Monthly Archives: February 2015

We have more in common than we think

Though Americans have become more polarized politically and religiously over the past several decades, most of us still share more values in common than we tend to think. Our discussions and debates center around what divides us, leading us to forget what unites us. For example:

Most of us, whether liberal, or conservative, religious or nonreligious, are opposed to the beheading and burning of other human beings.

Most of us are opposed to killing in the name of religion or in the name of any Utopian ideology.

Most of us don’t want war unless we think it’s really necessary to save more lives than it takes.

Most of us want our populace to be literate and well educated.

Most of us want fair economic opportunity for all.

Most of us are happy when the economy grows and incomes rise for all accordingly.

Most of us don’t favor a widening gap over time between rich and poor, though we may differ on what to do about it, if anything.

Most of us don’t want people to judge each other simply on the basis of their racial background.

Most of us don’t want humans to be bought and sold and whipped for the labor they can provide their owners.

Most of us don’t want children to abused.

Most of us don’t want women to be raped.

Most of us want to live in safety, without fear of crime.

Most of us are happy when the rates of murder, burglary, teen pregnancies, suicides, STDs, and abortion decline.

Most of us are happy to see less misery not only in our country but in all countries around the world.

Most of us want to see children raised in loving families governed by responsible, productive, kind adults.

Most of us want our children to respect authority while thinking for themselves and asserting their independence of mind over time.

Most of us want as many individuals as possible to enjoy health coverage, rather than showing up in emergency rooms and being bailed out by hospitals, who pass on their expenses to those of us who do pay for services rendered.

Most of us want safe and smooth roads, clean water, functioning sewage systems, efficient electricity delivery systems, and a functional mail service.

Most of us appreciate the presence of at least a minimal safety net that will buffer us from the vicissitudes of financial ruin and exposure, whether in our youth or in our old age.

Most of us value the freedom to believe what we think is true and to let others enjoy that same freedom, even if their idea of truth differs from our idea of truth.

Most of us don’t want to be given the middle finger.

Most of us want to be treated with respect

Most of us admire men and women who work hard to provide for their family, whether financially, physically, or emotionally.

Most of us think that those who work hard should enjoy greater compensation than those who don’t.

Most of us respect those who plan ahead for their future as they are able, rather than those who spend recklessly in the present without regard for the future.

Most of us appreciate the protection afforded us by our police, our firemen and women, and our military, even if we don’t agree with all their actions all the time.

Most of us are don’t see our police and our military as being beyond criticism when they abuse their power, violating the values most of us hold.

Most of us see value in our fellow human beings and restrain ourselves from harming them.

Most of us consider it wrong to kick a puppy or to skin a cat alive.

Most of us consider it a virtue to remain faithful to our spouses if we’ve agreed to do so.

Most of us consider it a virtue to tell the truth to each other, even if we often fall short.

See? We’re mostly on the same page! If only most of us acted like it! We’re in this great American experiment together, left and right, center and libertarian, atheist and fundamentalist, Christian and Muslim, JW and Scientologist, Obama loving and Obama hating, Bush loving and Bush hating. Cheers to all (except to extremists who want to undermine the values most of us share, especially the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness)!

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A message to those still undecided about vaccination

This message is not intended for those who daily or weekly post pro- or anti-vaccination messages on my Facebook feed. You’ve already made up your mind, and there’s really nothing anyone can say to you to change it. I’m more concerned about those in the middle who witness as much anti-vaccination propaganda as pro-vaccination propaganda on their Facebook feeds, thinking this balance signals that the two positions are somehow equally evidence-based and equally worthy of your consideration.

In the 1990s I read an entire book whose thesis was that AIDS is not caused by HIV but by the anti-HIV drug AZT. I was bamboozled by all its scientific-sounding arguments. It made perfect sense. I even went out of my way to try to convince others of this truth that the world’s scientists and journalists had missed or suppressed, while the makers of AZT pulled the strings behind the curtain to fill their coffers.

As Y2K approached, I was swayed by the fearmongers, against the conventional wisdom of the establishment, that the world was headed for economic collapse due to the insidious an ineradicable Y2K bug that had infected and doomed our global electronic networks. I bought a good number of large sacks of millet, a staple of the people’s diet where we lived in Africa, to tide us for perhaps years following the impending collapse.

In 2004 I watched a video chock full of information that cast doubt on the reality of human-induced global warming. They had real scientists, with striking graphs and unassailable arguments, that for a time convinced me that the notion of global warming was a manufactured crisis with nothing to fear. The majority of scientists who felt otherwise were either innocently mistaken (not knowing what I had recently learned) or perversely conspiratorial.

In high school I devoured books from a young-earth creationist perspectives, learning proofs for a young earth that I was convinced most mainstream scientists didn’t have a clue about or chose to suppress: a lack of thick moon dust, too-dilute salts in the oceans, rapid magnetic decay rates, the ability of flooding to carve features of the Grand Canyon very quickly, the erroneous 2-million-year radiometric dating results of material recently ejected from Mount Saint Helens, the upright tree fossils entombed in multiple sedimentary strata supposedly representing thousands or millions of years of deposition, etc.

You get the picture. In each of these cases, I knew better than the mainstream experts. I read and I studied and I knew they were wrong. Even before the advent of Google, there were plenty of books to whet my contrarian appetite.

Dr. Gerardus Bouw, who earned his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Rochester, knows better than just about every scientist alive that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun revolves around the earth. See his testimony and his information–packed web page. He has read a great deal more and knows a great deal more about astrophysics than I do. He has read, read, read, studied, studied, studied on this subject. It’s his life.

