A nice summary of the danger of the forces of stupid »« Update: the niqab in Quebec

Measles outbreak in Vancouver

I’m sure some of you have been following this story:

The BC Centre for Disease Control asked health-care professionals and the public to be alert for measles on Tuesday after eight of the 14 cases were diagnosed in a single household with unvaccinated members. None of the cases identified to date had received two doses of the measles vaccine, which is needed for full protection, officials said in statement.

My stance on anti-vaccination groups has been stated quite unequivocally on a previous post. To put it briefly, they are prime examples of the Forces of Stupid, a group of people who seem to think that ignorance is a virtue and anyone with access to the internet is equally equipped to give an informed opinion, regardless of the process by which they arrived at their knowledge. Part of the reason I started writing this blog is to challenge the idea that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Some opinions, when left unchallenged, result in calamity. This measles outbreak is a prime example of what happens when we “leave well enough alone” and allow stupidity to take root.

Obviously, there should be robust debate about important issues. However, there is no room to debate facts. Facts are not subject to democratic approval. Something either is or it isn’t, regardless of whether or not we agree with it. If you disagree, find evidence to support your belief. The evidence needs to be stronger than the evidence that supports your opposition. That is how progress gets made.

Which is why it’s so painful to see articles like this one:

Unvaccinated students are being sent home from school because of the growing measles outbreak in Vancouver, and that has at least one parent concerned that the policy is unfair.

A student’s mother chose to refuse the measles vaccination for her daughter, citing fear of a reaction to egg albumin in the vaccine. That’s a completely reasonable stance to take if there’s legitimate concern over an allergic reaction. What isn’t reasonable though, is expecting everyone else to bend over backwards to accommodate her decision.

“I think every parent, whatever decision they make, it’s always because they love their kids, and they want to do what’s best. It’s not a right or wrong issue,” said Conley [the mother]. But Conley said the length of the quarantine is too long because she believes measles is only infectious for up to 14 days.

Good for her. What do people who know something believe? I couldn’t care less what some random lady thinks about a disease. Luckily, she’s not in any position to set policy and has been overruled by the school board, who cite the science dictating a 20-day possible incubation period. They are, reasonably, erring on the side of caution. Not only that, but in this case it is a “right or wrong issue”! You might be right to safeguard your kid, but the school board is more right to refuse to allow your decision to potentially infect hundreds or thousands of kids in BC and Quebec.

So why does this grind my gears? Because they put the mother’s testimony first. The opinion of a parent is not news. It’s certainly not a balance for scientific fact, and given that people tend to think of the top of the article as being more authoritative and informative, CBC seems to be suggesting that this random mom’s wacky opinion is superior to the science. It makes for a nice headline to the story: Brave Mom Fights for Child’s Rights. Here’s a better (or at least more accurate) headline: Mom Told to Live with the Consequences of Her Decision. You don’t vaccinate, you don’t get to participate.

Another thing I found interesting is that as soon as she was told there was a field trip at stake, she got her kid vaccinated right away. Where did the allergy concerns go?

Far be it from me to suggest that ideas are stupid a priori. The vaccination/autism link was certainly plausible when it first appeared on the scene. So what did we do? We tested the idea. Upon testing, we found no evidence to support it. We kept testing, trying to replicate the studies that trended positive. Again, we found no link. Once an idea has been shown to have no evidence supporting it, it then becomes stupid. Sticking to belief in a stupid idea isn’t admirable, it’s dangerous. Luckily, at least in this particular case, better-informed heads prevailed. I feel bad for the kid, but there are consequences to these decisions that the kid, and her mom, have to live with.