Everyone’s Entitled to an Opinion- But Some of Them Stink!

The Anti-Vaccine Body Count website is a pretty potent illustration of why vaccination is important. In observing that topic, I would point out that the debate- which is not backed on the “anti-vaccine” side by anything approaching scientific fact- is an important reminder of the value of scientific literacy.

There is a hidden danger lurking in our democratic ideals. It is the fallacy that “every person’s opinion is as valid as the next”. More specifically, it is the idea that every opinion is equally true or correct. Sure, I am as entitled to formulate and possess my own opinion as the next person. I’m entitled to exercise that via the ballot (or other means of voting) when applicable. But the idea that my opinion necessarily carries weight, gravitas, or truth merely because it is the opinion that I am entitled to?

Hogwash.

Look- anyone is entitled to their opinion as to the benefits or risks of vaccinations. But an opinion doesn’t trump scientific fact. Vaccines are among the most important developments in public health. Ever. Since the dawn of time. Like- forever.

Vaccines do sometimes cause side effects- some of which can be serious. There is a certain small population that cannot receive certain vaccines due to underlying medical conditions. But vaccinations are a cornerstone of public health. Not vaccinating children puts them at risk for serious health issues. And vaccines do not cause autism- at least according to every credible scientific study ever published.

Feel free to opine differently. Study the question. (Minor point: you have to use the scientific method.) Publish your results. But you cannot publish opinion as fact. Even more importantly, you cannot use a fabricated and discredited study to support an opinion in order to declare it fact. (OK- I guess you can do that. Just don’t expect me to take you seriously.)

Don’t confuse celebrity with expertise. Good lord- certainly don’t confuse celebrity with wisdom!

In fact, consider this thought from the great Robert A. Heinlein, in his classic Time Enough For Love:

“Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”

(I would point out that “Entertainment” and “Science” are different fields. Just to be incredibly obvious.)

Scientific literacy is important. It provides a context to understand issues of science and how we evaluate and expand the breadth of humanity’s knowledge. It tells you if something passes the sniff-test. And Jenny McCarthy’s claims that vaccines cause autism, or are otherwise generally harmful to children, fail that test.

Her opinions on vaccination, frankly, stink. And believing them can cause your brain to fall out.

At least, that’s my opinion.

[Editorial Point: I got to thinking about this topic today after reading this article on the exquisitely-curated website Boing Boing. If you dig my stuff and haven’t discovered Cory Doctorow yet, do yourself a favor and read his work. Fiction or nonfiction. It doesn’t matter.]

[Second Editorial and Overbearing Point: I’ve been thinking about this topic since I saw earlier in the week that Jenny McCarthy was joining The View. I don’t watch that show and have no particular animus towards her. But my first thought was, “I hope this doesn’t give her a platform for her bullshit opinions…” The Boing Boing post just solidified my thoughts.]

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