FOR THE PAST MONTH and a half I've been commenting on posts I swear have been written under a Conspiracy of the Unsane. And once we get to the comment thread, the topic of the post means not a whit. Any one of the topics below will serve as a momentary topic, because every one of those topics, if not in the post, will be introduced, addressed, mischaracterized and eviscerated... in the threads. So let’s talk about a few of those things, shall we?
GUNS: According to our resident experts in Constitutional Law and deep-fried breaded okra, any attempt to stop the slaughter is an un-American assault upon the Second Amendment (to the Constitution of the USA, for those of you having trouble tracking a sentence written in complete phrases), not to mention an assault upon, and an insult directed toward, all law-abiding gun-owning Americans. Being both one of the latter, and a believer in reducing the slaughter now, I take some umbrage at being lumped in with the mouth-breathing cousins of our writers.
It's the people we need to deal with, not the weapons, says one fellow... it's the hardened criminals and bat-stink crazies who need to be under control and not allowed to have a gun. Now that’s a straight up, stand-and-deliver statement. That statement is immediately followed by an anti-background check tirade coupled with insistence that psychiatric evaluations must not be shared among law enforcement agencies because it will make them more able to stop the people who cross jurisdictions to buy guns they shouldn’t be allowed to own. As for stopping the practice of waiving all requirements for purchasing a gun at a gun show... not a chance. It would inconvenience him and interfere with his right to buy any gun he wants, anytime, anywhere. And that seems to be the bottom line. We can stop the slaughter tomorrow if we can do it completely transparently to their “enjoyment” of the fruits of the sacred Second Amendment, which brooks, by God, no interference with the rights it confers... which is, of course, utter hogwash.
All the above, he insists does not negate his initial statement, but of course it does. There is no way to keep guns out of the hands of the crazies, criminals and all the rest without some inconvenience... and he knows it. But what he doesn’t seem to know is... his gun “rights” are not unlimited and they’re not inviolate. He can’t buy any gun he wants anytime, anywhere anyway... sorry – he just can’t. The Right to Bear Arms is not unfettered and it’s not unlimited, and the right to bear arms instantly is definitely not more important than twenty or thirty thousand lives... every freakin’ year.
VACCINES: This is part of a completely ridiculous anti-science meme running through America. It’s not new, but in an excess of irony... the internet seems to have strengthened and expanded the whole stupidity. The anti-vaxxers in particular appear to have lost all cognitive ability. They cannot evaluate relative risk, they don’t get that no medication ever made has zero risk attached, and they believe, passionately and in the face of overwhelming evidence, that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are intended to prevent.
There are two groups represented in this murderous little war on children. Group one is led by the devotees of a defrocked British doctor who faked a study in an attempt to create a place in the medical marketplace for a drug he was touting and in which he was heavily invested. His claim to have demonstrated a connection between a tripartite vaccine and autism found aficionados among the parents of autistic children. Their campaign to eliminate vaccinations soon began the erosion of the world-wide vaccination program that had so successfully begun quashing the “childhood diseases” which had been killing hundreds of thousands of children around the world. They also won thousands of converts among parents of autistic children, who began tearing apart the bare beginnings of learning what actually does cause autism. And children began to die again... even in communities where not a case of measles or pertussis had been found for years.
This group supports this no longer a doctor fraud by paying him to travel and speak at anti-vaxx rallies and gatherings. Their continuing worship of this charlatan is made possible only by their utter ignorance of molecular biology and the germ theory of disease (in fact, some of them actually reject the latter). However, as in every instance of rejection of actual science in favor of belief, their lack of actual knowledge fazes them not a whit.
The second group of anti-vaxxers is not concerned whether or not vaccines cause autism, except as they are concerned with a constellation of alleged secondary effects of any and all vaccines. Defrocked British doctors are of no interest to them. These folks have fixated on the stuff of vaccines, those materials of which vaccines are made that would, in different strength or concentration be injurious or even deadly to humans. Beginning with the vaccines that contain live attenuated viri/viruses, and ending with the most minuscule amounts of extraneous matter within the batches, these folks simply attack on the basis that “any poison is poison” and “the FDA (which they will insist is not qualified to make such a judgment) has not established a safe minimum dose.” Once again, a complete lack of understanding of the biology of human response to either disease or poison, an utter ignorance if you will, is essential to belong to this group. Either group will tell you, with a total inability to recognize the irony, it was the sanitation efforts of the early twentieth century that solved the problems of diseases against which we vaccinate. The truth is, that some diseases were eradicated, or at least vastly diminished in that way... but measles, mumps, pertussis, influenza, shingles and all the other diseases we vaccinate against don’t come from garbage dumps (well, yellow fever does, but not up north).
