It’s astounding, the many ways we have of expressing ourselves and the sense of empowerment this bestows. We can make it known we’re for or against an unprecedented number of issues, and all before our first cup of coffee. It complicates matters, though, that there are so many things to be against, no one person can oppose them all. These days, especially, it’s important to carefully pick and choose our issues or risk diluting our rancor to the point of futility. How many things can one person reasonably oppose before this happens? I find I can be against only three or four issues at a time before I exhaust myself, so I try to exert some restraint.
Don’t forget that you have to be either for or against things. Nuance and ambivalence is so 1970s.
Recently I entered into a debate on Facebook about parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. The “anti-vaxxers,” as I’ve seen many call themselves, are obviously against something, but they’re also against anyone who is against their being against it. This must be utterly draining. As someone who is opposed to their anti-vaccination stance, I try not to get too emotionally involved, so when I do comment, I’m inclined to be snide about the lack of comprehension of basic science, or to point out the logical inconsistency of their arguments. I’ve noticed that many of the “sources” they cite are personal blogs or obscure health sites, while organizations like the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization are shunned as mainstream or governmental. This enables them to make statements that in any other context would be blatantly false.
It’s amazing how that works. On the internet, you can make any claim at all, and this allows people who want to believe your claim to 1) believe it, and 2) use your site as a reference to prove it. So I can write that the world’s scientific community has overwhelmingly embraced the theory that Earth will be sucked into a black hole by the year 2025 and, even though it’s a lie, you can cite this blog as proof. After all, once a claim is out there, it’s out there—it can never wholly be taken back, no matter how many experts refute it. (Take, for instance, the ongoing nonsense about President Obama being Muslim or having been born in Kenya. Neither will ever go away.) So although The Lancet retracted in 2010 the scientific paper by Andrew Wakefield that linked MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccinations to autism, and although Britain revoked Wakefield’s license to practice medicine, the idea persists that the two are causally linked. And this has led to a decrease in the number of parents getting their kids vaccinated.
Despite my inclination toward sarcasm, real consequences result from willful ignorance and the biggest losers are always, always children. If anti-vaxxers’ decisions only affected their own kids, that would be sad in itself, but there might be valid arguments for allowing them to fuck up their own progeny. Alas, that’s not the way vaccines work; if you don’t understand this, take a quick look at this explanation of community immunity by the NIH, so simple and clear I’m quite sure a seven-year-old would understand it. This CDC page addressing misconceptions about vaccines is also helpful—unless, that is, you’ve contracted the very contagious habit of automatically discounting any information coming from a government agency.
I’m not a scientist; I’m just married to one. I am very much aware of my own ignorance, which is why I tend to consult people who have studied and worked hard in a field, as well as to trust the consensus of scientists, because there’s a system of checks and balances in place. The progress of civilization, after all, depends on the advancement of knowledge. It seems to me that those of us who aren’t in the business of advancing knowledge would do well to have a bit more trust in those who are.
Photo: Top: Stop sign with bullet holes © Dlrz4114; Bottom: vials and syringe © Maksym Yemelyanov; Both via Dreamstime.com
* Thanks, Groucho!