In 2009, best-selling author Michael Specter wrote a brilliant book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, which deals with the unfortunate but true notion that American society is hindering its own efforts for survival by subscribing to the “willingness to replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
“Denialism,” according to Specter, “is denial writ large – when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”
With the looming elections of 2012, outright denialism is rearing its ugly head from within the ranks of the Right wing. Whether it be over peak oil, alternative energy, climate change, stem cell research or medicine, denialists are leading the charge against reason.
“Denialism comes in many forms, and they often overlap. Denialists draw direct relationships where none exist – between childhood vaccinations, for example, and the rising incidences of diseases like diabetes, asthma and autism. They conflate similar but distinct issues and treat them as one – blending the results of different medical studies on the same topic, or confusing a general lack of trust in pharmaceutical companies with opposition to the drugs they manufacture and even to the very idea of science.” – Michael Specter
The latest case in point: this week, Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) made waves by calling out Governor and fellow candidate-for-prez Rick Perry (R-Texas) for his proposed state mandate for sixth grade girls to receive vaccinations for the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the most common sexually transmitted disease and a lead cause of cervical cancer.
Citing strictly anti-liberty concerns, Bachmann claimed the governor’s actions were “a violation of liberty and everything you and I stand for.”
But now, the inflammatory “Queen of Rage” is taking her argument a step further by claiming that Gardasil – which is used in HPV vaccines – actually causes mental retardation; a claim that no doubt rings in the ears of anti-science, anti-progress denialists throughout the country.
“I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate,” Bachmann said on a subsequent appearance on NBC’s Today Show. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.”
She told a similar story on Right-wing-friendly Fox News:
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” said Bachmann. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), negative potential side effects for Gardasil include only pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, mild-to-moderate fever, headache, and/or fainting.
Obviously even when all combined a far cry from anything even remotely resembling mental retardation.
But Bachmann’s fact-less claim does not fall on deaf ears – as plenty in our modern day American society are ready and willing to leap to her side in the fight against modern medicine.
“Unless data fits neatly into an already formed theory, a denialist doesn’t really see it as data at all. That enables him to dismiss even the most compelling evidence as just another point of view.”- Michael Specter
Her “mental retardation” argument is merely a doubly-misinformed rehash of the thoroughly discredited accusation that particular vaccines – manufactured by “Big Pharma” – had something to do with the increase in diagnosed autism cases in inoculated children within the first few years of life.
That particular claim began with a poorly conducted and grossly skewed report by one researcher citing a vastly manipulated yet minuscule sample of cases. His far-reaching conclusions over particular vaccinations sparked a veritable anti-medicine movement (known as “anti-vaxxers”) that still has not died out, despite hard scientific evidence (and subsequent court cases) proving it false.
Ironically, Rick Perry actually spoke on the side of reason with NBC’s Carrie Dann:
“You heard the same arguments about giving our children protections from some of the childhood diseases,” he said, “and they were autism was part of that. Now we’ve subsequently found out that was generated and not true.”
He then added: “I would suggest to you that this issue about Gardasil and making it available was about saving people’s lives.”
In a subsequent interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Bachmann swiftly back-peddled her claims by stating she has “no idea” whether Gardasil can actually cause mental retardation and that she was merely “reporting” what her supporter had told her.
It seems that – opting to regurgitate a debunked urban legend to her base to rally up points (and votes) out from beneath rival Rick Perry – Bachmann didn’t find it necessary to check her facts before spreading them on live television.
But then again, is that anything new?