In the last couple of days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul made comments suggesting opposition to mandatory vaccines for children. While they are the butt of many jokes and the target of many snarky barbs since then, they are merely a symptom of a greater problem. People reject science.
Perhaps people do so because a lot of science is complicated, very complicated. We can observe the effects of gravity, but explaining gravity is not so easy. Scientists have expanded the size of the knowledge base to a point where we non-scientists can’t get our heads around it.
Let’s take evolution as an example. I, along with many others, have a hard time fathoming the idea that random genetic mutations over millions of years led to the organ we call the eye. It seems so outlandish, it’s easier to think that there must be some other force at work. And yet the science and the evidence prove otherwise. People can reject the conclusion, but the scientific method requires that they do so with some evidence—not just belief (whether in a deity or the simple “I just can’t believe it”).
If they have some evidence, then others can test the evidence against what we know thus far. If the new evidence proves evolution is wrong (after repeated study and experimentation or testing), then that’s how it’s supposed to work. Copernicus established a predictive model to prove the Earth orbits around the Sun. It was revolutionary, but it became established fact and accepted by everyone. Until something similar happens with evolution—or climate change or the safety of vaccinations—we have to rely on what scientists know at this point. We have to rely on the evidence.
The recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland illustrates that when enough people reject science and refuse to vaccinate their children, there are real consequences.
Let’s hope that we can persuade our friends and neighbors to wake up and begin to rely on those who study these issues as their life’s work rather than blindly accepting the anecdotal claims of others.