Anti-vaccine and anti-fracking movements cut from same fabric
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
— Mark Twain
In this space last week I wrote about the peculiar cast of fringe-clinging skeptics who, contrary to all science and evidence, are working overtime to generate alarm about the safety of child vaccinations.
For most of us, the elimination of debilitating and deadly diseases like polio from the living landscape of western civilization is more than enough proof of the revolutionary benefits of vaccinations.
But not for the anti-vaxers.
The hotbed of the movement is, I noted, Boulder. Opt-outs of vaccination in the People’s Republic are at record levels. In related news, whooping cough has reached epidemic levels there. But that hasn’t stopped the anti-vaxers from going on the attack.
Vaccines contain formaldehyde. Do you want formaldehyde pumped into your child’s body?
It’s the kind of over-the-top hyperbole that would get you kicked out of a 7th-grade debate.
As I read about the anti-vaxers in the run-up to writing my column, I couldn’t help but note the stark similarities they share with another breed of off-the-reservation political organizer, the anti-fracking activist.
Both the anti-vaccine and the anti-frack crowd have leveraged Hollywood liberals to transform their crusade into cause celeb (the anti-vaxers have Jenny McCarthy, the anti-frackers, Matt Damon and Yoko Ono). Both movements rely on a cocktail of pseudo-science and scare tactics to win converts (anti-vaxers: formaldehyde! Anti-frackers: frack fluids!). Both movements refuse to accept the science which proves, incontrovertibly, that the practices at issue are safe. (Government-commissioned studies show there is no link between vaccinations and autism; the top environmental regulator to President Obama testified that not a single incidence of ground- water contamination has resulted from the nearly 2 million frack jobs that have occurred in the 60 years since the practice was invented.)
Both movements are fundamentally at war with progress. (Millions of lives have been saved or improved by vaccinations; innovations in hydraulic fracturing are eviscerating the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy.)
But give it to both the anti-vaxers and anti-frackers – if manufacturing fear were a business model, they’d be Fortune 500.
Take, for example, the allegation that oil and gas production has caused a spike in birth anomalies in Garfield County.
Just the mere mention of the issue gives the anti-fracking crowd a powerful weapon to wield.
Here is The Daily Sentinel’s lead in an 800-word bombshell first reporting it:
“A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment review of concerns about a sudden increase in fetal problems in Garfield County is probably weeks from completion, a department spokesman says.
“The review, prompted by concerns relayed to the state by Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and clinics it is associated with, follows the release of a Colorado study earlier this year pointing to a possible increased risk of two birth defects when mothers live near oil and gas development.”
In a 374-word story printed last Saturday under the headline, “Fetal defects not linked to gas wells,” the Sentinel reported that state health officials had ruled out any single cause of the birth defects in question — oil and gas, pharmaceutical or otherwise. The vast majority of babies studied lived more than 15 miles from oil and gas production.
In fact, state and federal officials don’t even keep a database on birth anomalies, so the premise of “a sudden increase in fetal problems,” reported without any qualification, was itself a fiction.
But even in this story, the anti-frackers won. “Fetal defects not linked to gas wells” is about as exculpatory as “Rick Wagner doesn’t drive stoned.”
And so the story goes. As long as there are anti-vaxers and anti-frackers, and as long as Mark Twain’s truism remains true, honest-to-God-facts and science won’t be nearly enough to settle these debates. Truth tellers, you better start lacing up those shoes.
Josh Penry is a consultant who represents oil and gas clients, drives a car powered by fossil fuels, and has two vaccinated children.