On Ascribing the Cause of Ideas: Anti-Vaccination

Yesterday, I foolishly looked at Facebook. What could I have been thinking? Anyway, the emotionally and politically charged flotsam that presents, like the continents of plastic, the illusion of solid ground to those willing to squint just right, contained a little gem wherein the anti-vaccine craziness was described as an inevitable characteristic of Republicans.

Why or how was not explained – it is so *obvious*! Then, it gets pointed out that, according to the same kind of polling results beloved by certain people when it can be read to back them up, when it comes to pseudoscience, Democrats are far more prone to being gullible anti-science rubes than Republicans or Independents. So, now we have to spin – and who better to do it than Slate?

In fact, the available data shows stability in anti-vaccination views across ideology—neither side is substantially more likely than the other to hold anti-vaccine beliefs.

So, now the gig is up: it is simply impossible to plausibly assert that the anti-vaccination issue is a Republican problem. In fact, out here in California, it’s clearly a problem among the people who can afford to buy their probiotics and cage-free chicken at Whole Foods on their way back from having their aroma therapist adjust their chakras – the mushy-headed Left. 

We see stories such as this one from September in The Atlantic: “Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s: Hollywood parents say not vaccinating makes ‘instinctive’ sense.” The full story from The Hollywood Reporter is fascinating. More recently we saw this from a local CBS affiliate: “Berkeley’s Measles Ultimatum: 21-Day Quarantine For Unvaccinated Kids If Outbreak Spreads.” BuzzFeed notes that half of the children that attend some Marin County schools north of San Francisco are not vaccinated. The Washington Post notes that the California communities where anti-vaccinators cluster are also the most liberal, voting overwhelmingly for President Obama.

And what follows is what this post is about: ascribing causality to opinions:

For some reason, many in the media (as well as other liberal commentators) decided to try to make this story about a measles outbreak in California and a concern about vaccination rates in Hollywood, Marin County and Berkeley into an existential problem for — stay with me here because it makes zero sense if you’re not a hack — the Republican Party and conservatives. It’s an odd, perhaps even desperate and clownish, choice.

Personal aside: I’ve lived in California for half a century, most of it in or in close proximity to San Francisco, Marin and Berkeley. I’ve been part of an alternative school for 20 of those years. So, I can speak from personal experience here: I’ve never met an anti-vaccine Republican or Conservative. But I’ve met plenty of well-off people self identified as on the left end of things believing all sorts of irrational, anti-science and just plain whackadoodle things. Here’s one of many such things – Google around and see for yourself.

The Slate article does a number of disingenuous things, to put it politely. Take, for example:

The Pew Research Center finds modest differences in views about vaccination—34 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of independents, and 22 percent of Democrats believe parents should have final say on vaccination—while we know from anecdotes that vaccine rejection is present in conservative religious communities (like the Amish in Ohio) as well as in crunchy college-town communes like Boulder, Colorado. In fact, the available data shows stability in anti-vaccination views across ideology—neither side is substantially more likely than the other to hold anti-vaccine beliefs.

Let’s dissect this a little:

The Pew study is presented as if it represents a view on vaccination – that the numbers tell us something about people’s willingness to have their own kids vaccinated – when, based upon the information given in the text, what it is really telling us is the level of coercion people are comfortable with: A Republican hears the question as one of who gets to decide – do parents or the government get top decide if your kids get vaccinated? – because that, evidently, was what was effectively asked. So, regardless of his views on the validity or importance of vaccination, he may still think it’s better to leave the final decision in the hands of the parents. The Independent may hear it the same way. The 78% of Democrats who gave the ‘right’ answer may have no qualms about using the government to enforce things – or may have understood the question differently. In fact, as in all subjective yes/no style polling, the results tell us practically nothing except what this set of subjects were willing to tell this set of pollsters. In any event, we need to throw the Inigo Montoya penalty flag: I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Second, notice how the Amish – the freakin’ Amish! – are used as a representative Conservative community. Riiiight. The author couldn’t find a better example than that? Telling.

Finally, he looks in the mirror and cites a source from the American Prospect*, a brief review of which leads me to suspect its not going to challenge any of the beliefs dear to your average Slate reader. The link is from the words “available data” even though it links to an essay. The actual data, such as it is, is just a small section of survey results and goofball sociology experimentation, presented within a piece of pure political apologetics. In other words, the linked words might lead one to expect some objective data, when what one is getting is more polling fluff and a boatload of spin.

Anyway, as always, I retain my ‘a pox upon both houses’ political views, but must here acknowledge that the blatant manipulation and spin on the news is far more prevalent for the left than the right. The honest thing to do here is to say: Wow, it so happens that many people who vote for the correct candidates, the candidates I vote for, also are gullible idiots! The other side doesn’t hold a monopoly on stupid? This shakes to the very core my understanding of how people come to their political positions (e.g., smart people agree with me; dumb people don’t). I  may just have to rethink things a bit…

Like that’s gonna happen. A man’s gotta dream.

* This little essay is really precious: “Vaccine Fear Mongers Are Wrong, But They’re Not Ideological” Why oh why would anyone make the mistake of thinking anti-vaccine beliefs are an affliction of liberals, so that it needs correcting? Could it be the constant stream of Hollywood lefty mouthpieces that express this view? Or maybe the anti-vaccination pockets that exist in lefty enclaves like the Bay Area? The truth, I strongly suspect, is a little more subtle: anti-vaccine sentiments are strongly ideological, but not based on only one ideology: you have the hippy-dippy back to nature crowd that leans far left, but you also have the anti-abortion crowd fundamentally shaken by the origins of several vaccines in aborted fetal cells – these tend to lean right. And there are probably others. So why attempt to divorce this issue from ideology? Because it makes your team look to include ideological idiots? And that is the brush of choice with which you paint your opponents?


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “On Ascribing the Cause of Ideas: Anti-Vaccination”

  1. I got the same ideas from the poll. The Left is more comfortable using government muscle to force people to behave as they would like. My guess is that a greater percentage of the right actually does vaccinate, but are more reticent to force others to do so. They would rather rely on education (or miseducation depending on your bent) to encourage people to vaccinate willingly. The measles “epidemic” (words mean things) is just the crisis The Left likes to use to fragment the enemy and cement their moral and intellectual superiority. I think they (The Left and their willing buds in the Media) took some reasoned and innocuous remarks by Sen. Rand Paul and used that correlation (e.g. Rand Paul = Conservative Rep.) to divide and conquer.

    Prime example: Interview with Dr. Ben Carson where the “reporters” tried for five minutes to get him to denounce fellow doctor, Sen. Rand Paul for saying parents have the right and duty to decide on vaccinations and not State compulsion.

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