Count along with me if you'd like, but it's an alphabetical fact that “science” is not a four-letter word.
No matter what the data says, some of us always find room for doubt, denial
Plenty of our fellow Americans would argue, however, that in other aspects, this particular S-word is the equivalent of any number of expletives. They'll say science is too easily tainted or biased and not to be trusted. To use a gentler quartet of letters: it's bunk.
Consider the debate over global warming, aka climate change. Then there's evolution vs. creationism. Even our everyday discussions about the skills of the local TV weather forecaster can call scientific credibility into question after someone is caught one too many times without an umbrella when the skies erupted.
They are the skeptics, the doubters, the deniers. At some level, they do play a vital role in advancing our understanding of this world. Thoughtful questioning, after all, is part of the scientific method. But the research does eventually give way to consensus and then to settled science.
In healthcare, of course, there's so much we don't know and might never completely conquer. Just look at our long battles with cancer and the common cold. But also consider how far we've come and the plagues and illnesses that have been vanquished. We're the masters of a vast base of discovery and settled knowledge.
But there will always be the small piece of the population that will challenge the collective wisdom of the scientific community and supposedly expose all the experts as charlatans. For some time now, this has been the case in trends involving a common, relatively inexpensive medical commodity: vaccines.
These products historically have been unequivocally effective. When is the last time polio was on the radar screen as a major public health threat? It's been decades in the U.S. and much of the developed world. However, that's changing.
According to a recent special analysis by the Associated Press, a growing number of parents in more than half of the U.S. states are opting not to have their children immunized using the typical series of shots children are required to take before they attend school. In addition to polio, the vaccines guard against measles, hepatitis and chickenpox, among others.
Why are parents opting to forgo the shots? Reasons vary from religious objections to the growing belief that the vaccines just aren't effective or pose health risks themselves. Certainly there will always be risk in any medicine, but basis for the parental actions isn't supported by data. They are ignoring established science pointing to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and their children and our public health could pay the price. The AP report noted that China was polio-free for two decades but just this year suffered an outbreak of the disease.
Ongoing fears over the alleged ties between childhood immunizations and the incidence of autism also play into the growing numbers of vaccination opt-outs—despite study after study showing no linkage and discrediting previous claims.
It's not only kids who aren't getting their shots. As we've reported in our news coverage and on this page, a substantial percentage of adults don't get their annual flu shots every year for the same reasons cited above. What's really embarrassing for the healthcare industry is the significant portion of caregivers who put patients at risk by choosing not to be vaccinated. While nobody claims the vaccines offer 100% protection, isn't it better than 0%?
Even when we're not talking specifically about needles and vaccines, trust in science still provides the best chance to make progress in solving our problems. Otherwise, it's more like a shot in the dark.
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