A new survey of Americans showed that atheists are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than any other religious group (atheism isn’t really a religious group). It’s ironic that I consider the anti-vaccine beliefs check all of the boxes of the definition of a religion.
Despite my admittedly clickbait title, this survey showed some interesting results regarding American’s attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccine, including an improvement in the desire to get the vaccine by people of color. But what is troubling that the predicted uptake may not help us reach the herd immunity level to stop this pandemic.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
The goal of this post is to give a short overview of the law surrounding employer mandates for COVID-19 vaccines. Two caveats. First, this post is not taking a position on whether a mandate is a good or bad idea for a specific employer: it is just setting out the law. Second, this post is focused on employers choosing to require vaccines, not states.
As preliminary comments, I want to remind readers that we do not actually know whether COVID-19 vaccines will dramatically reduce transmission. We know they are very effective at protecting recipients (and very safe), and we have reasonable grounds to expect they will reduce transmission somewhat, but we do not yet know to what extent.
A workplace or employer mandate is, in part, justified by protecting the workforce – employers are expected, sometimes required, to minimize risks to their workers, and may be liable for work-related harms through workers’ compensation, but mandates are often justified by the protection of others – in this case, co-workers and customers – and if the vaccines do not reduce transmission, there is less justification.
We also do not yet know how long the COVID-19 vaccines’ immunity will last, and whether there are very rare side effects that have not yet been discovered. So this discussion has some uncertainty built-in. That uncertainty, however, would not directly change much of the legal framework described below.
Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – there is simply nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists” that have infiltrated the discussion about evolution.
The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution.
The scientific theory of evolution is quite easy to understand – it is the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the creationist misinformation about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.
There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.
Despite the ongoing scientific research examining other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no scientific disputes about the fact that evolution has occurred over a period of 3.8 billion years until present time. None.
Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.
Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Even though rarely successful, unfortunately, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently implemented antievolution legislation. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they defer to a ridiculous political and cultural “debate” while ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus.
Once again, many or most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – thus, politicians, at least in some areas of the country, think they have the political cover to do whatever they want with regards to the teaching of creationism.
Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge. Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right. In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution. Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit. Maybe I’ll just use them all.
Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC. The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70’s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital. The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.” Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism. Continue reading “Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.”
One of the more crazy anti-science groups are the evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of science that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. Based on this nearly irrefutable evidence, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science was a democracy, evolution would win in a landslide of epic proportions.
The scientific theory of evolution simply states that there is a change in inherited characteristics of a biological population, over time and generations, through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun or that gravity causes objects to fall to the earth.
There is no genuine scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.
Despite the ongoing scientific discussion regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes, among scientists, about the fact that evolution commenced when the first living organisms appeared over 3.8 billion years. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in any real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.
One of the tropes of pseudoscience pushers is that science is too fungible, that is, scientists can change their mind or, horrors of horrors, refuse to make an absolute “this is the TRUTH™” statement. There are numerous articles, published in peer-reviewed, high impact factor journals, that state “more research should be done to confirm these results.” The anti-science crowd uses these comments as “evidence” that science isn’t sure about something.
Black/white absolute truth doesn’t exist in real science. Many people state that science “seeks truth,” and it does, if we do not ascribe moral qualities to the word “truth.” Actually, science seeks evidence to support or refute a hypothesis (or some other scientific principle like a theory). It’s all about the evidence (and the quality thereof), not about proving that it’s either this or that.
Part of the problem, amongst both “pro-science” and anti-science types is that they both think that science is some magical word to either be loved or despised depending on the answer it provides. But science is, in reality, a coherent method to find an answer to a question about the natural universe, but it is not itself the answer. Science is a systematic and logical process, using the scientific method, that finds and builds data, and eventually knowledge, into testable explanations and predictions about the natural universe. it is not a magical word that implies truth, but it is a rigorous process to separate meaningless information from high quality evidence in support or refutation of an explanation of the natural world.
