This message is not intended for those who daily or weekly post pro- or anti-vaccination messages on my Facebook feed. You’ve already made up your mind, and there’s really nothing anyone can say to you to change it. I’m more concerned about those in the middle who witness as much anti-vaccination propaganda as pro-vaccination propaganda on their Facebook feeds, thinking this balance signals that the two positions are somehow equally evidence-based and equally worthy of your consideration.
In the 1990s I read an entire book whose thesis was that AIDS is not caused by HIV but by the anti-HIV drug AZT. I was bamboozled by all its scientific-sounding arguments. It made perfect sense. I even went out of my way to try to convince others of this truth that the world’s scientists and journalists had missed or suppressed, while the makers of AZT pulled the strings behind the curtain to fill their coffers.
As Y2K approached, I was swayed by the fearmongers, against the conventional wisdom of the establishment, that the world was headed for economic collapse due to the insidious an ineradicable Y2K bug that had infected and doomed our global electronic networks. I bought a good number of large sacks of millet, a staple of the people’s diet where we lived in Africa, to tide us for perhaps years following the impending collapse.
In 2004 I watched a video chock full of information that cast doubt on the reality of human-induced global warming. They had real scientists, with striking graphs and unassailable arguments, that for a time convinced me that the notion of global warming was a manufactured crisis with nothing to fear. The majority of scientists who felt otherwise were either innocently mistaken (not knowing what I had recently learned) or perversely conspiratorial.
In high school I devoured books from a young-earth creationist perspectives, learning proofs for a young earth that I was convinced most mainstream scientists didn’t have a clue about or chose to suppress: a lack of thick moon dust, too-dilute salts in the oceans, rapid magnetic decay rates, the ability of flooding to carve features of the Grand Canyon very quickly, the erroneous 2-million-year radiometric dating results of material recently ejected from Mount Saint Helens, the upright tree fossils entombed in multiple sedimentary strata supposedly representing thousands or millions of years of deposition, etc.
You get the picture. In each of these cases, I knew better than the mainstream experts. I read and I studied and I knew they were wrong. Even before the advent of Google, there were plenty of books to whet my contrarian appetite.
Dr. Gerardus Bouw, who earned his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Rochester, knows better than just about every scientist alive that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun revolves around the earth. See his testimony and his information–packed web page. He has read a great deal more and knows a great deal more about astrophysics than I do. He has read, read, read, studied, studied, studied on this subject. It’s his life.
But I don’t by it.
And I no longer buy Ken Ham’s young-earth views, even though he’s read more about the age of the earth than I have.
And I’m no longer swayed by Peter Duesberg’s meticulous arguments that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, even though he knows much more on the subject than I do.
And I no longer buy Anthony Watts’ arguments that climate change is a hoax, even though he knows a great deal more on the subject of climate change than I do.
And I’m certainly not wowed by the many articles that grace my Facebook feed claiming to uncover the suppressed truth that vaccines cause more harm than good. “But Ken, you’ve got to read this!”, they plead. “You just don’t realize the facts!” Okay, well, I have read some of these articles–not a lot of them–but enough to know that the incidence of measles deaths was in sharp decline even before the measles vaccine was introduced, that people can get sick and even die from the vaccine, that fewer than one in 1,000 (or maybe 3,000) who contract measles die from the disease, etc. etc.
I admit it; I don’t know as much about the subject as many of the most ardent opponents of vaccination. I have seen enough of these University of Google gadflies to know that they are serious, they’ve studied a lot, and they are irrevocably convinced of not only the truth but also of the moral rectitude of their position.
It’s the same old refrain repeated by every marginal group that wants to make itself heard above the stifling consensus (whether it’s 9/11 Truthers, anti-Obama Birthers, UFOlogists, zoocryptologists, homeopathists, gluten-haters, Dr. Ozists, anti-GMOers, geocentrists, moon-landing deniers, holocaust deniers, or young-earth creationists): You (mainstream people) JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT WE KNOW! WE’VE GOT THE INSIDE SCOOP that the experts don’t know or don’t want others to know, so they can (line their pockets, or suppress the truth, or whatever).
But the collective anti-vaccination movement doesn’t know squat compared to the scientists at the CDC (and at similar institutions around the world) who’ve rigorously studied the history, behavior, and treatment of infectious diseases. They don’t know jack compared to the university professors and laboratory scientists and physicians who’ve made studying and combating these diseases in the crucible of peer review and first-hand experience their life’s work.
