A Nation of Magical Thinkers

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Lancet Wakefield Article

Over the last week, I have had a nagging thought. How did we put a man on the moon? I know that part of this was a military imperative, as this went hand in hand with a Cold War with the Soviet Union. However, it required a certain level of technical and scientific sophistication that we have lost.

When the Russians launched Sputnik, that was a shot to the system. Americans could not believe it. They were put to shame by a nation that our propaganda told us was filled with peasants, barely able to read and write. However, here we were, behind them in scientific and exploration achievement. It became imperative to invest in good scientific education. And as a national policy, we more or less did that. Our high school students achieved, highly. This was also a time of an expanding economy when people were able to go to college and come out with little or no debt.

This was a time when things like chemistry sets were sold to children for Christmas. Those were the STEM toys of the age. So were biology sets. I grew up at the tail end of that, and I still remember the biology set I got at ten years of age. It was my favorite toy. Never mind that it came with some serious scientific kit in the form of a basic microscope, that could have sat in a high school lab. While I did not grow up in the United States, that toy reflected the status of that age. Encyclopedias were part of any serious middle-class household, and so were small libraries.

I grew up at a time when children got books regularly for gifts. I got all the classics and then some. I was an avid reader, and remain to this day. Nor was I reading just novels. I read deeply into history, sociology and these days I have added economics and political science. Philosophy was also one of those subjects I loved since those deep questions of why and how are critical to the human condition.

When I look at the present I have to ask. How the hell did we put a man on the moon? Leave the military imperative. It is a very valid question. Science and the understanding of it have increasingly been replaced by a serious case of the magical thinking. It is not just the religious kind, but also the magical thinking involving Crystals, new age thinking, and other…bullshit.

Some are couched in eastern medicine (which for the most part is misinterpreted by its western practitioners.) And quite a bit of this is seen around vaccines.

First off, they work. We know they work because children these days tend to live way beyond their first year. We still celebrate that critical birthday as if it was a momentous occasion and before vaccines it was. We still celebrate the fifth birthday the same way, and before the dawn of widespread use of vaccines, it was. Why? Many children, anywhere from one third to one half died before they came to these two momentous birthdays, from diseases that before vaccines either killed or left many disabled. So a child that reached these two milestones, without major consequences from diseases they at times caught, meant they would likely make it to adulthood. Do you need proof of this? Not only are the few statistics we have clear on this, but a visit to any long-standing cemetery with a children’s section will illustrate the point.

There is one disease that remains in two Petri dishes, one in Russia and the other in the US. Smallpox has not been seen in the world since vaccination made it extinct, for all intents and purposes. Those two remaining samples are there in case it somehow breaks out again, or as a form of Mutually Assured Destruction, not unlike nuclear weapons. We know that it killed ninety percent of native populations after the first contact since smallpox did not exist in the Americas. These days, if it broke into the wild, it would likely create a pandemic the size the world has never seen. Why? All the young, have never been exposed to it or vaccinated to it. In other words, they lack immunity. And those of us who got it as children, we may, or may no longer have it. The question better remains academic.

We are getting close to this point with Polio. Incidentally, where it remains, it does cause some havoc still.

But, but I got the flu from the flu vaccine! That was a Christmas miracle because they use a killed virus. It is enough to give you a reaction, but not enough to give you the disease. If you had a bad reaction, you may be allergic to the ingredients in the shot and may be in the approximate five percent who should not get it. Talk to your doctor. However, getting a reaction means your immune system is working. If you got the actual flu, well, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to work, so if you got the flu three days after the shot, guess what? You were exposed to the virus before you got the shot. It can be explained, and it does happen.

The complications from the actual flu can vary from just a lousy time at home all the way to death. Yes, the flu can kill you and will kill those with weakened immune systems, for example, a cancer patient in your life. But hey, more and more Americans are opting against the vaccine, some in the medical field. If you are one of those, please find a different career field. I really would love not to be put at risk by your very ill-informed decision. And you should know better!

But, but, autism! Andrew Wakefield started this one, and since he has lost his medical license. Moreover, the Lancet retracted his ill-conceived paper. Yet, he continues to do great damage. Yes, autism is a problem. We are seeing far more diagnosis of it these days, mostly because we are getting better at the diagnosis of it. We also know that it is likely something that develops in the womb, not due to a vaccine. Yet, this has spread like wildfire, and there is nothing you can say to people who believe this bullshit that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism. It has become something with the force of a religion.

So here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century. We need scientific literate people, but increasingly we are getting magical thinkers. It is not just vaccines. It is where it becomes most obvious. The planet is heating, which will bring a host of tropical diseases to areas where they previously did not exist. Yet, we have people that due to financial interest, or truly magical thinking, likely both, still deny the planet is warming.

How the hell did we get a man on the moon? These days I have my doubts we could.

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