Okay, now I have been in some lively discussions about my push to censor the Anti-Vax movement because of the health dangers they pose to the community. I have equated them to yelling Fire in a crowded theater, but perhaps that was not the best analogy.
First, when I say directly responsible, some may confuse direct with proximal…or immediate cause. I am not saying that a speaker at this conference are going out and killing babies with their hands…and that is why the fire analogy was a poor choice on my part.
But I still claim, at least for some, a direct causal link from their talk to the deaths of children. I think a better analogy is hate-speech…perhaps comparing them to Holocaust deniers would be, if not equivalent in magnitude, similar in form.
So, hate-speech works on the principle if a person says something that is demonstrably false, which actually or likely will inspire others to act, that because of these actions a group of vulnerable people will suffer.
Do they fit this bill? Yes and no.
Can you guess which one was vaccinated?
These speakers are talking to a group of people who will, by not getting their children vaccinated, directly result in the suffering and possible death of their children and put others at risk in the community. I think there is a direct link, but is what they are saying demonstrably false?
First, the idea they truly believe it is not a defence. I suspect many a racist has a firm and honest belief in the inferiority of other races.
Is what they are saying demonstrably false…to the point any reasonable person would know so? And I accept the onus is on me and it’s a high bar I must reach.
To answer this question, I checked out what they are going to talk about. The topics include: Vaccines cause Autism, Heavy Metal poisoning from vaccines, Vaccines are unphysiological, Disease (at least the measles) is good for building the immune system, and Aluminum builds up in the body causing brain damage.
Life before vaccination
So, willful ignorance causing suffering and death….The claim that vaccines cause autism has been researched extensively by groups both in the ‘big Pharma’ camp and out. Statistical analysis shows NO link, every mechanism claimed by the anti-Vax movement has been debunked. This is a lie, and they know it or should know it.
Heavy Metal poisoning from vaccines? Well, it’s true you can be poisoned by heavy metals in sufficient quantities. The heavy metal they are referencing is Aluminum.
First, it’s not aluminum proper but aluminum hydroxide…think of the difference between rust and steel.
There is no evidence that it is toxic in the blood stream, there is very controversial evidence that when applied directly to brain cells there is a toxic effect, but one could say that if you applied salt directly to a brain cell it would have adverse effects.
Some dubious studies show a correlation between aluminum build up and Alzheimer’s but this is no longer seen as likely.
That said, the amount of aluminum required for this to be a factor is orders of magnitudes greater than that found in all the vaccinations a child is exposed to.
Again, willfully false.
They also try to discredit vaccinations with ‘research’ proportion “The whole basis for vaccinations is unphysiological. The vast majority of infections enter the body through the nasal passages & Gastro-Intestinal Tract.”
Trying to make the case that it does not target the right area therefore cannot illicit an good immune response and that by injecting directly into the muscle you are poisoning the brain with aluminum and actually giving the disease to the child by circumventing that “80% of the body’s immune system is situated at these junctures”.
To be fair this is so much Gish-Galloping and plopping down of disconnected comments, claims and circular referencing it’s hard to condemn this as anything other than paranoid ranting.
Table 1 The impact of vaccines on disease burden in the US
Max. no. cases
Cases in 2001
Reduction in disease (%)
Haemophilus inﬂuenzae type-b
Still, willful or at least dangerously delusional.
Just to give an idea of how out there this group is, they are propagating the conspiracy that AIDS was created and distributed by the World Health Organization as part of some United Nations plot. Their comments quote research into the H1N1 vaccine….well let me quote:
Some of the crazy anti-vax propaganda
Documents “implicating the CDC, WHO, numerous Vaccine manufacturers along with Government Agencies in collusion with The Rockefeller Trust, Rupert Murdoch & other Media, Real Estate & Medical Industry moguls – in a genocidal plot to use vaccines, in particular the H1N1 flu vaccine as a bio-weapon to deliberately sicken & depopulate the planet”
It is ironic that they are ignoring some real issues about vaccination that are important. The possible link discovered between the H1N1 vaccines and people with a genetic predisposition to narcolepsy. The idea that mandatory flu vaccinations can be only 60-70% effective.
The idea of doing clinical trials on which vaccines and methods work best; at present this cannot be done because it’s deemed unethical to deny a patient the ‘best treatment of the time’.