But I don’t by it.

And I no longer buy Ken Ham’s young-earth views, even though he’s read more about the age of the earth than I have.

And I’m no longer swayed by Peter Duesberg’s meticulous arguments that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, even though he knows much more on the subject than I do.

And I no longer buy Anthony Watts’ arguments that climate change is a hoax, even though he knows a great deal more on the subject of climate change than I do.

And I’m certainly not wowed by the many articles that grace my Facebook feed claiming to uncover the suppressed truth that vaccines cause more harm than good. “But Ken, you’ve got to read this!”, they plead. “You just don’t realize the facts!” Okay, well, I have read some of these articles–not a lot of them–but enough to know that the incidence of measles deaths was in sharp decline even before the measles vaccine was introduced, that people can get sick and even die from the vaccine, that fewer than one in 1,000 (or maybe 3,000) who contract measles die from the disease, etc. etc.

I admit it; I don’t know as much about the subject as many of the most ardent opponents of vaccination. I have seen enough of these University of Google gadflies to know that they are serious, they’ve studied a lot, and they are irrevocably convinced of not only the truth but also of the moral rectitude of their position.

It’s the same old refrain repeated by every marginal group that wants to make itself heard above the stifling consensus (whether it’s 9/11 Truthers, anti-Obama Birthers, UFOlogists, zoocryptologists, homeopathists, gluten-haters, Dr. Ozists, anti-GMOers, geocentrists, moon-landing deniers, holocaust deniers, or young-earth creationists): You (mainstream people) JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT WE KNOW! WE’VE GOT THE INSIDE SCOOP that the experts don’t know or don’t want others to know, so they can (line their pockets, or suppress the truth, or whatever).

But the collective anti-vaccination movement doesn’t know squat compared to the scientists at the CDC (and at similar institutions around the world) who’ve rigorously studied the history, behavior, and treatment of infectious diseases. They don’t know jack compared to the university professors and laboratory scientists and physicians who’ve made studying and combating these diseases in the crucible of peer review and first-hand experience their life’s work.

Well, maybe the denizens of the CDC really do know the hidden truth that the vigilant anti-vaccination graduates of the University of Google have uncovered. Maybe it’s not that the CDC is ignorant; it’s that they’re all in a massive, perfectly coordinated conspiracy, along with the entire scientific and journalistic establishment to hide the truth from us unsuspecting sheeple so they can, uh, line their pockets with the profits from the ill-begotten gains of Big Pharma and their vaccination hustlers?

Ken, are you telling me that scientists cannot err? Not at all; they’re human!

So then, if the scientific experts are just as prone to be mistaken as us non-experts, then let’s all just ignore science altogether, shall we?  If flipping a coin is just as likely as listening to scientists to get us to the truth, then let’s just go with our gut or our prior values when they conflict with what scientists tell us. If I’m a peasant living in the 16th century and Galileo tells me that a feather will fall to the earth as fast as a cannon ball in a vaccuum, then my gut takes the day. If Galileo also tells me we’re zooming around the sun on a little earth-ball at the rate of 17,000 miles per hour and my experience and religion say otherwise, then so much for Galileo. If I believe infectious diseases are caused by evil spirits and a scientist insists they’re caused by invisible microorganisms, then so much for the germ theory of disease. If scientists tell us that the earth is billions of years old but I believe the Bible tells me it’s only thousands of years old, then the scientists must be ignorant or must be conspiring to suppress what we don’t know. After all, I respect Ken Ham, Todd Wood, Henry Morris, and Steven Austin, and they’re smart, so if smart people can believe the earth is young, and the Bible teaches it, then it’s settled.

And if I believe nature is just fine the way God (or nature) made it, and that human-made or tampered-with substances (like GMO foods or vaccines) constitute an assault to the integrity of my body and its natural disease-fighting systems, then NOTHING anyone–not even, or especially, the truth-suppressing experts–tells me will make me believe that vaccines don’t cause more harm than good.

Okay, so now that I’ve managed to alienate perhaps 90% of my readers with my sanctimonious science-supporting screed, I’ll come to the main point of this essay:

There are too many Facebook and blog posts spreading confusion about vaccines. They believe themselves to be better informed than those who know the subject best, or they have the chutzpah to suggest that the entire hard-working, honest medical establishment is in the pockets of the vaccine makers and thus is deliberately pulling the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting (were it not for the valiant efforts of the brave U of Google gadflies) populace.

If there were no ill consequences to their contrarian message, I would say live and let live. But there are consequences that can and will adversely affect us all if they succeed in making everyone think like them. Their message can cause real damage, well-meaning though they may be.

So to those who are indifferent or who are on the verge of being swayed by the anti-vaccination movement, please push back. Ask yourself whether its likely that the entire scientific establishment has somehow either innocently or maliciously overlooked what the University of Google gadflies have so valiantly uncovered. Really?

If you don’t think it’s likely, then please join me and others and show everyone else on your Facebook feed where you stand by placing a simple message on your feed:

“I stand with the scientific experts on vaccinations. I believe they know better than their detractors and that they’re not conspiring against us.”

Or something to that effect–just something simple to your taste that demonstrates that you (along with the vast majority of the American population) don’t stand with the loud anti-vaccination movement that seems to be growing louder by the day.

For further reading: This article from National Geographic diagnoses the root of anti-science sentiment far better than I could ever hope to do.

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