Below is a link to an article I think all parents should read. It addresses a very important subject I think many of us have some fears about.
<a href=”http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience/all/1″>An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All</a>
To be clear, there is no credible evidence to indicate that any of this is true. None. Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 20011) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems. The so-called epidemic, researchers assert, is the result of improved diagnosis, which has identified as autistic many kids who once might have been labeled mentally retarded or just plain slow.
I link to it not just because it is interesting and informative. It’s also a fantastic piece of journalism. At some point, we journalists have let the non-journalist world redefine how we should do our job. Articles are supposed to be objective, which in the language of critics really means balanced, which really means it should be carefully leveled so that each side in a debate receives equal space, equal respect, and there is no judgement of their arguments.
That sounds fine, but all-too-often the sides in a debate aren’t equal. Take climate change, for instance. We can argue about the specifics, the causes, and the true long-term effects, but the overwhelming scientific evidence is that we’re in the midst of a profound change in our climate. An extremely small number of scientist disagree with this view, many of them building their arguments on evidence that is not scientifically provable. Yet it isn’t uncommon to see these unmeasureable, unverifiable views presented as equal to those views that are supported by the scientific record. All in the name of giving each side of a debate equal time to air their views.
That’s why I love this article. Amy Wallace gives the anti-vaccine lobby space to present their views, offer their evidence, and explains their methods for pushing their cause. Then she carefully, point-by-point, shows how their arguments are refuted by all currently available scientific data. She points out how their arguments against that data are flimsy, at best. She writes an objective, balanced piece that presents both sides of the debate, and fills that piece with evidence that overwhelmingly supports the pro-vaccine community.
I’m sure many in the anti-vaccine world will find fault with her conclusions, methods, etc. And who knows, perhaps five or 10 or 20 years from now we’ll learn that scientists were wrong about vaccines.* But based on what we know today, there’s only one way to describe Wallace’s work: excellent journalism.
(My natural inclination is to trust the scientists who insist that vaccines are safe. But I must acknowledge that my views are certainly influenced by being married to a pediatrician.)
I was struck by something else while reading this. For all the barriers it breaks, information it carries, and promise it holds, at times the Internet is the worst thing that could have happened to otherwise intelligent people. Knowledge previously available only to trained professionals is now in the public domain. We can research any subject, sift through gigabytes of data, and educate ourselves where in the past we were forced to rely on the opinions of others.
Problem is, we’re often not trained to digest and analyze this information. It’s often difficult to verify the veracity of data, especially when it is repeated across various blogs and news sites. And when you’re dealing with a child that has an unexplained illness, it is easy to grasp at any straws that offer hope to understand the illness and perhaps lead the way to a cure.
While I have little time for the anti-climate change lobby, I can completely sympathize with the parents of autistic kids who get sucked into the anti-vaccine movement. I don’t know that I could think rationally if I was in their shoes. But it seems to me to be a classic example of how information overload can be a bad thing, and people who otherwise delete the mass e-mails promising Nigerian riches or relaying dark political conspiracies will buy into theories that aren’t supported while ignoring perfectly reasonable, verified conclusions.