Anti-vaxxers are a lot like the climate denial crowd, but with two differences. First, there hasn’t been any corporate money fomenting skepticism about vaccines, unlike climate denial. Second, anti-vaxxers are sprinkled across the ideological spectrum.
Still, the similarities between these two forms of anti-scientism are greater.
One big similarity: both anti-science views have the support of the man who will become president tomorrow. Everyone knows about his tweet describing climate change as a Chinese hoax. Trump also thinks that CFL lights (or maybe all fluorescent lights?) cause cancer. In terms of vaccines, he tweeted this: “A study says @Autism is out of control–a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations.” (It’s still on his Twitter account). Trump has found a kindred spirit in RFK, Jr., who illustrates that anti-scientism isn’t limited to the Right and whom Trump seemingly plans to appoint to head a commission on vaccine safety. According to public health experts, if Trump pursues his present course, public support for vaccination could fall below the levels needed to prevent outbreaks.
Trump is peddling unfounded fears about vaccines. After a thorough study of all of the existing research in 2014, RAND found “strong evidence confirming that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is not associated with autism in children.” RAND said these “findings should help to debunk the myth that vaccines cause autism and other disorders — a claim that has led parents to avoid or delay vaccinations and has triggered a resurgence of diseases, such as measles and pertussis, that U.S. health officials had long considered to be under control.” Similarly, in a 667-page report five years ago, the National Academy of Science could find “no link between being immunized and the most serious health problems that have raised concern, including autism and Type 1 diabetes.”
Trump’s understudy, Mike Pence, may be even worse on public health. Here’s what he had to say when he was running for Congress: “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.” In fairness, he did go on to say that smoking isn’t actually very healthy; apparently, the harm just stops short of causing death. He opposed federal tobacco legislation as an exercise in big-government paternalism, more dangerous to Americans than second-hand smoke.
Trump’s rejection of the views of the scientific community on vaccines and climate change is part of his general anti-intellectualism. He respects business and military experience, but not “book learning.” For instance, the NY Times reports, “[f]ew of his key economic advisers have any economics training, and the only official who identifies as an economist . . . stands so far outside the mainstream that he endorses few of the key tenets of the profession.” In fact, the general dearth of policy expertise among Trump’s cabinet appointments led one commentator to remark that when Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” he meant “the one inhabited by wonkish technocrats who have devoted their careers to the details of policy-making.”
In the long run, Trump’s denial of climate change ismore dangerous than his fears of vaccines and florescent bulbs. Ironically, he was elected in a year that has now been identified as the hottest on record, breaking last year’s record But facts don’t make much of a dent among the willfully ignorant. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine against ignorance. Of course, even if there were, anti-vaxxers like Trump wouldn’t get it anyway.