Or; ‘An Ode to Lori Borgman‘
NB: Anti-vaxxers, I guarantee that you will not like the following. Because, you know, I make informed decisions based on empirical evidence.
This is my manifesto.
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense. Sense’s health began to deteriorate quickly after the introduction of denim pantsuits and the publication of Wakefield‘s 1998 article. The following is a three part obituary for our dear friend and his sad, slow, painful demise. Lets begin.
Part I: 19th Century Natural Philosophy
(Or, ‘Reject Science, Give Me Homeopathy’)
I recently went to a personal development conference
(because, yes, sometimes I like to develop personally). After a long day of making amazing progress and getting emotional energy sucked out of me by ridiculously happy people, all I wanted to do was go to the lunch hall to eat hummus on bread (because carbscarbsgimmecarbs). You couldn’t wipe the grin off my face until an aromatic staff member (henceforth known as Patchouli) mentioned ‘measles outbreak’, ‘vaccines’ and ‘autism link’ in the same sentence. Dammit, Patchouli.
You see, like Common Sense, I often bump into people I don’t get along with. Sometimes you have to take Sense’s example and bite your tongue so that you and others can enjoy the meal. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself. I told Patchouli that Wakefield was funded to do his research by lawyers who had represented parents in lawsuits against vaccine-producing pharmaceutical companies without stating any conflict of interest. Patchouli looked like I had killed the last remaining South African white rhino. Her nostril-widening, blood pressure elevating response was was akin to: “HOW DO YOU KNOW? DO YOU EVEN SCIENCE BRO?”.
Thankfully, no hummus wrap was harmed in my vice grip. Conveniently another staff member appeased her, so… I left it. Sometimes you have to pick your battles; Common Sense would have wanted me to.
Part II: Correlation Does Not Imply Causation
(Or, ‘Check A 16 Year Old’s Statistics Homework’)
Common Sense lost his will to live when parents started thinking that a strong (and deranged) link exists between vaccinations and autism.
I can take anything (ANYTHING!) that has had a steadily growing trend over the last three decades and use that to play a dodgy blame game. In fact, as much as it pains me to reproduce the following table (below left) on my blog, I promise it is to make a point:
Here’s where I’m grateful that I payed attention to high school maths and research/stats class in first, second and third year university. If I couldn’t recite the following off by heart, I’d be a disgrace to my physicist father and educator mother.
There are three (general) requirements to infer a causal relationship:
1. A statistically significant relationship between variables.
2. The causal variable occurred before the other variable.
3. There are no other factors that could account for the cause.
The problem is, we get so excited when we fulfil the first criteria that we forget or don’t even bother to check for the others. Maybe its convenient, or more believably, a way to get rich quick. Governments and financial institutions notoriously manipulate data by using seasonal adjustment, latent drivers, etc. What is even more horrific is that this trend is insidiously creeping into systems surrounding healthcare worldwide. And at the expense of who? My generation’s future offspring?
I can’t dismiss the rise of autism diagnoses over the years… Naturally we have to wonder if there is a real threat of increased cases or is it a case of semantics? But think about it this way; according to the DSM, kids 25 years ago that would now be diagnosed with autism were just regarded as the slow or weird kids. They were never given the opportunity to be supported, to express themselves or prove to people that they were capable of anything extraordinary.
Graphs and visual rhetoric in general have always been incredibly persuasive tools, which is why thankfully I was taught to always be skeptical (not cynical!) of any kind of data put in front of me. Throughout time I like to think that Common Sense would have liked to see his apples compared to apples; not apples compared to bullshit.
Part III: Anti-Social Responsibility
(Or, ‘Knowledge Is Merely Opinion’)
As if the social stigma around autism wasn’t bad enough, the message surrounding the anti-vax movement unconscionably puts having a suffering (possibly dead) kid as a preference to a live healthy one that may need more care and understanding. Can you believe what message that sends to young people with autism or even those who have grown to thrive and find success in society today?
Oh, but it gets worse. People who refuse to get the polio vaccine and use the argument ‘we just want to see our chemical-less kids run free, like in the old days’ need to be institutionalised… or simply pick up a book on 20th century history. Because, of course, nothing said ‘fun!’ like children with respiratory failure in the 1950’s. How many pleas for reason do we need to hear? For goodness sake, this was a time when echoes of children saying “thank you for the new dress mummy, but I don’t think it’ll fit over my iron lung” may not have been as farfetched as you think.
What about the cases of the immunocompromised who get sick that can’t be vaccinated? You don’t just vaccinate for your children’s safety, you do it because it is the socially responsible thing to do. Herd immunity is the only way to reduce the probability that a vulnerable individual will come into contact with an infection. The point isn’t to protect the unfortunate children of uneducated morons; it is to protect those most vulnerable. Its even worse when the morons ARE educated…
And a word about the types of people that contribute to this debate. Just because a person has an opinion and a social media account does not mean they have the right to spread unsubstantiated lies. A mommy blog here on WordPress (that I refuse to link to) has the tagline; ‘because knowledge is the key to making informed decisions for your family’.
But really, all I see is ‘I’m giving you my non-expert opinion and ignoring my paediatrician’. The author of this blog wants to kill my future children whilst giving me a fabulous sleeping schedule for a restless baby.
I’ll leave you with this little gem which came from the mind of a smart lady of my acquaintance:
If you or someone you may know doesn’t know the difference between mitosis and meiosis, sit the heck down and shut your mouth. – S. S.
To that, I say:
And let me pre-empt a bully (or five) by saying that no, I do not know what it is like to have children and to take care of them. But thanks to Common Sense, I use evidence based practice and know not to fill a goldfish bowl with orange juice.
Ladies and gentleman, sadly Common Sense is survived by his three wicked cousins; I’m a Victim, I’ll See You In Court and TMZ. Not many attended Common Sense’s funeral, because perhaps not many people realised he was gone.