Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrity opinions

I'm really saddened to see that Robert De Niro has become an anti-vaxxer; he claims he isn't, but when you listen to him he simply parrots the same anti-vaccination falsehoods that the hardcore anti-vaxxers do (like Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield) He seems both unaware of his alignment to this movement and also to the widely debunked garbage that it's adherents use and which he is now regurgitating.

As human beings we all crave answers (especially around medical matters), we want to know that x causes y and the simpler the causation links the better; that way they're easier for us to understand and easier to follow. But unfortunately reality doesn't work that way, and the best way (so far) we have to determine if something is (probably) true or not is to study it using the scientific method. Even then, this only delivers a probability of truth, but 99.99999% scientifically true beats 0.00001% gut-feel every day of the week and on weekends too! But, if you're in the 0.00001% (as many parents of autistic children, like De Niro, are) then you will cling onto any and every thing you can in order to get a satisfactory (to you) explanation and when plausible hucksters like Andrew Wakefield (now a convicted criminal) come along then I can understand why some people feel compelled to listen and (the more gullible ones) may even take up the cause.

The problem for society is when the people in that 0.00001% are celebrities, but not scientists or even scientifically literate; then their voice is disproportionately large (compared to the actual evidence). The complexity and effort involved in understanding that evidence is quite often beyond them or not sufficiently valued by them, this combination of confidence, air-time and ignorance is lethal. Having people like De Niro spreading this message (however cautiously) means that children, somewhere, sometime, will now die unnecessarily. If I were him that fact would make me think more than twice before embarking on this course, and I'd certainly read a lot more (on both sides) than he clearly has before opening my mouth on the subject, I hope for his sake that he reconsiders his position before it's too late.


Archdruid Eileen said...

There is a factor with some good evidence of raising the chances of autism in children - the Father being over 50 years of age. De Niro was over 50 when his son was born. I'm not saying it caused the autism. But it's more likely than a link with vaccines that is not merely unproven but disproven.

Steve Borthwick said...

AE, Absolutely right, something like that or a combination of genetic and environmental factors is much, much more likely. I really feel sorry for the guy, it can't be easy, but he's going about finding answers entirely the wrong way and he will influence many others unfortunately.