Books by Arthur

Social Networks
Article Index [A-Z]

Vaccines and Climate Change: Weirdness Reigns


Rand Paul, and others running for office, are fond of trying to sound reasonable. Paul, a physician like his father, was recently asked where he stood on vaccination. He said that while he personally recommends that children be vaccinated, parents have the right to decide for their children.

This is nothing short of idiotic and irresponsible.

The children are the ones in jeopardy here, not the parents. The children are not in a position to make well-judged decisions. The parent who refuses to vaccinate their child endangers that child’s health and that of other children who might come in contact with an infected child. I wonder how he’d respond if we were talking about a vaccine for Ebola and an epidemic was spreading. I bet, suddenly, this personal choice gambit would go by the boards.

This whole anti-vaccination frenzy is moronic and it just won’t die. The fact that it won’t suggests that there’s something very interesting going on here — and my guess is that it has to do with science and how the average bloke on the street views it.

Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children typically say they’re worried about the supposed link between vaccines and autism. This “finding” was the result of a “junk science” publication in 1998 by an English physician named Andrew Wakefield. The article was subsequently found to have used abysmal methodology; the data were largely fabricated and it essentially made up the link between vaccines and autism out of thin air. No other study has ever replicated Wakefield’s results and Wakefield himself refused to carry out a replication when asked to.

Lancet, the journal that originally published the paper, has subsequently retracted it. The British General Medical Council found Wakefield to be guilty of reckless and unethical practices and the British Medical Association revoked his license to practice medicine.

Yet people still believe there is a link between the MMA (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism —and celebrities like Jenny McCarthy have been on an anti-vaccination bandwagon for years. Frankly, it boggles the mind why anyone would think that a actress with not a shred of biomedical training knew anything about the foundations of autism.

Now, let’s juxtapose this little spasm of irrationality against another one, the evidence for man-made global climate change. Oddly, we see the opposite pattern. The evidence for it is overwhelming. Virtually the entire scientific community acknowledges that the climate is changing, that global warming is real and that it is human activity that is the primary driving force. Yet we find skeptics everywhere, from Congress to school systems where, in a move of stunning stupidity, some states are pushing legislation that would require that climate change denial be on the curriculum.

So here’s my dilemma. How, on one hand, can people point to truly awful science and claim that there just may be something there while on the other, deny overwhelming scientific evidence in support of something else. If you believe that science can tell you something about how the world works then you really should reject the utter nonsense about vaccines and autism (or any other disease or disorder) and accept the crushing evidence that we are on the cusp of a very dangerous moment with regard to anthropogenic climate change.

One possibility is that one of these, the vaccine case, involves closely held circumstances, your own children. It also involves an actual vaccine where a foreign substance is forcefully inserted under one’s skin. In many ways this feels like a violation of self and, by projecting these feelings onto one’s child, it’s possible for a parent to be rather easily persuaded that something dangerous could be going on.

The climate change issue is more remote. It doesn’t involve individuals. It’s away in the future. It doesn’t feel like it’s a real problem now. And, importantly I think, there’s no individual, personal element to it. No one is violating one’s body. It’s all “out there.”

While these psychological factors are likely playing a role, there’s a deeper issue and it is the truly troubling one. Americans are frighteningly ignorant about science, how it’s done, what methods are used, what the underlying philosophical elements are. There’s a sense that, somehow, scientists have agendas, larger political or economic aims in mind — that they’re not really objective, hard-working people whose primary goal is dead simple: to understand the world about us.

There is also, I suspect, another component. Scientists tend to lean to the left politically. They tend to be agnostic or atheistic in their beliefs. They are highly educated and often speak and write in ways that others find obscure and intimidating.

Layering all these elements on top of each other and you end up with this weird discoordination where people embrace science when it suits them or fits with their preconceived notions and beliefs and reject it or take a skeptical stance when it doesn’t.

The incoherence that underlies these beliefs is disturbing but the real danger, the long-term social, economic and political danger lies in a greater sphere: those who are in positions of power and authority often (all too often) hold the same cluster of inchoate beliefs. It doesn’t auger well for the future.


Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>