This is equivalent to a hate group that is causing real harm and deaths. There is no sense of responsibility and they are willfully propagating falsehoods and lies.
They, at least this particular group, should be banned from public speech, vilified by society, most notably in this case at SFU. If this was Ernest Zundle, I doubt SFU would allow his rant nor hide behind free speech rights to defend it.
Free speech should only be denied in rare and extreme cases…I believe this is one of those cases.
Stompin’ Tom Connors is a Canadian icon, a true patriot, and a musical ambassador for our great nation. His contributions to Canadian culture, patriotism, and international goodwill on behalf of Canada are of great significance to Canadians at home and abroad. We discuss the man and his legacy.
Don makes his case that the Anti-Vax-ers or at least the Vaccine Awareness Network should be banned from the public forum for community health reasons. Censorship should be rare and require a high-bar, but he thinks they reach it.
Scott Kim, associate professor of psychitry and the co-director for the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan, will talk about the ethics of research with impaired adults who cannot consent.
When: March 13, 2013 @ 4:00
Where: Brain Research Centre @ UBC – Vancouver
Get your civics on and get a job making democracy work. The provinical election is coming up and Elections BC is hiring Elections officers, clerks, supervisors and information helpers. Its at least one day, good pay and you can say you did your part keeping what shreds of democracy we have left alive.
The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.
Illusions of note:
Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.
TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.
The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.
In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination
Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.
When: May 23 at 7pm
Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe
Canadian Copyright Law for Composers
MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.
When: May 25 from 2-4pm
Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie
E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue
This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making. This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.
The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.
When: May 26 from 2-5pm
Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings
Cost: by donation
slutTALK: The (Un)Conference
In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.
A University of Louisiana professor is suing his university for violation of his first amendment rights by both criticizing his methods as well as preventing him from teaching
The first anti-vaxxers
Professor John Oller Jr., who worked in the Communicative Disorders Department, claims the Dean of Arts became hostile to his theories and systematically excluded him from teaching students. There have been reductions of his class size, a banning of his self-authored textbook, a lack of lecture opportunities and, according to Oller, a general ostracization by his fellow professors. Communicative Disorders Department deals with topics like Autism, Dyslexia and learning disabilities that affect communications. Oller specializes in sign language but more recently has focused on Autism. In 2010 he published a book – Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, & Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic. The forward is written by Andrew Wakefield.
In the book, he promotes the false link between vaccination and the supposed ‘autism’ epidemic. Remember, his expertise is in linguistics not immunology or even biology. There is more; he is also a believer in Intelligent Design and Creationism. He has spoken many times to the Louisiana legislature as an expert to promote the teaching of ID in Louisiana high school biology curriculum.
Oller, when presenting himself to the legislature, is seen as a doctor, as a member of the faculty of the University of Louisiana…using this position of respectability and authority, he gave testimony on a subject matter (biology/evolution) that he has no expertise. As a public representative of the university, this has a direct impact on the image and credibility of the university in general and the faculty of Communicative Disorders directly.
Oller is also a tenured professor…that is, unless he kills a student, he cannot be fired. Usually tenure protects professors from inappropriate persecution, however occasionally the discrimination is warranted, as in this case. Oller has used his academic and teaching platform to espouse his outlandish theories about both the causes of autism and the belief it’s an epidemic…theories in fields that are not his area of expertise. It is because of this that the department attempted to limit the damage he could do in his attempt to pollute students minds. If he had limited his teaching time…his lectures to discussing aspects of overcoming communication deficiencies of those affected by autism…maintained his comments to disorders that affect communication; the position of the dean would be weak.
The Dean and several faculty members (there does not seem to be any faculty that support Oller) mention that on several occasions they have had to deal with issues arising from Oller’s teaching and that they had been told by many his presence hurts the department’s credibility. Again, Oller is welcome to his own personal opinions that he may express and promote on his personal time; however if he uses his academic position to forward his cause…misusing his credential by implying knowledge in topics he does not have credentials…this transforms his personal activities to activities that have implications for the university…a transformation that gives the university a say (veto?) in how he presents himself in those occasions.
Evolution of the Creationist
He is, in part, being defended by the ADF – Alliance Defence Fund, a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. Sorry for the ad hominem…
Okay, I think we have three issues here – is he competent to teach his subject, does his professional activities outside teaching (and outside the university) provide the university justification for workplace actions and lastly does his private activities provide the university justification for workplace actions?