The upshot is that little by little, we’re reintroducing these diseases to a population that hasn’t seen them in two generations or more. We’re losing our herd immunity, and we’re gonna regret that... a lot.
GLOBAL WARMING: I had stopped writing this post about halfway thru the Vaccine Section. Then I watched a video by a really smart guy named Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s an astrophysicist, among other things, and he has a most eclectic view of science. In other words, Dr. Tyson a lot about virtually every scientific discipline. In the midst of a tall, good humored tirade against science that almost hid the anger behind it, he pointed out that people at his level (i.e., PhD and Dr. Sci. carriers) don’t bother to discuss global warming any more. Like biologists and evolution, they simply accept it as the way thing s are and test their hypotheses against it as the factual base cause of, as Flip Wilson would put it, “The Land of Whut’s Happenin’ Now.” Biologists, atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, and a host of other disciplines simply include the changes caused by Global Warming as baseline data.
Dr. Tyson had a bit to say about folks who plot their next anti-science assault using their smart phones. He recognizes irony with no trouble at all, does Dr. Tyson.
Still, I let it ride... then came a NASA JPL Lecture by a climate scientist, and the data he presented was mind-boggling. F’rinstance, at 400 parts per million, the average amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is almost fifty percent higher than it has been in eight hundred million years, and there’s no reason to believe that it doesn’t go farther back than that (but we have no snow or ice older), and there’s no reason to believe it won’t keep climbing (although it is slowing). He also pointed out that the Global Warming “hiatus” made famous by Gather’s resident climate deniers (and a few who are actually famous, and who are parroted by the Gather folk)... um-m-m-m, how to put this... Oh, I know – there isn’t any such thing. It’s bald-faced cynicism at its finest. If it weren’t for 1998 (the warmest year on record) there wouldn’t be a discussion at all. Although every year of the top ten came after 1998, they are all slightly cooler than 1998. It is not unlikely that with new satellite data collection underway, 1998 will soon be dethroned.
Not long ago, I posted a similar piece, noting that much of this came from the religious right, people who believed that belief can trump facts. They believe, in the face of millennia of facts to the contrary, that creationism, by whatever name it is called, should be taught on an equal footing with science. Staring eyeball to eyeball with a scientist who has spent a lifetime figuring out climate, geology, astrophysics, general and special relativity, tectonic drift and any of a dozen other scientific basic truths, they will declare that “God did it... and he can undo it... in the blink of an eye... either way.” And of course we can’t forget the woman who got into a shouting match with Bill Nye (yeah, I know, he grabbed the wrong map during a debate), insisting that the Moon is self-luminescent. God put a night-light in the sky, by dam’, and he didn’t do it by reflecting the Sun. Well, actually...
So let’s recap, shall we?
The right to own guns is already proscribed, the SCOTUS has said more of the same could be OK, and the deaths of kids in bunches has made me just a tad insensitive to all the whining about interference and inconvenience.
We’re reintroducing every disease we were close to controlling to the American population, and we’ve taught some very nasty people in the third world that it’s not that hard to get people to believe that the few and far between bad reactions are worse than the thousands of deaths and chronic illnesses that come from the diseases. So the death tolls in the third world rise apace. The war on children (waged in large part by rabid anti-abortioners) is becoming an accelerating success.
Global Warming, General and Special Relativity, Evolution and Gravity are all scientific realities. They are facts, and we need to stop trying to get our kids to learn otherwise, and our politicians to try to vote ‘em down.
One last note – it’s time and past time for newspapers and broadcast news to stop treating science like politics. This is not a debate between equivalencies. There is no equality between scientific fact and uneducated opinion. The charge that scientists are afraid of having someone disagree with them is industrial strength sheep dip. It’s not “disagreement” we fear... it’s ignorance-based opinion displayed as equivalent to the facts first presented. People who have no idea what’s real read or listen to both and come to believe there are two equal but competing scientific views. There are not two equal competing views, and we need to quit telling people there are, or we need to present the science news as no more informational than the cartoon in the back of the paper. As the President said, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” We can debate politics and baseball all we like, but we need to teach science.