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Successful blogging by Steven Novella: the Desiree Jennings story

Posted Feb 26 2010 2:48pm

I stayed away from this story until now. It isn’t about autism at all, except that “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism OrganizationGeneration 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:

If you want to reference this post in your site, use the code below to link to me from your website.

<a href="">Successful blogging by Steven Novella: the Desiree Jennings story</a>

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