Saturday, June 24, 2006

Anti-science makes no sense to me.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of science, by any means (generally, I thnk its reach far exceeds its grasp, particularly when it comes to issues of morality and mind). However, when we're dealing with a clearly physiological -- that is, physical -- proposition, science has demonstrated time and again its (rational) superiority. So, in short, when it's a physical proposition at stake, science gets to be the expert, unless there are significant countervailing reasons.

So, things like this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5081286.stm just bug the hell out of me.

The issue, as I understand it, is that, since anti-vaccination hysteria in the UK began a few decades ago, immunizations with the MMR vaccine have gone down. Consequently, herd immunity has now been lost, and thus the conditions for a potential epidemic are in place. Of measles.

It simply makes no sense to me. Denying the proven efficacy of vaccines is tantamount to saying that science does not rule when it comes to proving physical propositions.

4 comments:

undergroundman said...

The issue is that vaccines are associated with side-effects. The MMR vaccines contained thimerosal, which has mercury in it.

These are basically people who apply the precautionary principle when it comes to these things, and agree with you that "the reach of science far exceeds its grasp."

There is a higher incidence of autism and bowel disorders such as Crohn's (or in my case, gluten sensitivity -- like Crohn's, an autoimmune disorder) in developed nations. These are neglected by the mainstream media and science, but nobody knows exactly what is causing these things.

See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thimerosal
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccine_controversy

ADHR said...

You have to take Wikipedia with a hefty dose of salt on science issues. Its principle of neutrality tends to distort the weight of evidence, i.e. spurious or highly dubious claims are given undue prominence. MMR does contain thimerosal, which does contain mercury, however there is no demonstrated association between this trace amount of mercury and any disorder.

Given that the etiology of autism is generally unclear, it's hard to see how that could be tied to vaccination, even in theory. Autoimmune disorders can also result from multiple causal factors.

Claiming that one should avoid vaccines, or that it is reasonable to avoid vaccines, because we don't know that there are no dangers is a pretty clear ad ignorantiam.

undergroundman said...

some of the claims on Wikipedia are sourced, and, as it shows, the original study was discredited. But people still remain cautious of dosing their young children with weakened strains of viruses and bacteria.

Given that the etiology of autism is generally unclear, it's hard to see how that could be tied to vaccination, even in theory.

Autism rates have increased with development, therefore if you're extremely worried about it might make sense to apply a precautionary principle in this case and avoid the things that have come along with development. I agree that it's very unlikely that vaccinations have caused higher rates of autism, but the correlation is there. Since measles, mumps, and rubella have been largely eliminated, these parents decided that it wasn't worth the benefit. And you can't blame them for that.

Claiming that one should avoid vaccines, or that it is reasonable to avoid vaccines, because we don't know that there are no dangers is a pretty clear ad ignorantiam.

Vaccines are well-known to have temporary adverse effects. The long-term effects have been, quite frankly, not studied in individuals, even the ones experience adverse reactions. It's too costly and scientists don't really want to find out if vaccines are harmful or not.

For an idea on the adverse reactions, check this out and scroll down: http://us.gsk.com/products/assets/us_engerixb.pdf

Anyway, the point is that you paint yourself as ignorant when you say that it was based on something irrational. Some might be Christian Scientists. But others are well-educated, scientifically aware adults who rationally conclude that the safety of vaccines have not been proven. It's not uncommon to apply a precautionary principle when it comes to things like this - in fact, isn't that what we do with the FDA? (And consistently fail.)

Look at the fluoride debate. The "scientific" "consensus" for the past 40 years was that it was extremely effective and not harmful. Only now, with public outry, has the truth began to come out -- that communities with unfluoridated water have the same rate of cavities. Some of the most advanced countries in Europe, Sweden, Norway, and Finland (along with Japan), have done away with fluoridation entirely and still see their cavity rates dropping. It took Chinese researchers without a vested interest in the status quo to point out the truth - that moderate levels of fluoride are dangerous to children.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16834990&query_hl=3&itool=pubmed_docsum
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?itool=abstractplus&db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=abstractplus&list_uids=16111031

ADHR said...

some of the claims on Wikipedia are sourced, and, as it shows, the original study was discredited.

