Here are a few edifying, inspiring, or (alas) infuriating stories that are making the rounds this week:
• First up, this truly outstanding piece from Wired on the anti-vaccination movement, An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. This is what journalism is supposed to do: listen to the experts, survey the facts and adjudicate the truth, without the false-equivalency tactics that are the breath of life to kooks and advocates of pseudoscience. Here are a few samples:
In the center of the fray is Paul Offit. “People describe me as a vaccine advocate,” he says. “I see myself as a science advocate.” But in this battle — and make no mistake, he says, it’s a pitched and heated battle — “science alone isn’t enough … People are getting hurt. The parent who reads what Jenny McCarthy says and thinks, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t get this vaccine,’ and their child dies of Hib meningitis,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s such a fundamental failure on our part that we haven’t convinced that parent.”
To be clear, there is no credible evidence to indicate that any of this is true. None. Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 2001) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems.
…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.
• From the Times, an article on how cancerous tumors can spontaneously disappear, for reasons that are not yet fully understood. Think of this one the next time a faith-healing zealot claims that supernatural fetishism cured them of an incurable disease.
• Also, this superb editorial from the normally mediocre Maureen Dowd about the Vatican’s increasingly archaic and misogynist attitude toward nuns (and women in general).
• And lastly, check out this piece from the Financial Times about the degree to which Muslim immigrants are assimilating into European society. Sarah Braasch, Daylight Atheism’s correspondent from France (she actually lives in the area described by the article) tells me that some of this is overly optimistic and doesn’t fully do justice to the serious problems of abuse and subjugation that some immigrants, especially women, still face. On the other hand, the doomsday “Islamofascists are taking over Europe!” scenarios so often pushed by right-wingers go too far in the opposite direction, ignoring relevant facts (such as the plunging birthrate among increasingly well-educated immigrant families) that tend to undermine their scare tactics.