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The Real Threat -- Writer's Poke #416

Belief in and of itself isn’t bad, but belief that requires bad science to sustain itself? That’s bad.

Autism is a horrible disease, but is it a coincidence that the proponents claiming a link between autism and vaccines all seem to have autistic children? No, it’s hardly a coincidence, and it’s not at all surprising that parents of autistic children would take a special interest in finding a cure for autism.

What is more than a bit disconcerting, however, is the anti-vaccination side’s willingness to ignore and distort the facts. In the United States, people like to say that “everyone is entitled to their opinions.” Fine, but when has it ever been okay to ignore and distort facts? When pressed, I doubt if most rational people would say that doing so it okay, but the conversation doesn’t usually reach that point. When someone has made up his mind to hold onto an opinion, being rational is no longer part of the equation.

We hear only what we want to hear, and people have the amazing ability to hold onto a belief no matter what. Many, I’m sure, are completely oblivious to the fact that they are ignoring or distorting facts. When so much is at stake, seeing clearly is probably the last thing they are worrying about.

According to Amy Wallace, the anti-vaccination position doesn’t have one bit of fruitful science on its side. And the problem with the “everyone is entitled to their opinion” approach is that when people decide to follow unsubstantiated beliefs, their individual choice not only affects them, but it also affects everyone else around them. As far as the effectiveness of vaccinations is concerned, writes Wallace, “You can’t minimize your individual risk unless your herd, your friends and neighbors, also buy in.”

The vaccination issue is one clear example where scientific illiteracy is a real threat to the health and wellbeing of the world. We must all take a special interest in standing up for good science, because scientific literacy is something that does matter. And unfortunately, there is not a vaccination for scientific illiteracy.

What is the cure for scientific illiteracy? 

“The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.” – Arnold H. Glasow


  1. Did you mention who Amy Wallace is and why we should accept her as the authority that we must follow?


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