Why is minimal scientific literacy (critical thinking skills, basic understanding of
how the world works, ...)
necessary for civilization?  See also the informative links
at the bottom of this page.


This Will Only Hurt for a Minute
The antivaccine movement would be laughable - if it weren't so dangerous

It's back-to-school time and because all states now require proof of student
immunization, the anti-vaccine forces are again in full cry. Warnings about
dangers of vaccination abound on the Internet, in press and in the literature of
alternative medicine. Not only are vaccinations unnecessary to ward off
epidemics of infectious diseases, but they are also responsible for such scourges
as AIDS, sudden-infant-death syndrome and autism.

Preposterous? Sure. But these ``theories'' are being taken seriously by parents and
politicians. In Europe such claims have led to significantly lower vaccination
rates - and new outbreaks of measles and diphtheria. British medical authorities
warn that measles could become epidemic if rates of three-in-one MMR
(measles, mumps and rubella) shots continua to fall.

In reality, the antivaccine activists demonstrate both medical illiteracy and
appalling ignorance of history. What happened to the quarantine notices that
were once routinely posted on houses afflicted by measles, mumps or whooping
cough? Or the long rows of iron lungs filled with polio victims unable to breathe
on their own? Why do the words diphtheria and scarlet fever draw only blank
stares from today's kids? Because of vaccinations, that's why.

Critics insist that these diseases were already being conquered by better nutrition
and sanitation before vaccines came along, and that the epidemics would
eventually have petered out on their own. Oh, really? Then why hasn't the
incidence of common colds declined and the number of chicken-pox cases (for
which a vaccine was licensed only five years ago) been reduced? The sharp decline
in communicable diseases has coincided, in each case, with the introduction of an
appropriate vaccine.

And the dangers? Earlier this month researchers at a medical Conference in
London torpedoed the widely publicized claim that the AIDS epidemic began in
Africa with the application 40 years ago of an oral-polio vaccine made from
chimpanzee tissue. Tests of remaining samples of that vaccine revealed no
evidence  of chimp DNA. In fact, the best hope for combating AIDS, and
perhaps Alzheimer's too, lies in vaccines now under development.

As for autism, experts suspect the cause is genetic and note that even before
vaccines were available, symptoms of the disorder appeared around the age at
which vaccinations are now given. In other words, any relationship between
vaccinations to autism is almost certainly coincidental, not causal.

Still, facts do not deter quacks or fanatics and the parents they dupe. School
boards across the country this fall were again pressured to admit unvaccinated
students. That would be a disservice not only to these kids, who would be
vulnerable to a host of diseases, but to their classmates whose shots didn't take
or who were excused from vaccinations for medical or religious reasons.

School boards and wavering legislators should stand fast. Vaccines are one of
medicine's proudest achievements, and they have stood the test of time.
 

Leon Jaroff, for Time Magazine, October 2, 2000.

A similar, but updated and more detailed article (October 2009)
by Amy Wallace of Wired Magazine
An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endanger Us All.
The Chicago Tribune goes to bat for evidence- (science-) based medicine (November 2009); more on this story here. Vaccine Central is a blog dedicated to providing evidence-based (scientifically supported) information on vaccines and documenting vaccine preventable suffering.

Updates - August 2007This webpage promotes of science in field of medicine and fighting the irrational dogma of the anti-vaccine movement. January 2008: Every field of science, as well as mathematics, has to put up with The Arrogance of Ignorance, which often leads to the suffering of many. May 2008: The insanity is gaining momentum, so this, this and this are also worth reading. September 2008: The insanity may finally be nearing its critical point, whereupon the whole movement shifts into the phase of collapsing under the sheer weight of inanity and/or insanity (like the feeding frenzy/panic cycles of Wall Street and the witch hunts of the 15th century) -- let's hope so. January 2009: More holes ripped open here and here, and this is a detailed response to questions posed by a mother whose child has autism. February 2009: the original "research" (published in 1998) that helped generate the hysteria was fabricated (I'm shocked, shocked...). May 2009: This article is the best one I've seen in summarizing and knocking down the "arguments". This article illustrates how fuzzy "thinking" in one area leads to fuzzy thinking all over (I'm shocked, shocked...). And science writer Chris Mooney lays out the history and pathelogical human psychology of the anti-vax movement. June 2009: an excellent article describing the history and apparent demise (hopefully) of the "manufactroversy" (an excellent summary here) driven by fear, ignorance, greed, and power -- in my book these are the 4 horsemen of the apocalypseSeptember 2009: the anti-vax hysteria movement demonstrates the plasticity of belief in the face of contradictory evidence, antivax people are antivax - a description of essentially all "denialism" movements (a description of denialism). October 2009Limbaugh and Beck jump onto the AntiVax wagon of ignorance, indicating perhaps that the insanity has entered the death spiral stage (one can hope).  May 2010: The Facts in The Case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The insanity may be on the wane...but, apparently not fast enough -- June 2010: Whooping cough now an epidemic in California (sigh). But some more good news -- August 2010Vaccines stop polio outbreak in Tajikistan. Hasn't this gone on for long enough? January 2011: Andrew Wakefield and his now imfamous studies are taken to the woodshed by the British Medical Journal. 

A decade of insanity led to the unnecessary suffering, and in many cases deaths, of many people (often children) around the world.  While the specific hysteria concerning the MMR vaccine is now (hopefully) effectively dead, vaccines myths and "woo" medicine (that not based in evidence - but in superstition, wishful thinking and delusion) are alive and well. It's only a matter of time before the next hysteria zombie goes on the rampage.

Links last updated:  13 March 2014