Tag Archives: Robert F. Kennedy

Rejecting Science

In my Law and Policy classes, I discuss the influence of Enlightenment philosophy, with its emphasis on empirical inquiry and scientific discovery, on those who drafted America’s founding documents.

If there is any doubt that Americans have left those Enlightenment precepts far behind, the Age of Trump should dispel them. As Dorothy said to Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Luddites occupy both ends of the political spectrum.

Does the scientific consensus about the existence and cause of climate change threaten the bottom line of the fossil fuel companies that make significant campaign contributions? Well, then, those on the Right “reinterpret” the evidence to show that settled science is wrong and must be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the Left’s suspicion of anything emanating from corporate America drives rejection of the scientific consensus that GMOs are simply a newer method of making the hybrids we’ve been eating for centuries and that widespread vaccination has saved millions of lives.

Our incoming President, of course, has never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t love, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have much interest in the numerous, genuine problems facing America’s Chief Executive. So I wasn’t really surprised by the Washington Post headline about a meeting between Trump and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a proponent of a widely discredited theory that vaccines cause autism, said Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump asked him to chair a new commission on vaccines.

Hours later, however, a spokeswoman for Trump’s transition said that while Trump would like to create a commission on autism, no final decision had been made.

If Trump follows through, the stunning move would push up against established science, medicine and the government’s position on the issue. It comes after Trump — who has long been critical of vaccines — met at Trump Tower with Kennedy, who has spearheaded efforts to roll back child vaccination laws.

As the article points out, there is already a federal advisory committee on immunization composed of medical and public health experts — but as we have seen with his assertions that he knows more than “the Generals” and his contemptuous dismissal of uncongenial information from our national intelligence agencies, Trump believes he knows more than those “elitist” experts.

As an article in the New Yorker addressing Trump’s support for the “anti-vaxxer” movement  put it,

Asking Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to chair a commission on scientific integrity is like asking Ted Kaczynski to run the United States Postal Service.

In his Rolling Stone article, Kennedy wrote that vaccines exposed infants to a hundred and eighty-seven times the daily limit of ethyl mercury, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. If that were true, they would all have died immediately. Rolling Stone soon printed a correction—and then later corrected that correction. The actual figure was a hundred and eighty-seven micrograms, which is forty per cent higher than the levels recommended by the E.P.A. for methyl mercury (not ethyl mercury), and a tiny fraction of the figure cited in Kennedy’s paper.

I am no fan of Charles Krauthammer’s politics (to put it mildly), but he was trained as a doctor and is familiar with scientific evidence. He was appalled.

In a week packed with confirmation hearings and Russian hacking allegations, what was he doing meeting with Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist pushing the thoroughly discredited idea that vaccines cause autism?…

Kennedy says that Trump asked him to chair a commission about vaccine safety. While denying that, the transition team does say that the commission idea remains open. Either way, the damage is done. The anti-vaccine fanatics seek any validation. This indirect endorsement from Trump is immensely harmful. Vaccination has prevented more childhood suffering and death than any other measure in history. With so many issues pressing, why even go there?

Conspiracy theories are embraced when people lack the information needed to evaluate their credibility. Civic literacy doesn’t require that citizens all be scientists–but it does require knowing the difference between a scientific theory and a wild-ass guess. It does require familiarity with the scientific method, and with the concept of falsification.

I think it was Neil DeGrasse Tyson who said “Science is true whether or not you believe in it.”  Rejecting reality is a prescription for disaster.