Over on The Houston Chronicle's new MedBlog
, Leigh Hopper started to question the wisdom of using Thimerisol (a mercury based preservative that is used in eye drops and vaccines and has been for half a century or more) in vaccines. Many vaccine manufacturers have conceeded to public hysteria over mercury poisoning and have stopped using it. But there are few good replacements for it, therefore many vaccines have a short shelf life, have to be refrigerated, and many manufacturing batches are condemned due to bacterial contamination. Two years ago, an entire batch of Flu Vaccine was condemned sparking a nationwide (and worldwide) panic over flu vaccine availability. But just how do you refrigerate vaccines in the middle of the Congo? You don't. Therefore, millions of people in need of Polio, Diptheria, Tetanus, and other vaccines that we take for granted here cannot get them because they live too far away from an electrical outlet.
This touched on an issue I find very important.
The media lives to jump into controversy and is, by it's very nature, biased towards the minority view. This is not bad in of itself, in fact it is often for the good. The danger is that the minority view is wrong far more often than it is right. The Media is a very high gain amplifier and it will amplify the minority view such that it SOUNDS like the majority view very quickly. This can have very bad consequences if politicians who are really merely weathervanes for thier constituancies are not given good clear unbiased advice such that they use thier heads instead of weathervaning. This has happened over and over again in the scientific media.
Individual persons can be intelligent logical beings, but put them in a large enough group, and they become abjectly stupid and illogical. The lowest common denominator in both intelligence and lack of emotional control takes hold. They become sheep, and the media, whether we or they like it or not are the shepherds. When the media focuses on the herd and not the individual, the herd can be made to stampede off a cliff if the person starting the stampede is irresponsible in choosing the path. Some in the media simultaneously derive giddy joy at the power they hold while claiming no responsibilty for the consequences of thier actions or even disavaowing that such power really exists, while others see that power as a tool outside the political or legal processes and seek to change society to thier whim much as a Stalin or a Hitler or a Baby-Doc would, caring only about thier agenda, and not a whit for anyone or anything else. And a very few others, grasp the dangers of the power they weild so clumsily and try to do as little harm as possible to the sheep in thier care. These few realize that they themselves chose this position, they were not elected to it.
Back in 1962, Rachel Carson set in motion something that has resulted in millions of agonizing deaths. She wrote a book entitled "Silent Spring"
She did so with good intent, but with very poor foresight, and very little thought to the unintended consequences of her actions. She, more than any other single person caused the US and the rest of the world to ban the use and manufacture of DDT. A pesticide that to this day has no equal. A pesticide that was so good, and so safe around humans, people abused it with abandon. DDT was a godsend to Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America where malaria kills. DDT saved millions of people. Today, malaria is rampant and is immune to many of the drugs that are used to fight it. Malaria is pandemic in places that malaria has never before in history been a problem in. Only now are countries in Sub-Saharan Africa beginning to contemplate the use of DDT again, but since they have little chemical manufacturing capacity themselves, they must turn to the industrialized nations to obtain it, but we won't make it because it offends our sensibilities. Therefore the dying continues unabated. Ms. Carson continues to kill beyond the grave.
Some more examples of stupid policy decisions that were driven by fearmongering in the media:
The halt in construction of nuclear reactors, especially fourth generation fast breeder reactors which are an order of magnitude more efficient.
The ban on reprocessing nuclear fuel for use in fast breeder reactors which would allow us to use 95% of the energy available instead of only 5%, leaving the fuel dangerously radioactive for only 200 years instead of 10,000.
Fighting the establishment of a high level nuclear waste repository for decades while nuclear waste stacks up ouside nuclear power plants because there is nowhere to put it. So just how exactly is stacking it up outside a plant safer than putting it inside a desert mountain 100 miles from the closest living thing?
Forcing refiners to use MTBE in Motor Fuels for environmental reasons and then suing them for doing so because it fouls groundwater.
Banning lead in all uses even though some uses are not only benign, but there are no good alternatives to it. (tin/lead solder in electronics, lead shielding in radiography equipment etc.)
Banning cadmium plating when there are few good replacements for cadmium plating in industrial use.
My point is that the media, especially those in the science media have a responsibility to ask themselves the question whether they are doing the human race good or harm in taking the positions they take, or bringing attention to the things they do. Have they considered all of the consequences of thier actions? Are they prepared to deal with the guilt of choosing wrongly? Are they willing to take responsibility for yelling fire in a crowded theater and causing a mass panic when none is warranted? People in large groups are sheep. It is the shepherd's responsibility if they stampede off a cliff, not the sheep's.