Successful blogging by Steven Novella: the Desiree Jennings story

26 Feb

I stayed away from this story until now. It isn’t about autism at all, except that “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization–Generation Rescue” decided to take the story on. Why a supposedly autism organization took on the story of an adult who was supposedly injured by a flu vaccine is not clear to this reader. But, this story shows the power of quality blogging to affect the discussion of a national topic.

Short version of the story: Desiree Jennings was given a seasonal flu vaccine. Sometime after that she developed problems in movement and speech. She attributed these problems to the vaccine, citing dystonia as the condition. This was questioned by some bloggers, including a neurologist, Dr. Steven Novella. As a neurologist, Dr. Novella is experienced in conditions such as dystonia. Ms. Jennings was treated by a well known name in the autism-alternative-medicine community, Dr. Rashid Buttar. The story was given national attention, including a segment on the U.S. TV show Inside Edition.

The whole story of the alleged vaccine injury is long and strange. The current status, it gets even stranger. Ms. Jennings appears to have made a full recovery, walking and driving a car. She talks better, with the addition of a rather strange accent. This was found when Inside Edition decided to do a followup on Ms. Jennings, apparently after reading Dr. Novella’s take on the story. From Dr. Novella’s recent blog post:

Another angle to this case was the mainstream media coverage. The story was made national primarily by an Inside Edition segment in which they took her claims of being horribly injured by the flu vaccine at face value. They did throw in a caveat that doctors say the story should not dissuade the public from the vaccine (the “not” was incredibly and deceptively edited out in the YouTube version of the story). But generally it was among the worst science reporting of 2009.

So I was a bit surprised when I was contacted by a producer from Inside Edition about a possible follow up segment on the story. He had read my blog posts on Ms. Jennings and realized they got the story entirely wrong. To his credit he wanted to do follow up (unfortunately rare in mainstream journalism) and tell the real story. This resulted in the segment that aired last night

One reason to bring this story up now is highlighted by Dr. Novella: the effect of science bloggers on a major news story:

And finally (if you will forgive the self-serving observation) the story highlights the new power of the science-blogging community. The Inside Edition follow up segment was entirely due to the science bloggers who covered the story – and told the real story behind the media sensationalism. We are influencing the media cycle in a good way. At the very least we are making ourselves a valuable resource to the mainstream media, and hopefully raising the quality of science journalism in general.

Dr. Novella did well in blogging this story, and Inside Edition did well to reconsider the story in light of the well-reasoned discussion of Dr. Novella.

Video of the recent Inside Edition segment is here:

13 Responses to “Successful blogging by Steven Novella: the Desiree Jennings story”

  1. Mike Stanton February 27, 2010 at 01:02 #

    Well done Steve Novella. The video sequence is hilarious. She is perfectly normal until she realizes she is on camera. I wonder how the anti vax lobby will respond to this. Will they give it the same coverage that they gave to the original Inside Edition story?

  2. Kwombles February 27, 2010 at 01:19 #

    Wow. I’m glad to see the followup on this. I’ll be looking for AoA’s response. Wanna bet it is completely ignored or show-me-the-monkeys pretends he’s never heard of Novella before this? 🙂

  3. Sullivan February 27, 2010 at 01:22 #

    Mike Stanton,

    I believe that Generation Rescue still has their page on Desiree Jennings. This includes a link to the now defunct Desiree Jennings dot com website.

  4. Alison Singer February 27, 2010 at 01:49 #

    I’d love to comment but I am laughing too hard. The Australian accent is priceless.

  5. Sullivan February 27, 2010 at 01:51 #

    Here is a blurb from Generation Rescue’s site:

    According to media reports, Ms. Jennings was suffering from a medical condition known as dystonia. Contrary to reports from doctors on TV who claim that a vaccine could never cause dystonia, the condition dystonia is listed in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System as a possible side effect from vaccines and there are 67 reports of dystonia in the system. Any journalist could validate these 67 reports.

    Besides the fact that a report in VAERS is not the same thing as proof that an event was caused by a vaccine, it appears that Inside Edition has validated one of these reports.

    When I search CDC Wonder for dystonia, I get 58 hits. Of those 21 are listed as recovered. The VAERS ID considered to be that of Ms. Jennings has the recovery status listed as “missing”.

  6. Science Mom February 27, 2010 at 03:36 #

    Wow. I’m glad to see the followup on this. I’ll be looking for AoA’s response. Wanna bet it is completely ignored or show-me-the-monkeys pretends he’s never heard of Novella before this? 🙂

    Now I know you’re not holding your breath for that, which is a good thing since Dr. Novella blogged about this on 5 February
    Not a peep from AoA or GenRes; I’m shocked.

  7. Winnie February 28, 2010 at 04:44 #

    If this yarn is to be believed, and as according to Buttar…

    …she presented seizing almost continually, experiencing respiratory failure, and doomed to die soon, then failing to rush her to the nearest hospital with the staff and equipment to save her life is a surely contrary to any standard of medical care. Buttar instead kept her at his own office – to chelate her instead?

    I hope the North Carolina medical board can ask about that, in addition to the other charges he faces, at his upcoming hearings.

    If the information about the seizures is true, then Desiree should not yet drive a car – by doing so, she is not only breaking the law, but also endangering the lives of every motorist, pedestrian, and by-stander along her route.

    Odd disregard for the safety of others coming from someone who supposedly seeks to warn others of the “dangers” of the flu vaccine.

  8. Joseph February 28, 2010 at 16:34 #

    I doubt AoA would want to post that video. The last part is priceless, not to mention the Australian accent.

  9. John Kinnard DC August 30, 2010 at 22:19 #

    I treated a patient, with the same symptoms, the same editology (flu Shot) Documentated evaluations, by renown Neurlogist {All Childrens Hosp, St Pete Fl. {Shads In Gainsville Fl. and more}

    All of them unable to diagnose or treat the problem,

    They concluded Pt wanted attention

    Pt unable to move legs, controle bladder or bowels for 5 mounths
    Dr J Kinnard Dc

  10. ultra1997 September 22, 2010 at 03:35 #

    My granddaughter, who is seven, is autistic. She has lived with us (grandma and grandpa)since she was two. Autism is a very hard illness to diagnose and even harder to deal with. We have read and listened to a million, or so it seems, cures and helpful remedies. We enjoy every bit of information that surfaces about autism. We thought maybe some of the readers here would be interested in this book we found. Just copy and paste this into your web browser:

  11. MADHATTER September 24, 2010 at 20:34 #

    I have no idea if the cheerleaders story is true or not but I do know that Guillian Barre Syndrome is caused by the flu shot. Suddenly one day you fall and cant stand; the next you have to have help to stand and by the fourth day you cant walk or even lift your legs an inch off of hospital bed. It goes up your arms and you lose motor skills. It goes up abdomen and if it reaches your lungs and shuts them down you are a dead duck unless someone is there with a ventilator. There is no cure only HOURS of painful testing. After months of therapy you are told you will never walk again and sent home as a lost cause. I dare you to tell me this is not real.

  12. Chris September 24, 2010 at 22:48 #

    It is also caused by the influenza itself. Do you have any evidence that the influenza vaccine causes the syndrome in any more frequency than it happens without the vaccine?

  13. nelsonelliot January 5, 2011 at 21:14 #

    This makes me feel a lot better about laughing hysterically at the “Walk It Out” remix of her story.

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