Anti-Vaccination Stupidity, Expertise, and Feeling "Empowered" by Risking Kids Lives

Mar 31 2009 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity, Medicine

Your sink is leaking all over your bathroom floor. Whose advice do you take on how to fix it - your plumber's or your accountant's? I suspect that the sane among us would typically go to the plumber. If we were suspicious about the first plumber's advice, we'd probably call another plumber. Similarly, the rational among us would not look to a plumber as a source for informed commentary on the economy, foreign affairs, or journalism.

We understand that expertise matters.

We don't consider experts to be infallible, we don't bow down and worship at their feet, or uncritically accept everything that every expert says, but we understand the importance of knowledge and experience. Experts are not born, they're made through a long process that involves spending enormous amounts of time and effort to study a field. It's been suggested that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to gain expertise in a field, and that's not a bad lowball estimate for a lot of fields.

There are many fields, though, where 10,000 hours is not enough training to be considered an expert. That much time and effort might be enough for people to consider you to be competent, but only just.

Take medicine, for example. Residency is an enormously intense period of training - most programs officially limit interns and residents to 80 hour work weeks, but in a lot of places that's treated the way most people treat speed limits. Even if you assume that residents only average 70 hours a week, the vast majority of doctors will have worked for far more than 10,000 hours before they sit for board certification exams. The intern who sees you on his or her first day on the job has probably spent at least four or five thousand hours on clinical rotations as a med student.

Want to get a Ph.D in any of the sciences? After you're done with your undergrad, you should plan on spending at least five years in grad school. After that, plan on spending another few years as a postdoc before you even think about applying for a tenure track Assistant Professor job somewhere.

With that in mind, I'd like to share the source of my current irritation with you.

On Sunday, the LA Times ran a little article about the plummeting vaccination rates among students entering Kindergarten in California. Officially, students are required to be vaccinated before starting school out there, but California has such a ludicrously broad exemption policy that "I don't feel like it" seems to be considered a valid reason to not vaccinate.

Apparently, quite a few parents don't feel like vaccinating their children. The trend is apparently particularly noticeable in upper-middle class neighborhoods. One of the reasons that was given in the article really caught my attention:

At Ocean Charter School in Del Rey, near Marina del Rey, 40% of kindergartners entering school last fall and 58% entering the previous year were exempted from vaccines, the highest rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Administrators at the school said the numbers did not surprise them. The nontraditional curriculum, they said, draws well-educated parents who tend to be skeptical of mainstream beliefs.

"They question traditional knowledge and feel empowered to make their own decisions for their families, not deferring to traditional wisdom," said Assistant Director Kristy Mack-Fett.

It makes me want to scream. Allegedly well-educated adults, responsible for the children they have brought into this world, apparently feel that modern medical science is just another form of "traditional wisdom". Apparently, they not only believe that their degrees in accounting, economics, communications, business, and basket-weaving provide them with a firm foundation for disagreeing with the members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, they feel more "empowered" when they do so.

These people "investigate" vaccines - probably at the prestigious University of Google - in order to find out what the benefits and risks are. They decide to accept the thoroughly debunked views that are largely advocated by a comedian/actor and a Playmate-turned-actress and disregard the position advocated by people who have dedicated their entire lives to the study of infectious disease in children. They believe that they've actually made an "informed" decision, and they feel better about themselves for being "involved" enough to make it. They feel good about risking the lives of children - their own and other people's - because they're bucking the "traditional wisdom" of the medical community.

Knowledge is power, but apparently ignorance is "empowerment".

(HT: Orac)

8 responses so far

  • dminor says:

    I suspect with numbers like that we're due for an outbreak soon. Can't wait. Why aren't we at least attempting to make stricter controls on vaccine exemptions in CA? Perhaps I have a new hobby.

  • Terry H. says:

    Ocean Charter is my child's school. I knew there were some children that were not vaccinated but 40 - 58%??!! I was just stunned. My child is vaccinated and hopefully will be immune during the epidemic that will no doubt come. The thing is you can't talk to these parents about vaccinations, they just believe what they believe. It's the flipside of the Christian Right, only with rich hippie-types! Maybe Obama can talk some sense into them, they worship Obama.

  • This is completely ridiculous, I can't the life of me understand why American is getting away from science, and back to superstition and pseudo-science. There is no evidence to support their believes, which sadly is becoming more typical.
    http://www.TheNewAtheist.com

  • KeithB says:

    At an internal engineering conference we had one of those generic motivational speakers (this guy was an owner of the Orlando Magic, or something) who extolled reading (non-fiction only!). This was fine but he continued by stating that reading 4-5 books on a subject makes you an expert in that field. I almost stood up and threw a penalty flag. He was in a room full of *real* experts on Semiconductor Devices and Processing, who could write Textbooks on the subject, and more importantly solve real problems in that area.
    There would be no way to read a few books and reach that level of expertise. Grr.
    (I did catch him in one mis-statement of fact. He claimed that George Washington never saw his wife during the Revolutionary War. By email, I provided the passage from Tuchman's "First Salute" mentioning that Washington took a several day detour on his way to Yorktown and visited Mount Vernon.)

  • suzi-Q says:

    Perhaps the rich hippy types aren't questioning the doctors' education. Perhaps they are questioning the doctors' ethics.
    Revelations about pharmaceutical research, financing and publishing hasn't "tarnished" medicine's reputation; they have corroded it.

  • dminor says:

    @#5
    So, the overwhelming majority of the medical community is part of a vast conspiracy to profit on the suffering of children? Really? You believe that? Wow. Beside the fact that such a conspiracy could not possibly work, you are ignoring the empirical evidence. The entire anti-vaccine movement is based on an unsubstantiated guess that has been thoroughly debunked.
    Perhaps you should investigate the main proponents of the anti-vaccine movement. Perhaps take a look at the indigo children.
    Beyond that, we cannot endanger others for our own sense of "empowerment" it is selfish and irresponsible. It is the moral equivalent of drunk driving IMHO.

  • dminor says:

    I just realized that I have provided no links to my evidence. I will attempt to provide them this evening once the little one is asleep, but if anyone would care to provide some, I'd be grateful.

  • dminor says:

    of course, i might just be talking to myself by now...