Monday, July 13, 2009

Americans Red, White, and Blowing Science? Educated Parents Most At Fault for Faulty Beliefs about Vaccines, Breastfeeding, Bishpenol-A?

On the heels of our nation's birthday let's talk about America, more importantly, America's ambivalent relationship with science. Here at Momma Data it's no secret that I find fault with information parents get and dish out about their children. Supposedly scientific information. I blame journalists, scientists, the American Academy of Pediatricians, other authorities and so-called experts, and yes, we parents.

And lately I've been musing that it's the more educated, the more sophisticated amongst us that sometime side step around the weighty piles of scientific evidence.

It's my better-schooled friends and fellow parents who still suspect vaccines have something to do with autism if not other chronic conditions - they're the ones not vaccinating their kids. It's the same group who breastfeed their children until age 2 at sometimes great sacrifice and with much vocal endorsement (despite the relatively small benefits of breast feeding). And yes, the same group who ditched the bottles with bisphenol-a and suspect the FDA is simply not capable of determining its safety.

So I wasn't surprised to read "Why America Is Flunking Science" at Salon.com. Writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum point fingers at everyone too, including Hollywood and also note that it's the more degreed amongst us who seek out information confirming their beliefs - to the neglect of good science. It's kind of a depressing article as they can find no way to counter this new trend save reiterating the bad science and faulty opinions.

I say why not use a rating system much like the film industry. It makes me somewhat crazy that people can check up on the latest entertainment options but not the latest research. Why not grade research too?

Speaking of science savvy...

Check out a recent survey by the Pew organization on science.

FYI: Although large gaps separate the views of scientists and non-scientists on evolution, global warming, even the use of animals in scientific research....

There is some good news - they are closer together on vaccines.

"There is less of a schism over the need for universal vaccinations: 82% of scientists and 69% of the public at large say that all children should be required to be vaccinated. Just 17% of scientists and 28% of the public say parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children."

It's just that the small group of vaccine-averse (decidely non-scientifically trained) parents are making a lot of noise, writing a lot of high profile magazine pieces (Robert F. Kennedy in Rolling Stone), getting book deals (Daniel Kirby), getting blogs on Oprah (Jenny McCarthy).

And I don't know how to interpret this. The best informed (scientifically) non-scientists are aged 30 to 49, in other words, in the midst of their child-rearing year. At least they did best on a science pop quiz that got at some facts (is there water on mars?) more than scientific thinking. I would not have been able to answer a lot of the questions. Is knowing if there's water on Mars a good marker of whether people can differentiate the good research from the bad? I got through a doctorate program and more than a decade, almost two, of doing and writing about research without knowing this answer.

2 comments:

Kids Nutrition said...

True!! Still there are a handful few who with stringent thoughts pose their kids health at risk. God help them!

Do keep posting such info.

Dr. Polly Palumbo said...

Yes, the problem will only worsen as more and more research, poor quality too, will be available on line. Thanks for your thoughts.