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The Backlash Against Anti-Vaxxers Is Going Too Far
Proposals to completely eliminate parental choice over whether their kids will be vaccinated can backfire and drive more parents into the anti-vaccination camp.
The backlash against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children rose to a crescendo a few weeks ago after a not particularly large outbreak of measles began in Disneyland and spread to several states and Mexico. But just as excessive fear of vaccines is leading a small number of parents in some geographic pockets to not vaccinate or to pick and choose and delay vaccination rather than follow medically recommended schedules, some of the backlash against these parents is excessive as well. For example, there are calls to eliminate the right of parents to opt their kids out of mandatory school vaccination programs based on religious or philosophical grounds. Now the backlash against that backlash has begun, with predictable and potentially dangerous results.
Several states are considering elimination of the opt-out option (except for medical reasons). California, which has pockets of low childhood vaccination and where the recent measles outbreak was worst (126 cases out of a total of 142), is one. Another is Oregon, which has the highest statewide exemption rate for kindergarteners, at 7 percent. But the Oregon state senator who made that proposal has withdrawn it, after it provoked an entirely predictable firestorm of opposition from strident anti-vaxxers like Andrew Wakefield and Robert Kennedy Jr., and from a lot of other more moderate people who just don’t like the idea of government taking away parental autonomy.
The proposal to ban religious and philosophical exemptions is an understandable reaction to the fear of diseases like measles and whooping cough that certainly deserve concern. These diseases can do serious harm. In rare cases they can kill. But banning parental choice is an emotion-based overreaction that goes beyond what is necessary to manage the risk to the general public caused by parents refusing to vaccinate their kids. Worse, it’s an overreaction that may make things worse — by firing up and broadening resistance to mandatory vaccination programs in the first place.
The solution to under-vaccination of children need not entirely eliminate choice. It just has to make opting out harder, which will reduce the number of people exercising that choice. That will get enough kids vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, the level at which enough people are resistant to a disease that it can’t spread. For personal belief exemptions, government could require parents to provide a letter describing their beliefs, and evidence from their lives that they apply those beliefs to how they live. For religious beliefs, people should be required to submit a letter from their priest or rabbi or imam or spiritual leader specifying how their faith precludes vaccination (few do) and evidence from their lives that they are living consistent with those religious beliefs. (These standards are already applied in court cases when such conflicts get that far.)
Economic influence could also be applied. People who drive poorly, or who smoke, pay more on their insurance to cover the costs of those higher-risk behaviors. States can encourage insurance companies to do the same thing for the higher risk posed by unvaccinated kids. Charge parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids higher insurance premiums. It is entirely justified that government require insurers to do this. Communities pay enormous costs to control outbreaks.
And here’s a big one. Personal belief exemptions based on rejection of solid medical evidence about vaccine safety should be rejected outright. School systems have to set policy based on what medical experts recommend. People may disagree with what the evidence says about the minimal risks of vaccines, but school systems are simply not the venue for that fight.
Research suggests that making it harder to opt out discourages many from doing so. In some states that have recently made it harder, the opt-out rate has dropped. In Washington, it went down 25 percent simply by requiring parents to provide a note from a doctor saying they’d been educated on the issue. In Florida, Texas, and Minnesota, where the rules haven’t changed, but the administrative burden of opting out is higher, fewer parents do than in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Missouri, where it’s easier.
So the evidence suggests that it’s not necessary to entirely eliminate the opt-out option to move vaccination rates toward herd-immunity levels. But as the excessive fear of the vaccines themselves demonstrates, when it comes to the perception of risk, evidence isn’t everything. Our perceptions of risk are shaped not so much by the facts alone as by how we feel about those facts, based on several instinctive and emotional characteristics. In general, we worry more about risks that are imposed on us by the seemingly selfish actions of others, like the risk imposed on the wider community by parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. And we worry disproportionately about risks that are all over the news, like measles, even though the scale of this one outbreak was tiny.
But as understandable as these risk misperceptions may be, when our fears don’t match the facts, our reactions can get us into trouble all by themselves. Excessive fear of vaccines creates risk, as outbreaks of measles and whooping cough around the world have shown. Excessive fear of vaccine resistance can also be dangerous. As Oregon has demonstrated, the outright elimination of parental choice can poison trust in government, which could potentially drive some parents still ambivalent about vaccination into the anti-vaccine camp.
Yes, it needs to be much harder for parents to opt their children out of vaccination. But as the backlash to the Oregon proposal has shown, in the name of civil liberty and in the interest of general support for government public health programs, including vaccination, limited choice must remain.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.