Denying science can cause real harm

March 18, 2014

Scientists aren’t persecuted and imprisoned for espousing theories that run against the grain of official dogma the way Galileo was in the 17th century, but some of us do an all too rigorous job of ignoring or denying science that we don’t want to believe.

It’s not harmless, either. Global-warming deniers forestall changes that would make our planet safer and more habitable for our children and grandchildren. The folks who claim evolution is a racket being foisted on us by bearded, godless college professors damage the education of our children and our standing in the world.

And then there are the vaccination deniers. Over the last couple of years, they have been peddling misinformation, based on a thoroughly discredited study by a British doctor in 1998 that contended vaccines are a contributor to autism.

The doctor has long since recanted and his findings have not been supported by any other reliable scientific evidence.

“There is no legitimate scientific controversy about whether or not vaccines are safe,” Russell Saunders, a New York doctor, wrote on the Daily Beast website last week.

Yet the vaccine-deniers persist, led by Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy model and co-host of the television talk show “The View,” and reality television star Kristin Cavallari, who said last week she has “read too many books” to vaccinate her offspring.

Oh boy.

If there’s any upside to be found with this ignorant cadre, it’s that their ranks contain a cross-section of political persuasions, from those on the far right who are suspicious of even the most benign recommendation from the government, to those on the far left who shun chemicals of any sort as being “unnatural.” Alas, we now have them to thank for measles outbreaks that have been occurring in some major cities.

About 70 cases have been reported in the United States so far in 2014, with New York alone seeing 16 cases.

One case turned up in Allegheny County last month, though, thankfully no others have followed. It’s the first time the measles had surfaced in this region in five years, and it had been declared all but eliminated in the United States at the turn of the century. The results can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 430 children die every day worldwide – that’s 18 every hour – as a result of the measles.

Those who contract it can also suffer from seizures or endure deafness or permanent brain damage.

When parents opt against vaccinating their children, they not only put little Jacob or Amber in jeopardy, but also children who have not yet developed immunity or can’t be vaccinated because of certain medical conditions.

Most experts believe the recent spread of the measles can be laid directly at the feet of the deniers.

“The evidence against administering the (measles) vaccine to healthy individuals is utterly without merit,” Saunders said. “This is sheer lunacy ... This year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe effective vaccine. All based on nothing.”

Parents who have not gotten their children vaccinated should do so promptly.

And they would do well to heed the discoveries of science and sound advice of doctors, not conjecture they unearth on the Internet or pseudoscience being peddled by spotlight-seeking celebrities.



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