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the piano teacher


It goes without saying in these parts (these parts meaning "Steven's mind") that capitalism sucks, that big companies generally suck, that big capitalist companies want nothing other than to make a profit, and that governmental protection against profiteers is necessary.

It also goes without saying in these parts that despite my insistent claims to being an atheist, I am in fact a believer: in science, something about which I admittedly know very little about. What I do know is that I believe in the scientific method, as much as I understand that method, believe that "Science" with or without a capital S is, in the ideal sense at least, dedicated to finding out the truth, believe that we are better off putting our faith in a field that insists on evidence as an indicator of "truth" than we are in anything that prefers to allow anecdotes to pass as evidence.

The Homeland Security Act is one kinghell piece of scary shit legislation. It deserves every bit of attention that can be addressed to its evilness. But that awful evil resides in the totalitarian possibilities of its Constitution-destroying bullshit. Instead, the hot topic of the day seems to be that folks are up in arms over a late and shady addendum to the Act that apparently protects a big capitalist drug maker from lawsuits. While we should be worried about the erosion of civil liberties, we're complaining because big bad Lilly is going to escape punishment for turning "normal" kids into autistic kids, via the use of thimerosal in vaccines.

Well, late and shady addendums to laws are generally a bad thing, and the Homeland Security Act was already terrible in historic dimensions, and big bad Lilly, like all big capitalist profit-making machines, deserves to be attacked. But this thing about autism and thimerosal is a bunch of shit, and unfortunately typical of our times, where it sometimes feels like people are regressing to the days of witch doctors because they fear "Science."

I've written about what I see as the non-sensical fear of science when it comes to matters of health in an article called "Dirty Laundry":

Most importantly, though, is the rejection not only of problematic aspects of the Western science tradition, but of important and vital aspects of that tradition. In particular, the frequent absence of systematic analysis such as double-blind testing means that far too many alt-health claims are rooted in the anecdotal and the unverifiable. That some people are susceptible to vague claims is understood; that people concerned about their health might be particularly willing to believe that something might improve their lives is also understood. What is hard to understand, though, is why anyone (including leftist cultural critics) who is ready to attack complex social problems with critical thinking strategies, would turn their brains off when it came to the relative merits of aromatherapy versus a visit to the doctor for a drug prescription. We are back to our old saw: the Age of Reason and the glorification of Science and Progress is so clearly problematic that the absence of concrete scientific data regarding the value of something like aromatherapy is seen as a positive. Aromatherapy proves it is the enemy of Science (my supposed enemy) by existing outside Science, which makes aromatherapy my friend. That this is nonsense is only part of the story. What is especially sad is how often this means that otherwise intelligent people risk their very lives in the service of "alternative" health notions.

A useful look at the actual science involved in the thimerosal/autism issue can be found in this article on the Quackwatch website. As was noted in a recent Quackwatch newsletter on the topic of the Act and the "shady Lilly" addendum, "The provision amended Section 2133(5) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300aa-33(5)) so that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, rather than the courts, would have jurisdiction over complaints related to all ingredients listed in vaccine license applications or on product labels. As noted on Quackwatch, there is no logical reason to believe that autism is caused by a toxin or that the tiny amount of mercury in thimerosal caused any child to develop autism.... The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program limits damages and includes expert review that is far more trustworthy than the whims of local judges."

People who waste their time pursuing "alternative" health methods that have no basis in science are killing themselves and those to whom they are responsible. There are plenty of good reasons to attack big drug companies ... so-called thimerosal-related autism isn't one of them.