Entries Tagged as 'autism'

Vaccine Denialism Finds a Home on Left and Right

David Frum April 21st, 2011 at 3:40 pm 30 Comments

The story of Andrew Wakefield administers a sharp reminder of how inadequate our ideological map can be.

Wakefield (profiled this weekend in the New York Times magazine) is the British medical researcher who has charged that autism can be traced to childhood vaccinations. His research has since been debunked as not merely fallacious, but fraudulent. His own medical license has been removed because he violated UK ethics rules by failing to disclose that his research was financed by plaintiff lawyers who wished to sue drug makers.

Wakefield’s bad science had tragic real world consequences: a noticeable decline in measles immunization.

About the ethical and scientific story here, there is a great deal to say.

But there’s also a political angle. Anti-vaccination thinking flourishes on the far right and the far left ends of the political spectrum.

Chris Mooney has an interesting blogpost here on left-wing vaccine denialism.

I want to further explain my assertion that vaccine denial “largely occupies” the political left. It arises, basically, from my long familiarity with this issue, having read numerous books about it, etc.

First, it is certainly true that environmentalists and Hollywood celebrities have been the loudest proponents of anti-vaccine views. To me, that is evidence, although not necessarily definitive. So is the fact that we see dangerously large clusters of the unvaccinated in places like Ashland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, which are very leftwing cities.

What’s tricky is, there’s not a standard left-right political ideology underlying this. Rather, it seems more associated with a Whole Foods and au natural lifestyle that, while certainly more prominent on the bicoastal left, isn’t the same as being outraged by inequality or abuses of the free market.

Yet it’s also true that anti-vaccination views show up on the political right, among politicians like Rep. Dan Burton and popular commentators like Melissa Clouthier.

You see as much enthusiasm for homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal remedies and other forms of folk medicine on the far right as on the far left, and for the same fundamental reason: distrust of expertise, of the scientific method, and of the good intentions of the authorities. The American political landscape is shaped in much weirder ways than Beltway debates over taxes and spending usually allow.