Thursday, October 16, 2014

Humor that hits close to home

The most humorous things in the world often come way to close to the truth, that's what makes them so funny.  Case in point, "Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science" from the Borowitz Report, in humor section of the New Yorker Magazine.  Without even reading the 'report', you can get the idea of the humor and you probably also realize how close to the truth it hits.

All to often in the past when threatened people turn away from established science and run towards the nearest source of . . . OK, I'll be polite . . . damn, I can't find the words I would like to use, so I'll stick with 'pseudo-science'.  Remember Laetrile?  It was found to be clinically ineffective 3 decades ago, yet it still has it's supporters.  Even Steve McQueen gave it a try.  The question is why?

That's where I think the issue is, the 'why'.  Why do people cling to things that obviously do not work.  Why do they rush to grab something not only unproven, but potentially harmful.  I can understand it in the early 70's before any studies were done someone clinging to peach pit extract, or at least I think that's where laetrile came from.  But once the verdict is in, wouldn't most folks step away?  To me if the only place to get something is some roadside stand in Mexico, I would reconsider it's possible effectiveness.

The current anti-vaccination movement is another example.  People making spurious claims and then a celebrity or two jump on the bandwagon and suddenly you have real children dying of diseases that were once considered pretty much wiped out.  Why do people turn away from science so quickly?

One issue is that science does not have all the answers.  It may never be able to cure cancer at the snap of a finger.  When you or your loved ones are threatened and the best medical science can do for you are treatments that seem nearly as bad as the disease itself, you are willing to grasp at straws.  In all honesty, that doesn't bother me very much.  When you are under such stress and pressure, you might be willing to suspend disbelief and use it to extend the possibility of hope.  Even if it doesn't work, at least for a brief time, you had something to hope for.  A medical doctor may not be able to offer you such hope, especially when they know the prognosis is poor.  Their profession requires a certain amount of directness and honesty that the purveyors of things, like Laetrile, are never going to have.

What bothers me isn't the people who have run out of hope and are grasping at flimsy straws.  These are the people who aren't operating under those stresses and still deny science.  Maybe they are looking for someone to blame.  After all isn't it easier to blame some vaccine for your autistic child than not know the answer as to why your child is the way they are?  We do not know what causes autism, so gleaming onto a phony medical study that claimed a link between a vaccine and autism is better than not knowing the cause.  Isn't it?  I don't think so.

Imagine how worse off things would be if we mainstreamed the idea that vaccinations might cause autism.  Think of the incredible dangers that would have caused.  Polio, whooping cough, rubella, measles . . . so many diseases that would do the most damage to our children!  Not only that, but research into the actual causes would come to a grinding halt. Therein lies the danger.  The anti-science movement can impact real science, not as a viable replacement, but as an impediment.

Like I said, sometimes the humor hits way too close to home.  Science denial is an area that can have near-term and far-reaching effects.  When you hear of the preventable death of a child, the humorous aspects of the anti-vax movement pale beside the horrific.  When you see the facts that previously preventable diseases are on the rise due to a lack of vaccinations, you have to look past the humor of people getting their vaccine 'science' from Jennie McCarthy or homeopathy from Dr. Oz and recognize the need to learn about science, to understand it in order to make good decisions.  Failing to do so does a disservice to your own, and other, children!

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