Monday, February 08, 2010

The Anti-Vaccine Movement and Creationism

Josh Rosenau has a very good post on the similarities in thought of those who have been pitching the anti-vaccine message and young earth creationists. He writes:
Like creationism, global warming denial, stem cell opposition, and anti-GMO sentiments, this is a cultural and political battle being confusingly fought on scientific turf. As such, the debunking of this and any other supposed scientific basis for opposing vaccines does not ultimately dissuade anti-vaccine activists from their work. And public health suffers as a result.

This is similar to the situation in the creationism wars. We spend a lot of time on blogs and in books and in the occasional debate arguing about fossils and genes and homologies, but none of that will ever convince someone wholeheartedly committed to creationism. No one becomes that sort of creationist on the basis of the science. They become a creationist of that sort because of how they see religion, and how they think that relates to science.
The effect of the retraction of the Lancet paper on the MMR vaccine that fueled the controversy had a predictable effect on those vocal in the crusade, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, who are now arguing that the retraction is an act of censorship.

Reading the post and some of the comments to the post, I am struck that there are two kinds of approaches to the scientific data that people can take when they address that data: those that have a preconceived notion of what the data can and cannot say and those that are willing to go where the data leads them. He recounts the tale of Glenn Morton who was forced to abandon his YEC beliefs because the science led him away from that sort of interpretation. Contrast that with the ICR's Radio Isotopes and the Age of the Earth project, in which the "correct" interpretation of the data (that the earth is less than 10,000 years old) was never in question, it was just a matter of demonstrating it. As both Kevin Henke and Randy Isaac have noted, this is reprehensible from a scientific viewpoint. If one is not willing to go where the science leads, don't get into the science. As Lt. Uhura noted in Star Trek III: "Be careful what you ask for. You might get it."

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