Opinions are like…

Image…noses. Everyone has one, and sometimes they’re full of snot.

Okay, so the actual quote refers to a rather different part of the anatomy and a different level of grossness of body waste, but this is supposed to be a family-friendly blog…

But lately* it seems that people confuse the right to hold an opinion to be the same thing as the right to be heard and the right to be given equal credibility in the quest for “balance” in coverage (especially in the media).

The worst example of this is the anti-vaccine brigade. First, the home truths:

  1. Vaccines do not cause autism. This has been proved beyond doubt.
  2. The one medical study that “proved” the link between the two was found to be not ‘flawed’ but malicious in its intent, as the person who did this ‘study’ (Andrew Wakefield) wanted to sell his own product over the existing vaccine. Wakefield has now been stripped off his medical licence.
  3. Vaccines work ONLY when there is “herd immunity”. This means that the small fraction of the herd (population) for whom the vaccine does not work (or those with compromised immune systems) depend on the fact that the 99% or so people around them are immunised from the disease and therefore the disease-causing viruses don’t spread. So saying “People who don’t want to vaccinate their children should not be forced to” is counter-productive as their kids will carry the disease that will harm those who cannot be immunised for medical / biological reasons.

Nothing infuriates me more than the media deciding to – still! – give equal time to idiots like Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy who, in my opinion, are culpable for a large number of illnesses that have occurred due to a resurgence in some diseases (e.g. Measles) that should be prevented through vaccination. These people should be in jail, much less in front of a camera. You don’t see this happening to other sciences. As (Irish comedian) Dara O’Briain puts it: You don’t see news channels interviewers say “Thank you, Mr. NASA guy, for explaining the International Space Station. But now, for the sake of balance, we turn to Barry, who believes the sky is a carpet painted by God.” So why do we relent in the field of medicine?

Measles kills.Image

Measles can be prevented by a vaccine.

This vaccine does not cause autism.

Please don’t hurt your kids. Please don’t hurt others’ kids.

For more, we go to Gregory House:

(Scene: Woman brings her baby to a clinic where Dr. House is attending. House asks her what the baby feeds on)

Young Mother: No formula, just mommy’s healthy natural breast milk.
House: Yummy.
Young Mother: Her whole face just got swollen like this overnight.
House: Mmhmm. No fever, glands normal, missing her vaccination dates.
Young Mother: We’re not vaccinating.
House: Think they don’t work?
Young Mother: I think some multinational pharmaceutical company wants me to think they work. Pad their bottom line.
House: [Looks at baby’s toy] All natural no dyes. That’s a good business: all-natural children’s toys. Those toy companies, they don’t arbitrarily mark up their frogs. They don’t lie about how much they spend in research and development. The worst a toy company can be accused of is making a really boring frog.
[Young Mother laughs and so does House. The baby giggles again]
House: You know another really good business? Teeny tiny baby coffins. You can get them in frog green or fire engine red. Really. The antibodies in yummy mummy only protect
the kid for 6 months, which is why these companies think they can gouge you. They think that you’ll spend whatever they ask to keep your kid alive. Want to change things? Prove them wrong. A few hundred parents like you decide they’d rather let their kid die then cough up 40 bucks for a vaccination, believe me, prices will drop REALLY fast.
Young Mother: Tell me what she has!
House: A cold.

*when I say “lately” I mean “to me”. Maybe it was ever thus, but the world has become ever more public and interconnected, and I can’t help wonder if this false equivalence between scientists and sceptics has been exacerbated today
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One Response to Opinions are like…

  1. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance by Jonah Lehrer on Wired.com

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