Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Old School Diseases Are Back, Baby!

Measles is making a comeback!   So is Polio!

People are idiots.   And if you want to succeed in this country, all you have to do is not be an idiot and stop reacting to poor normative cues.

The Daily Show, which no one could accuse as being a mouthpiece for Fox News, ran a startling piece the other day about a blogger who has tens of thousands of followers (I have 268 brave souls!) who has blogged long and hard about how vaccinations are "dangerous" and how proud she is that she never vaccinated her children against things like Polio or Whooping Cough.

What was amazing about the piece, is that is a college-educated woman who blathered on about how "there are different opinions" in Science, and that the need for vaccines isn't "proven".   It was startling how ignorant this woman was, and how proud she was of her ignorance.

And sadly, on both ends of the political spectrum, this is the case - people just making shit up, and then deciding it is "true" because they want it to be true.

The net result of this lunacy is that diseases that were "wiped out" when I was a kid, are making a comeback.   We had vanquished Polio, but thanks to a few stupid bloggers, it's back!

Want to break out in a cold sweat?  You don't have to catch some disease, but instead read this frightening blog, where an "alternative mommy" blows away all the mis-truths about Polio!   Turns out, Polio ain't so bad - in fact, you might like it!   Scarier still are the "comments" amplifying how great all this "information" is and how it "sheds light" on the subject.   There are no dissenting viewpoints, of course.   Oddly enough, this particular blog appears to be right-wing fundamentalist Christian, so the whole anti-vaccine thing covers both ends of the political whack spectrum.

Conspiracy theories, as I have noted before, are a time-waster.  But they are also evil and dangerous.   I recounted before how a young man who had both a Law and Engineering Degrees, decided to buy into this "tax protester/tax denier" nonsense, as it told him what he wanted to hear, which was that he didn't have to pay income tax.

It was, of course, not true, and as a Lawyer and Engineer, he should have been more skeptical and known better.   And the tax authorities went after him, as you might expect, and that certainly didn't make his life better.

But again, he was one of those political extremists that are so common today - who think that "if only" our party was in power, America would become a heaven-on-earth!  We are like small children.

But speaking of small children....  My tax denier friend was an adult and entitled to make his own bonehead mistakes - and suffer the consequences.   That is what society is all about.

Children, on the other hand, are defenseless, and their parents are supposed to look out for them.   We know how badly this works out in poor families with no common sense.   But today, horrific outcomes are occurring in wealthy, educated families, as people go online, read an article about how "vaccinations are bad" and then decide not to get their kids vaccinated.   Hey, why not?   It is just an expensive pain in the ass, and you had to go to Pilates class today anyway.  Those damn kids and their shots, always screwing up Mommy's schedule!

Actually, when I was a kid, vaccinations were given at school.   And thanks to them, no one in my generation got Polio.   There were one or two older kids at school who were the last vestiges of the Polio generation.  But our class?  Healthy as a horse.

We also drank fluoridated water and used fluoride toothpaste.   As a result, our generation has excellent sturdy teeth.   But dark rumors started circulating about fluoride (mostly by the John Birch Society) and today, kids have rotten teeth, as one municipality after another decides to opt out of fluoridation.

There was no measles vaccine when I was a kid, and at age 4, I did end up getting them.  I think everyone in my family ended up with measles at one time or another.   I guess it wasn't that bad, and at the time, people would joke about it.   But there can be side-effects, including death from the measles.   You'd be better off being vaccinated and just not getting them.

Is there hope for this country?   Sometimes it seems not.   It seems everyone is backing themselves into a corner - and taking more and more extreme positions in life.   You either want to outlaw guns, or make it mandatory for everyone to own one.   You want to throw everyone off welfare - or put everyone on it.   You want to disarm our country and surrender to the Taliban, or nuke the planet.   There is no in-between, it seems.

It seems.   But not necessarily so.   The loudest voices are often the weakest ones - those folks desperately shouting to be heard, because they feel their views are marginalized, which they are, because their views are in the margins.

And again, the media acts as a trumpet for these folks.   Phil Donahue discovered this early on, in the 1970's, that if you put self-styles "Nazis" on the show, ratings would soar.   People want to hear wacky views.   No one wants to hear a moderate drone on.

So, how do we avoid this trap?  

First, it pays to be skeptical - and by this, I mean skeptical of everything.   It is funny, but people are willing to swallow, hook, line, and sinker, some blog entry about how the Polio vaccine is bad for your kids - without any skepticism.   They are skeptical of "science" and "medicine" and vaccines, but when it comes to a blog entry by a "Mommy" - they just buy the whole package. 

