Denial, or where science and belief collide

I try to not rant too often on our blog, because I prefer to talk about things that are interesting and beautiful and even uplifting.  But sometimes I just feel compelled to do so because the absurdity and stupidity of something really gets to me.  This is one of those times.   So I ask your forgiveness as I indulge my anger a bit.

I tend to be a vocal critic of those who would disregard science in order to accommodate their own personal belief system.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of people on both ends of the political spectrum that conveniently disregard science (and facts in general) when it suits them.  Most of the time when people I know think about science deniers, they think about topics like global warming/climate change or evolution, topics that usually attract those on the conservative side.  But there are plenty of other scientifically-challenged issues out there with more liberal believers as well, and one of those that Kelly and I get mad about (and in fact have discussed before on this blog) is the issue of vaccination.

Science is not a salad bar.  You don’t get to pick and choose.  “I’ll take that basic aerodynamics with some croutons and a light Italian dressing, but leave out that Second Law of Thermodynamics, because Ken Hovind says it’s  just too filling.”  No.  Nope.  Uh-uh.  Science is everywhere.  And just because YOU don’t understand a particular scientific concept, that doesn’t mean it is invalid (*cough Bill O’Reilly cough*), any more than the fact that YOU don’t understand Tagalog means that Filipinos are using a made-up language.  They aren’t.

Simply put, there is no good scientific reason for refusing to vaccinate yourself or your children.  And it is the fact that vaccines have been so successful in so many countries that have caused these diseases to nearly disappear.  What do you think will happen if everyone just stops getting vaccinations?  Really bad things will happen, that’s what. (WARNING: photos at that link are not for those with a weak stomach).   I don’t care if you know someone who knows someone whose kid supposedly became autistic because of a vaccine.  It’s just anecdotal, which means that’s it’s just a story, the same way that Billyjoejimbobmike really did see aliens swoop down and molest his cattle that night after he drank that case of Bud and possibly some antifreeze from his tractor’s radiator.  I have no doubt that there are plenty of people in the world who believe things that are completely absurd and scientifically unsupportable.  If you can’t consistently reproduce it in a lab, then it’s not scientifically valid, period.  That’s the way science works.  And your precious little snowflakes are actually being protected by the vaccinations of all those kids around them.  And every kid at school without an immunization vaccine is a risk for every other kid around them.  Period.  And they are a risk to adults too.

I have always thought of anecdotes having validity only as an illustration of a point or a trend, the way historians might use fragments of letters to describe a historical event.  As evidence solely of themselves, they are worthless.  That’s why even in court it’s always good to have evidence in addition to witness statements.  Eyewitness accounts by themselves are frequently worthless as well.  Sad but true.  I am all about the data.  Even as a historian, I figured that out by my early twenties, because everywhere I went as a budding Civil War historian, I got all sorts of stories from people across the South about how their great-grandaddy treated his slaves SO well, and blah blah blah slavery really wasn’t so bad blah blah blah.  Strange how everyone seems to know so much about their long-dead relative’s frame of mind in regard to slavery but don’t seem to know much about anything specific, like dates and names.  Call me a skeptic.  So unless you are a folklore historian (which is a different field altogether in many ways) then that sort of thing is just about worthless too, unless noted as a family anecdote or tradition or whatever.

But if you are one of those people who think scientists with all their facts and degrees are just pinheads, and that you would rather believe whoever tells a great story, well, ok, then read this one from a woman who was raised by anti-vaccine parents back in the 1970s.   And note the laundry list of diseases she got as a result of her ultra-healthy but vaccine-free childhood.

So there is no reason why we should have to reinvent the wheel, medically speaking, when the wheel works just fine.

-Geoff

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