Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reason is a politician's enemy

Reviewing outstanding examples of scientific illiteracy, the Sunday Independent (UK) recalls the US presidential campaign:

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," said President-elect Obama. "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it," he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. "It's indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it," he said. "There's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in the vaccines."

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

Even if Obama or McCain knew better, they were smart to be wrong.  Being right on such an issue would open a politician to charges of being insensitive.  We may think of ourselves as being part of a modern and enlightened society but the voting public values sensitivity far more than well-reasoned scientific thought.

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