The age of unreason

4 Oct

A news report yesterday stated that a new poll from the Florida Institute of technology College of Psychology and Liberal Arts had:

…found that 24 percent of respondents believe vaccines carry the blame for the wide range of developmental delays, known as autism spectrum disorders, and as a result, shy away from vaccinating their children. Another 19 percent said they were unsure about vaccines’ role.

Florida Today reports the Dean of College of Psychology and Liberal Arts called the results:

….a surprise given the number of federal studies exonerating the mercury preservative thimerosal, once used widely in children’s vaccines, but rarely, if ever, included in vaccines today.

I have no reason to doubt Dr. Kenkel’s surprise given that she is clearly not a big fan of quackery but I do wonder how she ever thought just the presentation of science in a journal would win the day. As Paul Offit has documented in Autism’s False Prophets and as discussed today in Science Buzz, the media bears a not insubstantial role in promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. That coupled with the scientific illiterates at AoA and doing the rounds pushing their new book does a great amount of damage. Indeed, recent posts at the ScienceBlogs Book Club from both Orac and myself discuss ways of reaching more people with clearer information about vaccines.

Is this part of a wider trend of unreason across the West? A 2005 CBS Poll found that slightly more people rejected evolution than accepted it (51% to 49%).

In a separate poll, CBS reported that 48% of people believed in ghosts, with 1 in 5 stating they had felt the presence of, or touched, a ghost.

A Sci-Fi Channel poll (probably not the most unbiased source!) in 2002 found that a staggering:

….72 percent of Americans believe the government is not telling the public everything it knows about UFO activity, and 68 percent think the government knows more about extraterrestrial life than it is letting on.

Its easy to just laugh these people off as harmless weirdos but it makes me worry for the state of the West. And when it starts to affect not just national but international health and international autism research then we have a big problem.

What do we do? Now that the vaccine/autism connection has been revealed to traverse the same ground as creationism, ufology and ghost hunting how do we get it back?

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