February 6, 2010

Why I Find Skepticism Sexy

Sometimes, when I think the world is going completely insane...there's a moment that really makes my heart warm.

That moment came this week, when a British medical journal pulled an article that claimed vaccines caused autism.

Why did I like this? Part of it is that, well, it deals something of a blow to Jenny McCarthy, who is making a career out of claiming that vaccines cause autism, and is positioning herself as an "advocate", when most of what she's spewing is bad science...and most people, including Oprah, ate it up with a spoon.

Now, admittedly, I have a dog in this fight - my 21 year old cousin Michael is autistic. Fortuntely, he's a higher functioning autistic person, and is currently living in a group home. However, my parents took him in after my uncle and his new wife...well, pretty much gave up on him. In fact, my aunt (while she was live) and uncle did nothing...but had many opportunities.

Why am I bringing this up? It would have been easy for me to just blindly accept that there was something wrong with my cousin, or to easily point the finger at some early childhood trauma, some mistake of birth (like the fact that my cousin's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck at birth)...but the truth is, we'll never know, unless we use the scientific method - we make a hypothesis, we test it out, and we see where the science takes us. It means basing our perceptions and assumptions on fact, not opinion or feeling.

Which is why I'm glad the Lancet pulled that article - we need to be skeptical in these modern times. We need to continually question the status quo, to experiment, and to always assume that our assumptions are faulty. Just ask Bill Maher, who got criticized after comments about vaccines...but who, quite frankly, should be applying as much skepticism to alternative medical beliefs as he does to religion. Or my friend Suzie, who keeps sending chain e-mails and then, in the other breath, declares that she does not consider Snopes.com (whose webmasters actually research urban myths) the "Delphic oracle."

(I would expect a Delphic oracle reference from Roger, or Mike Sterling, maybe even Scott, but Suzie? It's kind of hard to believe, I know).

Skepticism is sexy because it shows that we're continually thinking, continually growing, and are better able to justify our beliefs. Skepticism is what allows us to see behind the fear mongering that is Fox News...but also hold our leaders accountable. It allows us to not only have faith in the intangible, but also see the underlying logic in the world, and to bask in the fact that our universe actually works by a set of principles.

Or, in short, why I think Kari Byron is so much sexier than Jenny McCarthy.


Michael Moreci said...

There was actually a great cover story from Wired a few months back on the Autism-vaccine link that debunks the claim with, you know, science and fact. It's a great read.

Roger Owen Green said...

I think skepticism is important, even when it comes to your own beliefs. I'm of that Christian tradition, e.g., that thinks that we should revisit what we think we know on a regular basis. News flash: earth goes round the sun, which someone told me, 20% of Americans DO NOT KNOW. That could just be ignorance, I suppose, but yeesh...