Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ignorance Born

I say the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is far too kind in this statement:

The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement ... The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. That's because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it's important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity.
The AAP didn't consult me when attenuating the kindness of the statement, starting with the demure failure to name the liar in question. Maybe that's fair enough, since for my purposes, declaring Michelle Bachmann an unhinged, god-drunk sociopath would still have been too kind. In a just world, she would personally incur all the suffering that her part in propagating this lie creates, but of course, we don't live in one of those worlds. We live in the sort of world in which Michelle Bachmann can stand on a very public stage on national television and not only be taken quasi-seriously as an American presidential candidate, but issue outright lies that enable the spread of preventable diseases that afflict and kill people.

Naturally, this being the sort of world I described above, Bachmann returned to national television the next morning to continue lying:
[O]n the Today show Tuesday morning, Bachmann went further, telling Matt Lauer, that a mother had approached her after the debate to recount the problems her daughter had after being vaccinated against HPV:
She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection. And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.
When Lauer pressed Bachmann on whether she would keep pushing on the issue, she answered that it has traction "with a lot of people and we'll see what people say."
If this seems like a crass appeal to popular ignorance ("very real concern," "people have to draw their own conclusions", "we'll see what people say"), it's only because it is exactly that. More than that, though, it is an attempt to foster popular ignorance on a specific topic, and an instance of the mechanism by which it expands: a lying crank with a budget cycles her way through the tee-vee channels repeating lies to gullible news celebrities, who at most can bring themselves to note the presence of a "controversy" while allowing the lies to pass on to mass audiences.

The danger of vaccines is as close to zero as the dangers of hypodermic needles can go. The danger of the diseases they prevent is immeasurably higher. Being brusque and direct with liars is better than enabling the suffering and death they work to spread. 

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