What I find most troubling these days in the political arena is that complex issues, many involving science, are being argued at a high-decibel level by people who couldn't even spell "science" if you spotted them the first five letters.
For years, many people have denied the phenomenon of climate change, and while most have now accepted its existence, some begrudgingly, many people claim that there's no way that mankind has anything to do with it. The dunce Sean Hannity thinks that there's no such thing as global warming, and even if there were, it would be caused by the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was able to hide from us. As technology writer Daniel Lyons wrote recently in Newsweek, "America's top scientists face political opposition from a crowd that couldn't pass high school algebra."
We won't talk about evolution, which even the Catholic Church accepts as factual. Instead, let's look at the one-third of America's parents who won't have their kids vaccinated against the H1N1 flu, because many are afraid that their kids might "catch" autism.
Now, autism is a serious matter, although (God help me for sounding like Tom Cruise) I believe the claim that it affects one in every 100 kids is wildly overstated. And the idea that it's caused by vaccinations is not only aggressively ignorant; it's dangerous. Thanks to the Internet and a whole lot of dumb-ass people who have kids, the belief that the preservative thimerosal (which is in about 60 percent of the doses available to the public) somehow leads to autism is widely entrenched, despite the fact that all of the most-exhaustive studies found absolutely no evidence to back it up.
Out in front of this claim is former Playboy body-exposer Jenny McCarthy, whose child is autistic. I'm sorry for the kid, but, people, this is Jenny McCarthy. I'd sooner listen to Joseph McCarthy. Or Charlie McCarthy. Or Charlie Sheen.
Overpaid scab-picker Rush Limbaugh jumped in the other day, quoting some doctor who said that the H1N1 vaccine hasn't been tested enough, and that there may be some side effects. That's certainly possible. It would be great if we could test flu vaccines over a matter of years. The only problem is that flu strains are unique, and a new one pops up every year. If every vaccine were tested over a matter of years, no one would ever get the vaccine. And, generally, the worst thing that can happen with a bad vaccine is that the recipient gets the flu. (That's another thing: The long-held belief that some people contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome from the mass swine-flu vaccinations of the 1970s is also not true.)
Alas, to hear Limbaugh rail, we're to believe that the black helicopters will be circling overhead, with jackbooted thugs rappelling down, armed with hypodermic needles. He thinks it's your God-given right as an American to let your kids get gut-heaving sick rather than take any medicine from the Obama administration.
There are some parents who don't think that the H1N1 flu will be worse than any other flu, so why bother? I actually agree with them, but they're in the minority of the abstainers. The vast majority of those who are rejecting the vaccine are doing so out of wrongheaded politics or an empty-headed misunderstanding of science.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I won't be getting the vaccine. To the best of my knowledge, I've never had the flu. Or if I had it, it was so mild that I didn't know. I'm not one of those people you despise, the ones who say, "Oh, I never get sick." I am, instead, one of those people who almost never get sick. Big difference. I get a cold maybe once every two or three years. It lasts for a couple of days, and then it dies of boredom.)
It's certainly these parents' right not to vaccinate their kids against the flu. But what happens when something more serious comes along? Would it be OK for them to risk having their kids contract, for example, cholera in an effort to avoid their catching autism (which, just to remind you in case you missed it, IS NOT POSSIBLE!)? You've got parents now who shouldn't be allowed outside without a helmet on who think that it's not only OK to keep their kids from getting vaccinated against childhood diseases, but they also want to sue school districts to let their kids go and infect those kids whose parents live in the 21st century. It amounts to the willing endangerment of others through the adherence to a God-forsaken mash-up of junk science and hater politics.
To end on a somewhat lighter note, I want the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Columbia School of Journalism to join forces to find the person who first used the term "flu-like symptoms," then I want that person to be identified and then clubbed. What does that mean, "flu-like symptoms?" Either they have the flu, or they don't. Force that overpriced medical professional to make a call. I don't want to hear that phrase on ESPN or on the local news or anywhere. It's dumb.
While you're at it, get rid of "viable alternative." If it's really an alternative, then, by definition, it's viable.
And get your vaccination. The only snot I want on my shirt is my own.