Everybody now, say it with me, correlation is not causation

Thom Barker takes up the cause of voluntarily vaccinating

Correlation is not necessarily causation.

Let me say that again because it seems like there is a growing number of people out there who never got the memo.

Correlation is not necessarily causation.

Back in the day, when my parents, and all my friends’ parents, and just about everybody in the Western world, were dutifully trundling us down to the doctor’s office or public health clinic or school gymnasium to get our shots, we took it for granted that things like polio and measles and whooping cough were a thing of the past. Relics of a time when humans lacked the technology—yes vaccines are technology—to prevent these awful diseases.

You will note that I purposefully included the word ‘necessarily’ in the statement at the top of this column, both times. That’s because there are cases where correlation is causation.

Here’s a really good example of that: vaccinations.

Before we had the vaccines for polio and measles and whooping cough, people were constantly getting terribly sick and dying from these awful diseases. After the vaccines, they were all but eradicated.

But we didn’t just randomly say, ‘oh look, these terrible diseases are gone, must be the vaccines.’

No, researchers proved by the scientific method, before, during and after the fact, that it was not just that the viruses and/or bacteria naturally went away—or that some unseen deity decided to take pity on we puny humans—it was the vaccine.

Sure, there were pockets in underdeveloped countries where these diseases persisted, but here, where we had the wealth and the medical system to ensure public safety, we enjoyed an all too brief virtually disease-free period.

Sure, there were holdouts in the West, faith-healing communities and the like, who resisted on religious grounds, but they were a fringe element that didn’t really have an impact on the larger population.

If you don’t trust science and want to say, ‘well, God created the scientists who developed the vaccines,’ I really don’t care. By the process of science or the grace of God, we have them and they work.

Now, here’s a prime example of a case in which correlation is not causation: vaccinations and autism.

Of course, the modern anti-vax movement is much more complex than the oversimplification I am about to make. Parental anxiety over sticking babies with needles is understandable, and there is a tiny number of people who cannot be immunized for medical reasons.

Nevertheless, the current outbreaks of measles in B.C. and elsewhere, do stem from an anti-vaccination movement the origin of which can be traced to the notorious British physician Andrew Wakefield and a handful of celebrity crackpots, most notably Jenny McCarthy, who either fraudulently asserted or innocently mistook correlation for causation.

It cannot be stated too often or too loudly that the study linking autism and vaccinations was fraudulent. Wakefield has been discredited time and time again, stripped of his medical licence and disgraced in all but the most virulent of true believing circles.

It is appalling that B.C. and many other jurisdictions are being forced to develop legislation to make immunizations mandatory. It should not be necessary and somewhat uncomfortably raises personal liberty issues, but that is where we are.

We should save our government officials the trouble and voluntarily participate in this life-saving practice.

Don’t be a Jenny McCarthy, get your kids vaccinated.

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