Monday, January 18, 2016

What do Creationists and Anti-Vaxxers Have in Common?

Apparently a complete disregard for the facts.

We've written many times about how Creationists, for many reasons, disregard the factual support for evolution.  While they tend to make-up all sorts of rationalizations, the basics are that they deny that factual support.  While they often cloak their denial-ism under various guises, the fact that evolutionary theory doesn't support their deeply held philosophical (religious) beliefs, so they refuse to accept the evidence.  Michael Behe did exactly that during the Dover Trial, little kennie ham did it during his 'debate' with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.  Denial of facts is an important tactic, particularly when you cannot refute those facts.

It seems anti-vaxxers work the same way.  Recently the University of Woollongong awarded a PhD in Philosophy to Judy Wilyman who uses the same tactic, a complete disregard of the facts.  I first heard about it from PZ Myers over on Pharyngula and then I caught it on several other sites, including Alison Campbell's BioBlog.  Alison said something that rang a bell with me:

"Universities do value diversity and freedom of opinion (it would be a sad state of affairs if they did not), but that opinion should be evidence-based. Academic freedom (another phrase aired in this and similar contexts) is not the freedom to say whatever one likes, whenever one likes, without considering the quality of the opinions being expressed." (BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
It's been another common tactic of the Creationists, such as the Discovery Institute.  Claiming that academic freedom requires, no, demands that alternative views to evolution be taught.  But, like this situation, it is not academic freedom when you are expressing unsupported opinion as if they were as valid as actual research.  A quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan says a great deal:
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Not only did she [Wilyman] create her own facts, but she refused to entertain anything that conflicts with her viewpoint:
"Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre of Immunisation Research and a WHO adviser, said he had offered to discuss the research with Ms Wilyman but found her “not willing to entertain” evidence contrary to her views." (BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
One of my concerns is what will happen next with the thesis.  As Alison also said:
" But the thesis is highly likely to be held up by organisations such as the 'Australian Vaccination Network' and the 'Vaccine Resistance Movement' as evidence that vaccines are not only useless but in fact bad for us. If this then results in a drop in vaccination rates, then vaccine-preventable diseases will increase in frequency in the community: this is just what happened in the UK after the publication of the now-retracted report that linked MMR vaccination with autism."
(BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
Yes, here in the States we have seen an uptick in diseases that used to be pretty much eradicated.  Most often the source can be traced back to families following the 'medical' advice of people like Jenny McCarthy and refusing to have their children vaccinated.  Andrew Wakefield, the one-time doctor who authored the now retracted report Alison mentioned, is still doing business as an anti-vaxxer activist.  ABC news reported:
"Since Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study was released in 1998, many parents have been convinced the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could lead to autism. But that study may have done more harm than good. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than any year since 1997. More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated, or their vaccination status was not known." (Jasek, Marissa (6 January 2011). "Healthwatch: Disputed autism study sparks debate about vaccines". WWAY Newschannel 3, accessed from Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield, 18 Jan 2016)
A New York Times profile said:
"Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here—whooping cough and measles, among them—have re-emerged, endangering young lives." (Dominus, Susan (20 April 2011). "The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru". New York Times Magazine, accessed from Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield, 18 Jan 2016)
Wakefield's report was was retracted and it is still a banner anti-vaxxers wave.  The author of this thesis is poised to become a hero of the anti-vaxxer movement, the only question is how many young lives will she be responsible for ending from a preventable disease.  I doubt she will in any way feel responsible, but she should, just as Wakefield should!

Get your children vaccinated!

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