A Good Reminder of Why the Science Moves Them Not

Shankar Vedantam's The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives is a good read for the layperson interested in what goes on behind the scenes in our brains.

This is an especially good passage and excellent reminder of how science, evidence, facts, etc., do nothing but drive the AoAers more deeply into their belief systems regarding autism and the way to rescue their children (although the passage has nothing specifically to do with these people):

"Regardless of whether feelings were justified, they were real. You cannot eliminate feelings by denying their validity; indeed, denying them usually strengthen them." (page 224)

You see, this isn't about the evidence at hand. Shoot, it isn't even about accuracy, as one blogger tweeted to me (regarding rates of ID in autistic individuals) "@kwombles It's not about accuracy. You take issue with the most credible sources. It's about your aversion to ID association with #autism."

Folks like the AoAers  (and others) aren't interested in accuracy. They rarely argue against what one who follows the scientific evidence contends. Instead, they choose strawmen arguments and wrap themselves in the cloak of sentimentality and rampant emotionalism. It's about them, about their feelings, their experiences, and the fact that they've often created their experiences  from whole cloth, changing their stories of their pasts to match their present belief systems is lost on them. They can't see that, won't see that, and deny the evidence when it is presented to them.

It isn't about accuracy. Not with them. And we cannot reach them as long as we reject the validity of their feelings, their beliefs. I see no way to resolve this divide. Those who are evidence-based simply won't put their fingers in their ears and accept their anecdotes over the science doesn't show a link between vaccines and autism Those who are absolutely certain that their child is vaccine damaged aren't going to remove their fingers from their ears to hear the evidence.

There's no fix to this present divide. Instead the goal of evidence-based individuals must be on those not yet dealing with autism. We must provide good, reliable information, counter honestly and rationally those arguments put forth by those who push pseudoscience. We can perhaps validate the concerns people have about vaccines. There are reasons to be cautious about the medicines and interventions we use. People need to know that vaccines come with risks, but they need to be informed about the relative risks.

If you provide people with the tools to listen, read, and think critically, if you teach them to evaluate claims, to know their inherent limitations and the various biases and heuristics we fall victim to, then you are arming them with the tools to avoid falling victim to those heuristics and biases and to pseudoscience and the charlatans who attempt to prey on them.

Pat Benatar once sang that love is a battlefield.  The AoAers certainly see the vaccine theory and the accompanying wackaloon interventions as battlefields. We'd be remiss and even more foolish to not take them at their word. After all, as Bensmyson foolishly wrote on Tsouderos's latest article:

"Admit it this is the line in the sand, this is where the war begins. One group of people telling another what is best for their child with jail or prison as enforcement. 
You going to have me arrested for thinking my child needs to believe in God? Arrest me for feeding my child McDonalds, not feeding my child McDonalds? Arrest me for giving my child a laxative? After all wouldnt that be a chelation therapy? Oh man and not to mention spanking or home schooling. Jeez we just might start a blood bath. 
My 4 year old son was vaccine injured and I will never be OK with that." 06/24/2010, 11:03 AM

As usual, he/she (the married couple use the one handle and as a consequence, no doubt, sound even crazier than they probably are singly) goes over the deep end on this, but it draws the important distinction I raised in an earlier post that this isn't about their kids; it's about the parents, what they believe they've lost, and the fact that they believe they have ownership over their children.

It's not about accuracy. It's not about the kids. And most the time, it isn't even about autism.


Clay said...

It's evident that you really, really try to understand how these people can be so irrational, but this understanding can only be helpful to you. It can't help them, they're stuck like mice to sticky trays. It seems there's just no way out for them.

Maybe if Kim Stagliano's daughters start losing their hair, she might wise up.

kathleen said...

Yes-it isn't about autism...or children. It has become a weird pissing contest about who has had it the worst..Bensmyson actually said it quite clearly-to them it is all about "rights". What about responsibilities?
Equating whether or not you are going to raise your child with a religion to chelation says it all. It has become a religion-and arguing faith never works.Aoa is faith based..

Anonymous said...

I'd point out too that we live in the age of, among other similar tragedies, the Texas Schoolbook Massacre. I wasn't thinking about the modern counter-Enlightenment movement when I wrote recently about autism and the Enlightenment, but I've been thinking about it a lot since then. It's arguable that anyone promoting a pro-science stance today is swimming against the historical current. I don't mean to say that it's a hopeless or forever irreversible situation, only that it's helpful for one's perspective to be aware which way the playing field is tilted, and which players have an interest in keeping it that way.

Michael Ventura (who writes for the Austin Chronicle these days) was the first writer I ever saw use the phrase Age of Endarkenment, back in the early 90's -- he attributes what's happening to an unprecedented prolongation of the adolescent initiatory moment, in which energy that was once channeled for the good of the tribe or drained by hard economic necessity has now been set free, for better and for worse.

Whatever's fueling the endarkenment though, there are less ambitious thinkers chronicling its presence and historical sweep:




Also, last December in a post I wrote, "At least before the site went up, I took my primary audience to be those who are new to the whole issue of autism, those whose views about autism are unformed or not deeply held, and who might be stopping by here on their way to forming a deeply held view or two."

I don't know how well we've stayed true to that audience, but I do think it's a sound instinct to keep "incoming" readers in mind.