A recent article by Deirdre Imus on The Huffington Post is long tirade against Alice Park’s Time magazine cover story, How Safe Are Vaccines? It’s been pointed out on other science blogs (and I wholeheartedly agree) that the the Time magazine article is one of the better pieces of medical journalism this year. I really do recommend reading the entire article as an example of fine reporting. Also take a look at the excellent chart that Time designed, showing data on U.S. measles cases from the first four months of 2008 with CDC’s recommended childhood immunization schedule.
The purpose of my post today is not to argue with Deirdre Imus’s article, although it would be easy enough to deconstruct it sentence by sentence. No — what caught my eye was something I noticed as I was looking over the comments in response to the article. First, to get the general tone of Ms. Imus’s article, I’ll quote the concluding sentence: “…the government has not proven the number of vaccines given to children today are safe, or that injecting our babies with mercury, aluminum and formaldehyde is safe.” (See Orac’s patient nine-part critique of this absurd claim regarding mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde and other “toxins” in vaccines.)
A commenter who calls themself ThinkForYourself2, who obviously is in agreement with Ms. Imus, states, “Some people want ’science’ to tell them that these vaccines actually caused harm to these innocent children and families so here it is: Parents of autistic children once had full-functioning, happy, outgoing children who then get vaccinated and immediately regress into autism. Is this science enough for you or do you still need more? Let us ‘ignorant’ and ‘dangerous’ parents have the choice to poison or not poison our children. That’s all some of us ask. And let me send my unvaccinated child to school with your higly vaccinated and therefore highly ‘immune’ child. Isn’t this why you vaccinated your child in the first place to protect them? So don’t force me to vaccinate mine if your is immune! Where is the God Damn Outrage?”
It’s the reply to the above comment, by someone named pkafin, that caught my eye, especially since the comment was chosen as “HuffPost’s Pick“:
“Parents of autistic children once had full-functioning, happy, outgoing children who then get vaccinated and immediately regress into autism. Is this science enough for you or do you still need more?” That is actually not science at all. Science requires empirical studies that are both repeatable and subjected to peer review. What you mention is anecdotal evidence that can be used to form a hypothesis that becomes the basis for the design of a scientific study. But that observation, in and of itself, is not scientific in any way. The “G-d Damn Outrage” cuts both ways. Industry should not be the main source for scientific studies on their own products. But, equally outrageous, American education should not be so entirely dumbed down that we don’t actually know what “science” is anymore.(Emphases mine)
This observation by pkafin is quite interesting. The gist of the entire comment, especially the last sentence, is that Deirdre Imus and ThinkForYourself2 and much of the “Green Our Vaccines” movement and others who believe that vaccines cause autism, have one basic problem. That problem is that they simply don’t understand science and scientific thinking. But pkafin is saying more than this. He or she is saying that the burden of this ignorance about science and the scientific process lies with the American educational system.
So readers, I leave you with this question. I don’t know the answer myself. Is this the problem? I assume that you know that I’m not talking about memorizing the anatomy the of the frog or the periodic table. Is a lack of education in science and scientific thinking the major issue here? I’d be interested to see your comments.