A recent Frontline episode (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/vaccines/?utm_campaign=homepage&utm_medium=bigimage&utm_source=bigimage_) exploring the
vaccine controversy was fascinating and suggests several openings by which a couple of our
less discussed reports might find some legs. Both the Regulation and Science reports connect
nicely to this current controversy and help to make a visceral political debate much more
depersonalized by getting to the heart of the matter.
On the one hand: what counts as Science? What makes good science? Why should we trust the
Medical Establishment when we know they can be affected by Big Pharma $ and/or the desire to
make a career via top publications? That said, even when clearly rigorous work is done and
published, the public still is reticent to believe it if it contradicts with “the gut impression” or
emotional anecdotes. Why is this? On the regulation side, how do we regulate something like
this? Can we? We say that parents have the right not to vaccinate but then set some limits on the
child’s ability to attend public school, but what do we do if there are whole communities that
refuse to vaccinate? If you choose not to vaccinate your kid and my kid dies as a result of your kid
getting sick and then passing the disease to my kid who hasn’t yet been (or who simply cannot
be) vaccinated, what then? We now do preventative detention of the most egregious sex
offenders for fear that they might hurt children (a set of some of the most dangerous in
Washington State are now infamously sequestered on McNeil Island off the coast of Seattle).
Of course, these individuals have already broken the law, which distinguishes them. But,
how do we balance concern about the well-being of children (or, really, any citizen) on the
one hand with rights to choose with regard to one’s self and/or one’s children?
IF’s approach to public discussion emphasizes that we not get too derailed by a discussion of a
current event/debate/controversy, but I think we could use such things to elucidate core concerns
that then connect with possibilities developed in our reports. I suspect that the reason Science
and Regulation can seem a bit off-putting to some potential public discussion participants is that
the topics don’t seem to have relevance to them. To the extent that we can help people to see
connections that connect to their own interests, that would seem helpful in generating what
could be some really useful and intriguing discussions.