Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, February 10, 2011 8:15 pm

Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 8:15 pm
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Henry Adams, on a Chronicle of Higher Education blog:

To be fair, many English instructors (especially fans of Wordsworth) believe that human beings will do the right thing if someone explains it to them properly. I find that notion charming, but I don’t see how anyone who teaches first-year composition can hold it for long.

I was an English major. I did my senior thesis on Wordsworth’s Prelude. And I, too, find that notion charming. But I gave it up early in life, without ever having taught first-year composition. Indeed, I am so far from convinced that people will do the right thing if someone explains it to them properly that I’m unsure whether Jesus Christ Himself could gather 12 disciples these days without pointing a gun at people first.




Saturday, November 7, 2009 10:42 pm

Bunch of whiny children, we are

When Americans in significant numbers begin to deny objective reality, and significant numbers of Americans who do not, themselves, deny reality nonetheless let the others get away with it, we are in a world of hurt. Denial has real costs, including real lives:

In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California’s affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).

That may not sound like much, but a recent study by the Los Angeles Times indicates that the impact can be devastating. The Times found that even though only about 2 percent of California’s kindergartners are unvaccinated (10,000 kids, or about twice the number as in 1997), they tend to be clustered, disproportionately increasing the risk of an outbreak of such largely eradicated diseases as measles, mumps, and pertussis (whooping cough). The clustering means almost 10 percent of elementary schools statewide may already be at risk.

In May, The New England Journal of Medicine laid the blame for clusters of disease outbreaks throughout the US squarely at the feet of declining vaccination rates, while nonprofit health care provider Kaiser Permanente reported that unvaccinated children were 23 times more likely to get pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes violent coughing and is potentially lethal to infants. In the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, Jason Glanz, an epidemiologist at Kaiser’s Institute for Health Research, revealed that the number of reported pertussis cases jumped from 1,000 in 1976 to 26,000 in 2004. A disease that vaccines made rare, in other words, is making a comeback. “This study helps dispel one of the commonly held beliefs among vaccine-refusing parents: that their children are not at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” Glanz says.

“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” [physician Paul]Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”

This issue has been building for some time, but the H1N1 flu vaccination program has provided a kind of point around which inchoate fears can coalesce. For anyone who knows anything about the subject, it’s an odd focus point. The government has been working with private companies to make safe, effective flu vaccines for decades, and the H1N1 vaccine hasn’t been put together in any significantly different way from vaccines for seasonal flu. Do a few people get sick from flu vaccine? Unfortunately, yes, but those numbers must be measured against the 30,000 to 35,000 people who die of seasonal flu, and the 200,000 or so who are hospitalized with it, every year in the U.S.

One reason is this whole notion that vaccines preserved with thimerosal, which contains tiny amounts of mercury, are causing autism in kids, a notion being flogged by actress Jenny McCarthy, whose impeccable scientific credentials primarily include having posed for Playboy (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We know mercury is bad for us, so it makes intuitive sense that thimerosal in vaccine could cause some problem or other.

And when then-White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels, the former CEO of the company that makes thimerosal, slipped immunity from lawsuits for the company into a bill during George W. Bush’s first term, it certainly raised suspicions, including my own, that, like the tobacco industry, Daniels’s former company knew things it wasn’t telling us. But the fact is that since then, multiple studies have found no link between thimerosal and autism. None.

I can understand how desperately the parents of a child with autism might want to find some explanation, any explanation, for how their child’s condition came to be. Without it, one is left with two possible explanations, the will of God or cosmic bad luck, both of which could engender negative feelings, not the least being guilt.

But there is a word for people who repeatedly turn away from objective reality, however unpleasant, in favor of pleasant fantasies: children. And the Jenny McCarthys of the world aren’t just whiny children, although they are that. They are also making the world a more dangerous place for everyone, including their children, yours and mine. A grown-up society mustn’t allow that to happen.


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