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“The Secret Knowledge, Just Ignorance By Another Name”: The Real Facts Behind The Facts “They” Want You To Believe

I call it the Secret Knowledge.

Meaning that body of information not everyone has, that body known only to those few people who had the good sense to go off the beaten path and seek it. It is information you’ll never see in your “newspapers” or “network news” or any other place overly concerned with verifiable “facts” and reliable “sources.” It will not come to you through a university “study,” peer-reviewed “article,” renowned “expert,” government “agency” or any other such traditional bastion of authority.

No, the Secret Knowledge is the truth behind the truth, the real facts behind the facts “they” want you to believe. It unveils the conspiracies beneath the facade suckers mistake for real life. Not incidentally, the Secret Knowledge will always confirm your worst fears.

I don’t know when the mania for Secret Knowledge began. Maybe it was when King and the Kennedys were killed and some of us could not shake a gnawing suspicion that the stories we were told were not the whole truth. Maybe it was when a man walked on the moon and it was so amazing some of us refused to believe it had happened. Maybe it was when Watergate shattered public trust. Maybe it was when The X-Files fed a shivering unease that we inhabited a world of lies within lies.

But if we can’t say for certain when the mania began, the fact that it’s here is beyond dispute. Indeed, it has spread like, well … measles.

Ay, there’s the rub. Also the scratching.

As you have no doubt heard, that highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease, which this country declared eradicated 15 years ago, has returned. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were fewer than 50 cases in 2002, and there were 644 last year. Already this year, there have been over 100 cases.

Authorities say much of this resurgence is due to the refusal of a growing number of parents to vaccinate their kids. The parents think the shots are dangerous, citing a 1998 study by a British doctor who claimed to have found a link between vaccinations and autism. As it turns out, that study was debunked and retracted, and the doctor lost his license. But the alleged link lives on, fueled by Jenny McCarthy, who has become a frontwoman of sorts for the anti-vaccination movement.

Bad enough the Secret Knowledge drives our politics (Barack Obama is a Muslim from Kenya), our perception of controversy (Trayvon Martin was a 32-year-old tough with tattoos on his neck), our understanding of environmental crisis (there is no scientific consensus on global warming) and our comprehension of tragedy (9/11 was an inside job). Apparently, it now drives health care, too.

So a onetime Playboy model who says she was schooled at “the University of Google” holds more sway with some of us than, say, the CDC. It is an Internet Age paradox: We have more information than ever before and yet, seem to know less. Indeed, in the Internet Age, it can be fairly said that nothing is ever truly, finally knowable, authoritative testimony always subject to contradiction by some blogger grinding axes, some graduate of Google U, somebody who heard from somebody who heard from somebody who heard.

And let us pause here to cast shame on would-be presidents Chris Christie and Rand Paul, who both said last week that vaccinations should be a matter of parental choice, a particularly craven bit of pandering that ignores a simple principle you’d think we’d all support: your right to make irresponsible decisions about your child ends at my right to safeguard my child’s health. But in an era of designer facts and homemade truth, maybe there are no simple principles any more.

As a disease once thought over and done with comes back like some ’90s boy band, this much seems obvious:

The Secret Knowledge is just ignorance by another name.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 9, 2015

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Public Health, Vaccinations | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How To Handle The Vaccine Skeptics”: Parents Should Face A Higher Burden Before Removing Their Children From The Immunized herd

The alarming number of measles cases — a record 644 last year, and 102 last month, the most since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 — has focused scrutiny on parents who refuse vaccinations for their children. There are some who want state and local governments to sue, or even criminally charge, such parents. A bill in California would end all nonmedical exemptions to immunization requirements.

For epidemiologists like me, eliminating exemptions may seem satisfying, but it is not the wisest policy for protecting kids. Instead, we should borrow a concept from behavioral economics, and use administrative rules and procedures to “nudge” parents to immunize their kids, rather than trying to castigate or penalize these parents.

Currently, all states allow medical exemptions, since some children — for example, those getting chemotherapy or who have certain types of immune disorders — cannot safely receive vaccines. All but two states (Mississippi and West Virginia) allow exemptions for religious reasons. Nineteen states allow exemptions based on personal (or “philosophical”) beliefs. Such beliefs are increasingly cited by parents whose misplaced skepticism is not really principled but premised, rather, on false notions like that of a link between autism and the measles vaccine.