Now, on the first case, Oller was hired to teach about methods of communications and issues arising from that. He was NOT hired to comment, speculate or imply in his capacity as an instructor on the root causes of Autism. Now, instructors are often give some leeway to provide ‘editorial’ comment in class (take any class in political science or economics and you will hear at least one tangential theory from your professor); that said it is unclear specifically how far Oller expounded on his ‘theories’ in class but considering his self-authored textbook, it does appear to be more than a passing comment…to the point where is appears to be a central tenet of his instruction. So, on this ground the university was with its rights to ‘silence’ him.
On the second grounds, his promotion of both anti-vaccination and creationism would involve the university if he gave such lectures through the university lecture circuit or in off-campus activities where he identified himself as both an expert on subject he did not actual have accreditation AND affiliated himself with the university. In doing this, and again it has been claimed by the faculty that he did this not irregularly, he not only risks his own professional reputation but also that of the faculty and university he is associated with. Again, it seems the university has a right to censor his activities as best they can.
On the last point, where he promotes his ‘wacky’ ideas on his own time as ‘just a regular citizen’; although I find his views offensive and dangerous; I do not think the university has the right to interfere with these aspects of his life. IT may, as collateral damage, tarnish the image is a report Googles his name and discovers he is a faculty member but that is not the offence of Oller. However, it seem Oller was not content to limit is activities to ‘private citizen’ acts but used the weight (and thus the prestige) of both his position and his association with a credible institution to make his outlandish remarks.
It’s a shame he will be used in future as an argument against the tenure system. It has it faults but it does provide academics the freedom to be a counterbalance to the establishment; however when one wishes to be counter-establishment there is a greater weight upon them to ensure their views can be backed up with evidence and that they are not a throwback to a disproved and discredited point of view.
A friend of mine asked me if it wasn’t true that science…WESTERN science is really just part of the whole colonial imperialist baggage intended, and used, to diminish ‘local’ indigenous knowledge and elevate the superiority of ‘western ways of thinking’. As a believer in science, I knew he was wrong…then as an even better skeptic I thought I should exam the question.
To start with we should point out there are several ways to look at the question. First is the idea that science made ‘western’ domination possible, then the fact that science may be (claimed to be) neutral but scientists are not and lastly the idea of Scientism. I should also note that I used Europe and European but mean Western which would include Canada, the USA and those non-European countries/colonies that were largely populated by Europeans AND their ideas.
Now, it is a fact (or a quirk of history) that Europe took knowledge and technology from other cultures…altered and improved many…eventually applying them to world exploration and then domination. Europeans did not invent gunpowder but they did ‘perfect’ its use as a weapon. They did not invent oceanic travel but they did improve both the technology of ship-building and
by Jerad Diamond
navigation to the point where they could not only circumnavigate the globe but to do so regularly. Now, I don’t want to go into the why or even how Europe did this expropriation of technology that is a different question (I recommend checking out “Guns, Germs and Steel” and the response to the book). They were not the first imperial power and probably not the last, they were however the first global power.
There is a paradox in colonialism with regard to how science was able to both create and destroy civilizations. One of the greatest crimes Europeans committed (at time accidental – other times with purpose) against the indigenous people of the world was the spread of disease. However through transportation (plagues) and medicine, science was fundamental to Europe’s ability to dominate. Science caused the loss of many indigenous cultures while creating an entirely new one for both Europeans and those they dominated.
Trade routes facilitated the spread of the plague
First you had the science of transportation. Not only did this allow Europeans to travel around the globe encountering new peoples in new lands but to take with them (unknowingly) a plethora of diseases from one continent to another. Ironically, because of the endless waves of plague and disease that ravaged Europe (also due to scientific advances in trade and travel), Europeans became a reservoir of ‘biological weapons’ like smallpox as well as the science to ‘deal’ with it like vaccination and drugs.
Painting of massive deaths in Europe due to bubonic plague
When Europeans first encountered indigenous peoples, local medicine was only adapted to local conditions…which would have little experience with highly ‘communicability’ of disease. Europeans, thanks to extensive Euro-Asian trade, were better equipped both biologically (ie natural immunity) as well as culturally to deal with ‘new’ communicable disease. Thus indigenous people died by the millions while Europeans only died by the hundreds.
