Saturday, February 25, 2012

Roll Over, Cotton Mather! Make Way For Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, & Oprah!

Full Disclosure: This blogger has two grandchildren living in a suburb of Indianapolis — a potential ground zero of a measles pandemic. Charles P. Pierce ain't funny today. He writes about the mania that would confound Cotton Mather (promoter of smallpox innoculation in 1721). Not quite three centuries later, the fools and loons on both sides of the aisle (Right & Left) have joined the Anti-Vax movement. Foolishness and cant abound in our times. If this is (fair & balanced) dumbfoundedness, so be it.

[x Esquire]
The Politics Blog: The Intended Consequences Of Fake Science
By Charles P. Pierce

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The blog is fond of quoting the bard, Guy Clark, who once wrote, "Lord, you'd think there's less fools in this world."

Comes now this report that we nearly had a measles pandemic in Indiana, with the Super Bowl as Ground Zero, because of the traction that the anti-vaccination crowd has gained in the public at large. (The reason we didn't have a pandemic was that so many of the people at the Super Bowl had been vaccinated.) Old childhood plagues are making a comeback. It's also not promising, as the WaPo report points out, that pediatricians have started telling their anti-vaccination patients to go climb a tree.

This is a real-world consequence of our tendency to enable nonsense to the point that it actually has an effect on public policy. This is a real-world consequence of our current taste for non-science, or anti-science, to borrow a useful term from the history of Mother Church. This is the public-health face of climate-change denial, to name only the most obvious parallel. Create your own "science," sell it enthusiastically, get enough people to believe it so that the teenage bookers at cable news notice the dust you've kicked up, and you've got yourself a movement, regardless of what the people who actually know what they're talking about think.

The state health authorities in Indiana have released a list of possible places where the victims of the outbreak may have contracted the disease. Several of them, including the College Park Church in Indianapolis and a basketball tournament for homeschooled children, are intriguing because of the cross-pollination between fundamentalist Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. In 2005, a young Indiana woman came home from a mission trip to Romania and kicked off another measles outbreak within the congregation of her church. According to the CDC report on that outbreak:

However, there was less agreement that children should receive all recommended vaccines and that childhood vaccines in general and the measles vaccine in particular are safe. Most believed that childhood vaccinations may cause serious side effects or learning disabilities. All believed in the right to refuse vaccines, but were open to alternatives such as quarantine or staying out of school or work during an outbreak. All reported that they had access to enough information on vaccination.

The reasons cited most often for not receiving measles-containing vaccine included: a preference for naturally acquired infection, advice from an alternative health-care provider, media, personal religious objections to vaccination, the belief that vaccines are unsafe or unnecessary, and a fear of getting the disease from the vaccine. The same reasons were cited most often when respondents were asked about vaccines in general.

Which brings us to the question of "religious exemptions," which seem to be all the rage today.

In 1985, across the border in Illinois, there was a measles outbreak at Principia College, a Christian Science institution. There were 112 confirmed cases and three deaths associated with that outbreak. Between that episode and 1994, there were four large-scale measles outbreaks at Christian Science institutions around St. Louis. By the way, Principia College still maintains a religious exemption from the requirements of Illinois law mandating proof of vaccination.Instead, Principia students can present an "accommodation form" stating their religious objections to vaccination.

A number of states are drafting bills that would allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccination programs for "philosophical reasons," up to and including, one suspects, "Something I heard from Jenny McCarthy/Bill Maher/Oprah Winfrey/some radio paranoid." Or, "I read about it on the Intertoobz." This is extremely not promising. Ω

[Charles P. Pierce is a 1975 graduate of Marquette University, where he majored in journalism and brewery tours. He was delighted to combine his vocation and his avocation once again when he returned to Milwaukee to cover the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer.

He attended graduate school at Boston College for two days. He is a former forest ranger for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and still ponders the question of what possesses people to go into the woods and throw disposable diapers up into trees.

He began his journalism career writing bowling agate for the Milwaukee papers, and remains justly proud of his ability to spell multi-syllabic, vowel-free Eastern European names. He has written for the alternative press, including Worcester Magazine and the Boston Phoenix, and was a sports columnist for The Boston Herald. He was a feature writer and columnist for the late, lamented sports daily, The National. He has been a writer-at-large for a men's fashion magazine, and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. Although he is no longer a contributor to Eric Alterman's Altercation, he remains a devoted reader. He is a frequent contributor to the American Prospect and Slate. Charlie appears weekly on National Public Radio's sports program "Only A Game" and is a regular panelist on NPR's game show, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me." Since July 1997 he has been a writer at large at Esquire, covering everything from John McCain to the Hubble telescope, with more than a few shooting stars thrown in between. In April 2002, he joined the staff of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.]

Copyright © 2012 Hearst Communications, Inc.

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