WHEN SCIENCE LOSES, WE ALL SUFFER

             

Obviously, the victories of science are evident all around us, notably in human health! The many successes include the extension of useful life and vitality to an average of about 80 years, the total elimination of deadly diseases such as smallpox and poliomyelitis, and the list goes on and on. Undoubtedly, we can expect to achieve additional major advances—provided of course—that science encounters no major roadblocks.

But now, and for the first time in memory, political interference is threatening disrupt this progress! According to the editors of—surprisingly—a major British medical journal, Donald Trump’s presidency has “raised worrying questions about its likely impact on science and health policy”. This article goes on to state “The administration seems to place little value on facts or analysis, and may not be considering the consequences of its pronouncements and policies on biomedical research and the health of Americans and citizens around the world. We are particularly concerned that Trump’s administration is acting in ways that will suppress research and limit communication on scientific topics that it deems politically inconvenient,” Moreover, these authors state “scientific communications at the Environmental Protection Agency were being vetted by political appointees before public presentation, and communications with the public had been restricted for employees at various agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Health and Human Services. Federal websites are being scrubbed of scientific information, adding that a reversal of the Affordable Care Act could damage health, and that new immigration policies could harm recruitment and training of doctors and scientists and worsen physician shortages.”. Weighing in further, Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, DC, states “You have a President who isn’t afraid to attack individuals who he deems enemies, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a scientist who published information he didn’t like could become subject to his wrath.” He said reports of a “gag order” on communications at various federal agencies has led to anxiety and uncertainty — in part because the administration has created confusion by not specifically stating its communications policies in writing.

Officials at various federal agencies have told reporters there is no such “gag order.” When contacted by Medscape Medical News, representatives from the National Institutes of Health said, “The US Department of Health and Human Services and its agencies continue to communicate fully about its work through all of its regular communication channels with the public, the media and other relevant audiences. There is no directive to do otherwise.” But various other federal scientists that have been contacted have indicated otherwise, and this is leading to self-censoring. One stated “In an uncertain time, people tend to keep their heads down so they don’t get chopped off.”

Other scientific organizations have also been registering alarm about the Trump administration. In November 2016, more than 2000 scientists signed a letter to Trump and Congress, asking them to “adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental threats”.

A Call to Action

The British editors said their aim was to “reaffirm our commitment to fostering and applying the best evidence for policy and practice, to be an open forum for rigorous debate that challenges the status quo and holds us all to account, to speak truth to power and support others who do the same, and to actively campaign for a better world, based on our values of transparency, independence, and scientific and journalistic integrity.”

Other organizations have also urged scientists to stand up and speak out. “Taking action is the best course when science is threatened or when science can illuminate public issues,” wrote Rush Holt, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in an editorial in Science in early February. Scientists should not remain silent, Dr Holt said. They should avoid politicizing science, but, also shouldn’t be lulled into thinking that the facts will speak for themselves. “One need not avoid — indeed, should not avoid — applying relevant science in political or societal situations where it can help address problems,” he wrote.

In a separate editorial in Science, AAAS President Barbara Schaal, PhD, called on the administration to include credible scientists as advisers, “not individuals who reject proven science on issues of critical public importance such as vaccines or climate change.” Dr Schaal, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Washington University, St Louis, wrote, “Science cannot thrive when policy-makers — regardless of political party affiliation — use disagreements as an opportunity to attack scientific conclusions that counter a political agenda.”

But political interference goes one step further, for government representatives are even espousing antiscience by attempting to deny the advantages of immunization, an issue that has been critically and objectively settled in past years, ad nauseum. Robert F. Kennedy Jr believes—without credible evidence—the vaccine preservative thimerosal has led to an uptick in neurodevelopmental and other disorders in children. The Trump administration allegedly plans to assemble a vaccine safety commission to explore potential links between vaccinations and a host of disorders, including autism—long ago debunked. Kennedy, chairman of the World Mercury Project, a nonprofit group whose partners include groups that espouse a vaccine-autism link, told reporters attending a Washington, DC, press briefing that he is still in discussion with the administration regarding the assembling of a vaccine commission.

More recently, President Trump said he “knew that the pharmaceutical industry was going to cause an uproar about this,” but he promised he would not back down. “We need a debate on this,” said Kennedy, who has campaigned against mercury in vaccines for at least a decade. “I don’t see how anyone has a legitimate objection to having another set of eyes on the vaccine program,” he said.

In early February, however, more than 350 medical organizations wrote a letter to Trump, which included a long list of studies demonstrating the safety of vaccines, to express their “unequivocal support” for the safety of these products.

