Top News

ALEX HARROLD: The science of stupid

Alex Harrold
Alex Harrold - SaltWire File Photo

“We learn from history that we do not learn anything from history.”

That’s a quote from the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, from an extensive work on – what else? – The Philosophy of History. It seemed like the appropriate place to start when faced with a question we probably all ask ourselves about why history appears to repeat itself, especially when it comes to making mistakes. Humans are particularly good at repeating mistakes, which raises a completely different question that asks, are we as smart as we think we are. There are doubts.

There is no end to subjects we might identify that fit the category of repeated mistakes. We’re supposed to learn from them, and sometimes we actually do, but a betting person would put their money on more dumb acts that will be repeated, than will be corrected. Since this a column and not the dozen books it could be, the dumb act focus this week is on the resurgence of the measles.

Nineteen years ago, the United States declared measles to be eradicated. But, humans being what they are, we get to experience another quote: Everything old is new again.

Now, 2019 is shaping up to be the worst year this century for measles outbreaks. But even that statement is apparently up for debate, depending on whether or not you believe in science or deny it. Apparently, for some humans, our collective freedom of thought has granted us licence to ignore observable and consistent results we eventually came to accept as truths and facts. That seems like the only way to describe the people who have decided that a vaccine to prevent a disease is more harmful than it is helpful.

How far will those who deny science go? This far.

After health officials in New York City declared a national health emergency over what they called an epidemic related to a measles outbreak that required parents to vaccinate their children or face fines, five mothers got together and filed a lawsuit against the city. In addition to violating their rights as parents, the mothers are arguing the city’s declaration is arbitrary and capricious, and that the MMR vaccine itself poses a serious health threat.

Science doesn’t support their claim that the vaccine is itself a serious health threat, and most people accept that. People are entitled to their opinion in this part of the world. The problem, of course, is the validity and veracity of the opinion and the information the opinion is based on. Some people still believe the world is flat, and they likely have their reasons to believe that. But do you really want, or need to debate them over the issue?

Here’s the real deal, and it comes from a principle in law that states your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. You can believe the world is flat if you want to, and as long as your belief doesn’t negatively impact me, fill yer boots. I wouldn’t go on a sea cruise if I were you.

But not vaccinating your child against a preventable disease? That negatively affects the rest of us. Keep it up and you’ll find yourself on a deserted island with the rest of the crowd that thinks that way. It might be an island really close to the edge of the earth, so, don’t go fishing.

Our philosopher friend Hegel also submits that mistakes often repeat because, while similar circumstances may arise, they must be viewed in the context of the times, which could result in resolutions that require a different set of standards to be applied.

An easier way to think of this might be to say that time changes everything. Maybe. Only time, and more science, will tell.

Recent Stories