The anti-vaxxers, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, whether for religious principles, the anti-science belief that vaccinations cause autism or sheer orneriness, create terrible risks that childhood diseases will resurge, and that neonates and babies, too young to be vaccinated, will catch child-killing diseases. You can watch it happening in eastern Washington right now, as measles spreads.
WC suspects that the effort is pointless, but tilting at the windmills of illogic is something of a house specialty around here, so WC will take a stab at persuading the anti-vaxxers that science really works, and that the thinking – for a given definition of “thinking” – behind anti-vaccination ideas doesn’t.
Let’s look at the specific examples of malaria and yellow fever, and the specific region of Panama, in the early 1900s.
As late as 1900, malaria and yellow fever were still believed to be caused by miasma, by swamp air. Although the very religious believed that thinking bad thoughts was the cause. The French, in their failed attempt to build a canal across Panama, lost an estimated 22,000 workers to the two diseases. In 1897 Britain’s Ronald Ross in India proved that malaria was spread by mosquitoes. When the Americans took over the construction effort, they set about managing mosquitoes. They applied science. Starting in 1904, they drained and oiled the pockets of marsh where mosquitoes bred. They fumigated houses. The administered quinine as a prophylactic. By 1906, the incidence of yellow fever had fallen from thousands of cases to just one. From 1907 to completion of the Canal, there were none. Malaria rates also fell precipitously.
Today the Canal Zone area is free of both yellow fever and malaria.
The thing about science is that it works. The thing about irrationality is that it doesn’t. It’s really that simple.