Mad Science

Mad scientist's laboratory.
Mad scientist's laboratory. Image captured by the News Blender.

The group currently most responsible for the U.S. not reaching herd immunity is:

A) Children under the age of 18; B) White Evangelicals; C) Liberal anti-vaxxers; D) Black Americans; E) Conspiracy theorists

The answer is A) and the numbers aren’t even close. This is not to say for a moment that members of all of the other groups aren’t contributing to the problem. They are, and vaccination efforts need to be approached with that in mind.

“Herd immunity” isn’t achieved when the disease is reduced to slow transmission. The term was popularized to explain why some people who (for various medical reasons) cannot safely receive a vaccination do not need to sequester themselves. A population is said to have herd immunity if an unvaccinated person can reasonably expect to live a normal life and retain only an exceedingly low chance of contracting a given disease. That means cutting down nearly all transmission vectors, and with just under a quarter of our population able to transmit the virus we’re not close.

But that’s not what various people want to say. For some it’s because they want to target a group that can currently add to the vaccination numbers (impossible with youth). Those arguments will typically preface their concerns with a reference to the child problem, reminding their audiences that greater issues exist but need to be set aside until a potential answer is available.

Others want a sense of superiority or hope for political gain. They are focused like lasers on one or more of the other groups, and they are performing a disservice to science.

This is hardly a new occurrence. It’s happened with many other topics, from the relative safety of trash incinerators to allowable toxin levels in water tables.

The reason “clinical” is defined as being emotionless or detached is because science has math at its core. Every scientific problem can be broken down to hard numbers, and those numbers are generally independent of emotional interpretation (exceptions to be made for psychological sciences, where the emotional interpretations are developed into numbers for mathematical review; and statistical analyses, where emotions often determine which variables are included and which are not.)

The tendency of science to be dispassionate is regularly overstated. What follows is one of my favorite episodes of the television show Mythbusters, which attempted practical experiments to demonstrate the plausibility or fallaciousness of commonly held beliefs. In it, they attempt to demonstrate whether “Pyramid Power” has any validity. They conduct experiments, and in most of the cases the theory is debunked. In the case of keeping fruit fresh, however, the pyramid absolutely seems to have worked. Reaching a conclusion which makes no logical sense, they take a closer look at the variables involved, clean the saw blade used to cut the fruit (in case there was a germ buildup on one side of the blade) and re-enact the experiment; this time, there is no benefit from the pyramid.

This is both a success and a failure of scientific analysis. On the one hand, the variable which skewed the earlier data has been found and eliminated. On the other hand, they only sought to clarify the data on the item which yielded an unexpected result. They took no such efforts with the other experiments. They approached the issue from a biased standpoint and kept conducting tests until their conclusions matched their expectations.

In this case, it’s hard not to agree with their decision. There is no plausible way that “pyramid power” can work, based on our current understanding of physics. But if they were truly examining it from a dispassionate eye, they should have either accepted the original result or taken efforts toward a more controlled environment for all of their experiments.

Politics, on the other hand, is an activity born purely out of emotion. The entirety of it is an attempt to shift the views of people until they accede to a desired decision. Science – or, more accurately and more importantly, the impression of science – becomes a useful tool for political activists and politicians. By stimulating fear or anger, they can shift opinions.

“Mad Science” is a term which has long been part of the common vernacular, referring to bizarre and implausible fields of study. It can manifest in anything from the story of Frankenstein to the Ig Nobel prizes. On the other hand, science should rarely be a galvanizing factor toward anger. When someone is presenting it as such, it’s wise to take a step back and question their motives. They may be pushing an agenda, not fact.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.