Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Repealing Science

Funny how so many of us believe defying nature in how we treat the environment or rail against the laws of physics, biology and chemistry is disturbing to nature. Here’s the shocking news; nature could care less.  Doesn’t matter what we believe, what we do or what damage we wreak; nature started with nothing, has endured collisions with asteroids, witnessed huge volcanic eruptions, nuclear blasts and catastrophic military conflicts… without an “emotional” or “punitive” reaction. Nature just is. The laws of physics, biology and chemistry just are. They don’t get repealed or amended by popular or electoral college votes or orders from prelates or presidents. Nature just doesn’t care.
So when some leaders declare that global climate change is a hoax, fomented by the Chinese to force us to deploy capital to fight pollution thus making us less competitive against them, nature doesn’t rail or react. She (had call nature something, so…) doesn’t smirk or laugh or punish. We pollute, and the laws and physics and chemistry just react in accordance with those rather immutable laws of nature.
Storm surges rise. Global temperatures rise. Ice melts. Insects migrate. Disease follows. Drought attacks some places while floods decimate others. Animals and people die. Farms dry up and blow away, forcing hordes to migrate simply to survive. If the Biblical interpretation that God would never permit another global catastrophe following the Great Flood were indeed correct, then global climate change, and the rather obvious damage it has already caused, would have long since been have stopped in its tracks. God does not seem to be complying with this human mandate. But wait, there’s another area where the new administration seems hell-bent on repealing science.
With the President-elect’s appointment of vaccine-skeptic, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to lead a commission of inquiry as to the safety of our program to vaccinate children, a rather unsubtle attempt to show that vaccines cause autism despite decades of hard research showing no evidence to support this position, it’s a pretty strong slap in the face to pediatricians sworn to do their best to keep babies and children alive and safe. And no one expresses the frustration of the medical community at this attempt to repeal science better than does New England pediatrician, Dr. Daniel Summers, in his January 11th Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post. Here are some salient excerpts:
“The idea of creating a commission to study one of the most settled subjects in medicine confirms a gnawing fear I’ve had since the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign. Drowned out by the noise of his outrageous statements and intemperate tweets is the fact that Trump believes vaccines cause autism. He has loudly proclaimed that misinformed belief for years, long before he was ever considered a serious candidate for the White House.
“He is unambiguously wrong about this. In the words of my colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics in a statement released shortly after Trump’s meeting with Kennedy, ‘Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives.’
“To believe otherwise requires a couple of different things. First, it requires the rejection of a huge amount of medical science. Not merely one study or two, but study after study after study confirms that vaccines are safe, and that there is no connection with autism. If that mass of evidence doesn’t convince you, what can medical science produce that will? If you reject those data, which data can be found that will somehow prove trustworthy?
“But the implications of a vaccine-autism connection go beyond that. If vaccines genuinely cause autism like their opponents claim, one of two things must be true of pediatricians like me who administer them. Either we are too incompetent to discern the relationship between the two, or we are too monstrous to care. One cannot believe that autism is related to vaccination without simultaneously indicting the overwhelming majority of physicians, nurses and other medical providers in this country. Even your local Rotary Club is in on it.
“By saying that immunizations cause autism, Trump is training his sights on me and every other provider who delivers the same care I do.
“I encounter the effects of the anti-vaccine movement on a regular basis. Mine is an office that asks parents to agree to protect their children by having them immunized according to the standard schedule for early childhood, but there are a few shots they can opt out of later. Despite ample evidence of its safety and efficacy, many parents choose not to give their children the vaccination against the carcinogenic human papillomavirus, leaving their sons and daughters at increased risk of several different cancers. When I ask why, they mention vague things they’ve heard about ill effects…
“Preventing measles isn’t a matter of avoiding some minor ailment. The disease killed over 100,000 people in 2015. Even in patients who recover there is a risk of severe brain damage years after getting over measles. Why on earth would parents opt for that risk when there’s a safe way of protecting their children? Why allow your son or daughter to remain vulnerable to the potentially devastating effects of invasive Haemophilus influenzae or diphtheria?
“If enough parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, the herd immunitythat protects the nation as a whole will wane. There were a record number of measles cases in 2014, the majority in people who were unvaccinated. Does anyone want to share the experience of the Spanish parents whose unvaccinated son died of diphtheria in 2015, after that country had been free of the disease since 1986?
“Of course not. But vaccine-preventable illnesses will only stay at bay if parents are appropriately reassured that the means of preventing them are safe and effective.
“Will that be the conclusion of a Trump-created, Kennedy-led commission? I have absolutely no confidence that it will be. The mere creation of the commission, meant to investigate a question that has already been asked and answered many times over, is ominous, even aside from the anti-vaccine agenda both men unmistakably share. Given Trump’s disdain for facts that inconveniently conflict with his opinions, to believe the commission will land on the side of vaccination requires an optimism bordering on the deranged.
“Instead, what is likely to happen is that confidence in one of the greatest benefits to public health in human history will be further eroded. Its findings will certainly be as unfounded, perhaps fraudulent, as the anti-vaccine efforts that have come before it. But this time they will bear the seal of the President of the United States.”
So if this happens, how many children will die or become permanently disabled? How much will diseases that we have under control reignite and spread into epidemic proportions again? How many new diseases will be left without a search for an effective inoculation? But as I said, if a few people die… even a few million… it just is. Nature just applies her rules, and goes on… without emotion, judgment or concern. Her rules always apply. No exceptions. Ever.
Outgoing President Obama put it pretty well, using this point in several speeches: “And those aspects of [Donald Trump’s] positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality he will find shaken up pretty quick. Because reality has a way of asserting itself.” Hey Donald and Robert F, take a look over your shoulder. That’s just reality trundling along behind you… you might call it “nature.” And she doesn’t care what you do. But I do and so should the American public.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while life as we know it will suffer if we continue to pretend that the laws of nature are different from what they truly are, nature will continue to remain totally disinterested in the outcome.

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