Anti-vaccination nutjobsFriday, October 23, 2009 15:49
As a skeptic, I’ve never been a fan of alternative medicine or even herbal remedies. I prefer that any medical treatments that I take be experimentally controlled, peer reviewed and statistically compared for efficacy against competing treatments. It feels however that I’m in the minority on this and even people who have a reasonably sound education in the sciences often just state that alternative medicine, while not necessarily being more effective than a placebo, is at least harmless and could provide some psychological reassurance to patients.
Frankly, I feel that this is conceding too much. Even if alternative medical treatments are physiologically harmless, admitting them into the mainstream dangerously blurs the line between truth and falseness. It means conceding authority to snake oil salesmen who claim to not only know better than trained doctors but that doctors aren’t to be trusted because they are in collusion with drug companies who poison patients. More importantly in the long run, it feeds the general perception that scientific truth is not objective and that you don’t actually need any academic qualifications in order to be a respected authority on scientific matters.
Currently the best example of how much damage the anti-intellectual crowd can do is the ridiculous argument against vaccinations. This profile of Paul Offit, a prominent scientist in the development and study of vaccines, in Wired should be required reading for anyone who isn’t convinced that the rise of alternative medicine is actively harmful. It is truly frightening how quickly the fad of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated has grown and how much damage it is already doing. Furthermore, it’s one thing if the parents are harming their own children by not getting them vaccinated, but it’s another thing when you consider that they’re endangering everyone else around them because a good vaccination program depends on everyone being vaccinated to work.
As the article explains, the fears about the risks posed by vaccines are completely groundless and even now diseases that were previously thought to have been vanquished are making a comeback because vaccination rates are dropping. The saddest part is that all this has happened before. In England and Wales in the late 19th century, an anti-smallpox vaccine movement got started causing the disease to flare up even though the vaccine had been invented in 1793. I guess this is what you get when people look to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carey and Oprah Winfrey for scientific advice instead of actual scientists.