The focus of this blog is science, though I occasionally wander into other topics. But in today's world science and politics intersects a lot – and mostly politics comes up woefully short on science. Case in point, the Green Party in the USA has a candidate for President of the US, Jill Stein, who may deny more science than your standard Republican. For example, the Jill Stein anti vaccine message should make every progressive run away.
Before I delve into Dr. Stein's anti-vaccine beliefs, I want to point out why I think that both those on the left and right need to be taken to task for their beliefs trumping science. If a politician denies scientific evidence to come to their own personal conclusions, then how can they be trusted to use real evidence to come to conclusions about anything else?
Do you want your leaders to use bad evidence or maybe invented evidence to start a war that killed thousands of young people and nearly bankrupted several economies? Well, that has happened recently, when President George W Bush used weak or invented intelligence reports to cause the world to go to war. Unsurprisingly, President Bush was also an extreme science denier.
There are many reasons why scientific facts shouldn't be a political volleyball, but they are, with people bouncing it back and forth until someone gets exhausted. To be fair, science isn't a volleyball. To most of us, it's a mountain that can only be moved with higher quality and quantity of evidence, not by badly done metaphors from the science deniers.
Let's take some time to examine the Jill Stein anti vaccine belief – it makes her really the same as your every day science denying Republican.
Science speaks in facts
In science, a fact is a repeatable, careful measurement, generally produced by experimentation through the scientific method. This is sometimes called empirical evidence.
Facts are the central building blocks of scientific theories and the scientific consensus. A scientific fact is an objective and verifiable experimental observation, which is the foundation of the scientific theory (which is not a guess).
But science is not dogmatic. Evolution is undeniably a fact, but every legitimate scientist will always say, "it is possible that given sufficient evidence, we could reject evolution." No, you aren't going to get that evidence through debate or rhetoric.
To overturn the fact of evolution, you will need to provide exhaustive and robust evidence, uncovered in numerous independent laboratories all across the world. And all of that evidence must be published, reviewed, repeated, and discussed for years.
Science may not be dogmatic, but it is glacial in speed (at least prior to climate change).
A politician can say that there is no evidence that humans cause climate change or that there needs to be more research on the safety of vaccines – but that doesn't make either point a fact. It just means they're lying or they are completely ignorant of the science.
So back to the Jill Stein anti-vaccine delusion – she's denying real science for whatever reason she can invent. Nevertheless, she's still lying or is extraordinary ignorant about science, all for political expediency.
Who is this Jill Stein?
Remarkably, Dr. Stein has an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and has received her MD from the same school. These are impressive credentials, except, as I've written before, we ignore the Appeal to False Authority. We ignore all credentials, because dear reader what matters? Right, evidence and only evidence.
Dr. Stein practiced internal medicine after getting her MD, and beginning to observe (remember, observations are the first step of the scientific method, but a few kms from being real science) some relationship between the environment and her patient's health issues. I'm not impressed, because there could be dozens of reasons why this could happen.
in fact, if she had all these "observations," why didn't she get together with an epidemiologist and figure it out? You know, like a real scientist would.
Despite being a physician for 25 years, she's published precisely one article; however, she isn't really an academic, so let's overlook this, despite her claims about what she knows.
The article listed a whole bunch of "chemicals" which harm our children. Her article (pdf) spends a lot of verbiage to claim that all these chemicals have some deleterious effect. Clearly some chemicals shouldn't be in our drinking water and food supply, so she's really not providing anything remarkable here, except to make "chemicals" as scary. That's not science.
Ironically, a lot of the article discusses mercury in the environment. And she clearly focuses on methyl-mercury (the actually dangerous form of mercury), not on the form of organic mercury that used to be in vaccines, thiomersal. And as we all know, thiomersal has little to no effect on humans, especially in the tiny quantities that used to be in vaccines..
The Jill Stein anti vaccine world
What has caused this kerfuffle? Well, it's some malarkey pushed by Dr. Stein in an answer to the Washington Post's question about whether she thought vaccines were harmful:
I think there’s no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases — smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication.
