Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Let's Hear It For Proper Science

The Institute of Health has released a study finding no relation between vaccines with mercury preservatives and autism:

The Institute of Medicine’s panel of prominent scientists pointed to five large studies, here and abroad, that tracked thousands of children since 2001 and found no association between autism and thimerosal.

While high doses of mercury can cause neurological damage, there’s no evidence that this type of damage causes the symptoms specific to autism and no laboratory or animal research that would prove how the much-smaller amounts in thimerosal could do so, either, the IOM concluded.

It is nothing but commendable that parents will look out for the best interests of their children. The danger lies in those who have agendas and wrap them up in scientific sounding jargon. From Glenn Reynold's Tech Central Station Article:

It's not the Bubonic Plague, but it's nothing you want. So what gives? Why did people abandon the vaccine?

The short answer is media hysteria and alternative-health shysterism. As Hoyt reports, dubious studies were seized on by anti-vaccination activists (described by Hoyt as "religious groups whose opposition was based on religious or moral grounds. . . [and] followers and practitioners of homeopathy, chiropractic, and natural and alternative medicine.") Those groups discouraged vaccination with scare stories, and the media picked up isolated cases of vaccine side-effects and -- by drawing a lot of attention to them, while paying little or no attention to the vaccine's benefits -- left people more afraid of the vaccine than the disease.

The result is that large numbers of people -- mostly children -- who might have stayed healthy have instead sickened and sometimes died. This is because some people were crazed, or dishonest, or hysterical, and others were stupid enough to believe them. (And it's not just in America and the West, or with whooping cough: Africa is facing a resurgence of polio as Islamic leaders encourage a boycott based on conspiracy theories.)

Modern America does not understand risk they way we used to. Thank God that we don't, because that understanding came from watching people, especially children, die. Too many people can be convinced to chase the chimera of perfect safety, and the result becomes less safety for themselves and others.

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