The War on Science and Rational Thought. Time to join the fight.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve discovered the war.

Not Iraq or AfghaniPakistan, but the war going on right here in our country.  A war against science and rational thought.

Sure there have been battles and skirmishes over the last few decades.  My father’s science textbooks were the subject of many a creationist’s ire.  But what was once scoffed off as ‘a bunch of religious folks’ or ‘just a snake oil salesman’ has now grown into a fully functioning army of ‘arrogant ignorants’.  

The battle being fought now is over the H1N1 vaccine.  Like many a parent, I thought it only my duty to investigate some of the claims being made, from corporate conspiracy to anti-freeze in the vaccine (I kid you not).  But what I discovered was not only answers to these silly questions, but a debate on the entire process of enquiry that quite frankly, is pretty scary.

I posted this message on a messageboard earlier today in response to a woman who wasn’t sure who to believe–the doctors or the anti-science folks.  

I am open minded. and this is a perfect example of what I mean. No one seems to have a clue what is best. you have one “expert” saying no, while others “experts say yes.

Who do you trust? I lean towards some opinons and lean the other way on other things.

 

My Answer:  It’s tricky. You want to stay open to new ideas, to treat other opinions with respect, and most importantly, do the right thing for your children. You wish there was a black and white solution to the problem, but even an honest scientist would tell you when you get philosophical nothing is black and white, right or wrong, it’s just what we can observe and what we cannot.

“We don’t know” has been the rallying cry of nearly every critique of science in the last 500 years. “We don’t know if man causes global warming”, “we don’t know about evolution because there is this missing link”, “we don’t know if the planets revolve around the Sun.” But the reality you should really confront yourself with is “do we know enough”?

With the case of the H1N1 vaccine, I’d say we certainly know enough to make this statement: your chances of a serious complication from the flu is far GREATER than your chances of a serious side effect from the vaccine.

There is a lot of frustration on one side in that this really isn’t a battle on whether or not your get your kids vaccinated. Honestly, I differ from some in that I don’t care what the end result is for your kids. Like your calculus teacher, the answer is not ‘the answer’ but the process by which you came to that answer. It’s a battle about how we, as a civilized society, think. How we process information and how we come to conclusions and decisions.

Scientific discovery is based on a process, a way of thinking that has developed many of the great advances of the last century. A simple idea, run up against an experiment, results determined and conclusions developed. Presented and reviewed by their peers, and contrasted with different conclusions presented when different sets of behavior is noticed and evidence studied. The view that is accepted is the view that can be repeated and reproduced by all. Skepticism, distrust, disagreement are CORE VALUES in this process, and respected when backed with the proper evidence. A friend of mine doing some graduate work at Hopkins told me as to this debate “these people simply don’t realize that scientists are some of the most skeptical people on the planet.”

Unfortunately, recently there has been rash of skepticism developing into a type of ‘pseudo-science’. Of amateur professionals waxing on about their own theories, shoddily researched and rife with hyperbole, festering the development of ‘FUD’–fear, uncertainty, doubt that has no basis in reality. We now live in a world populate by legions of “Army of Ones”–folks armed with the Internet and a distrust of all things ‘establishment’ that have mobilized against ‘the old order’ that is responsible for all the ills of ‘Big Pharma’ and is in a conspiracy to keep corporate profits high and the people in the dark. There are no clinical studies for them, they refuse to participate in the peer review process, and they have played on the fears and doubts and brought us back to the age of the snake-oil salesman.

I think some of the frustration you see on messageboards about the flu is one side literally banging their heads against the wall trying to reply to the same old random (and incorrect) factoids from the FUD-meisters thrown up about vaccinations. There is, for lack of a better word, a war against science going on in this country, and at an even deeper level, a war against rational thought underway that quite frankly scares some people, myself included. We now have doctors such as Paul Offit who must travel with bodyguards because of the death threats. The very idea that my children may be living in a world that is intellectually regressing from scientific advancement is what has spurred me on to post so frequently on this subject.

This is an interesting article as it summarizes what has been going on of late. It is only tangentially about the battle of H1N1, and is more focused on the war that is fully underway.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/11/the_anti-vaccine_movement_cranks.php

That’s a tad long but it really summarizes the whole war to date. There is a shorter version written recently in the LA Times about the journalist who wrote the Wired piece “The War on Science” and how she is now on the receiving end of threats and accusations and even some harsh personal attacks.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-onthemedia4-2009nov04,0,2848133.column
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience

You are asking who to trust and honestly, we can’t tell you. We can ask you to trust the scientific processes, that which has developed a flu shot in a tried and true manner, replete with regulations and procedures that have been in place and functional for nearly five decades. I read somewhere that 14,400 articles have been written about influenza vaccines, and over 1,100 clinical trials over the years. H1N1 is not a new vaccine, it is merely a different strain worked into an established vaccine making process, the same as other strains are worked into that same process every year. If it was discovered a few months earlier, it would have been in this year’s seasonal flu shot and we wouldn’t have had this whole parade of silliness.

In the end, talk to your doctor, not just a messageboard. Think plainly and rationally about your children and their safety during not just this flu season but as they are growing up in the world with the medicines we now have available. Try not give into the ‘zinger’ arguments that this celebrity or that celebrity whips out on Larry King or Oprah, but take the time to process information clearly, rationally, even coldly–devoid of emotion and then come to a conclusion ‘do I know enough’ to make this decision comfortably.

I wish you well with your enquiries, and of course, if you come across something quite startling, feel free to post it and we’ll try to provide additional information if possible.