Ought to vaccine, or Autism Vaccine: Part One, The Golden Mean.

Influenza vaccination

Image by AJC1 via Flickr

My son had all his vaccinations. My son has autism. Depending on whether I think these two statements are related, I will be viewed by some as an ignorant, neglectful parent who pays too much attention to mainstream media, or by others as… an ignorant, neglectful parent who pays too much attention to mainstream media. If I refuse to voice an opinion one way or the other, I’m weak and by consequence of my indecision I lend my support to “the other side” of whoever I happen to be talking to at the time.

As it happens, I am not a fence-sitter. I have very strong views and opinions, formed after years of research and reading… but everyone says they’ve done years of research and reading and yet they disagree; should I not be humble and friendly and admit I do not know, no one knows, can’t we all just get-along?

When I see avoidable death and suffering, which is justified on grounds of invalid arguments and poor “science”, I do not hop on a fence and pat the heads of people on both sides. I choose instead to… choose. And to do my utmost best to make that choice informed and rational, trying not to get dragged into the classic argument fallacies that breed like the rate of autism. Reading through the heated debates on the topic, reads like a philosophy textbook of those fallacies: Ad hominem attacks, straw-man arguments, confused appeals to authority… and one of the most over-looked ones, the fallacy of the golden mean, which is the main point of this post, so I shall expand on it:

The fallacy of the golden mean is made when people argue that the truth lies between two extremes, or between two disagreeing views, merely because it is in the middle of them. So, some people say all autism is caused by vaccinations, and some say no autism is caused by vaccinations, therefore the conclusion reached is to sit in the middle: That the truth must be that some autism is caused by vaccines and some isn’t.

This argument style is very common in politics, and we are perhaps most used to it in that forum; that extreme left and extreme right are wrong because they are extremes, and the truth must sit in a moderate middle. It holds some appeal in the realm of politics when that realm is a democratic one, and you are trying to create a political landscape that a wide variety of people can live within. Though even with political issues, the golden mean can and will lead you astray: Some people think slavery of children and african-americans is wrong, some people believe slavery of children and african-americans is OK, so we should accept a middle ground that slavery of children is wrong but it’s OK to enslave african-americans? Or maybe a middle ground of enslaving only some children and african-americans?

More importantly though for my point here, science is not a democracy. The cause of autism, is a question of science, not a question of which side of the debate has more believers and supporters. When science (and let’s be clear here, not just malleable statistics), show that vaccines have caused some (but not all) instances of autism, then there are good valid grounds to make that statement.

So whether you call it sitting on the fence, or whether you call it falling for the fallacy of the golden mean, I choose not to stand there because I know of no good science that gives me reason to do so . Where I do stand and why, is the topic for another post…

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4 Responses to Ought to vaccine, or Autism Vaccine: Part One, The Golden Mean.

  1. Sarah says:

    Another great post. No, science is not a democracy. And there is very little middle ground in this particular debate; much less middle ground that happens to include the truth.

    Another problems with the golden mean is that the louder and more persistent one extreme is, the further in that direction the mean is tugged. It has nothing to do with science, logic, or even effective persuasive communication — it’s all about volume.

  2. Stef says:

    I am usually of the opinion that parenting is a bloody hard job and that parents are the best judge for what’s best for their kids. However the problem with not vaccination is that the choice to not vaccinate can and does have real consequences for others. While your 8 year old might be ok catching the measles they might not and that’s before you start considering people whose autoimmune systems might be weakened through illness or being a baby.

    The other argument that springs to mind is that correlation does not equal causation.

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