I just stumbled into a conversation today at the park which reminded me again why the Skeptical movement is necessary. My wife was editing a hard copy of an entry I am working on, and a woman asked if she was helping with my homework. We explained that I actually write a blog which takes a science-based approach to looking into popular claims and myths.
This seemed to interest her, and she asked about why I did it, did I make money, how did I get my information? This were awesome questions actually. The only real answer I could come up with as far as motivation goes is that misinformation really bothers me. I firmly believe that it is harmful to the public at large when they believe things that aren't true. There is enough in the world that can in fact harm or help you, that it is distracting to be swayed into thinking that safe things are harmful or harmful things are safe. And that's why I do it I suppose.
We talked a bit more about some of the claims and it stumbled into the territory that can be quite dangerous:personal experience and anecdotes. I explained that there is a perception about vaccines being dangerous, and she said that she had a relative who had a kid with autism which started very shortly after getting vaccinated. This is a sad story, but is very familiar to those in the Skeptical community. I was not sure quite how to tread, so I explained the idea that the Autism generally does not make itself evident until around 18 - 36 months, which corresponds to some of the later vaccines. With 1 out of 110 people getting diagnosed, it is not at all surprising that on any given today a child will "suddenly" show signs following a vaccine. 40,000 people a year die in car accidents... there is a good chance that some of them had a vaccine within the weeks before. Or that they brushed their teeth. I also explained that it turns out that when you look at videos of kids even as young as 6 months, you can detect early signs of Autism, which don't become totally obvious until later. It is this fact that helped with some recent trials claiming harm from vaccines. I explained that the author of the original "study" linking MMR and Autism, Andrew Wakeful, recently had his medical license revoked in the UK due to his outrageously unethical practices in producing the study.
I was nearly overjoyed when she said she really wanted to read my article on vaccines and that she would show it to her relatives, as they were constantly searching for information. She wished so much, as do I, that they would just find the cause for Autism. If only.
She said that she frequently does wonder if claims are true or not, but has no idea where to start. I truly hope that my blog, and others like it, can serve as that connection between the claims and the science. She even bookmarked the site on her iPhone! That's all I could really ever ask for. I hope that I am writing in such a way that she, and others like her, feel I am doing a service and presenting the information accurately.
Information is power and the only way for people to become aware of it is for it to be written and talked about. This was one of the most positive Skeptical experiences I have had in quite a while.