Oftentimes, someone will report that “scientists believe that birds are living dinosaurs” or “scientists believe humans cause global warming.” To the lay audience that sounds like a bunch of men and women, sitting in an apartment with a keg of beer, a dartboard, and inventing some new theory. OK, in my experience, we have often sat around with a keg of beer and a dartboard, but we were discussing 10 years of research and how to sum it up clearly. Or wondering if a new set of results adds to the data or may actually move us in a different direction. But all of it was based on many years of hard work (including education, bench and field research, withering criticisms from peers and mentors, and countless nights of worrying if an experiment would fail because the power went off), not just making a random guess.
Moreover, even after hard work, publications, and critiques, science is filled with doubt. New evidence, as long as it is as strong as the evidence that supported a previously held explanation, can create new explanations and predictions. The whole scientific process is based upon criticism, open-mindedness and accumulation of new data. It’s not based on “ok, we’re done, we’ve answered all of the questions.” Science evolves over times, because it simply isn’t dogmatic. Continue reading “Science is not based on absolutes–Richard Dawkins proves that”
As I discussed previously, the pendulum is swinging against the so-called “philosophical exemption” against vaccination, which allows parents to not vaccinate their children based on the “just because I don’t want to” principle. They don’t even have to support their exemption with a discussion with a healthcare worker who might explain the risks of their decision.
In April, 2010, a Federal District Court in New York denied a mother’s bid for a religious exemption to New York state’s mandatory vaccination rules. According to the article in the New York Law Journal, “Martina Caviezel, a self-proclaimed pantheist, sought a preliminary injunction allowing her to enroll her 4-year-old daughter in a Great Neck, N.Y., pre-kindergarten without getting the shots the state says the child needs. Caviezel relied on Public Health Law §2164(9), which exempts children from the requirement whose parents or guardians “hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary” to vaccination.”
Around September 2009, Caviezel submitted the New York exemption form to the school requesting that her youngest child be exempt from the requirement that children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and other diseases. The school principal told her that her request would likely be denied. Caviezel declined to meet with school superintendent to further discuss the exemption. She then sued after her request was denied, alleging civil rights violations. Continue reading “Court says that fake religious vaccine exemptions are not protected by the First Amendment”
In 2008, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. The law contends that “the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.” The law gives permission to Louisiana’s teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” OK, I understand, we need a state legislature to mandate that more critical thinking is necessary for evolution and global warming; and we don’t need any more critical thinking in other areas of science (sarcasm intended).
Though the law sounds like it would help teaching of science in the state, it really was nothing more than an attempt to get creationism (along with global warming denialism) taught in Louisiana’s public schools. Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magical , rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic tenets of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book. Continue reading “Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana”
Teaching creationism, which is solely based on religious beliefs that lack any scientific evidence, in public schools is definitely an attempt to establish a religion by the government. Court cases, such as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Districtand Edwards v. Aguillard are critical court decisions which have rejected teaching of creationism because it is a religious belief.
Well, one part of Louisiana understands the constitution and science. According to the National Center for Science Education, The Orleans Parish School Board, which controls the curriculum and teaching policies for schools in New Orleans, voted to ban the teaching of creationism as science. The new policy specifically bans teachers from including “any aspect of religious faith” in science courses and from using history textbooks adjusted to include Christianity (in reference to Texas textbook guidelines which use historical revisionism).
The actual wording of the the new policy is what all school boards should support:
No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.
Yes. Yes. And yes. Simple and to the point, and clearly stating what should be taught to children. If they want to learn about some false history based on religions, or anti-science beliefs, learn it at home. The public school should not enable it.
But there’s more:
No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.
The outgoing President of the Orleans School Board, Thomas Robichaux, stated that “when this was done in Texas, all this talk was what massive influence would do in other states. We want to make sure kids are taught history that has been properly vetted by academics and prepared for their consumption…. I have no problem teaching [religion] in a religion or philosophy class, but the science class is not the appropriate place for it.”
New Orleans is just one part (a big part) of Louisiana, so it’s a good step in the right direction. And the students in that district will benefit from this policy, because they can be researchers, scientists, doctors, or just educated with proper critical thinking skills.