Editorial: Science must explain itself for benefit of non-believers

By Andrew Bonallack

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PREVENTION: Receiving two doses of the MMR vaccine is your best protection against measles, according to the Midcentral District Health Board. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
PREVENTION: Receiving two doses of the MMR vaccine is your best protection against measles, according to the Midcentral District Health Board. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

I heard a story on how parents brought their child in to be immunised against measles. These parents, on principle, were anti-vaccination - or at least opposed to the MMR vaccination, which is designed to protect children from measles, mumps and rubella.

However, it turned out the parents were also very "anti" the idea of taking time off work to look after their child if anyone at their child's school contracted the measles.

You see, schools usually have a policy that unvaccinated children have to go home if there is a risk of catching something at the school.

Most of the time, "refuseniks" have it easy. They rely on every other kid being vaccinated against disease, so they don't have to.

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However, it seems these principles went out the window if it became legally necessary to stay at home with your child because your school won't allow them in.

Visiting British academic Dr Ben Goldacre remarked to NZME that the medical profession and the drug companies have to take some responsibility for the "facts" of how medicine works.

How clinical trials are done, how the evidence is gathered, how that is turned into action and decision-making.

But, he argues, if evidence-based medicine is done behind closed doors, it paves the way for quacks to walk in and exploit the fears found among the public.

He makes a good point in that I generally trust a person in a white coat telling me something is good for me. I also believe in the efficacy and necessity of inoculations against disease.

But I don't know how it works, and the argument of requiring a medical degree sounds a bit pompous. It can be explained.

Conspiracy theorists and quacks have been around for a long time, and their behaviour isn't about to change.

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There are also a lot of people who will have their beliefs and ignore the evidence. They have a different relationship to the truth, as Dr Goldacre says.

If you want your children to live, get them vaccinated. If you want the best chance of being cured, go to a doctor. If you want to try something that makes you feel a bit more comfortable about life, the universe and everything, then sure, homeopathy's an option.

They'll probably tell you how it works in great detail. But according to Dr Goldacre, it's a pity medical science doesn't do the same.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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