

    • Yep. And proves some blonds are dumber than nails.

  9. I have read that the big gala cancer research events that typically include big-name celebrity speakers are really just money-raisere for the galas themselves, not for any actual research. I wish there was just ONE cancer foundation raising money — when you pay $100 to attend a big event like this, the money goes to pay for the celebrity speakers, the event venue, the food and cocktails and publicity … they will say they are “raising awareness” but it’s really a shame that so many feel so good after attending one of these, but they haven’t actually done any good.

  10. Thanks Julia, for highlighting this horrible decision made by the ORCF. Like Lisa, I haven’t heard back from them either, in response to my letter, facebook posts, and tweets. Maybe they’re going to take a page from the recent NRA school of disastrous PR and wait a week to respond, then announce that they’re replacing Jenny with Suzanne Somers! This choice of guest for Bust a Move is not a good role model for women of any age, for several reasons, but especially for her egregious profiteering by peddling quackery. Shameful.

  11. Ha, way to exert influence, people! From Twitter, moments ago:

    The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation says
    Jenny McCarthy’s appearance at its March 2 Bust a Move fundraiser has
    been cancelled. #ottnews
    Retweeted by Andrew Potter

    • Meanwhile, consider this: next time you want to support cancer research, give your money directly to a real cancer research organization, and just take yourself out for supper. The money for celebrity galas doesn’t make it anywhere close to research.

  12. Did they not consider Cristina Applegate. A young woman, know actress and celebrity, and breast cancer survivor? She would have been a far better choice than a woman notable for harming healthcare

    • Jann Aren would have been a good one too. ALthough not a breast cancer victim, she’s funny and people like her.
      ANd she would probably do the talk for a much more reasonable rate, if she charged at all.

      Biff Naked is also a CANADIAN entertainer who has survived breast cancer.

      What’s ith the love affair over AMERICAN celebrities, whose claim to fame is exposing thier nake dbodies for the world to see.
      Very sad.

      Is the woman who chose McCarthy a lesbian?

  13. And it’s OFFICIAL! The ORCF has dropped Jenny McCarthy. While they obliquely referred to the controversy, there was never any apology and just a simple statement that they were going with Tony Europe instead.

    While and apology and explanation on how any sane person could have chosen Jenny McCarthy, we will be happy with the victory and the fact that Jenny will not have a platform.

    Thanks to Julia, the rest of the traditional media and all our Twitter comrades who rallied together to oust Jenny.

  14. I think we should bring in the Pope to lead a discussion on women’s reproductive rights next. *barf*

    • Bernie Madoff on “saving for college.”

  15. Just so you know, the studies that supposedly disproved the link between autism and vaccines were embezzled from. There’s NO validity to them either. [edit: Okay, that wasn’t fair – the validity is in question. It needs to be reinvestigated.]

    • These allegations have not yet been proved. Also, the accused embezzler was a relatively minor player in the study. Also, this in no way invalidated the study, which provides good evidence that vaccination has no contribution to autism. Also, this study has been confirmed by other studies done elsewhere.
      Sorry, Luna. You lose.

      • It’s not a competition – I’m sorry you can’t see that. I’m not anti-vax. I just think that this “minor player” (Prove that claim, please) should be getting the same attention Wakefield got.

        And who says it didn’t invalidate the study? Usually, when money is embezzled out of a study, the study has to be replicated to be considered valid again. The study didn’t get its money, so how did it do the work that it claimed to do? Where is the accountability?

        The study isn’t credible when money was embezzled out of it. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. I have no idea if it’s valid. I’m just sure that it would be a REALLY good idea to find out.

        • Here’s what you need to know about the Paul Thorsen case:

          Since your knowledge of this case appears to be sourced from the usual anti-vax websites, I am skeptical of your claim: “I am not anti-vax.” That’s what pretty much every anti-vaxxer says.

          You’re right, it’s not a competition. It’s a fight – and fights have losers.

          • I pretty much don’t give a flying fig if you are “skeptical of my claim”. My knowledge is from the link I supplied above, which is a government site (and another I can’t find again, which is driving me nuts), stating only facts of the indictment. I provided a fact-based link, and nothing else. One of yours fits that bill. The other? Not so much. He makes a big deal out of the guy being listed 6th on the paper. Seriously? He made off with a million dollars of the money and submitted invoices. And I’m supposed to just believe that he did all the work he was supposed to do scrupulously and that there can be no question about the validity? No. Screw that. Review the study. Repeat it. Make good and sure that it’s right. I’d REALLY like it to be right, by the way.