So shouldn’t all states follow the example of Mississippi and West Virginia, and ban all nonmedical exemptions? The courts have generally upheld such bans, but the political backlash is great, as history shows. After the smallpox vaccine was made compulsory in England and Wales in 1853, there were years of protests, until a commission exempted those with conscientious objections.

Partly because of intemperate comments by politicians, some Americans continue to view vaccines as an intrusion on their personal liberty rather than as a matter of public health. Between 2009 and 2012, 31 bills aimed at making it easier to obtain exemptions were introduced in various states (including 11 in Mississippi and West Virginia). Vaccination advocates who want to make exemptions harder to obtain will have an uphill fight.

But even states like Arizona and Colorado that allow fairly broad exemptions can tweak their rules to make sure parents are as informed as possible — and to make the exemption process difficult.

They can require parents to write a letter elaborating on the reason their child should be exempt. They can require that the letter be notarized. They can insist that parents read and sign a form that discusses the risks of nonvaccination. Better yet, they should mandate in-person counseling so that the decision not to vaccinate is truly informed.

States can also require that parents obtain an exemption form by specifically requesting one from the state or local health department, rather than downloading it online. They can insist that these parents acknowledge that they will be responsible for keeping the children away from school during outbreaks. Moreover, they should have procedures to review each request for exemption rather than automatically approving them, as many states do now. And they should require parents with exemptions to apply annually for renewal.

States with easy procedures for obtaining exemptions have higher rates of nonmedical exemptions — and, more important, higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases. In a 2006 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, we documented that states with easy procedures for granting nonmedical exemptions had approximately 50 percent higher rates of whooping cough.

In a 2012 study, which my colleagues and I published in The New England Journal of Medicine, nonmedical exemption rates were 2.3 times higher in states with easy administrative policies for granting exemptions (like Connecticut, Missouri and Wisconsin) than in states with difficult policies (like Florida, Minnesota and Texas). Moreover, the annual rate of increase in nonmedical exemptions was about 60 percent higher in states with easy exemption policies compared with states with difficult policies.

These practices will cost taxpayers money. But they will be more effective, in the long run, than condemning vaccine skeptics as ignorant and irresponsible. The goal should be to make the number of parents who decide to seek exemptions — and follow through with it — as small as possible. Given the high costs of controlling disease outbreaks, including the current rise in measles, it might be reasonable to tax parents who seek exemptions to recover some of the cost.

All democratic societies must try to balance the rights and views of a variety of constituencies. Parents of children who are too ill for vaccination should of course be granted an exemption. Everyone else — no matter their belief — should face a high burden before being allowed to remove their children from the immunized herd.

 

By: Saad B. Omer, Associate Professor of Global Health, Epidemiology and Pediatrics at Emory University; Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 6, 2015

February 7, 2015 Posted by | Measles Outbreak, Public Health, Vaccinations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Parents Own The Children”: Libertarians Have A History Of Horrifying Views On Parenting

In a recent CNBC interview, Senator Rand Paul tempered some of his recent remarks about the alleged horrors of vaccination by claiming that he only opposes vaccine mandates because they infringe upon parents’ freedom. When confronted with the question of whether or not discouraging vaccination is a threat to children’s health, Paul launched into a meandering consideration of public health and liberty that concluded with the assertion that “the state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children.”

Paul’s bizarre rendering of the parent-child relationship as unilateral ownership is not the most unhinged thing a well-regarded libertarian has ever said about children. In fact, libertarians exhibit a historical inability to adequately explain how parents should relate to their children, why parents are obligated (if at all) to care for their children, and whether or not moral nations should require that parents feed, clothe, and shelter their children within a libertarian frame.

Consider Lew Rockwell, former congressional chief of staff for Rand’s father, Ron. Rockwell, who may or may not have had a hand in composing the now infamously racist and homophobic slew of newsletters sent out to Ron Paul fans between the late ’70s and early ’90s, is a professed fan of child labor. Complaining of laws that prevent, among other things, second-graders from operating forklifts, Rockwell opines that “we are still saddled with anti-work laws that stunt young people’s lives.” Like Rand Paul on vaccine mandates, Rockwell sees child labor laws as government overreach. “In a free and decent society, decisions about these matters are for parents, not bureaucrats,” Rockwell writes, referring to whether or not schoolchildren should be breadwinners. The type of society Rockwell envisions here hardly seems “decent,” but it would certainly be “free” in the way Paul imagines, and in that sense it is perfectly libertarian.

