The recent outbreak of measles cases in Clark County, Washington – which has been linked to a plummeting vaccination rate in this hotbed of anti-vaccination activism – makes clear that conspiracy theories, fear, and misinformation know no partisan bounds. One of the first lessons to be learned from this “metastasis” of science denial is how dangerous it is not to fight back. Science denial isn’t limited to fringe groups – if it isn’t fought in the trenches of corporate interest and ideology, it can spread not only to the general population, but to government too, with horrible policy consequences. What is the best way to fight back against such rank ignorance? What we need most to fight science denial is a better understanding of how science works, and we should point out that scientific claims are based on evidence. We should not pretend that vaccines are 100 percent safe. There have been isolated cases of negative reactions, sometimes even leading to death. These, however, represent such a small risk – as compared to the much larger one of dying from childhood diseases like measles or whooping cough – that unless a child is immuno-compromised, it doesn’t make sense to forego vaccines. Indeed, because there are immuno-suppressed children out there, one might say that it is the obligation of the rest of us whose children are not in such a risk group to make sure that our own children are vaccinated.
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