Thursday, March 5, 2015

A message for the anti-vaccine movement

I'm glad to see Jimmy Kimmel take on issues like this, but I thought I'd post it because the video has received nearly 3,500 down-votes, so far, and angry anti-vaxxers are filling up the comments section.

This is just another example of scientific illiteracy and faith-based thinking in America. You've read some scary stuff online, you've seen a Playboy bunny with her clothes on (so she must be smart, huh?), so you think you know more than the highly-educated medical researchers who've devoted their professional lives to this field.

Just reading their comments shows how little they actually know. Even I can tell that, and I'm no medical researcher. But they brag about how much they know. (They remind me of Creationists, who seem to know absolutely nothing about evolution, but somehow think that they're well-informed.)

It's the worldwide scientific consensus. There's a reason for that. If scientists were unsure, if the evidence wasn't there, you could go ahead and pick whatever answer you wanted to believe (though it would be far smarter, in that situation, just to withhold judgement).

But that's not the case. The science is in. If you understand science at all, if you know the slightest thing about the scientific method, you'll understand why science comes to a consensus and why that's always the best bet.

Everything else is just your enthusiasm for conspiracies. Yeah, maybe it's fun to think like that, but this is serious. There's a reason why intelligent people laugh at conspiracy enthusiasts.


jeff725 said...

I have a new term to describe the anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, faith-based thinkers, et al. I call it the "Yogi Bear Syndrome" (I'm smarter than the average bear).

Have you noticed that OUR consensus is THEIR conspiracy? Interesting mental gymnastics, isn't it?

Jim Harris said...

I liked that video so much I posted it on my Facebook page. I'd like to see some data on whether or not all this positive PR for vaccines is changing anti-vaxxer minds. Even Jenny McCarthy says she's not anti-vaccine, but is she?

WCG said...

I like it, Jeff. And that's a good point. They think we're being gullible for believing the scientific consensus, instead of doing our own 'research.'

But they don't mean scientific research, because they have neither the knowledge nor the equipment to do scientific research. They just mean reading what other people say about the issue and deciding which side to believe.

And they're not even reading scientific research papers, because they can't understand those. So why would they think they know more than the worldwide consensus of scientists working in their own field of expertise?

Scientists come to a consensus about a particular issue in a particular field because they can demonstrate reality to each other. They can test the data themselves, and they can even perform their own research to confirm the results.

That makes science able to build on secure foundations, so it doesn't - as religion does - build a towering logical edifice on a foundation of wishful thinking. Instead, each new floor rests securely on demonstrable reality.

That's not at all the same thing as just deciding which person to believe. (That, again, is more like religion.) That's why science does come to a consensus, while no other field of study does. Well, other fields can be evidence-based, but it's not as easy to perform and duplicate controlled research.

But I've talked with people who've doubted that the Moon Landing actually happened. I can't even imagine the incredible mechanics it would require to pull off such a conspiracy - or a conspiracy about global warming, either. But that doesn't stop conspiracy fans.

Conspiracy thinking is apparently a real rush. It must make them feel so smart, so important, to be one of the few who can see through the deception - and so brave to be battling against the secret powers who control the world.

But then, they're smarter than the average bear, huh? :)

WCG said...

I could be wrong, Jim, but I don't think it's possible to change anti-vaxxer minds. But by arguing with them - and making fun of them - we might be able to limit their reproduction.

Once someone has bought into this kind of thing, they seem to be impervious to reason. Opposition just makes them cling to their dogma even more fiercely. Well, that's generally how faith-based thinking works.

But we can prevent people from adopting false dogma in the first place, with reasoned argument and, yes, ridicule. The anti-vaxxers spread their message around and actively recruit to the cause. With video clips like this - and Jimmy Kimmel has a pretty big audience - we can make that more difficult.

There will always be fringe groups, and I would never deny them freedom of speech. But there are ways we can keep them from spreading. Marginalized fringe groups, taken seriously by almost no one, aren't much of a threat.

And the reason I talk so much about faith-based vs evidence-based thinking, and the reason I try to explain the scientific method, is that a clear understanding how to think will prevent most of this loony conspiracy thinking in the first place.

Skepticism, properly understood - not just disbelief and denial - will give a person the tools to resist attractive, but loony, ideas. And recognizing why scientists come to a consensus will make you realize why accepting a scientific consensus, where there is one, is always the smart bet.

After all, none of us can be an expert in everything. It's just not possible. You have to trust something. But "trust" isn't "faith." Trust is based on reason and evidence. If you have an understanding of skepticism and even an intelligent layman's understanding of science (I'm certainly no scientist myself), you should be able to put your trust in what's trustworthy.

That's my idea, at least. That's my hope. We do, after all, have clear evidence in the enormous progress science has made in recent centuries. That's absolutely undeniable. Science works,... bitches. :)

Jim Harris said...

And there's the roll of peer- pressure and shame. If your friends are pro-vaccines, or denounce anti-vaxxers, it might sway people's opinions more than what they read online or see on television.

There's herd immunity, and herd beliefs. I'm hoping anti-vaxxers will be persuaded by herd opinion for vaccinations.

WCG said...

Unfortunately, Jim, it tends to be the other way around, I suspect. It's not that most people are anti-vaxxers, far from it. They're just a small minority.

However, they're a small minority who really, really care about the issue. It's like, oh, gun-nuts or anti-abortion activists. It's not just numbers that matter, but fanaticism.

Open-carry, anti-regulation gun-nuts tend to be fanatic about it. Like anti-abortion activists, they tend to be single-issue voters, and they get involved in campaigns. They really are activists.

These issues aren't so important, by and large, to most people - people who have a number of competing interests and don't just focus on one.

You might think that Creationists are idiots, but you probably won't demand that a politician stand up for evolution. You might not like lax rules on home-schooling, but you probably don't even know how your representative votes on the issue. Home-schooling activists, on the other hand, are fanatic about it, and they make sure their representative knows that.

Most of us have a lot of interests, and we're probably not going to be very active in promoting any of them. The fact that we think they're all important is just going to moderate our response to any single one of them.

And anti-vaxxers - like other fanatics - tend to be enthusiastic promoters of their faith. If everyone else thinks that they're idiots, that just reinforces their feeling of being heroes persecuted by the establishment (controlled by a powerful conspiracy of drug manufacturers, of course).

And anti-vaxxers - like other single-issue and faith-based activists - are confident that they know the truth. They may know almost nothing about medical science, but they tend to be very confident that they know everything.

And so they can be convincing to the gullible and the uninformed, especially since people who do support vaccines don't know much about medical science either,... and know that they don't.

In all of these cases, laughter helps. Ridicule helps. But persecution - and they tend to see ridicule as persecution - tends to strengthen faith.

I don't know the solution. But as I noted above, this is why I talk about faith-based vs evidence-based thinking. This is why I talk about skepticism. With clear thinking, we can be inoculated against all kinds of idiocy, not just one.

Jim Harris said...

The ultimate goal would be to convince everyone to be scientific and careful examiners of evidence - but I don't think that will become universal. I think fad thinking waxes and wanes. Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were hordes of UFO nuts, now there are far fewer. A lot of New Age fads of the 1970s have died off.

So many pro-vaccination stories have been in the news lately, on television shows, radio talk shows, stand-up comedians, etc., that I'd hope most of the casual anti-vaxxer believers would have given up.