January 6, 2011

Now Go Vaccinate Your Children

The data in the study suggesting that the MMR vaccine causes autism was knowingly falsified. It was based on intentionally-selected, "chiseled" data. It was a lie. It was a lie with consequences:

...measles has surged since Wakefield's paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.

A preventable disease for which there is a known, effective, affordable, and plentiful vaccine, is spreading throughout industrialized nations with powerful medical services delivery infrastructures.

Why? Because of ignorance facilitated by lies dressed up to look like science, to be sure. Because Andrew Wakefield (no longer entitled to use the title "Doctor,"), the principal author of the original study, put a higher premium on grabbing the spotlight for himself than on scientific integrity.

Why? Because of irresponsible, sensationalistic journalism -- first in the UK, and later here in the US. I remember seeing the 60 Minutes story that sensationalized this bit of mythology, and wondering why the doctors in that story who called Wakefield's methods "irresponsible," were buried so far in the middle of it as to make me question whether I was watching tabloid TV or investigative journalism.

Why? Because an attractive celebrity, heartbroken over her son turning out to be autistic, chose to cope by latching on to this dangerous lie, with the result that thousands of children have fallen ill and hundreds have died, who need not have.

I'm preaching to the choir here, I'm sure. But this whole thing is a graphic, if deeply saddening, example of why a credulous approach to the world is not only wrong-headed but dangerous. Skeptics bear the brunt of a lot of prejudice because of their tendency to question things like religion. But this is part of why skepticism is in the public interest and a skeptical approach to the world, while admittedly less fun than one based on faith and hope and emotion, will nevertheless produce better results.

Vaccinate your children. It's a duty.

3 comments:

Dan said...

Hear, hear. Since I've already said my piece over at my own place, I'll simply applaud you (and anyone) who makes such a sensible and important argument

Mark said...

I've got to agree with you on this one. Although, as you know, I think faith and religion can be sensible, though the mainstream denominations tend not to be. A pastor friend really influenced by his mantra that Christianity should be a thinking man's religion. It is not just faith-based, though there is an element of faith involved.
For example, though I believe God has the power to heal me, I still go and find the best doctor I can for treatment. They are not mutually exclusive.

Mike said...

Well stated. Though often, skeptics get derided in other areas as well. Especially those where one side takes many things on as an article of "faith" and are willing to fudge or alter the data to make it fit their conclusions.