Daydream with me — Congress decides the question of the Earth’s shape is still open. Some members express a strong belief that it is shaped like a burrito. (I know that at least one reader will catch the reference.) Rather than access any number of reliable scientific sources, discover that the shape has been well-established as “round” and move on to some more pressing matter, said MOCs decide to hold a hearing on the shape of the Earth, in which several Burritoid Planet partisans are given a respectful audience but the hapless saps from NASA are brow-beaten and harangued.
I imagine that would attract a great deal of attention. Indeed, I suspect the attention would take the form of practically unalloyed derision. The Congressional Burrito Caucus would face a great deal of public scorn, and would hopefully learn to keep their foolish mouths shut. Right?
And so I marvel that the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform saw fit the other day to hold a hearing on another topic no less scientifically settled. I refer, of course, to whether or not vaccines cause autism. They don’t, any more than the sun revolves around the Earth or the stars twinkle because they’re full of cheerful angels. Period. You can believe they do, but that belief requires you to reject a massive amount of research that has asked and answered the question beyond all doubt.
As I have already written:
In order for vaccinations to be the harmful substances that their strident detractors claim, their continued administration would require a gigantic, malicious conspiracy on the part of physicians, nurses, researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
I alluded to this in my earlier post about why everyone should get vaccinated. I’ve been out of training for the better part of a decade, and have been out of medical school for more than a dozen years. In that time I have given vaccines to hundreds of children (probably thousands), and have worked with pediatricians who have been in practice for far longer and have vaccinated countless children more. None of us have observed anything like a credible link between autism and vaccines, and we all continue to recommend them strongly. What kind of depraved indifference to the well-being of our patients would be required for us to turn a blind eye to harms that were actually being done? Creationists can attribute a belief in evolution to satanic delusion (which is what I was taught in the church of my youth). To what would anti-vaccination zealots attribute my motivation to deceive and harm my patients?
Who apparently believes in this massive, malignant vaccine conspiracy? Several members of Congress, that’s who. Which they made clear in the hearing linked above when they repeatedly stated long-debunked claims about vaccines, mercury, chelation therapy and other dangerous nonsense.
Both Phil Plait at Slate and Steven Salzberg at Forbes have written great pieces about the morons on the Hill who conducted this farce of a hearing, and there’s no need to offer my own inferior copy of their work. Suffice it to say that Rep. Dan Burton (R – Dark Ages), Rep. Bill Posey (R – Pleistocene) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D – Kuiper Belt) all demonstrated egregious stupidity regarding medical science and (in Posey’s case) a willingness to mau-mau experts from the CDC. (The best that can be said about this disgraceful display is that, at very least, it shows that one party doesn’t have a monopoly on idiots.)
To my mind, this is of a piece with the much more publicized lunacy of (soon-to-be-former) Rep. Todd Akin and Rep. Paul Broun, both of whom serve(d) on the House Science Committee! To me, a willingness to overlook, disregard or plainly disbelieve the scientific conclusions of the medical community in an area where there is no lack of data is no different from thinking women can’t get pregnant from rape or that demons are responsible for making people believe in evolution. And all of these people are/were in positions to influence the laws that affect you, your body, and the way the country is run.
This is a travesty. You cannot make decisions about how to govern the country while treating science this way. As occasional Leaguer Alex has pointed out in Rep. Broun’s case, you can’t trust nuclear submarines but think the Earth is only thousands of years old. It all comes from the same science. Similarly, you can’t think my training is sound when it comes to antibiotics or diabetes, because the same research apparatus that put the kibosh on the vaccines-autism link provides the evidence for how to manage everything else, too.
If you can’t trust the Centers for Disease Control to provide reliable information about the health risks of vaccines, how can you trust them to respond to an epidemic? If you believe the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is promulgating misinformation that increases the risk of neurological disease for pediatric patients, how can you possibly allow them to keep their doors open to treat leukemia? The truth is, you cannot. Not without a dizzying degree of cognitive dissonance, anyway. And that means you can’t make a competent member of the government.
While there’s no way of actually making this a requirement, voters should treat a certain baseline degree of understanding and respect for science as a must for any serious candidate. It makes just as much sense as requiring them to be US citizens, and more sense than some arbitrary minimum age. (I’d much sooner vote for some brilliant 19-year-old political prodigy than any one of these blockheads.) Scientific illiteracy should be an absolute disqualification, and voters should care about it as much or more than party affiliation.