Alright. This is a big topic this week.
I don't have as many readers on this blog as I used to but I still think I have some info to contribute to society at times.
In terms of popularizing rationality and science-based literacy, I think there is a great gap between the science people and the public. Maybe I can try to take some things they try and get through to the public and try to explain them in the simplest of terms. I think dealing with the public is not always easy for science-based people and in the current internet age it is common for correct expert views to be sunk in a sea of nonsense that pollutes the internet at all times.
I read a lot of science blogs like Science-Based Medicine and others who try and convey science related matters to the public .... and they make valiant attempts, especially regarding vaccine importance and safety, to inform the public about the importance of it (which is a great service) .... but I don't know if it gets absorbed into the public sphere as readily and as easily as it should be.
I wrote something very early on when I started this blog about something I noticed while reading "high end" material (I guess you'd call it), it was an essay where I wrote two-essays-in-one about the Ramones song "I donn't Wanna go Down to the Basement":
Here: Analysis of Joeseph Ramone's piece, "I donn't wanna go down to the basement"
In that one, I tried to get the point across to academia types that if you really ever want to educate the public you have to speak their language. There's many pitfalls in the world of academia where it's easy for explanations to get distorted. I think that there's so many silly programs in academia that are not real fields with a tangible grading system, that the academic world can teach people to just butcher up language into a convoluted mess in order to appear to be smart. If you want to educate the public on matters ... you have to present it in a way that is not butchered into silliness. That's my main point with that old Joey Ramone essay.
I write as a person would talk, and I use terms that don't make me look smart ... and I throw in some kooky or bad words sometimes to keep people interested. That's the style I'm trying to go with.
Look, I'm not suggesting real publications write the way I do ... I mean they'd look unprofessional ... but they can maybe gravitate towards this style somewhat if they want to try and get difficult subjects to the public. I don't think portions of my style are compatible with real professional publication writing but the overall idea of trying to talk to the reader, I think anyway, is actually a good writing mechanism to employ for academics who are trying to write science publications aimed at the public.
So, with that in mind let's try and do a vaccine article aimed at the public where the examples will hopefully be things people can relate too.
Touchy subject but let's get it out of the way first. Is there an "autism epidemic"??
Autism is a psychological condition and you have to understand that psychology is a very speculative field. Freud is like the king of this field and a lot of his stuff is interesting but it's not exactly stuff that you can exactly prove. Freud's stuff mostly boils down to sex-related perverted speculations and not real concrete science. Psychology has a lot of room for error, let's say.
When a real medical doctor adds a disease to the big disease book and tries to list the symptoms of a disease for future reference ... they are able to list key and identifiable physical characteristics of a disease. A doctor can describe a symptom like "ass warts" as growths that appear on the ass. You can look at it and diagnose a medical physical symptom quite easily and it is easily identifiable in future cases.
Is the same true for a mental psychological symptom? No, it isn't. It's much more difficult for a mental symptom to be defined. You can tell the doctor you're sad and fatigued and he or she can pretty much just pick a diagnosis out of the air to say you're sick with. They can say you're sad and fatigued due to "manic depression" or something even though there's no real physical signs to prove this diagnosis to be 100% correct.
When you're dealing in a field where disease is defined by symptoms which are not concrete ... there's a lot of room for interpretation.
You following so far?
Alright now, so the symptoms that are listed in psychological books for these "diseases" that they teach in schools are open to interpretation and often the definitions for these diseases can be changed by some psychologist at the drop of a hat ... these definitions for psychological diseases are in no way written in stone.
What I mean by definition is simply how you describe something. Think about it like this, let's say I give you a stat, alright, I give a statistic that there are 275,000 mail carriers who work for the US Postal Service and I'm telling you this stat under the definition that "mail carrier" refers to a person who is payed by the US Postal service to deliver mail to citizens.
Now, let's say out of the blue, the definition of "mail carrier" changes
to "You are a Mail Carrier if you've ever held mail in your hands at any time."
After that definition change, how many mail carriers are in USA? It's not going to be 275,000 anymore. It will jump from 275,000 to around 300 million. After the out-of-the-blue definition change that number of people would meet the criteria of being a mail carrier.
Now one might look at this and say "wow how come there's so many more mail carriers!? Is it because so many people have joined the postal service this year!" No, obviously not, the answer is because they broadened the definition of what it takes to be called a mail carrier ... that's all.
