Recently, an anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.
The claims used to do so are nothing new: they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world, and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.
Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):
The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
Vaccines are dangerous to children.
The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and corrupts it.
We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.
I’ve always considered all forms of denialism, whether it’s climate change, creationism or the latest antivaccine lunacy, to be based on the same type and quality of arguments. It is essentially holding a unsupported belief that either science is wrong or, worse yet, is a vast conspiracy to push false information onto innocent humans.
One of the “tools” often used by science deniers is trying to convince the casual observer of a science democracy – that is, there is some kind of vote, and some number of “scientists” are opposed to the consensus.
I’ve always considered all forms of denialism, whether it’s climate change, creationism or the latest anti-vaccine lunacy, to be based on the same arguments. It’s essentially an ignorant belief that either science is wrong or, worse yet, is a vast conspiracy to push false information onto innocent humans.
The answer…is that creationists and climate change deniers have a lot in common — most especially in their assertions about science itself.
In addition, they are often the same people! For example, Answers in Genesis, the young-Earth creationist ministry that runs a creation museum where animatronic dinosaurs cavort with humans in the Garden of Eden, also produces a DVD entitled “Global Warming: A Scientific and Biblical Exposé of Climate Change.” In another case, Roy Spencer, a climatologist featured in the film “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” has written that he regards “the theory of creation” as having “a much better scientific basis than the theory of evolution.”
What it boils down to is that creationists and climate change deniers both reject central principles of science on ideological, religious and political grounds. Moreover, they deny not just these principles, but also the idea of science itself as a way of knowing about the world.
Attacks on evolution and climate science are both based on the rejection of well-established scientific techniques. Geologists demonstrate the age of the Earth with the techniques of radiometric dating. “Bunk,” say young-Earth creationists: These techniques rely on unproven assumptions. Climate scientists develop complex computer models as a technique to understand what might happen to future climates. “Bunk,” say climate change deniers: Such models are just a convenient fiction. Continue reading “The common threads between creationism and climate change denialism”