They’re sometimes known as “antis.” People who are anti-vaccination, anti-GM technology, who believe in dangers of high-fructose corn syrup, in amber teething necklaces having analgesic properties, in epidurals being harmful, or in breastmilk being significantly superior to formula…what would most of us think they have in common? For one, those believing any permutation of these are heavily blinded by the “appeal to nature” fallacy. Some would be inclined to think such “antis” are less intelligent and less educated (on average) than their counterparts. After all, reason dictates that we trust scientific consensus, does it not? Even if we whittle these exclusively to items with unquestionable scientific consensus, we still have quite a list: GM technology is inherently safe, vaccines are unquestionably beneficial, corn syrup is not harmful and virtually chemically identical to sugar, and benefits from breastfeeding shown in studies are very minor and almost certainly due to confounding factors. Yet the nagging misconceptions persist, even among seemingly skeptical, learned people.
Perhaps we’d lump these antis together with right-wing climate-change deniers, chem-trail conspiracy theorists, or even those who disbelieve evolution. It just makes sense, right? Science denial is science denial is science denial. Whoa, I just got dizzy.
Remarkably, the notion that antis are just not as smart is false. A few months ago, the doctor and I were chatting at my son’s 12-month well-child visit. I asked how often parents question vaccines. Mind you, this clinic is located in a relatively affluent area. He laughed and said that in his experience, parents who question or refuse vaccines tend to be more educated than those who don’t. We speculated together on the reasons. Maybe it’s because otherwise well-informed people think, “hey, I’m intelligent. I’m a critical thinker. I know how to ‘do my research.’” On my way home with a freshly immunized baby, I pondered further. Perhaps some educated antis suffer from “special-snowflake syndrome,” deeming their children too extraordinary, delicate, and precious to pollute with so-called toxins from GMOs and vaccines. Simultaneously, they might want to out-nature their peers in the parenting wars: Melissa does Bikram Yoga and drives her kids around in a hybrid with a Darwin ichthys symbol on the bumper. Taylor revels in Melissa being “so 2013.” Taylor one-ups Melissa, basking in her own kids’ all-organic, GMO-free lunches packed in re-usable, sustainable, organic cotton sandwich bags.
Alas, such people may be infected with what I call “Mayim Bialik Disorder,” or “Not Your Field Disease.” To elucidate – Mayim Bialik (well-known today for her role on Big Bang Theory) has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. She’s also a loud anti-vaccination proponent, among other non-evidence-based medical stances she touts. Bialik also flourishes her Ph.D. when discussing her expertise in completely unrelated fields.
News flash – it doesn’t work that way. I take a pharmacist’s advice on medications, and a lawyer’s advice on legal issues. Why the hell would anyone listen to a non-consensus of non-experts on crucial issues like herd immunity and GMOs? No matter how knowledgeable or analytical one is in any subject, it doesn’t automatically confer proficiency in “doing research” in another subject. You don’t get to be a psychologist and think you’re automatically an expert in immunology. You don’t get to display a Darwin fish on your car, watch Cosmos religiously, and then proudly declare your kids unvaccinated. You don’t get to question the inherent safety of GM technology and also make fun of people who believe that god created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. You don’t get to LOVE Neil DeGrasse Tyson until he starts getting all scientific about something you disagree with.
Back to the point at hand: Education does not inoculate one from pseudoscience
I know a handful of scientists with Ph.Ds and/or doctorates IN the life science field who are wary about the safety of GMO technology and/or who don’t vaccinate their children. I won’t name names. Yes this is anecdotal, but quite telling. It’s no joke when anti-science views infiltrate the world of actual scientists, let alone other intelligent people.
Let me repeat more emphatically, science denial is science denial. Period.
We would love to hear your anecdotes of otherwise intelligent, pro-science relatives, friends, and acquaintances with unscientific views. Please leave them in the comments!