Thursday, March 5, 2015

Black & White & Blue Science

The Internet almost broke last week. The Net Neutrality debate had nothing to do with it – somebody posted a picture of a dress asking what color it was. A ferocious debate ensued with the “blue/black” faction on one side and the “gold/white” on the other side. (Of course most of my feed just commented on how ugly the dress was without much consideration for the color!) Wired  Magazine ran a long article on the science of why nobody agrees on the color – including interviews with specialists in optics as well as graphics experts on color. The way the dress is photographed under various light and angles along with how one’s optical system works are all part of how we see the same object differently.  The fact that science proved that the dress is blue/black didn’t quell the opposition. The effect on society over whether a dress is a particular color is pretty insignificant – but it is a perfect example of how science doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Science makes my eyes glaze over. I was never a particularly good student at it less from a capability point of view and more from an interest and retention perspective. And there’s all these long and funny sounding names of things that seem to be designed to make it more complicated and complex that it needs to be. While I don’t have an aptitude for science doesn’t mean that I dismiss it or don’t appreciate it. I’m in the minority on this!

Life expectancy was estimated to be 31 years in the early 20th Century, and by  2010 the world average for longevity is 67.2 years. I’ve got about 30 years left according to a popular calculator. Social Security tells me I’ve got me hanging around until I’m 82.3. The reasons why people are living more than twice as long in 2010 as they did at the beginning of the 1900’s can be attributed to many things. Key among them is vaccinations, advancement in medical treatment and knowledge about how the human body works.

The media and the country last month erupted in a furor after there was an outbreak of measles in the U.S. that spread to 16 states with 141 cases (as of 3/2/15).  The uproar was in large part because “The entire western hemisphere was declared measles-free early in the 21st century. The United States and other countries had reached this point by ensuring ready access to immunizations and instituting mandatory immunization requirements for students in schools.”  The anti-vaccination “movement” was blamed and individuals vilified without any realization that opposition to vaccinations is as old  as the practice itself.

The 113th Congress in November 2014 amid a spirited debate about the XL Pipeline and its impact on the environment also passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on their own research. A scientist who may have spent years studying an issue and become expert in it would not be able to advise, testify or assist the Agency on what she/he knows. That’s like saying that somebody from Wall Street shouldn’t be able to advise the Treasury on financial matters. The bill would never become law, but still passed Congress 229-191.

I have some real concerns about the State telling people what they can and cannot do with their body. My Libertarian tendencies and the historic and continual overreach of the government (local, state, federal) provide excellent justifications for letting people decide what vaccinations they will and will not take. However, as is repeated in many places throughout the LP’s party platform: one’s individual right to autonomy stops when their choices cause harm or infringe on the rights of others. Nothing could be more exemplary of that than permitting somebody with a contagious disease to interact with the public. Their right of not vaccinating (as determined by their parent) stops when the result (disease) would cause grievous harm to others. Do I want the government mandating it at birth? No. Places where people interact could mandate it – schools (private & public), athletic events, etc. It may be a hair-splitting difference as most schools are government run – but theoretically somebody could home school their child and choose not to vaccinate.

I oppose the government mandating vaccinations, and have concerns about the EPA which is overly influenced by politics and seem to propose solutions in search of problems. Those objections and resistances do not equate to me being anti-science. (Or being a cave man.) It means I have a different way of approaching those issues. Banning experts and dismissing the underlying science isn’t the way to go. Seems the world is going crazier - and not because so many people were so invested in a dress color. What used to be black and white is now black and blue – just like that ugly frock.

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