If you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave then the vaccination debate has been lost on you. Luckily, I live with a bioengineer, so I get to ask frequent questions when these debates come up. Usually, the arguments on one side are being levied by idiots. That’s generally the way when science is being debated. One side loves to create debate on scientific facts where debate doesn’t legitimately exist.
Climate change is being debated because two or three crack pots argue its existence for every 100 credible scientists that say it exists. Suddenly, that means that its existence is in question. The same has now happened with vaccinations. One discredited doctor claimed that vaccinations are linked to autism. His study was pulled. His credentials were pulled. In the scientific community we saw the equivalent of him standing in the stocks and being pelted with rotten tomatoes, half eaten boxes of vegetable fried rice, and rancid yogurt. Yet, we have Jenny McCarthy and her ilk trumpeting this study as if it is based in some kind of fact.
Here are the facts: as long as 92 percent of the public is vaccinated against any particular disease then the public is generally safe from that disease. Some people have health issues that preclude them from being vaccinated. Some have legitimate religious objections. Others simply want to find any excuse to get out of vaccinating their child. Who does it hurt? Well, it not only hurts their child, but it could potentially hurt the child that legitimately can’t be vaccinated. When the rate falls below 92 percent then those in the unvaccinated population become vulnerable. That’s why we’ve seen an outbreak in California and will likely see one in Colorado as well.
Many in the press have made this about science and those that would be anti-science. That isn’t really the issue. It’s an excuse. It really is about the tension between living in a society and accepting some social responsibility and living in a society of individuals. Collectivism is a scary concept sometimes. It sounds an awful lot like socialism, but it really isn’t. It is the simple concept that my rights end where your rights begin. This argument comes up when we talk about environmental solutions to global warming. It comes up when we start talking about texting and driving. It comes up when we start talking about whether seven year olds should carry automatic weapons into their Sunday School class.
Living in a society requires us to make certain sacrifices to our individual freedoms. I’m quite certain I read that somewhere once. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes made that abundantly clear in their treatises on civil government and Leviathan respectively. Arguing the science of any of these situations is simply an elaborate dodge. If you don’t feel like you should be beholden to the needs of your neighbors then just say so. History and science demonstrate thoroughly what happens when we follow everyone down that rabbit hole. It’s not a pretty sight.
That being said, nothing highlights the differences between progressives and conservatives than this one. It’s a classic argument. Do we do what is best for the majority or do we simply focus on what is best for us? I’ll concede that there are situations where both are appropriate. That’s the part where pragmatists can insert themselves into the debate. The vaccination argument is clearly on the side of the collectivists, but that doesn’t stop the Rand Pauls and Chris Christies from telling us otherwise. They are very eloquent in their defense of individual liberty. In this instance they are dead wrong. You can argue religious freedom, the drivel of a quack, or the ramblings of B list celebrity somewhere. It doesn’t matter. Living in a free society means you get some individual freedoms, but also that you occasionally have to be responsible to that society.