My friend Dr. Phil Plait has been taking on Jenny McCarthy lately. Why does an astronomer (and one of the web’s top science bloggers) have a problem with a has-been actress? Turns out McCarthy is part of the anti-vaccination movement, and has been going around proclaiming that vaccines cause autism — a claim that has no basis in scientific evidence whatsoever, and is thus truly dangrous.

Today on KIRO/Seattle, I invited Phil to explain the battle between people of reason and people of nonsense, the role Oprah Winfrey is playing in the story, and whether he blames anti-vaxxers for the recent death of a four-month-old child in Australia who died of whooping cough.

Then we moved on to Phil’s role as President of the James Randi Educational Foundation and its upcoming Amazing Meeting 7, his thoughts as an astronomer on the new “Star Trek” movie, and why we spent a billion dollars repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Update 5/31/09: The father of the Australian girl writes:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your support & interest in our daughter’s short life. On your site you say Dana was 4 months old when she died. She was 4 weeks old when she died, so was not old enough to have have the vaccination for pertusssis. She depended on herd immunity for protection, unfortunately our area of NSW on the North Coast is home to Australia’s anti-vac movement. The AVN has affected the rate of vaccination, as Phil says. Could you fix up your site, as I know the anti-vac people will jump on her age as a point of debate, when there really shouldn’t be one.

David McCaffery