Rockwell’s mentor, Murray Rothbard, one of the twentieth century’s more famous libertarians, was similarly fond of kids in the workplace. Rothbard imagined that laws against child labor were passed in order to artificially inflate the wages of adults, who viewed children as competition capable of underbidding them. “Supposedly ‘humanitarian’ child labor laws,” Rothbard remarks in his book The Ethics of Liberty, “have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.” While the real impetus behind child labor laws was child welfare, it is telling that Rothbard tended to look upon kids with a suspicious eye, and his ethics bear out this cold approach. Later in The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard, in keeping with the libertarian exaltation of personal freedom, argues that “no man can therefore have a ‘right’ to compel someone to do a positive act”that is, because all people are free, by his account, your rights cannot impose positive actions on others. This means, Rothbard goes on, that a parent “may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” He concludes that “the law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.” To do so, for Rothbard, would be pure government overreach.

Such dark fantasies are not restricted to the weird world of libertarian academia. Williamson “Bill” Evers, formerly a libertarian candidate for congress and advisor to the McCain 2008 campaign, also argues that there should be no laws preventing a parent from, say, starving an infant to death. In an article published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Evers concludes, “We have considered the hypothesis that there should be an enforced legal duty of parents to support their minor children. Having found the various reasons advanced in support of this duty inadequate, we can only conclude that no such duty exists … one has to regard the notion of a legal duty of parents to support their children as without merit.” Evers allows that parents might be morally obligated to do something for their children, but also that morals should not be legally enforced. Therefore, vaccination, labor, and finally whether or not to give one’s children the necessities of life ultimately comes down, for these classic libertarian thinkers, to the free will of the parents.

Libertarianism rests on the whimsical notion that all people are isolated, entirely free agents with no claims on others except those that they can negotiate through consensual contracts. The very existence of children flatly disproves this; any moral intuition indicates that children come into the world with claims on their parents at the very least, and their entire societies considered broadly. To avoid a hellish death spiral of infectious disease and neglect, we would all do well to reject Paul and his cohort on the subject of child rearing.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, February 4, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Public Health, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, No, A Thousand Times No”: What Chris Christie Gets Wrong About Vaccine Deniers

Chris Christie is in England, because like so many candidates before him, he knows that the way to show American voters that you will make wise foreign policy decisions is to demonstrate that you have, in fact, visited another country. And while he’s there, he managed to make news by taking a position that is not only controversial but spectacularly wrong, on the topic of the spreading measles outbreak caused by unvaccinated children:

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

And it gets worse: Christie said, “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official.”

No, no, a thousand times no. It’s great that Christie vaccinated his children, but it’s also completely irrelevant. And what he thinks as a parent is absolutely not more important than what he thinks as a public official. Want to know why? Because he’s a public official. That means that he has a responsibility for the health and welfare of the nine million people who live in his state. I am so tired of politicians who say, “My most important title is Mom/Dad.” It isn’t. When you decided to run for public office, you accepted that there would be times when you’d have to act in the public interest regardless of your family’s interest, or your friends’ interest, or the interest of the town you grew up in. When you took the oath of office you made a covenant that you’d work on behalf of the larger community. The fact that you’re a parent can help you understand other parents and their concerns, but it doesn’t change your primary responsibility.

One can certainly express some measure of understanding toward anti-vaxxers while still holding that their views are not just mistaken but profoundly dangerous. Fear for the health of one’s children is a powerful force. As a general matter there’s nothing wrong with distrusting the pharmaceutical industry. One can understand how someone might end up with such views. That being said, there’s about as much real evidence that vaccines cause autism as there is that volcanoes cause post-nasal drip.

So the responsible thing for a governor to say would be, “As a parent, I get where they’re coming from. But as a public official it’s my responsibility to say that they’re wrong, and in their error they aren’t just threatening their own children’s health, they’re threatening the entire community.” You don’t have to think parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids should be arrested, but their ideas ought to be condemned for the harm they do. If Chris Christie has sympathy for them as a father, that’s fine. But he has a more important job to do.

After getting some criticism over his initial remarks, Christie clarified through a spokesperson that he believes all kids should be vaccinated. Which is good, and I hope that this episode provides a lesson for him and other officeholders. Politicians are always trying to tell us that they’re just regular folks like us, and all you need to succeed in high office is common sense and a strong memory of your humble roots. It’s baloney. We choose them for those offices because we need them to make complex and difficult decisions that require more than common sense. We don’t try to elect the best dad to be governor or president, we try to elect the person who’ll be the best governor or president.

