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Watch what happens when vaccinations drop by 10%
Don't believe a small reduction in immunization matters?
- Universities of South Florida and Pittsburgh publish an online immunization simulator.
- The simulator shows the stunning effect of even small drops in vaccination rates.
- It's not just anti-vaxxers threatening community health. There are economic and geographical factors as well.
While vaccinations are administered to individuals, the benefit they provide extends beyond the recipient to the entire community in which they reside. They strengthen community immunity, or "herd immunity," by making it harder for contagious diseases to spread through a group of people. When such illnesses encounter potential victims who've been vaccinated against them, they don't get anywhere, and their progression is blocked.
If enough people remain unvaccinated, rapid contagion through the community is more likely to occur. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), "vaccination rates of 96 to 99 percent are necessary to preserve herd immunity and prevent future outbreaks."
We're currently experiencing the worst outbreak of measles — a dangerous disease — since 1996 due to a decline in vaccination rates. A new online simulator from University of South Florida (USF) College of Public Health, in partnership with the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, shows how easily this can happen.
How the USF simulator works
Image source: FRED Web/USF
The online simulator is called "FRED" for "Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics." It utilizes actual Florida census data to create a visualization that models both actual current cases — each appears as a red dot — and the likely outcome if vaccination rates were to fall by 10 percent. While Florida-specific, these results could apply to any state, aside from local behavioral differences. It's pretty stunning.
Anti-vax sentiment, income level, and geography
Image source: Yakobchuk Viacheslav/Shutterstock
The CDC recommends children under 24 months in age be vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and varicella (chicken pox). The most recently published information from the CDC finds that U.S. vaccination rates for these diseases was low enough in 2017 to be a problem for herd immunity:
- ≥3 doses of poliovirus vaccine — 92.7%
- ≥ 1 dose of MMR (the combined vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella) — 91.5%)
- ≥3 doses of HepB — 91.4%
- ≥1 dose of varicella vaccine — 91.0%
There are a few factors leading to the break down of what's been a highly effective worldwide vaccination effort that's wiped out childhood smallpox and nearly eliminated malaria and polio.
The anti-vax movement, which has become increasingly widespread due largely to endorsements by misinformed celebrities, has grown around solidly disproven links between the MMR vaccine and autism. It's behind the measles outbreak that's emanating outward from anti-vax communities such as the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York. As of this writing, there have been 839 nationwide cases confirmed by the CDC. Sixty-six of these were in Brooklyn and 41 in Rockland.
The CDC has also found that many parents are skipping vaccines for their children due to the medicine's cost. Among lower-income groups, vaccinations have dropped precipitously for vaccines other than Hep B:
- For Medicaid children, children are anywhere from 2.5 to 15 percent less likely to be vaccinated, depending on the vaccine.
- For uninsured children, not surprisingly, the numbers are far worse, as they're 14.7 to 30.3 percent less likely to be immunized.
There's also a geographic component. Children living outside metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are 2.6 to 6.9 percent less likely to be vaccinated.
Why vaccines don't cause autism
Perhaps the most challenging issue is the anti-vaxxers, since they seem amazingly resistant to better, more accurate information about the safety of vaccines and the damage done to their communities by opting out of herd-immunity efforts.
The remaining factors are largely an issue of access to vaccinations, both in terms of local availability — such as public school-based programs implemented in the past — and cost. Vaccinations are an important area in which the current U.S. healthcare system is clearly falling short.
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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