Politics erases science

May 8, 2021

From the May-June 2021 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—The City of Detroit COVID-19 vaccination accessibility is far superior to the surrounding suburbs, yet Detroit’s vaccination rate is only 28% compared to 40-50% in nearby suburbs. After complaints about online scheduling, Detroit officials switched to a well-run call center for its drive-up clinic, later adding pop-up sites in schools, recreation centers and churches. Mobile clinics are ready to roll. Through the winter, word of mouth encouraged participation and vaccine hesitancy dropped.


In contrast, vaccination access in the rest of Michigan was a nightmare. The Republican-controlled state legislature removed Governor Whitmer’s emergency powers to issue public health mandates. Parents threw temper tantrums to demand that school athletics resume. People abandoned masks and flouted social gathering limitations. Meanwhile a new, highly contagious virus variant is spreading; hospitals are overloaded; deaths are rising among younger patients. Serious side effects from the vaccines are thousands of times less frequent than injuries and deaths from texting while driving. Data shows school athletics and gatherings are the locus of the new outbreaks.

Why do one in five Americans oppose vaccinations? Americans today—fortunately—have no experience of diseases like smallpox—death rate 70%—or polio, because vaccination against these deadly diseases has reached “herd immunity.” Ignoring history creates “anti-vaxxers,” who blame vaccines for conditions like autism but overlook the 4,000-plus synthetic chemicals in the environment, food and water, any of which could contribute to autism, infertility etc. The vast majority have never been tested for health and environmental effects.

Uncritical thinking feeds the lies; for example, “Coronavirus isn’t real and doctors call flu cases COVID-19 because they make $3,000 for each case,” which then becomes their basis for discounting 570,000 U.S. COVID deaths.

Uncritical thinking allows people to equate “data” with “what I choose to believe.” It is no different from the lies in politics (“the U.S. Capitol was stormed by Black Lives Matter activists dressed up as Trump supporters”). Over 300 years ago, G.W.F. Hegel identified a similar reaction against critical thinking.

There is good reason to mistrust science in a capitalist society, driven by profit above all else. Still, scientific process—research, evaluation of evidence—has yielded solid public health practices and weapons against deadly disease. Without herd immunity, the power to manage this pandemic is slipping away.

—Retired Science Teacher

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