An Army of Fools

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rich Lowry writes a good, short overview of the anti-vaccination movement, quickly shooting down two of its most plausible-sounding rationales, (1)  a discredited link between the measles, mump, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism; and (2) a purported link between a vaccine preservative (long since discontinued in several countries) and autism:

... One theory was that a preservative in children's vaccines called thimerosal was causing autism. But the U.S. removed thimerosal from most childhood vaccines in 2001. If the theory had been sound, this should have reduced cases of autism. It didn't. Cases have continued to rise, and the same held true in Canada and Denmark after eliminating thimerosal in the 1990s.
Lowry does parents who may have heard half-way plausible reasons to not vaccinate their children a great service, but he started the excerpted paragraph with, "No amount of discrediting makes a difference." Why? He may sound unduly pessimistic, but the fact is that, no matter how ill-supported a given "theory" might be, it will have followers, and often rabid ones. The very parents he is trying to help are at risk of being swayed by the fervor or apparent moral certainty of the "anti-vaxxers". (They will also be bombarded ad nauseam with anecdotal claims of dubious value, as I have noted before.) Lowry is reminding them to consider the facts, regardless of their feelings: Intransigence can be a sign that someone is on solid ground, but that isn't always the case.

There is no better guide to taking action than actual evidence. We can't all be experts on everything, so one must consider how well the advocate of any given position actually understands what he is talking about. Imperviousness to evidence and a willingness to believe conspiracies speak ill of someone who wants your attention. So it is that, in addition to showing that their cause is baseless, Lowry shows the anti-vaxxers to be less-than-fastidious epistemologists. They will relentlessly hound anyone who will listen, regardless of the overwhelming evidence in favor of vaccines. The life you save by ignoring them may well be that of your own child, and the time you save by ignoring them will be better spent on other things.

Perhaps, if more people who are open to reason hear about his column, new outbreaks of old diseases will become less common.

-- CAV

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