For a moment there that headline might seem like preaching the converse of “The Secret”, the toxically ignorant book promoted by the toxically ignorant Oprah. But this isn’t about the notion that thinking bad – or good – thoughts produces bad or good results. That notion is just plain dumb. (It’s also hateful because it inescapably claims that bad things happen to people because they don’t think good thoughts.)
What I mean by “bad thinking” here however is poor thinking – the inability to think critically, the inability to understand or effectively utilize science and scientific reasoning. And when that kind of bad thinking is in effect, then in fact, very bad things do happen. Not to mention: to good people. And their children.
This was evidenced yet again a few weeks ago when a study published in the journal “Pediatrics” provided further evidence that the 2010 pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in California was partly the result of increased numbers of parents opting out of vaccinating their children.
Sometimes too much education, too much disposable income, too much free time and above all, too much good medicine and good health, can lead otherwise seemingly intelligent people to make appallingly ignorant and hazardous choices. That appears to be the case evidenced by the new study. According to a story at salon.com (quoting a report on NPR):
“… a community loses herd immunity after the vaccination rate drops below 95 percent. In 2010, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots. The researchers found that in some neighborhoods, especially those with high income and education levels, exemption rates were as high as 75 percent.”
The significant point to understand about herd immunity is that the greater percentage of vaccinated community members in turn helps protect infants, who are too young to be vaccinated, and anyone else unable to safely be given the vaccine, from contracting the disease.
A piece in “Scientific American” points out that, “Unvaccinated individuals in the 2010 epidemic were eight times more likely to contract pertussis than vaccinated ones. But unvaccinated individuals pose risks to the community as well. ‘It’s a choice you make for yourself and a choice you make for those around you,’ Offit [Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia] says. “Infants need those around them to be protected in order not to get sick. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to our neighbors as well as to ourselves and our children.’”
So bad thinking does make bad things happen – and in this case, not just to the people doing the bad thinking, but to other people, and to other people’s children – and since I live in San Diego, my children are at risk thanks to that bad thinking. If you don’t think that science education and critical thinking skills are important, think again. If you don’t think the skeptic movement does important work, think again. If you don’t think that educating people about how to think about psychics and Bigfoot claims has a direct connection to the unnecessary medical risk my children face thanks to bad thinking – think again.
As seen in the accompanying photo, our twin sons, Grayson and Dexter, along with one of their brothers, Ethan, recently received their flu vaccinations. As my date-for-life Kandace commented when she posted this photo on Facebook: VACCINATION: THE "STANDARD OF CARE" IN PARENTING.
Here are some useful stories about the California study:
This CBS article is accompanied by a good if infuriating video story:
Scientific American: Vaccination opt-outs found to contribute to whooping cough outbreak in kids
USA Today: Vaccine refusal linked to California pertussis outbreak
Salon: Unvaccinated kids helped fuel California’s whooping cough epidemic
Lest you think the dangers of pertussis are not serious, read this terrifying story of two mother’s and their experiences with the disease:
And finally, while skeptics are generally familiar with the anti-vaccination controversy and the unsubstantiated claims linking vaccination and autism, here is one good overview by David Gorski at the Science-Based Medicine site:
The problem of waning pertussis immunity
Jamy Ian Swiss is Senior Fellow at the JREF. He blogs regularly at randi.org.