Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Since Washington State is so Lousy on Vaccines

I saved this December interview of Ben Goldacre by Vox's Julia Belluz, because of some of the general commentary regarding science and public policy. Dr. Goldacre has been writing on science and health issues for many years out of a desire to bring science to bear on the dialog of health and medicine policy and choices. Hence, he has been in the trenches of science versus various myths or quackeries. My interest in his perspective is in the context of science and policy in general, but Dr. Goldacre did touch on vaccines
Vaccine scares are a really interesting one. They have a natural history. They come and go. And they always have and they always will. It’s such an easy focus for scaremongering because it’s an intervention given to healthy people which makes people nervous.
Much of Dr. Goldacre's writing has been about debunking various medical and health claims. The quote above suggests that when it comes to vaccines it may be very difficult to get to an optimum vaccination level particularly if people are not scared. Hard to be scarred of something that you have never seen. While there have been plenty of articles about where vaccine rates are low (Washington State has one of the lowest rates), I suspect a big part of the problem is that too many people are not scared enough of measles, mumps, and whooping cough. In former days when the vaccines became available, parents had experience with those illnesses and did not hesitate to get the vaccine. And while measles has been in the national news, a couple of years ago in Washington State it was whooping cough.

The debunking approach used by Dr. Goldacre on junk science will not reach everyone but Dr. Goldacre does a pretty good job of describing the position a few politicians have found themselves in of late.
The debunking made it impossible to hold that kind of fake middle position and much easier to turn that fake middle position into either, "I get and understand the science and I’m going with the science" or "I’m somebody who is so unhinged by my political or social and cultural prejudices that I’m making a stand up denial of science in general."
Another quote from the interview suggest why scientific arguments sometimes make little traction to all sorts of science-policy matters:
Giving people a ten-point plan about how to spot bad science isn’t going to help those people because they probably don’t care about science. I don’t think you can reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.
While this last quote strikes a chord with the scientific minded,  I suspect very few people would ever admit that the decisions and positions they have on a subject are not based on reason. Getting people to reassess their reasoning under any circumstances is the challenge. Techniques triggering reassessment of thinking on a policy takes time. Perhaps a Disneyland outbreak of measles is causing a bit of reassessment.  


Yone Ward said...

It's not simply a matter of science, it's also a matter of trust. Science has a habit of declaring something to be so and pass laws, and ridicule those that don't believe while some make fortunes on those that believe. Then a few years later they say "Oops,the opposite is true, but you should still trust us be cause we are correct for reals this time."

Medical science is not immune to this and some people understand that even if they don't understand the science. They are savvy enough to know there is scamming going on in any billion dollar industry and they are just trying to figure out where it is.

Dan McShane said...

You might like reading Dr. Goldacre. He has been very good at pointing out the scammers in medical and health manners.