Media and pandering politicians should hang heads in shame at goading vaccine deniers to put children at risk

The news sent a chill up my spine: In eight states more than 1 in 20 school children now don’t get all the vaccines required for attendance. The number of parents denying vaccines to their children is up in virtually every state. I immediately winced, imagining the unavoidable increase in children getting debilitating diseases and dying because they haven’t been vaccinated.

Many people now believe that certain vaccinations can cause autism. Others minimize the risk of getting disease. Because those opposing vaccination tend to cluster geographically, the United States is going to have pockets of disease spring up, primarily in rural areas; for example, vaccination exemptions for school children in some rural counties in Washington State have exceeded 20%. 

This non-vaccinated population is going to be visited by a plague of diseases they didn’t have to suffer. And guess who is going to pay to treat these people? Unless we end all health insurance and government health benefits, it will be all of us, just as we all pay for the irresponsible behavior of smokers and over-eaters.

The myths surrounding vaccinations have grown with public distrust of both government and science, which is why I don’t blame the parents who deny their children the protection of vaccines. They may anger me, but I don’t blame them. For the most part, they are loving parents, but misguided, gullible and poorly educated.

I blame the politicians, pundits and reporters who spout an anti-science bias in their statements denying climate change and evolution. 

I blame the anti-intellectualism of the news media that conflate the opinions of the person-in-the-street and untrained office seekers with the reasoned empirical results presented by scientists and engineers.

I blame the producers and hosts of talk shows who give ignorant celebrities time to air their mistaken notions about the dangers of vaccines.

I blame all the politicians who have told lies about vaccines causing diseases, abortion causing cancer and brain dead people being able to communicate, all in an effort to garner the votes of the ignorant and uneducated.

For the past decade or so, the main actors in our marketplace of ideas have created an atmosphere in which faith trumps science, even in the kingdom of science. They have shamelessly undercut the authority of science—which is based not on majority rule or inherited rights but on real-world facts. Now we as a nation will reap what they have sown in sick children and increased health care costs.

The Associated Press article announcing the disturbing news exemplified the approach that the mass media takes to scientific issues. The article states unequivocally that there is no truth to the myths that vaccines cause autism or other diseases. Yet the writer feels the need to quote four women who have withheld some or all of their children’s vaccinations to balance the quotes from five experts on how important it is to have children vaccinated. The writer presents everyone’s quotes with respect and objectivity, which equates the views of the misinformed parents with those of the scientists and professors. Thus, even as the AP reports the news, it undermines the authority of science in a matter of science. 

The use of this pros-versus-Joes approach leads to an aggrandizement of the vaccine deniers. Remember, they still represent a miniscule portion of the population, and yet they get feature billing of their views. The views of 99% of the public are ignored.  

I could understand putting the views of the parents opposed to vaccination in the article if the article also included the views of parents who get their children vaccinated, and in some ratio that reflected popular opinion. Since that would require quotes from 20 non-experts, I would settle for the common sense approach, say quotes from five parents who have their children vaccinated and from two who don’t. Having quotes from parents who get their kids vaccinated would have reminded us that the non-vaccinators were expressing opinions only, and that the reporter did not seek their views to balance those of the scientists.

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