Colonial governments vaccinating indigenous population
To add irony to this, science had first enabled Europeans to infect and decimate indigenous populations then, thanks to the ever increasing medical advances (spurred by the challenges to overcome new disease), science then provided a salvation for the locals to ‘save them’ from the very disease the Europeans had brought as well as the local ‘incurables’. Thus Europeans were cast as both the takers of life (because of things like small pox) and the saviours of life (especially in the 19th century when ‘modern’ medicine really started), allowing them to take on the persona of gods while instilling a sense of inferiority in the locals.
Nigerian solder keeping guard over slaves
Now this give-and-take of science had its parallels in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and a great number of other areas of life that allowed Europeans to dominate most indigenous cultures both physically as well as psychologically. The most notable of these “other” areas is the science of warfare and in particular weapons.
Haitian revolt for independence from France
First it allowed Europeans to dominate local power structures but then provided the means for locals (friendly to the Europeans of course) to dominate their own rivals as well as offer the only effective resistance to the colonial powers. You had a situation where the only way to defend the local people from colonial invaders was to adopt the science of those very same imperialist.
Europeans splitting the Chinese pie
Now as an aside, this analysis may not completely explain colonization of the ‘old’ culture like China but if goes some ways. Of course having gotten rich and fat from the New World, when Europe turned its eyes on the ‘old’ cultures of the middle east and Asia, it was not as much science but brute force that allowed Europe to become a global power.
Okay, enough of the first part…the HOW science made western imperialism possible. Now let’s look at the idea that science is itself used as a tool of domination.
What do we mean when we say that…science is tool of domination? By this I mean that not only the fruits of science have allowed for imperialism (as already discussed) but the idea, authority or method of science itself has been used to re-enforce that dominance. This is done in two ways; first local knowledge, such as herbalism or shamanism was seen as backwards and ‘primitive’…that the only real medicine was found in a test-tube. Another way it has done this is to use (or misuse) the tools of science to make dogma seem natural and right…giving it an air of authority by the fact it is a ‘scientific fact’ therefore supporting cultural (political, etc.) truths; for example the attempt to use biology to PROVE the superiority of whites over blacks. Another example is the Piltdown man fake.
Piltdown Man skull
For those who are not acquainted with Piltdown Man, it was a partial ‘humanoid’ skull (jaw and scull fragments). In 1912, this “missing link” was found in England by Charles Dawson. It’s ready acceptance in the scientific community was because it fit with the cultural prejudices of the time…England was THE superpower, the birth place of the industrial revolution and the ruler of billions of people around the globe. It was obvious, to those at the time that England had to be the birth place of ‘intelligent’ man. It also confirmed the assumption at the time that the brain drove the evolution of the body…ie big brains with ape bodies evolved into big brains with human bodies…notably the jaw in the Piltdown man was ape-like and the brain case human-like.
However the scientific method moved on and by mid to late 20’s other discoveries (such as Peking Man and the Tsaung Child) showed that the human body (i.e. the jaw, upright walking et al) evolved first then the brain. By 1930, Piltdown man was seen as at best an anomaly and at worst fraud…and proven a fraud by improved dating mechanism in the 1940’s.
Another great example is herbal or folk remedies. One of the greatest growth areas in pharmaceuticals is in the natural pharmacy of evolution, found in the plants and animals of the world. Modern science is checking out rainforest plants to see if they have chemicals that help fight infections…remedies that sometimes were already known, albeit in an anecdotal way, to local ‘medicine’ men.
Aztec medicine man applying herbal remedies
Of course this leads us to the difference between scientist and science. Now medicine men may have, by trial and error, discovered some remedies in the flora/fauna of their habitat however they were not using the scientific method so were not scientists. This is an important distinction. Although it may have been wrong to ‘off handedly’ dismiss local knowledge it was still true that the average life span of the indigenous was perhaps 30, whereas
Longevity through the ages
Europeans (at least the upper classes) lived to 50-80…it was bad science to write-off local medicine without investigating but it was also obvious (now and at the time) that Europeans lived longer and thus it would be just human nature for the Europeans to be so dismissive. It became dogma (not without supporting evidence…ie. Global empires) that Europe, Europeans and the ‘western’ ways were always superior to ‘foreign’ and ‘primitive’ alternatives.