There's still 275,000 people who are paid to deliver the mail ... but the definition of mail carrier now
includes people who have ever held a letter in their hands and thusly the number of people who could be described as being mail carriers jumped from 275,000 to 300,000,000.
In regards to autism, let's say the definition started in a psychology textbook as "child unable to read basic text and count to 50 by age 10"...ok? Not many kids meet that definition, maybe tens of thousands at the most. But, let's say one day the official definition of autism has a symptom added to it such as "doesn't speak well", alright so now more kids are defined as having autism, now let's say they add the symptom of "is shy" to the definition... now you're talking about 250 million people in the USA would fall into the definition. Public speaking is regarded as most people's biggest fear so it's not far fetched to estimate shy people being a good 250 million people in the USA.
For each symptoms you add to the definition of autism ... guess what happens? The more cases get diagnosed. The more symptoms added to the definition in the official textbook ... the more kids meet the criteria and thus more get diagnosed. It's literally that simple, we went from a few tens of thousands under "can't count by age 10" to almost literally everyone by the time "is shy" is tacked on to the definition.
There's is NO autism epidemic. There's just a more broad set of terms applied to the disease when diagnosing it. I mean, if you add ... "the child is shy" to the official symptoms list ... for sure there's gonna be an explosion of new cases.
The "Autism Epidemic" is a definition based epidemic. If they altered the definition and removed many symptoms from the official list, guess what? Fewer kids would be diagnosed with autism.
What is the official list of symptoms you ask? It varies from psychologist to psychologist (this is not a very well uniformed field of study) ..... but here's an example list of the symptoms (from WebMd):
"-Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
-Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
-Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
-Lack of empathy. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person's feelings, such as pain or sorrow.
-Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.
-Problems taking steps to start a conversation. Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it has begun.
-Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously.
-Difficulty understanding their listener's perspective. For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.
-An unusual focus on pieces. Younger children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the entire toy.
-Preoccupation with certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.
-A need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
-Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and hand flapping."
Okay, guys, guys, guys .... this is no longer a description of a mental condition, ok? This is just an UNENDING list of symptoms. If you keep adding symptoms to this list you know what's gonna happen one day right? If you keep piling this list with symptoms, you psychologists, you will eventually have a definition SO BROAD and wide ranging that 100% of children will be diagnosed with autism. Okay? You gotta settle down with the piling on of symptoms to this definition of Autism, alright?
Liking video games? Ok like you've now described every child in North America with that blanket statement. If liking video games is a signal a kid has the autism then EVERY SINGLE KID has autism!
Psychologists defining autism is akin to the kids from high school who liked to use a Hi-Lighter marker to highlight what they felt was important in a text book for their class. A lot of these kids ended up making every word in the entire book YELLOW! At that point ... if they were trying to highlight the key factors of the text but ended up making every word in the book yellow .... then what was the point? This is what psychologists are doing with autism ... they are gonna highlight every key factor in child behavior until they highlighted the whole damn book .... at that point what was the point of highlighting anything to begin with?
Okay now, let's re-define the term of being mentally challenged back down to reasonable levels. Can the kid count to one hundred? Yes? Ok. Can the kid read a children's book? Yes? Ok. Can the kid do simple arithmetic like 5+6? Yes? Ok. If your kid can do all that ... then he or she is not mentally handicapped, ok? He or she might not be the brightest banana in the bunch but they are not mentally challenged if they can do those things. Alright? To me, "mentally handicapped", are kids who cannot count or read or do simple reasoning or tasks by age 10. That's it.
Me? I'm not trying to sell some dopey psychology book to Harvard ... I'm not making no money ... I am allowed to keep it sane and simple when making a definition of a child being mentally challenged.
Is there an Autism Epidemic? No, there certainly 100% is NOT an Autism Epidemic.
Celebrities with Lots of Media Pull are Pointing Heavy Fingers at Vaccines
There's no autism epidemic but you would sure think there is. Psychologists all over the world are assigning fairly normal children with a scary sounding disease.
A lot of celebrities have had that term applied to their children and they are fighting back it seems and Against what?
They attributed the rise in autism not to the obvious broadening of the definition but to Vaccines.
Polio, Measles, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Meningitis, etc., etc., etc.
These are very dangerous and have all been kept at bay and in many cases been ELIMINATED by vaccines. The only people who die from this now are in third world countries in places where they don't have access to these vaccines. Millions of children worldwide still die before the age of five due to contracting the above diseases ... but it's super rare if not impossible to get these diseases in rich countries. Why? Because we have 90% vaccination rates for children for these diseases and have successfully achieved Herd Immunity thanks to having close to 100% vaccination rates.