Be skeptical of everything, and by that, I don't mean just discounting data that conflicts with your world-view.   Instead, consider carefully the source of information, whether it is backed up with hard data, or just links to other websites, conjecture, and specious self-appointed "experts".   When you unwind this whole "Vaccination is bad" thing, you find out that there is no scientific consensus or even controversy about vaccination.   There is no "there" there other than a bunch of people just making stuff up.  Vaccinations don't cause autism.  Just believing it to be so doesn't make it so.

Second, unplug from the media.   The media loves to hype stories about "science" that aren't science at all.   They will tout some bogus "study" that says eating this is good for you, or bad for you, or whatever.   And the next day, the media touts another study that says the opposite.

Ignorant folks listen to this nonsense and say, "Well, geez, those scientists don't know what they're talking about!   One day they say to eat nothin' but meat, and today, they say it's bad for you!   Next thing you know, they'll say smoking makes you live longer!"

And yes - I have heard that exact thing said, by ignorant people, usually holding a cigarette.

No, science isn't idiotic.   The media is.   The media touts specious studies that are often not peer-reviewed.   And the media doesn't really explain things very well, going instead for sensationalism, instead of honest truths.   Unplug from the media.

Third, stop believing things that you want to believe.    Tax denial sounds like a great deal, as you don't have to pay taxes - and who wants to pay taxes?    Thinking that a new diet plan or a berry can allow you to "eat all you want and not gain weight" sounds great - as it means you can just gorge yourself and not do the difficult thing of dieting.    Believing in vaccination scare stories I guess is a way of validating your crappy parenting - you are not neglecting your precious children, but protecting them, right?   Well, not exactly.

If something sounds appealing to you because you get some sort of free pony out of the deal, then it probably isn't true.  And free ponies can be pretty subtle, too.   The conspiracy theory "buff" spends all day obsessing about the Kennedy Assassination or 9/11, and on the surface, this does not seem to profit them much, but rather cause them to be viewed as kooks (which isolates them further from society, which in turn feeds the conspiracy machine more).   But this sort of behavior does have a positive social aspect for the victim.   By blaming all their personal problems on conspiracies, they can ignore their own actions in life, and thus externalize their problems.    Why bother getting a job and moving out of Mom's basement, when there are so many questions about 9/11?  Fire can't melt steel!


Fourth, just use your common sense.  Whenever someone starts out with, "the mainstream media won't report this, but....." your "spidey sense" should be tingling.   It is funny, but some bloggers and rumor-mongers even accuse Fox News of being in on "the liberal conspiracy".    "Fox News won't report this, but President Obama is a child molester!" they say.   But the truth is, Fox News has reported far more bizarre stories that turned out not to be untrue.   If they can say something bad about a Democrat, even if it is along the lines of a "people are alleging..." kind of deal (citing a blog as a source!) they do so.

This idea that the media "suppresses" sensationalist new is just nonsense.  The more sensationalist they can make the news, the more they want to report it.   And no, the government can't and doesn't "suppress" stories so that only vigilant bloggers can report them!

Just grow up and stop being an idiot.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true.   And if something in your gut says, "Um, this is kind of idiotic, taking advice from a self-described 'Alternative Mommy' when it comes to issues of science and medicine."  She might have a killer cookie recipe, but unless she went to med school, I'd just take a pass on her kitchen medical "research."

In fact, that is probably the easiest way to detect if something is bullshit or not - if it sounds too easy, to good, too beneficial to you.  Life is hard and it can be a struggle sometimes.  It is tempting to believe that the "other guy" has life on easy street and has everything so good - for half the effort you are putting in.   Everyone else is getting rich without working - and you are the only chump not to figure it out!  Right?

But that usually is not the case (and comparing yourself to others is a sure way to end up miserable and depressed).  When someone presents an idea to you that seems to defy gravity or the second law of thermodynamics, well, that should set off alarm bells in your head.

* * * 

Sadly, today, people do just the opposite of these four things.   They are only skeptical of any source of data that conflicts with their preconceived world-view.   Rather than being open to other views and allowing yourself to change your mind, they lock themselves into political views and then seek validation of them.   They never learn from their mistakes this way.

People obsess about the media and watch it for hours a day, download it on their phones, listen on the radio.   And they take all of this at face value, without thinking about whether facts are being packaged as infotainment, and as a result, distorted.   People believe what they want to believe, particularly if it is something that validates choices they already made, or provides, they believe, some benefit to them.

And it goes without saying that no one uses common sense anymore.