To be fair to the medicine men, they did not have the scientific method; they had to use spiritualism and religious/cultural dogma as their guides for discovery. It is by allowing dogma to rule that retarded the development of ‘traditional’ cultures (this included Europe during the religious or dark ages). Now this putting dogma ahead of the scientific method is not limited to the ‘primitive’ cultures, sadly it is all too common in modern science. The saving grace of science though is the scientific method…the method will in the long run correct the errors made by scientist be those errors purposeful or institutional/systemic.
Anatomical "proof" of racism
A great example of this ‘corrective’ nature of the method on the scientist can be seen in the ‘science’ of race and racism. Science once showed that whites were the top of a biological tree of humanity. However, in attempting to affirm previous generations results, assumptions and predictions; the scientific method began to show new generations the holes in the ‘old’ theories…they had to adjust the theory to match the evidence…they had to abandon (however slowly and reluctantly) cultural biases in the light of scientific evidence. It must be accepted that the scientific method is independent of culture but scientist are the products of culture. As such, they often carry the baggage and assumptions of the dogmas of their society which can affect how they apply the scientific method and how willing they are to follow its path.
The Scientific Method writ large
Now what do we mean by scientific method? In this context it has really three parts. One – observe the world, create a model of the world that predicts its outcomes, test those predictions, and adjust the model based on the test results then repeat.
The Second part is a commitment to follow the evidence; this is where scientists occasionally fail. Part of the method is the willingness to accept the fact that, given sufficient evidence, ANY and ALL beliefs, theories and models may be wrong and need to be adjusted to match the reality…even if that means abandoning long held ideas…like racism.
The last element is not often acknowledged as part of the method and that is intellectual compaction…that driving need all scientists have to expand the boundaries of knowledge. For those who say that once an scientific idea becomes established it cannot be challenged misses this concept…every up-and-coming scientist wants to make his name in the field…to gain immortality for their contribution to the project of human knowledge.
To that end, one of the best ways to gain this immortality is to prove the ‘old’ way of thinking wrong…to prove an established model is either incomplete or wrong. This means that every generation of scientist, by their very nature, challenge anything that had become ‘dogma’ in science and are, when successful, rewarded greatly for that challenge.
The first supper of sceince
Lastly Scientism; there are two versions of this term (both derogatory), the first is the misuse of scientific claims in fields of study they were not intended or do not apply; an example is the often misuse of quantum science by spiritualist. This definition is not the one that concerns us now; our Scientism is the idea that science itself is dogma…that the ONLY truth…the ONLY way to find the Truth is in and with science. Now this criticism is in some ways a straw man. It is true most scientists and skeptics believe that science if the best way to know the ‘truth’ about anything but that does not mean that they believe science can, in actuality, be applied (or at least applied perfectly) to every question humanity may ask.
On a recent episode we discussed the role of science in ethics. One of the points that came out was the idea that IF science could, with the same accuracy, certainty and predictability as found in physics, be applied to ethics then it could provide ALL the answers. It seems plainly true that science has absolute answers when it comes to launching a satellite into space because the problem, formulas and results are so well known and predictable. IF we could say the same for ethical questions, such as abortion, why would we NOT follow the same path?
However, it was reiterated that (at least for now and probably forever) science could not achieve this level of knowledge and that in the gaps (often very large gaps) the traditions of philosophy have their place. That, because of the complexity of the human mind and society, the role of science may be quite limited in many of the ‘big’ questions.
This however does not mean we should not TRY and apply science (acknowledging its limitations) and TRY and limit the number of inaccuracies, misconceptions and uncertainties so as to allow scientific predictions to guide our moral and philosophical inquiries as far as they can. For example, we may debate when euthanasia is right but science can at least inform us as the possibility of ‘health’ recovery or not.
So, to answer my friend’s question, which started us on this intellectual journey, is science a tool of imperialism? No, the technology it produces has been used for that purpose but it could have been used otherwise…that even when scientists reinforce cultural superiority, the scientific method will eventually bring down their house of cards and that the belief…no the faith…that science can answer all questions is healthy provided that faith does not itself blind you to science’s own limitations. Faith is not in itself bad, it is only when it is blind to the reality around you that it becomes the handmaiden of dogma and the assassin of truth and progress.