Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Child Abuse and the Anti-Vaccination Movement

 
I was attending the Center for Inquiry 12th World Congress in Washington last weekend and I happened to catch a re-broadcast of a Larry King show on the "dangers" of vaccinating children. It was an appropriate reminder of the lack of rationalism in our society.



Normally I'm fairly tolerant of people who reject standard medicine. In fact, society might actually benefit when these stupid people are eliminated by succumbing to various diseases. That's what the Darwin awards are for.

But this case is different. These adults are not putting themselves at risk—they are endangering their children.

If you stop vaccinating your children you are putting them at risk for many deadly diseases. Some of your children will die. If everyone stops vaccinating children then millions of children will die. How can anyone in their right mind think that vaccinations are so dangerous that the risk is worth it?

I'm not surprised that movie actors and average citizens are kooks. I am surprised that normally responsible TV networks like CNN contribute to potential child abuse. But I'm absolutely shocked that there are physicians who go along with the kooks.

One of those physicians is Dr. Bernadine Healy who appears in this CNN clip. I was astonished to hear her advocate more studies, lending credibility to the claims that vaccinations cause autism and other diseases. Bernadine Healy is a Republican who was the head of the National Institutes of Health under George H.W. Bush. She was removed when Clinton took over the Presidency in 1993.

Healy's defense of the anti-vaccination movement did not ring true. Her "statistics" didn't sound reasonable to me but I was in no position to refute them directly. Fortunately Orac has taken up the task at Bernadine Healy: Flirting with the anti-vaccine movement. Thanks Orac.

You know we're in trouble when the media and former NIH directors can't tell the difference between science and superstition.

This reminds me of the debate over the fluoridation of water back in the 1950's. There were kooks who warned us that fluoridation was dangerous and that it was a communist plot.


7 comments :

  1. I just happened to catch a discussion among people who deliberately allowed their children to catch chicken pox because that was so much more "natural" than the varicella vaccine.

    I was immediately banned from the message board after sharing about my three bouts of shingles (so far, and I'm 33), and the sad story of my clarinet teacher who killed herself after shingles rendered her deaf.

    Congratulations, asshats, you've set your children up for a lifetime of suffering. That's love.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The sad part is that incompetent nincompoop Healy occupied the position later held by the distinguished Nobel Prize winning physician, Dr. Harold Varmus, who, incidentally, is one of President Obamas' top science advisers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "How can anyone in their right mind think that vaccinations are so dangerous that the risk is worth it?"

    Well this all ties back to many of the things you've talked about before: bad science journalism, the Gary Goodyear fiasco / religion vs. science, etc. It's so easy to sit there and say, "What's wrong with these people?", but it points to a deeper failure of scientists and educators to inform the general public about the body of knowledge that has been accumulated over the centuries by doctors/scientists/etc. What's the answer? Maybe all scientific journals should become open access so that the average person can actually seek out published information on the web. Where does all of this distrust in scientists/doctors come from? I think that's one of the main problems here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous writes: "What's the answer? Maybe all scientific journals should become open access so that the average person can actually seek out published information on the web"What good would it do for my grandmother to be able to read 'Nature' or 'Cell' on a weekly basis? What could she take from that? Those papers are hard enough for our M.Sc. and Ph.D. students to grasp, let alone people without any background knowledge.

    The distrust of science and medicine is, I think, in large part due to the overwhelming success of the disciplines. We have the luxury of complaining about measles vaccines because millions upon millions of us are not dying of measles, thanks to the vaccines. We have forgotten the horrors of measles, and polio, and all the other diseases that no longer plague us. And more importantly, we've forgotten why they no longer plague us.

    The public's (mis)interpretation of science is not our fault as scientists. We simply do not have many people who are not professional scientists or physicians, but who still retain knowledge of basic principles of science or medicine (Andre Picard is one notable exception I can think of).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous

    Do you really think that the people who believe the anti-vaccination propaganda would read anything that attacked/contradicted the views of the anti-vaccination movement?

    PS What is a "sandybox"? Inquiring minds want to know.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jim and Jenny seem kinda "confused" about what exactly is their point.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What's the answer? Maybe all scientific journals should become open access so that the average person can actually seek out published information on the web. Where does all of this distrust in scientists/doctors come from? I think that's one of the main problems here.Who is going to read them? Even if people had the intellectual ability to do it (and hey don't), they would much rather watch TV all day than read science papers.

    The problem is the collective failure of society to define being educated as something positive and necessary. No amount of forced education is sufficient to teach people who don't want to learn. Until we start developing individuals who are actively looking to learn things about the world around them, from the very beginning of their life, nothing will change. But will never happen

    ReplyDelete