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Originally posted by nairiporter at While we're about irrational anti-science pushback...
When does irrational fear of science become detrimental to society at large? Examples abound. So here is one.

Vaccine preventable outbreaks are real

A few things to note:

- All of that red, which seems to dominate? It's measles. It's even peeking through in the United States, and it's smothering the United Kingdom.

- If you get rid of the measles, you can start to see mumps. Again, crushing the UK and popping up in the US.

- Both measles and mumps are part of the MMR vaccine.

- Almost all the whooping cough is in the United States.

It is really astounding to see how in the 21st century, people frequently take the bait of opinion passing for 'fact', and belief over solid science. The problem is, lots of folks find science boring and tedious at school, and then proceed to fear it and view it with suspicion as adults - which then reflects on society at large, and, as demonstrated above, can have real consequences to entire generations.

So why is science so boring to so many people? Is it perhaps because the education system is framed in such a way that it demands of students to memorise stuff without necessarily understanding it, just for the short-term goal of getting good grades at school and nothing beyond that? Is it because the education process in its present form tends to scare and disgust people away from science at an early age, rather than fascinating them and making them hungrier for actual scientific knowledge? Is it people's inherent laziness to think outside the box of their daily routine and transcend the conventions of their social environment, which is a general requirement for abandoning every-day "common sense" and understanding scientific knowledge? Is it that people are supicious of "cold", rational knowledge, and tend to favour emotion and sentiment over reason as more valuable?

Science makes statements based on currently available information. It never asserts something to be the absolute truth, because that would require infinite knowledge - and that's the aspect of science which is probably the most misunderstood, most misused, abused, and cited most often as a flaw of science, rather than being acknowledged as science's most valuable asset. Because people prefer to be presented with definite, absolute answers to complex questions about complex phenomena. And this apparent ambiguity in science could be undesirably confusing for them.

These things may sound too abstract and philosophical, but when we move to real-life examples like the above, things could get really serious. One would expect that in the 21st century, the developed industrialised societies would have embraced rationalism, reason and the scientific approach a long time ago. And for the most part they truly have. But there is also this segment of society that's not insignificant at all, which remains stuck in some semi-ignorant state of Medievalism that has existed since time immemorial.

Measles and whooping cough could have been and should have been eradicated from the face of Earth a long time ago. This is certainly a man-made tragedy that could have been rendered extinct by now. And I'm not only talking about the developed world. The wealthy nations have had all the means and capacity to see to it that the Third World gets completely vaccinated, with all the relevant information provided to the families involved. Because nothing can be more powerful a motivation than understanding a problem and grasping the urgent necessity to tackle it in an adequate way.

Granted, there are caveats to an issue as complex as vaccination. There are circumstances when certain health conditions prevent particular kids from being vaccinated. Many vaccines that are currently developed do not provide a complete resistance to a virus. A virus exposed to an incomplete resistance could actually end up being resistant not only to the vaccination but to the treatment itself, too, and thus become truly deadly. These are issues that ought to be investigated, tackled, and explained. The alternative is succumbing to near-archaic levels of ignorance and superstition, and risking countless lives and social and economic loss in the process, in case an epidemic outbreak potentially reaches critical proportions.

The irrational factor remains the main detriment to addressing these issues in an efficient way. People's proneness to falling for hyperbolic hysteria and manipulative tricks such as turning anecdata into presumed data, is part of this. To put it simply: in most cases, especially with the mainstream vaccinations, complications are far more likely to arise from illness than from vaccination - but that fact is often overlooked by those who have already got their preconceived notions deeply embedded in their mindset. Example:

A research on the adverse reactions to the HPV vaccine Ceravix, reported between April 2008 and September 2009 demonstrates the enormous discrepancy between the number of vaccinations and the occurrence of adverse reactions from them - a ratio which of course is often represented in a severely distorted manner to the public.

It is true that a lot of thought should be invested into the way we approach vaccinations. Medicine abounds of examples of horrific mistakes when we thought something was being done right, until it was found out it had all been wrong. It is also true that selling new vaccination (possibly enhanced through the compulsory element) is a major profitable business worldwide, in many cases facilitated by government legislation. Which is what makes issues such as mandatory vaccinations not just a medical, but more an economic, and thus, political issue as well.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 5th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
people frequently take the bait of opinion passing for 'fact', and belief over solid science.

Part of the problem is that silliness like anti-vaccination propaganda is often presented as pseudoscience, and most people can't tell the difference between science and pseudoscience.

And of course there's the problem that sometimes there is some truth in the claims, but the difficulty is that people do not understand different magnitudes of risk. If there's a one in a thousand chance of serious medical consequences as a result of vaccination, and a forty in one thousand chance of serious medical consequences as a result of non-vaccination, most people are unable to distinguish between those very different magnitudes of risk.

There's also the problem that the media presents proven scientific facts and unproven hypotheses in the same way.

A further problem is that in science nothing is ever really settled. A theory may be generally accepted for many years and then new data becomes available and the theory needs to be changed or even abandoned. This tends to make most people angry or mistrustful. Most science is not like mathematics, where a theorem can be absolutely proven. Most science works on the basis of theories that are likely to be correct on the currently available evidence, rather than theories that are definitively proven. The average person cannot be expected to be able to distinguish between a theory that is 99 percent certain to be correct and a theory that is perhaps 80 percent certain to be correct.

In some ways people are right to be sceptical about science. It's just that they often take the scepticism too far.
Feb. 9th, 2014 05:23 pm (UTC)
That reminds me that Michael Polanyi occasionally remarked that skepticism, rather than serving science, would eventually put an end to it, if scientists weren't allowed to maintain a modicum of independence, and Westerners weren't able to re-articulate an ability to trust authority.
Feb. 5th, 2014 04:25 am (UTC)
Science makes statements based on currently available information. It never asserts something to be the absolute truth, because that would require infinite knowledge

The problem is that by the time the science makes it to the mass media it is very often presented as if it is absolute truth. And if a particular scientific theory has a strong appeal to certain groups for emotional or political reasons those groups will push the science aggressively in the media as if it is absolute truth.

Science has become highly politicised. That's not entirely the fault of scientists, but these days there are disturbing numbers of scientists with obvious political agendas.

And science is very much about money. If you don't get the funding (mostly from government) you don't get to do your science. The temptation to present findings in the type of political context that is most likely to secure further funding is extremely strong. Scientists in general are no more moral than plumbers, accountants or lawyers. A plumber can be strongly tempted to tell you your property needs expensive drainage work that is actually quite unnecessary. A scientist is just as easily tempted to exaggerate risks in order to get more funding. It's not exactly lying, it's just presenting conclusions in a subtly misleading way. In some cases scientists may not even be aware of doing so. They have become so accustomed to wording applications for funding in the manner most likely to be successful that it has become second nature.
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