Like any medication, they also should be — what shall we say? -- approved by a regulatory board that people can trust. And I think right now, that is the problem. That people do not trust a Food and Drug Administration, or even the CDC for that matter, where corporate influence and the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of influence.
And there we go – vaccine denial. Long ago, I learned that when someone on the internet says "I believe in evolution (or vaccines or climate change or , but...," everything after the "but" is all that matters.
She sets up a false premise that somehow the FDA and/or CDC are influenced by Big Pharma. It's a ridiculous conspiracy theory, without merit, that is pushed by the science denying left over and over again.
If the FDA is beholden to Big Pharma, why do almost 90% of medications and devices get rejected by the FDA? Well, I guess that Big Pharma is very bad at controlling the FDA. Or maybe doesn't try at all.
On the other hand the CDC has nothing to do with approving vaccines, that's the responsibility of the FDA exclusively. The CDC may recommend vaccines, but only ones that the FDA has previously approved. And the CDC is made up of wonderful scientists and MDs who apparently have more knowledge about the real science of vaccines than Jill Stein will ever have living in her cloud of ignorance.
Worse yet, she's just parroting the lies of the anti-vaccine gang. The members of the FDA advisory committee on vaccines are all academic researchers from top level medical schools and research institutions. Since all Dr. Stein wants to do is pander to the leftists who have an ignorant fear of vaccines, she decided to not use that brilliant mind to actually see the facts about this.
Then Dr. Stein uses and argument that we all have heard a million times from the anti-vaccination cult:
As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved.
There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.
She "looked very closely" at those issues? I doubt it, because if she really did, she's say to herself, "self, there are no issues."
And here we go – attacking toxic substances like mercury. I guess she forgot the paper she wrote 15 years ago that clearly explained that the toxicity came from methylmercury.
There is no mercury in vaccines. There was no mercury in vaccines. Thiomersal is an ethyl mercury, which is not mercury. What happened, did she flunk organic chemistry before getting into medical school? Dammit Harvard, would you check the transcripts first!
I'm a cynic about politics. What's that old saying? "I can tell when a politician is lying when their mouth is moving."
But this is worse, it's ignoring her own education and experience, to get votes from the most unknowledgeable of American voters – along with others who are disgusted with her comments, it's clear she is just pandering.
She's even trying to vacuum up disaffected Bernie Sanders' voters by pushing these anti-science tropes. And to be fair, Bernie Sanders science credibility was marginal at best.
As blogger Matthew Facciani writes on Patheos,
Using her title as a medical doctor to pander to people’s misguided fears about vaccines is indefensible. The anti-vaccine movement is resulting in many preventable deaths and illnesses around the world. It’s absolutely deplorable for a presidential candidate to validate some of their misinformation. I wasn’t a big fan of Stein for other reasons, but this just makes me like her even less.
Facciani makes the basic point that Jill Stein, despite her admittedly high quality education, is misguided and an anti-vaccine shill. She ignores the basic fact that the anti-vaccine cult has killed children and caused illnesses in children who could have received vaccines that would have prevented it.
She's an MD, and her obligation to humanity is to save lives, not cause harm just to get elected. And she doesn't need to be elected to do that harm, she does it just by spouting off her ignorance. It's disgusting.
Some people want to push a sad and disturbing view point that it's just one issue. It's the totality of her viewpoints that matter. Well, she is anti-science on a lot of other topics, like GMOs and homeopathy, and she as an inexperience buffoon.
But she wants kids to be harmed because she hasn't actually taken the time to study the real research, which I assume she can because of her education and experience. Instead, to get votes, she takes an almost callous ignorance for what saves human lives.
Look, she's no different than Donald Trump in this respect.
I hope that Jill Stein supporters are damn proud that their candidate agrees with Trump on this basic principle to protect children's health. I love it when a far left candidate can see eye-to-eye with a far right candidate.
Oh wait, I think there's a Democrat in this race. Oh what's her name – I think she's known as Hillary Clinton. She's probably anti-vaccine too.
Oh, I was wrong. I hate it when a candidate panders to real science and grandmothers. But then again, Hillary Clinton "believes in science."