Are Republicans more likely than Democrats to fall into this regular-guy routine? Politicians from both parties do it, but the GOP has certainly embraced know-nothingism on other issues. “I’m not a scientist” has become the standard Republican way to say we shouldn’t do anything to address climate change. For a long time they have played the identity politics game, which requires demonstrating that you’re “one of us” and your opponent is alien and contemptible, with particular vigor. That’s an argument that denies there’s anything special about public office; all we need is to find a candidate with “[insert our state here] values,” and everything will be fine.

But it won’t, and it would be nice if the people vying for office stopped pretending otherwise.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Public Health, Vaccinations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“That ‘My Private Choice’ Thing”: What Kind Of Parent Wants To Protect Their Kid From Vaccines But Not Disney?

I went to Disneyland once. I didn’t like it. I like it even less now that 70 people, including five employees, have been infected in their measles outbreak.

I didn’t like Disneyland because I don’t like rides, but also because I don’t like fantasy of any kind – especially the fantasy that a bunch of adults waving and sweating under 800 pound carcinogenic masks only to go home with barely enough money to buy the gas it took them to get to work and maybe three gallons of Sunny Delight counts as a “magic kingdom”.

But I really don’t like the fantasy in which vaccinating your children is a private choice that you get to make for yourself and your family.

Here’s the big news flash for people who don’t vaccinate their kids: you don’t live on an island in the middle of the woods in the middle of whatever century Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in which, if you wanted pork chops, you had to fatten the hog first. Having a cartoon drawing of your family on the back window of your Honda Element doesn’t make you and them the only people in the world. Look around you. Those things with the heads and the arms and the legs are other human beings.

Some of the people around you have legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated – like they have HIV, or they recently had chemo, or they’re just old. And some of them have been vaccinated and may get sick anyway. (I hesitate to mention that because you’ll probably pretend that’s “proof” that vaccines don’t work, and they do work. The whole “vaccines working” thing is proven by the fact that in in 1953, the year the polio vaccine was developed, 35,000 Americans got polio. By 1961, there were only 161 polio cases. Saying vaccines don’t work is like dropping a casserole on the kitchen floor and throwing up your hands and saying “See, cooking doesn’t work!”.)

Also: you see those tiny little things that some of those people are carrying around? Those are what we call Other People’s Infants. (I know you know what Your Infant looks like because you have a picture of it on the same phone you use to read stupid crap written by absolute morons like Jennie McCarthy and Melanie Phillips while taking up a space in the Whole Foods parking lot.) Anyway, infants also can’t get vaccinated. This means that, if your children aren’t vaccinated, they could infect an infant (not your infant though, of course! Your infant is safe in your phone!) and it could die, and it would be your fault.

I have said this many times to people – “an infant could die, and it would be your fault” – and they look at me like I just told them it’s raining. And then they go back to the “my private choice” thing, and I am left chilled to the bone with the knowledge that whatever kind of anti-vaxxer freak they are – whether they’re the hippie “I think bone broth cures everything” kind or the urban “I’m so hypereducated that I’ve lost touch with reality” kind – they really just don’t care that their actions might hurt other people.

The thing that I don’t get about this whole Disneyland thing is this: who even are these people? In order to not vaccinate, you have to be someone who fundamentally distrusts The System, who thinks that the Government and the Scientists and Big Ag are all in collusion with Big Vaccine to plunder your children’s well-being. You’d think these parents would be kind of worried about a huge, terrifying company that mostly traffics in antiquated gender roles and the plastic that gets wrapped around them. I just don’t understand how there exists a person who says to herself, “My child’s blood is going to be as pure as the driven snow to the detriment of basic public health standards and all that modernity holds dear”, and a minute later is like, “Let’s go all the way with this Frozen thing and let’s go to the Mothership to do it”. If you’re going to be an iconoclast, at least make it make sense. It’s bad enough to put the public health at risk; now you also have to hurt everyone’s brain while we try to figure out what kind of crazy you are?

No matter how many times you sing “Let It Go” alone in the car, it won’t change the fact that being anti-vaccine is sad and fundamentally violent. Yes, violent: it’s one group of people causing physical harm to others. If you’re that antisocial, that divorced from reality, and that incapable of understanding that there are other humans in the world, just stay home. The lines are shorter, and it’s a lot safer for the rest of us.

 

By: Sarah Miller, The Guardian, January 23, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Public Health, Science, Vaccines | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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