Well, maybe the denizens of the CDC really do know the hidden truth that the vigilant anti-vaccination graduates of the University of Google have uncovered. Maybe it’s not that the CDC is ignorant; it’s that they’re all in a massive, perfectly coordinated conspiracy, along with the entire scientific and journalistic establishment to hide the truth from us unsuspecting sheeple so they can, uh, line their pockets with the profits from the ill-begotten gains of Big Pharma and their vaccination hustlers?
Ken, are you telling me that scientists cannot err? Not at all; they’re human!
So then, if the scientific experts are just as prone to be mistaken as us non-experts, then let’s all just ignore science altogether, shall we? If flipping a coin is just as likely as listening to scientists to get us to the truth, then let’s just go with our gut or our prior values when they conflict with what scientists tell us. If I’m a peasant living in the 16th century and Galileo tells me that a feather will fall to the earth as fast as a cannon ball in a vaccuum, then my gut takes the day. If Galileo also tells me we’re zooming around the sun on a little earth-ball at the rate of 17,000 miles per hour and my experience and religion say otherwise, then so much for Galileo. If I believe infectious diseases are caused by evil spirits and a scientist insists they’re caused by invisible microorganisms, then so much for the germ theory of disease. If scientists tell us that the earth is billions of years old but I believe the Bible tells me it’s only thousands of years old, then the scientists must be ignorant or must be conspiring to suppress what we don’t know. After all, I respect Ken Ham, Todd Wood, Henry Morris, and Steven Austin, and they’re smart, so if smart people can believe the earth is young, and the Bible teaches it, then it’s settled.
And if I believe nature is just fine the way God (or nature) made it, and that human-made or tampered-with substances (like GMO foods or vaccines) constitute an assault to the integrity of my body and its natural disease-fighting systems, then NOTHING anyone–not even, or especially, the truth-suppressing experts–tells me will make me believe that vaccines don’t cause more harm than good.
Okay, so now that I’ve managed to alienate perhaps 90% of my readers with my sanctimonious science-supporting screed, I’ll come to the main point of this essay:
There are too many Facebook and blog posts spreading confusion about vaccines. They believe themselves to be better informed than those who know the subject best, or they have the chutzpah to suggest that the entire hard-working, honest medical establishment is in the pockets of the vaccine makers and thus is deliberately pulling the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting (were it not for the valiant efforts of the brave U of Google gadflies) populace.
If there were no ill consequences to their contrarian message, I would say live and let live. But there are consequences that can and will adversely affect us all if they succeed in making everyone think like them. Their message can cause real damage, well-meaning though they may be.
So to those who are indifferent or who are on the verge of being swayed by the anti-vaccination movement, please push back. Ask yourself whether its likely that the entire scientific establishment has somehow either innocently or maliciously overlooked what the University of Google gadflies have so valiantly uncovered. Really?
If you don’t think it’s likely, then please join me and others and show everyone else on your Facebook feed where you stand by placing a simple message on your feed:
“I stand with the scientific experts on vaccinations. I believe they know better than their detractors and that they’re not conspiring against us.”
Or something to that effect–just something simple to your taste that demonstrates that you (along with the vast majority of the American population) don’t stand with the loud anti-vaccination movement that seems to be growing louder by the day.
For further reading: This article from National Geographic diagnoses the root of anti-science sentiment far better than I could ever hope to do.
4 responses to “A message to those still undecided about vaccination”
Good essay, Ken! It’s always tempting to believe someone has the inside track on truth. After all, we atheists think that the bulk of the population have missed the boat and that WE know better. Even still, I’m suspicious of anybody who claims special insight. I’ll hear them out, but then I’ll check my facts twice.
Thanks, Kurt! Yes, I want to be careful not to succomb to argument by authority–authorities are often mistaken. But there is a difference between mere authority and the consensus of experts in a given field. Though the consensus of experts can also be mistaken, they do bat better than 500, and the track record of non-experts batting against experts is far lower than 500.
That geocentricism site is a real hoot. “Yet the victory of heliocentrism has been less than total,” the learned doctor says. Humanity’s ability to delude itself really is amazing.
We’re chimp cousins with smartphones. Of course, a lot of us delude ourselves about that, too.
“Less than total.” LOL. Yeah, even though I fully subscribe to common ancestry, it’s sometimes hard to think of myself as a hairless, bipedal, educated ape with a big brain. No wonder it’s such a tough pill for so many to swallow!