the upside-down world

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Some people live in a world where the flu doesn’t kill people, where the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the other devastating flu outbreaks apparently didn’t happen. A world where vaccines never saved the lives of millions of people. In fact, in this other world, the flu vaccine almost never works.

I’m referring to the world of an Arizona cardiologist named Wolfson. In addition to believing that flu rarely kills anyone, he repeats the scare tactics of the anti-vaccine groups. He lists the allegedly terrible ingredients of vaccines such as formaldehyde. He doesn’t mention that eating a single pear provides more formaldehyde than a vaccine. And a dried shiitake mushroom will give you way more than a pear. Why is no one raising the alarm about feeding pears to children?

He says toxic laundry detergent and fabric softeners currently kill more people each year than hepatitis A. Well, maybe. Hep A only kills about 70-80 people a year in the U.S. But how many people die each year from fabric softener? He doesn’t say or cite any source.

Dr. Wolfson says lack of exercise kills more people than polio. What an incredibly misleading thing to say. First of all, polio didn’t outright kill as many people as it afflicted them with disfigurement and paralysis, so he may be technically correct. One of my high school classmates (in my class of 60 kids) had a damaged leg due to polio. Parents were terrified that their children would get it. Thanks to Jonas Salk and the vaccine, it’s no longer a menace.upside

In the upside-down world, I guess polio didn’t happen like this. Dr. Wolfson doesn’t explain or provide any evidence whatsoever.

Right-siding the globe

I think there are two problems that turn the world upside down. The first is perspective. Fewer and fewer people remember the horror of polio, or of babies and children with whooping-cough. We probably don’t personally know someone who died from the flu. Out of sight, out of mind. From our comfortable middle and upper class perspective, we’re more concerned with lifestyle diseases brought on by a poor diet, obesity, lack of exercise, and so on. Yes, these are serious, debilitating problems and we should be concerned, but let’s not lose our perspective:

  • Forgetting about measles and whooping-cough, or pretending they aren’t harmful, won’t make them go away or make them less harmful.
  • We ought to be concerned about “chemicals” in the environment, but keep a perspective — hundreds of thousands are killed by malaria every year. Those malaria-stricken kids won’t be saved by “boosting the immune system” with a chemical-free diet and exercise. We have a privileged place in the world so we can worry about sitting too much and eating processed junk food.

The second world-tilting problem is what I’ll call reality testing. How do you decide what’s real and what isn’t regarding serious issues like disease? Do you test your beliefs with some sort of objective evidence? There is a disturbing portion of our population that doesn’t understand this concept of testing, and what constitutes compelling evidence.

  • It’s difficult, but we ought to train ourselves to base our beliefs on evidence, even when the evidence contradicts what we want to believe.
  • Don’t search for the evidence that supports what you want – look at the consensus of expert opinion, because that’s based on lots of testing and re-testing.

If you don’t do this, you’ll end up letting ideology trump reality (example: ignoring the overwhelming evidence for global warming) or leaving reality altogether (example: believing that thinking and wishing for something makes it true).

I took the time to write all this because many, many children will die if vaccines are ignored. If Wolfson thinks sugar-filled foods are bad, wait till he sees the next flu pandemic. We’ll count ourselves very lucky if we have a vaccine to counter it.

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