The people getting vaccines into third world countries and vaccinating children there are HEROES who are saving millions and millions of young children's lives every year. These people are heroes yet if you listen to celebrities you'd think these people were monsters.
Celebrities and conspiracy sites have gone absolutely off the deep end. They go on the wildest tirades against vaccines in the media and many people take them very seriously. It's gonna get to the point where Calcutta, India will have a higher vaccinated children percentage than Marin County, California .... and that's actually insane. It's literally and undeniably ludicrous for that statement to be approaching truth.
Why? Because so many people in rich countries are getting their health advice from Celebrities, "Mommy bloggers", and conspiracy-laden websites. These people have NO CREDENTIALS WHATSOEVER!!! NONE! They have never studied vaccines or have any idea of how they are created or administered. These celebrities and these websites are completely void of any understanding of any science in most cases ... spouting just outright nonsense and the most odd conspiracy theories.
There is NO conceivably viable reason why vaccination rates in some North American regions are dropping even under 80% in some cases. You're gonna get so low at some point that those regions will lose Herd Immunity.
My Grandfather had a framed newspaper clipping of a photo of John F. Kennedy in his living room of his apartment for as long as I can remember whilst he was alive. He was Canadian from Irish roots and Kennedy was his favorite President.
I like that family, they are wonderful, they seem like very nice people, and my Grandfather the illustrious Paw Jack that he referred to himself as, was a big big fan of President Kennedy ....
but .... I gotta really say .....
Robert F. Kennedy Jr, I think you are behaving incredibly silly. It is near shocking that you believe that trying to stop the vaccination of children is a noble goal. I really think it is near shocking.
Why is it that so many Environmental-oriented wealthy people use their law degrees to try and ban certain substances that aid humanity? It all started with a lady named Rachel Carson who penned a book called "Silent Spring" where she said that DDT was making bird shells thinner than usual ... and it was so popular that DDT was banned.
There's a great deal of people from that era, mostly the very wealthy, who became Environmental Lawyers thanks to that book and formed various organizations like Green Peace, National Resource Defense Council, and Robert Kennedy Jr.'s firm .... who think their way into the history books is getting something banned like Rachel Carson did.
Was banning DDT a good idea? Seems so, yes, .... but the counter-case that mosquito parasite-related illnesses like malaria or zika cause the deaths of 500,000 people (mostly children) worldwide and that DDT was an insecticide that worked well against removing mosquitoes from highly problem areas where they breed their larvae ... there's even a decent case that DDT could save lives in the form of removing mosquitoes and thus malaria-related deaths.
You people on missions to be remembered in history as a great Rachel Carson-esque hero for getting something banned during your lifetime really need to find something that's REALLY dangerous and with no value to get banned before you start your holy quests. Ok? Vaccines are definitely NOT something you want to go on a banning crusade over.
If you really have to find something to devote your life to banning from society before you can feel like you've accomplished something in life please try and look elsewhere than to Vaccines. Vaccines are not something you should devote your life to banning and even though your intentions seem to be noble and your hearts are in the right place ...
.... you are misguided and doing WAY MORE harm than good.
If you are a person who didn't or is thinking about not vaccinating your children because of statements you've heard a Hollywood Celebrity or one of the Kennedys make please try to understand that Vaccines do a lot of good in the world and that 99.99% of licensed medical doctors are for them whole-heartily (the 0.01% exception being "Dr Bob" Sears who has sold a lot of books in his lifetime by latching onto to this phenomenon of parents worried about vaccines).
Autism, and children with mental challenges in general is heart-breaking to the parents and everyone feels for you and wishes the best for you and your child ... but .... please don't go on an unending crusade against childhood vaccination in an effort to try and make a difference in the world. Your attempts may be of sound heart and noble intention but they are very very misguided. Time and funds gathered by Autism foundations should be used to promote acceptance for those who suffer from it and not used to go on smear campaigns against childhood vaccination.
Sesame Street has done great things with it's Autism Outreach lately on that show by teaching the young generation to love and respect children who are different or who have difficulties. I think that's a beneficial thing to do with money donated to Autism charities. That does make a difference and is a better investment of those funds than trying to stop children from being vaccinated against life threatening childhood diseases.