CONCLUSION

The current administration now appears to be challenging what they already have dubbed “fake news,” but they now seem to be training their sights on what they are likely to call “fake science.” If they continue along this path, they are doing so at their own risk, as well as the risk of the entire population’s health! Although remaining above the fray for decades, it’s now high time for scientists to move into the political arena!

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TRUMP SUPPORTED ANTI-VACCINATION GROUP

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The Daily Beast (Sept 30, 2016) has reported that in 2010 the Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $10,000 to former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaxx crusade, also contributing to Generation Rescue, a group that promotes dubious treatments, refers to questionable practitioners, opposes standard vaccination recommendations, and insists that vaccines are a major cause of autism. Donald Trump himself has also claimed that vaccines have caused many cases of autism, an assertion totally refuted by all scientists, again reflecting Trump’s world-class ignorance! The Trump Foundation’s 2010 tax return identifies Donald Trump as the foundation’s president and his children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, as its directors.

Of special interest during this election season is the strong likelihood that the money donated by this foundation did not come from Trump’s own pockets (which are likely far less deep than he originally boasted). Moreover, did the unwitting donors to Trump’s “foundation” think that their money was going to worthy causes—obviously unsupported by the evidence. Also, did those same donors take a tax deduction for the money sent to this questionable “foundation?” They, too, may be unpleasantly surprised if they, presumably like Trump (?), undergo a tax audit.

As the old statement goes—largely attributed to P.T. Barnum—there’s a sucker born every minute!  But must it be at the expense of our kids’ health, or even lives?

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ANTI-VACCINATION MOVEMENTS: WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

A recent outbreak of measles raises health alarms, Californians were caught in a national crossfire of controversy over a new trend against vaccinating children. Thanks to relatively lenient laws, California had been stunned as over 100 residents have contracted diseases that immunizations had rendered almost unheard of in contemporary America. In response, a 2012 law, designed to keep children vaccinated, forced parents seeking exceptions to receive counseling and a signature from doctors or other health care professionals. Pushing back, a strident “anti-vax” movement, which has attracted the attention of politicians since the past decade, was developed largely in response to concerns that the ingredients of many popular vaccines could contribute to autism, a fear that has been completely debunked. Although California’s initially small population of unvaccinated escaped the notice of regulators and activists, a recent increase to more sizable numbers has set alarm bells ringing. State records show more than 13,000 kindergartners in California are unvaccinated because of either personal or religious beliefs, with nearly half without vaccination at some private schools. Currently, all 50 states allow medical exemptions for vaccines that would otherwise be required for a child to attend schools. Most of them offer parents the ability to claim exemptions on the grounds of personal or religious beliefs as well. Only Mississippi and West Virginia allow only medical exemptions In California a bill was passed in June, 2015 that would eliminate “personal belief exemptions” and only allow medical exemptions. This would also exclude all religious-based objections to vaccines as grounds for an exemption.

BUT IT’S DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN!

This movement today is reminiscent of days long gone: Riots, pamphlets, and an outcry in 19th-century England set the stage for contemporary misinformation campaigns. The cause they rallied against? Vaccination against smallpox, a dread disease capable of disfiguring and killing. This disease claimed more than 400,000 lives per year throughout the 19th century, according to the World Health Organization. In 1867, to encourage widespread protection, English law made vaccination compulsory for infants and all children up to14 years of age, imposing fines on those who did not comply. The working class was outraged by such penalties. Activists raised an outcry, claiming the government was infringing on citizens’ private affairs and decisions. Since the inoculations were not completely without risk, with a small percentage of those suffering minor illness, riots broke out in towns such as Ipswich, Henley, and Mitford, according to a 2002 paper in the British Medical Journal. An Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League was launched in London in 1867 amid the publication of multiple journals that produced anti-vaccination propaganda. Another chapter cropped up later in the century in New York City to spread the “warning” about vaccines to the United States. Under this pressure, the British government introduced a change in 1898: A “conscientious objector” exemption. The clause allowed parents to opt out of compulsory vaccination as long as they acknowledged they understood the choice. Similar to today’s religious and personal belief exemptions in most U.S.states, the parents signed paperwork certifying that they knew and accepted the risks associated with not vaccinating. Modern vaccination activists come from a different world than those in the 19th century. While anti-vaxers today are largely upper middle class, the crowd opposing vaccination in the 19th century was largely composed of lower- and working-class British citizens. Otherwise, history is presenting us with a nearly a carbon copy!

Where to we stand today? Despite all the objections to vaccination, smallpox has been completely obliterated from this planet. Other diseases are following suit, and notwithstanding such lunacy, will continue doing so! Vaccines are not only safe, they are clearly the greatest public health success in the history of civilization

As the old adage goes “Knowledge is finite, but ignorance has no bounds!”