I would think that you have read about this already. But maybe you haven’t so I cannot help but discuss it here.

And so science education meets the courts, meets mass media, meets anti-vaccination inaccuracies. I would use more harsh language to describe people who advocate for fewer or no vaccinations but this is an educational zone. If you vaccinate your children, thank you! You are not simply protecting your children but mine as well. If you are not vaccinating your children I cannot help but ask WHY!? From whom do you seek your science council? Jenny McCarthy? I hope not!

The last few weeks have shown that one of the popular science articles used by the anti-vaccine crowd, Wakefield et al. (1998), contained falsified data. I won’t re-hash the story. It is discussed by one of my favourite bloggers, Revere over at Effect Measure. I implore you to visit.

I would like to focus on how this is a classic example of why science education matters. Across the subject areas we (should) consistently teach about using a variety of valid sources for information. Yet the variety and percentages, I argue, should be proportional to the amount of evidence available. Any good critical thinker or well educated science student should have been aware of, and read, the Wakefield paper back in 1998. Good science acts by looking at the evidence and moving the science forward. Originally the paper was criticized about its sample size – very small – and the implications of the study. When science attempted to re-create the findings on a larger scale, the same conclusions could not be reproduced and have not over the ten+ years since. Yet emotion and psychological factors I do not understand sustained the anti-vaccince movement. I cannot help but think money is involved as well. It is because science tends to be thorough that it was recently shown that the Wakefield paper was a fraud. The data was massaged to fit the hypothesis. 

So two points I really need to stress:

  • Science is not about giving equal balance to competing concepts or theories. It weights the total evidence accordingly and accepts the concept or theory which best supports the evidence. The rogue work will be rigorously investigated as to explain why it contradicts the currently accepted theories. The problem is many people root for the underdog champion. [Hence why we now know the Wakefield paper used falsified data!]
  • Science may SEEM dogmatic for the reason above. When a huge amount of evidence supports the theory it seems like the theory never changes. It does not suggest that it cannot or will not change. The evidence needed to change the theory must be significant  enough to justify the change(s).

The above two points [and more] need to be highlighted in our science curriculum. Its what we call the ‘nature of science’. Almost every person has some degree of science education. We all learn a tremendous amount of facts but I truly feel [only supported by anecdotal evidence] most people do not appreciate the PROCESS of science.

The mass media perpetuate the misunderstanding. Reporters are taught to provide both sides of the story equal time and footing. The evolution/creation debate is an excellent example. Science has no evidence for design and creation by or from a supernatural being. There may be one, but it is not part of science to investigate. The evidence wholeheartedly and overwhelmingly supports modern evolutionary theory. Because of the vast amount of evidence, evolution SEEMS dogmatic and unchanging. Science class should not be providing any time for creationism as a theory. It does not fit the criteria of having supporting evidence. Evolution does.

Similarly with vaccinations. The evidence in support of vaccines as an effective measure against disease is deep and wide. The evidence linking vaccines to autism is fraudulent.

We all benefit from a well vaccinated population. Termed herd immunity, the immune protect those lacking immunity. If those lacking immunity becomes a large enough portion of the population the disease can take hold and evolve in manner which decreases or eliminated the immunity of those who were vaccinated. The whole population is then at risk.

I don’t have the data easily available but I hope to follow this story with one showing how the anti-vaccine movement, via the media and misunderstanding of science is encouraging parents to not vaccinate. As a result, rates of measles, mumps and rubella are on the rise. It puts us all at risk.

Do you, and my children a favour, please vaccinate. There is no good reason not to.