Talk Shows vs. The Truth

Katie Couric riled up the internet last week with her uncritical promotion of anti-vaccine viewpoints on her talk show. It was certainly a twist in the professional narrative of a woman who has undergone televised colonoscopy and mammography to promote cancer awareness. That awareness should have been front-and-center in her discussion of HPV vaccines as well, since HPV infection can lead to cancers of anywhere people put their genitals. Instead, Couric featured two mothers convinced that HPV vaccines had caused death and injury, respectively, to their daughters. On Respectful Insolence, Orac writes “the entire segment was structured as a ‘he said, she said’ tour de force of false ‘balance,'” with anecdotal tragedies playing offense against hard science and common sense. On Aetiology, Tara Smith criticizes one of the show’s “experts” who claimed that Pap smears obviate the need for HPV vaccination. Tara writes, “This, frankly, is hogwash. Even with emphasis on screening, here in the U.S. we have 12,000 cases and 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer alone each year.” Now Couric has issued a guarded apology for the episode, but still refuses to acknowledge what is scientifically undisputed. Vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix are safe; they prevent a sexually transmitted disease; and they prevent cancers that can result from that disease. Meanwhile talk shows like Katie must Ozzify their medical science in order to attract and entertain an audience.