            It’s really sad and pathetic that you insist on making this a fight. I just want the study scientifically reviewed. If it can stand up to scrutiny, great. If not, let’s find out why not. Why are you so anti-science?

          • The fight I refer to is the one against disease, not you. I apologize for my snark.
            Please read the Respectful Insolence article again in its entirety. It’s more than just an opinion, it clearly explains why a “review” of the Danish study would be pointless,
            Anyway, even if the Danish study was invalid or never existed, there are many other studies which have reached the same conclusion – vaccines are not implicated as a cause of autism when examined scientifically.
            Incidentally, your last question is an ingenious variant of the old classic: “When did you stop beating your wife?” Nice to end your plea with something so offensive.

          • Ahh, so you can get snarky, but if I do it, then you get polite? Really? Well, nevermind.

            What I’d like to see is a study showing the incidence and severity of autism in vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated children who are known to be genetically predisposed to it. I agree with the conclusions I’ve seen to date, saying that vaccinations aren’t causally linked with autism in the general population. What I haven’t seen is a study that looks at whether vaccinations can make things worse in a child with mild autism, or set it off in a child who is predisposed to it (for example a child with an autistic sibling or uncle). We know that there is SOMETHING going on in the brain with overactive glial cells (which are linked to immunity). We know that children with autism have very strange immune systems. Could it be that all these mothers who see vaccine damage already had autistic kids, but it was so mild they didn’t know it until more damage was done by vaccinations?

            Like I said, I’m not anti-vaccination. Not by any stretch. I vaccinated my second child even after the first one was damaged by them. But lets face it, the number of children diagnosed with autism is up to 1 in 88. Parents are seeing the change in the children immediately following vaccination (like same day for me. Same day.) And there are SO MANY more than there ever were. I’m not calling it a causal link. I’m not saying the studies are crap. I’m saying I’d like to see studies about it being a contributing factor in severity and the possibility that the number of vaccines given together might be seriously over-stimulating an already slightly damaged immune system.

            The anti-vax crew is fighting against autism. They’d rather have a very few people die of preventable diseases than have millions of kids (and then adults) with autism. If you’re willing to sacrifice the outliers, so are they. I’m just sort of in the middle. I want more research showing how safe it is to give dozens of vaccines before age 6. I want to see something about how safe it is to give vaccines to kids who have family with autism. And I want both sides to be a little more respectful of each other.

          • Thorsen was one of seven researchers. He was not the principal author, or even number two. If the study was somehow compromised, then the other six scientists would be part of the scheme. But nobody is alleging such a thing. Also, the results have been replicated by other research teams in other countries.

          • No, actually, he’d just have to have falsified his data, which they wouldn’t necessarily know.

            Do you have a link to back up”the results have been replicated by other research teams”?

  16. Jenny Mccarthy is a disgrace and that a charity would bring her in means they are very out of touch She has caused such harmful info to be put out there and has dragged autism into it.Maybe people should start donating to charities that are more helpful and less celebrity focussed. Autism is genetic and there is no cure Its not a curse either and she is a negative force in the world that needs science and logic

  17. Actually that shifty pink ribbon campaign is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated.
    People should wise up that billions of $$ have already been donated out of the public purse to merely support a failed industry and to shill crappy products.
    McGill U. (the home of Joe Schwarz) receives millions of $$ from the pharma industry annually. So does McMaster. The author has an obvious reason to appease the pharma corps. too.
    The “best available research” from the Cochrane collaboration this year dismissed flu shots as useless. But the author failed to mention that in an earlier post promoting flu jabs… Ahem.

      • “Scienceblogs”?! It’s about time you realized that the people who write these blogs aren’t scientists and don’t actually do any research. So their opinions are pretty worthless.

        • Really, the author of Respectful Insolence, a medical scientist who runs a research lab, has an MD and a PhD and publishes and presents research, is not a scientist in your opinion? What is your idea of a scientist – Jenny McCarthy?

  18. Julia, I’m still waiting for an answer for my vaccine question from last year, remember you said you were going to answer questions, remember Science-ish tackles vaccines?? October 16, 2012? Here is it in case you forgot:

    1) Vaccines are not tested for their potential to be carcinogenic or
    mutagenic. Studies have shown that vaccines can cause tumours in cats,
    so why is this potential ignored in human vaccine testing?

  19. Let’s give her a chance.. I think she’s a good choice.. I admire women like her..
    Grow Eyelashes

    • hahahhahahahhahahahahahhahahahahhahaha

      You’re JOKING, right?

  20. I think to have a well known actress, celebrity, or a popular personality as an ambassador is a good sign to raise a fund.