Sourcing isn't my concern. It's the whole idea of "neutrality" -- all sides get an airing, even if they're deeply implausible.

Autism rates have increased with development, therefore if you're extremely worried about it might make sense to apply a precautionary principle in this case and avoid the things that have come along with development. I agree that it's very unlikely that vaccinations have caused higher rates of autism, but the correlation is there. Since measles, mumps, and rubella have been largely eliminated, these parents decided that it wasn't worth the benefit. And you can't blame them for that.

I can, and I am! Look, it's a pretty blatant ad ignorantiam. There's no proof that autism is causally related to vaccination, and there's no proof that it isn't. The appropriate attitude is strict agnosticism: we don't know one way or the other, so we really can't deploy it as a principle in reasoning. Caution is one thing, but this starts to border on paranoia.

As far as measles, etc. being eliminated, that was the main concern of the original post. Loss of herd immunity increases the risk that measles will re-emerge as an epidemic threat. So, even if there is genuine caution in play here, it seems misdirected. By trying to avoid autism, parents are creating the conditions for a serious outbreak of measles, etc.

Vaccines are well-known to have temporary adverse effects. The long-term effects have been, quite frankly, not studied in individuals, even the ones experience adverse reactions. It's too costly and scientists don't really want to find out if vaccines are harmful or not.

"Scientists don't really want to find out" is a bit conspiracy theory for me. Face it: the first scientist who proves a link between vaccination and autism, say, will have made his career. That's breakthrough level stuff, on par with, say, developing the polio vaccine.

Medicine in general works at a macro rather than micro level. That may be a systemic flaw in the discipline, but it's where the discipline is. You can hardly fault it on that basis without faulting all of it.

I checked the .pdf and the reactions don't look that severe to me. Basically, like all things biochemical, there can be reasons for and reasons against using the vaccine. Generally, there are strong reasons for, but in certain cases, there may be greater reason against (i.e., contraindication).

Anyway, the point is that you paint yourself as ignorant when you say that it was based on something irrational. Some might be Christian Scientists. But others are well-educated, scientifically aware adults who rationally conclude that the safety of vaccines have not been proven. It's not uncommon to apply a precautionary principle when it comes to things like this -- in fact, isn't that what we do with the FDA? (And consistently fail.)

Again, though, there's a difference between sensible caution and paranois. Sensible caution is looking both ways before crossing the street. Paranoia is not crossing the street at all. Sensible caution is making sure that your physician has done his due diligence before giving you a vaccine. Paranoia is refusing any vaccination because it cannot be conclusively proven that the vaccine is 100% safe.

Look at the fluoride debate. The "scientific" "consensus" for the past 40 years was that it was extremely effective and not harmful. Only now, with public outry, has the truth began to come out -- that communities with unfluoridated water have the same rate of cavities. Some of the most advanced countries in Europe, Sweden, Norway, and Finland (along with Japan), have done away with fluoridation entirely and still see their cavity rates dropping. It took Chinese researchers without a vested interest in the status quo to point out the truth - that moderate levels of fluoride are dangerous to children.

Neither abstract is terribly persuasive. To prove causation, you need to establish a mechanism. Both abstracts admit that a mechanism needs to be filled in. At best, this is suggestive and interesting data, but not hard enough to warrant a policy change. However, putting that aside, if we suppose that a mechanism could be established, I don't quite see how this proves your point. It looks to me like it really proves mine: we act on the best information we have at hand, but science continues onwards and, eventually, if our policies were in error, the science will become available to demonstrate the error. On the basis of the new science, we can then adjust our policies accordingly. In the case of vaccines, the science is still overwhelmingly on the pro-vaccine side.