After years of arduous searching, I am proud to announce to Americans everywhere that I have found the bridge that will unite our divided and polarized country. It is the most unlikely of bonds, and it is called science.
Now, by science I do not mean science, the rational and methodical practice of observing the world, forming conjectures or hypotheses based upon those observations, and testing those hypotheses to determine if they are in fact valid. Though such empirical processes underlie much of our advancement as humans, it is not this that will bring our hurting country together.
Instead, the science I’m suggesting is the one formulated nicely by Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy model, sometimes actress, and for our purposes, strident anti-vaccine-activist. What McCarthy has so brilliantly done is to apply one simple, possessive modifier to the conversation, and in doing so she has opened wide a whole new world. What can heal us, America, is this:
McCarthy arrived at this useful neologism in relation to her son, Dylan, who is autistic. McCarthy insists that Dylan’s autism is the direct result of vaccinations he received as a baby. Despite the fact that all scientific research indicates that there is no link between vaccinations and diseases such as autism, McCarthy believes that the fact of Dylan’s autism is all the “science” she requires. And thus we have the genesis of our great solution.
The belief that vaccinations cause diseases such as autism in children has taken hold in many leftist circles, where parental opposition to childhood vaccinations runs strong. This refusal to vaccinate is also why we’re seeing the recurrence of heretofore eradicated diseases such as measles, which lately are having a jaunty little late-winter resurgence.1
If the notion of My-Science seems irrational, it’s because it is: facts derived from objective examinations of the world cannot be held hostage to, or be glibly discarded, based upon individual preferences. And that’s true no matter how strongly and sincerely one holds those preferences. In other words: it’s no longer the 16th-Century, and fervently held church teachings of geocentrism don’t trump Galileo’s observations.
Further, if forming a conclusion based exclusively upon one anecdotal piece of information sounds a lot like like not-science, that’s because it is. Science is the repeated testing of ideas in as objective a manner as possible, and while it’s truly sad that Dylan has autism, such a fact proves nothing other than that it’s sad that Dylan has autism. (I write that with not an ounce of glibness in my mind: it’s sad.)
In case it was overlooked the first time, I feel compelled to repeat the piece of information underlined above, whose truth stands regardless of whether or not anyone likes it: all scientific research indicates that there is no link between vaccinations and diseases such as autism.2
By making science subservient to our subjective whims, My-Science permits the willy-nilly disregarding of facts, even those facts we disregard at our own peril. All of this was neatly summed up in a recent Onion article, whose title says it all: I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back.3
Now your mind may be returning to the original proposition, and you might be wondering how My-Science is going to heal our beloved but divided America. Well, let’s take a moment and look at another issue, whose opponents come from the opposite end of the political spectrum: global warming.
As anyone who’s been awake the past decade knows, a large chunk of America doesn’t believe that global warming is a) happening, or b) caused by human activities. Such beliefs are held despite the fact that the strong majority of scientific research indicates that a) it is happening, and b) it’s largely being caused by us.
I admit that the research surrounding global warming is less-conclusive than that involving vaccinations, but given the huge number of variables involved in global temperature fluctuations I don’t find this especially alarming. The huge majority of scientists agree that we’re screwing over out planet through our incessant carbon emissions; I believe them.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the spirit of opposition to climate change is the same as that carried by the anti-vaccine folks, and both of them sound a lot like this: I won’t believe in the facts because My-Science tells me they’re not facts.
The My-Science that stands in opposition to the thousands of research papers indicating that we’re slowly but steadily over-heating our planet is a little murky. In fact, it’s very murky, and might be thought of as fumbling toward complete darkness. But hell, we’re talking about My-Science, not real science, so bugger the facts!4
Let’s review what we’ve got: people on the left are invoking My-Science to avoid vaccinating their kids, which is leading to outbreaks of diseases that we’ve already eliminated; while people on the right are invoking My-Science to deny that the earth is warming due to our activities, the negative consequences of which are screaming down the tracks like a super-sonic train (Bye bye Florida!).
I’d like to hope that by acknowledging the similarities between these two seemingly disparate sides, in the near future both factions can come together and celebrate what unifies them—their collective nonsense. I’m imagining My-Science conferences and seminars, with stiff-backed right-wing speakers in bad suits and tattooed hipster bands from Brooklyn. There will be swarms of liberals and conservatives living in harmony, all united in chanting the My-Science motto: If you don’t like reality, ignore it until it goes away.5
- Most of us have heard about the recent outbreaks at Disneyland that have spread through the Southwest; for Seattleites reading this, here are a couple serendipitous updates: there’s now a known case of infant measles in the area, and, more disturbingly, at least 86-schools in the county have a vaccine exemption rate exceeding 10%, which is the minimum scientists insist is required in order to prevent the spreading of various (and preventable) diseases. More information about local concerns, along with a fun map of high exemption areas (think of a Whole Foods or comparable grocer and you’ve got your launching pad), can be found here. [↩]
- There was a UK study published in The Lancet in 1998 that attempted to establish just such a link, and is to this day the “research” most anti-vaccination folks point to. That study was several things, the most important being this: it was utter BS. After being formally redacted from The Lancet’s pages, the doctor who published it was charged with unethical behavior and formally disbarred from practicing medicine in the UK. But hey, if My-Science says it’s alright… what the hell?? [↩]
- I have friends with children, most of whom have vaccinated their kids. I am friends with one couple who refuses to do so, on grounds that are beyond comprehension. The bind here is that I’m fully aware that on occasion one or both of these parents read this space (real science supports reading my words to be a useful cure for insomnia). In my head I can see the husband, who will hate this essay for two reasons—the first being that nobody wants to be told how to parent their kids. To which I can only say, hey, let’s face it—sometimes everybody needs to be told how to parent their kids, and in regards to vaccines—just fucking do it! It’s not only the best thing for them, it’s the best thing for us all! And by “us all,” I really mean all of us. In case that’s ambiguous, I’m referring here to everyone. The second reason will spill out in the following paragraphs when I compare his line of thinking to one held by his parents, an aspersion few of us can stomach. [↩]
- It’s constructive to pause and think through the staunch opposition to global warming. It’s clearly not founded upon actual scientific fact, and at some point you have to arrive at something like this: since staunch opponents to global warming don’t have much to back up their positions, at what point do they find themselves insisting upon a worldwide cabal of scientists who have secretly organized themselves to propagate irrational, unfounded, and nonsensical ideas throughout the scientific community? Another question immediately follows: Why? That is, what’s in it for them?? This reasoning is certainly not a proof of global warming; it’s simply an analysis of the pitfalls of the opposition. [↩]
- Sorry for all the damn footnotes on this one. I promise not to get all DF Wallace on you kind readers. For this essay, they just kind of worked. I’ll try and keep them to a minimum in the future. [↩]