As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of herd stupidity, not immunity?by Sarah Lang
Sarah Lang reaches peak frustration over anti-vaxxers.
When I recovered, I felt compelled to comment. “If you’re not vaccinating your children, you’re putting your own and other children at risk, and relying on others to lessen the risk for your child. You’re selfish and self-righteously stupid. Please consider not breeding any further.”
No, I didn’t actually post that, just a link to an article by science researcher Jess Berentson-Shaw. Someone posted a meme in reply. “Believing a scientist just because he’s a scientist isn’t science. It’s a religion – and a religion with no moral compass at that.” I laughed at the irony, but part of me wanted to howl at the moon, despairing for the future of humanity.
The irony of people seeing science as a religion is that religion is a fairy tale, and science actually works. Without it, we’d still be spending Mondays wringing out the washing, Tuesdays throwing our poo into the street, and Wednesdays dying in childbirth.
What’s more, the anti-science camp subscribes to their own religion, cherry-picking soundbites from the junk science clogging up the internet. They then enter a filter bubble, where a website algorithm effectively isolates them from conflicting information, as they tap away on the mind-blowingly complex computer or smartphone they have science to thank for.
It’s astonishing just how many well-educated, presumably semi-intelligent New Zealanders subscribe to and try to spread this kind of nonsense. Some believe science is a giant conspiracy theory with nefarious motives. What’s wrong with these people? Did they drop science and maths too early at school? Is it a desperate attempt to reclaim some sense of control in an increasingly complicated and unstable world? Whatever the reason, what’s been dubbed “the death of expertise” has disturbing ramifications for this “post-truth”, fake-news world.
As well as being dangerously misinformed, some of these people can be personally abusive. When I’ve politely stood up for science, on Facebook or in person, I’ve been accused of making a personal attack. I’ve also been called a closed-minded bitch and a mindless fool. So, it’s okay for them to attack me, but not okay for me to politely disagree with them? If that isn’t a religion with no moral compass, I don’t know what is.
Curiously, anti-expert sentiment tends to be restricted to issues where the consequences are minor and not immediate. No one complains about know-it-all experts flying the plane – or designing, building or maintaining the plane – because the consequences of getting it wrong are immediate and fatal. However, the consequences of not getting vaccinated are delayed and usually debilitating rather than fatal, and the costs are borne by others (their children and the healthcare system). I can understand why Kaitaia doctor Lance O’Sullivan interrupted a recent screening of the discredited movie Vaxxed, which alleges the disproved link between the MMR vaccine and autism is real and has been covered up. He told the audience their presence “will cause babies to die” if parents are put off immunisation by such misinformation based on lies. Good on ya, Lance.
There’s a skewed understanding of risk out there. In April, Timaru primary school Grantlea Downs decided not to allow on-site vaccinaton of students against the human papilloma virus (HPV). One mother said, “Even though it’s only a small risk, there’s no way I’d get my kids immunised.” In her mind, an acknowledged vanishingly tiny risk outweighs the much higher one of her child becoming infected with at least one type of HPV as an adult. The wrong type of HPV virus will increase her risk of cancer. Thanks, Mum.
And before you criticise experts for not eradicating cancer yet, consider that more of us are getting cancer simply because we’re living longer due to the advances of science, with comparatively little serious transmissible disease in modern-day New Zealand. The recent typhoid outbreak was a major news story because it was so rare – and that’s because a vaccine has either eradicated the disease so that even unvaccinated people aren’t at risk, or it’s reduced the level of risk to so low that the chances of catching the disease are tiny. Who should you thank? The scientists.
Today marks 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, a feat achieved thanks to Kiwi scientist William Pickering and his team.Read more
For New Zealanders, the Cricket World Cup final was a brutal reminder of sport’s great paradox. But there's hope on the horizon.Read more
We may decry the notion, but the hostile use of space is creeping into the plans of various countries.Read more
If US$154 billion to land 12 men on the Moon seems excessive, consider the things we use every day that had their roots in a Nasa lab.Read more
Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.Read more
PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.Read more
Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.Read more
Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.Read more