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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

“What Makes Rand Paul Strange”: Throwing A Newt’s Eye Of Quack Science Into The Vat

Senator Rand Paul believes that vaccinating children should be up to the parents, an increasingly unpopular view after recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and other diseases. And throwing a newt’s eye of quack science into the vat, the Kentucky Republican promotes the myth that these shots put children at risk.

The political results have been toil and trouble.

It’s not easy being a politician and a principled libertarian. One who believes in the primacy of individual freedom often takes stances far from the mainstream. It is the true libertarian’s lot to be unconventional, to bravely accept unwanted consequences in the name of liberty. By not going that extra philosophical mile — and adding junk science to the mix — Paul comes off as merely weird.

He was already fighting blowback when he ventured into an interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans.

“Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” he responded to a question about whether vaccinations should be voluntary. “I don’t understand … why that would be controversial.”

Does he not? Then he again gave credence to crazy talk of healthy children ending up with “profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated.

When the chat moved to taxes and Evans challenged some of his statements, he shushed her as though she were a little girl. “Calm down a bit here, Kelly,” he said.

Clearly, it wasn’t Kelly who needed calming.

By the end, Paul had accused Evans of being argumentative and blamed the media for distorting positions he had left purposely vague. Not his finest hour.

A real libertarian wanting his party’s presidential nomination has only two choices:

1) Come clean and acknowledge the cost side of your beliefs. If you think parents have the right not to vaccinate their children, agree that more Americans might come down with preventable diseases as a result. Provocative, perhaps, but honest.

2) If you don’t want that controversy tied around your neck, say that you have changed your mind on vaccinations and now hold that they should be required. Not totally honest but at least coherent.

Put into practice, libertarianism can make a mess. If parents have the right to endanger others by not getting their children immunized, why can’t individuals decide whether they’re too drunk to drive?

Paul does say that it’s a good idea to have one’s children vaccinated. Yes, and it’s a good idea to drive while sober.

Libertarian purity led Paul to question a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act some years ago. He argued that the law interferes with a private business owner’s right to discriminate.

Paul said he abhors racism, and we have no reason to doubt him. But his position, though principled, would have left the disaster of Jim Crow intact.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow asked Paul this: “Do you think that a private business has a right to say, ‘We don’t serve black people’?”

His answer meandered along a familiar path. Private individuals have a right to hold hateful views, Paul responded, but he resented the question because it implied that he shares them. Actually, the question could not have been more straightforward.

Paul gets credit for letting the liberal Maddow interview him. And his libertarianism on other issues — for example, his opposition to the war on drugs — serves him well.

But he does himself no good by continually throwing smoke bombs at questioners trying to pin him down — changing the subject and accusing them of mischaracterizing his position. If Paul thinks the price of individual freedom is worth paying, he should concede what that price is.

Otherwise, he ends up where he is, stirring a boiling cauldron of weird politics.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Measles Outbreak, Rand Paul, Vaccinations | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

“I Am A Scientist, Man, But A Conservative One”: Vaccine Skepticism Isn’t A Conservative Problem, But It’s A Problem For Conservatives

Because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently quarantined a nurse in a large tent when he thought she might have had Ebola, you might have assumed that he of all people would seize upon a measles outbreakattributable to a movement of anti-vaccine reactionariesto lecture parents for putting children at risk. But when pressed to take a position on the view that parents should vaccinate their children, Christie hedged. “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official,” he said. “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.”

It’s tempting to attribute his sudden fondness for “balance” to lessons he over-learned during the Ebola panic he helped nurture. But it’s also mistaken.

Vaccine skeptics don’t mirror climate change deniers, who are overwhelmingly conservative and amplified by vast wealth. But the anti-vaxx movement nevertheless presents a greater political problem for Republicans than Democrats, who, like President Obama, are unafraid to make explicit declarations about the importance of vaccinating children. By and large, Republican politicians don’t tout their own ignorance of vaccine science or use it to shield themselves from substantive questions about immunology, public health, or child rearing. Vaccine skepticism and climate change denial are, again, more different as reactionary movements than they are alike.

But two facts about vaccine skeptics and the risks they pose make it difficult for Chris Christie and perhaps other Republicans to treat anti-vaxxers as brusquely as he’s happy to treat unionized teachers in Newark.

It’s not that Republicans must pretend to believe that vaccines cause autism. But a large, motivated population of vaccine skeptics begs for interventions Republicans can’t easily get behind. The two most straightforward ways to increase vaccination rates or otherwise reduce the risk of losing herd immunity are: Imposing government mandates and stigmatizing the white, affluent people who comprise the core of the anti-vaxx movement.

Hectoring white people and imposing mandates on their families doesn’t fit comfortably in the GOP wheelhouse these days, and Christie’s awkward walkback underscores the bind that places on conservatives exquisitely.

Christie’s office: “The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

Shorter Christie: I am a scientist, man. But a conservative one.

Conservatives and liberals are both overwhelmingly of the view that childhood vaccines carry important benefits; conservatives, however, are inherently skeptical of government interventions of any kind. Thus, Republican politicians who lean too heavily on the state action, even in the realm of something as essential to the common good as immunization, will run into problems.

A 2014 study by Dan Kahan for Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project found that people with left-leaning political outlooks are likelier to support restricting non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccine requirements, likely reflecting “an ideological predisposition against government regulation independent of any ideological sensibility specific to childhood vaccination.”

This tendency might not hold if anti-vaxxers existed on the fringes of political life, or were overwhelmingly of foreign origin, or were monolithically liberal. Opposition to government intervention can be both reflexive and selective. But the available evidence suggests vaccine skeptics tend to be white, educated, affluent, and, per Kahan’s study, politically diverse.

It’s not that Republicans are in thrall to vaccine skeptics, but it can be difficult for them to confront vaccine skeptics in ways that don’t alarm conservatives for other reasons. And taken to an extreme, it becomes hard to tell the difference between the two.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 2, 2014

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Conservatives, Vaccinations | , , , , , , , | 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

   

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