Wednesday, 11 September 2013

How the Religious Right gives communicable diseases a chance to spread

The origins of an Epidemic: How Right-Wing Religious Communities Give Measles A Chance To Spread

At the end of last month, epidemiologists in Texas traced the source of a measles outbreak to a right-wing megachurch whose pastor has preached against vaccines. Even though about 98 percent of Texas residents are vaccinated against the highly contagious disease, the congregants who attended that evangelical church represented a pocket of unprotected people, and measles was able to spread rapidly.

The country’s epidemiologists are having difficulty tracking the outbreak because orthodox Protestants don’t usually seek treatment at the doctor after they become sick. The close-knit religious community believes in faith healing, and opposes medical interventions like vaccines because they undermine “divine providence.” And because they live among other orthodox Protestants, rather than being integrated among the rest of the country’s residents, they don’t benefit from the “herd effect” that helps prevent the spread of diseases — that is, the fact that vaccinating some people can end up protecting the unvaccinated ones around them
 The United Kingdom has also been struggling with a resurgence in measles cases over the past several years. The recent uptick hasn’t been linked to a particular religious community, but health officials do blame a widely-debunked study that claimed vaccines can cause autism. Thanks to that persistent myth, many parents still have misconceptions about the risks of inoculating their kids.
 The "widely-debunked study" was originally published by a Dr. Wakefield, causing a huge controversy.  It claimed that autism was caused by a specific vaccine which contained mercury.  Parents with autistic kids jumped on board hoping to find a cause for autism and possibly a cure.  A secondary industry arose of quacks selling cures for autism such as chelation.  The problem - vaccine is no longer used, when it was used it contained less mercury than a can of tuna and the controversy invoked a logical fallacy. 

Here's the problem.  The symptoms of autism show up right around the same time that kids are vaccinated.  The temptation is to blame the symptoms on the vaccination because they occurred at the same time. That's fallacy of the Undivided Middle, otherwise refuted as "correlation does not imply causation".

To cause the changes to brain structure that appear to be the actual causes of autism, these causes would have to occur when the brain was first developing, way before vaccine time. 

I've been sitting here trying to way of phrasing this so it doesn't come across as insulting, but I've come up empty.  Authoritarians love simplistic thinking and projection.  It's as simple as that.  They're thinking "if my kid has autism it must be somebody's fault, likely mine and that's unacceptable so I'm going to project it someplace else".  Blaming it on vaccines is a simple out.  The problem is to take it to its logical conclusion, they have to ban vaccines and damn the consequences to anybody else.  Their only concern is for their herd.  They don't care if the rest of us live or die.  As long as they isolate themselves, huddling in their megachurches and homeschooling their kids, they think they're safe.

They're not.

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