The whole autism-vaccine thing started with the publication of a paper in a highly respected medical journal, The Lancet, by Andrew Wakefield, claiming that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was associated with colitis and autism spectrum disorders. It was soon discovered that Wakefield failed to disclose multiple conflicts of interest and manipulated evidence. His paper was retracted by The Lancet, whose editor-in-chief described it as “utterly false” and said the journal had been “deceived.” Subsequent studies have established beyond doubt that Wakefield’s claims were wrong.
That should have been the end of it. But as most of you already know, it wasn’t. Instead it led to a host of claims that vaccines were a potential severe hazard to your children and a movement to warn parents against them, with its best-known spokesmodel being model/actress/playmate of the year Jenny McCarthy. Members of the movement are sometimes called “anti-vaxxers,” a moniker which has, to some, become synonymous with unqualified individuals embracing pseudo-science nonsense, while rejecting sound science by the truly qualified (the overwhelming consensus of actual scientists who work on the subject in question).
This phenomenon doesn’t plague just vaccinations. It’s a plague on climate science. In fact, the proliferation of pseudo-scientific approaches to climate is part of a strategy to stave off actually doing anything to prevent the worst from climate change. Because doing something means putting a stop to the root cause of man-made climate change, which is (according to the overwhelming consensus of actual scientists who work on the subject) pouring vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The main one is carbon dioxide (CO2), and it comes from burning fossil fuels. But there’s so much money in the fossil-fuel business that there are powerful and relentless efforts to create doubt about what we already know: climate is changing, it’s because of us, and it’s extremely, extraordinarily, tremendously dangerous.
But, new climate anti-vaxxers pop up all the time. The vast, vast, vast majority of them aren’t climate scientists, not even scientists. They haven’t been studying climate science for most of their lives, or for a decade or longer, or even many years, instead they “recently” started looking into it. But they’re ready to declare that the conclusions of the truly qualified (actual scientists, actual climate scientists even, those who have devoted multiple decades, even most of a lifetime to studying it) are wrong.
As for learning about climate science, the merest glance at the details of their opinions reveals that what they’ve been studying isn’t climate science, it’s climate pseudo-science. Most of their sources are like a playbook from the collected works of climate deniers. Much of their effort is dressed up in sciency-sounding terms and adorned with graphs to make it seem legitimate — that’s part of the strategy — but I’m sorry, Mr. climate anti-vaxxer, you’re really (truly) not qualified to evaluate the evidence or separate the science from the pseudo when it comes to climate, any more than Jenny McCarthy is about vaccinations.
So another thinks-he-knows-better-than-real-scientists pops up and makes his beliefs public. That’s not such a big deal. What is a big deal is that there are far too many climate anti-vaxxers who are also politicians. They’re senators, they’re congressmen, and a large number of them are running for president. Think what you care to think about democrats vs republicans, but know this: the vast majority of climate anti-vaxxer politicians, and all the climate anti-vaxxer presidential candidates, are republicans. Just a fact.
The greatest pity about the anti-vaxxer movement is that kids don’t get vaccinations. That doesn’t just threaten themselves, it threatens the people around them, because when they get measles, mumps, rubella, or other diseases those plagues can spread, sometimes even among the vaccinated.
The greatest pity about the climate anti-vaxxer movement is that we don’t get serious action. That doesn’t just threaten the climate anti-vaxxers, it threatens us all.
Plot idea: 97% of the world’s scientists contrive an environmental crisis, but are exposed by a plucky band of billionaires & oil companies.
— Scott Westerfeld