If only …

(Thanks to ralfcis for the link!)

A taste of your own medicine.

“Doctor,” said Sacha, “Can you give me your assurance that this injection won’t harm my children?”

“Well, there’s always some risk, Ms Melham. I do have a leaflet that explains everything…”

Sacha placed a finger on the table.

“I don’t need a leaflet, Doctor. I simply want your assurance that this injection will cause Willow and Gregory no harm…”

Doctor James Ferriday gazed at the finger.

“As I said, there is always a small risk, but if you look, you will see that this is less than the probability of…”

Sacha held up her hand.

“Please, Doctor. Don’t try and confuse the issue.”

“I’m not trying to confuse the issue, I’m simply presenting you with the facts…”

Sacha rose to her feet.

“Well, I think I’ve heard enough. Willow, Gregory, put your coats back on. Thank you, Doctor, we’ll be… what’s that?”

James’s screen flashed red and green.

“Oh dear,” he said, reading the yellow writing scrolling across the monitor. “I think you should take a seat.”

Sacha did so. Her son slipped his hand into hers.

“What’s the matter, mummy?”

“Nothing, dear. Is everything OK, Doctor?”

“I’m sorry, Ms Melham…” he began, and then more kindly. “I’m sorry, Sacha, but you’ve crossed the threshold. I’m afraid to say, you’re not allowed science any more.”

“I’m what?”

Written By: Tony Ballantyne
continue to source article at nature.com


  1. Sacha is the name of my 5-year-old son.

    I’m going to make use of the UK’s libel laws – while I still can – and take nature.com to the cleaners.

  2. It is to be wondered if the number of parents pontificating on ‘dangerous’ vaccinations aka ‘Wakefield sheeple’ might not be inadvertently responsible for the Whooping cough epidemic revenging North America at this time?

  3. Not clear tight now. One idea I’ve heard put around is that it’s a more severe form of parapertussis which is getting confused with pertussis.
    Of course the conspiracists blame it on the authorities: contrails, poisoned food and water or whatever. Sometimes even the vaccines themselves. After all, they contain essence of evil, uh, I mean virus fragments, and are not sufficiently diluted.

  4. What’s this? The acceptable face of Big Brother (the Orwellian original, not the ‘desperate to be on television’ sack o’shite) is totalitarian science? Well, it sure as shit beats the alternative; bring it on, and please let the master computer have Sagan’s voice….or The Hitch’s, as a final “fuck you” to religion.

  5. “Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.”   Sir Peter Medawar.

  6. Well, this is the first time I find myself on the side of the anti-vaccinationists. Force-vaccinating people strikes me as crossing bounds.

    If the religious were force-indoctrinating random children because of their genuine concern for those children’s souls it would be horrible; the fantasy described in the article––assuming that politics is a means for people to determine how to live together and not an instrument to do right in spite of other people’s mistaken opinions––no less extreme. Disregard for the freedom to be wrong is disregard for the freedom to make a choice in the first place.

  7. Force-vaccinating people strikes me as crossing bounds

    Well of course it is  an extreme ‘tongue in cheek’   reaction to the frustration felt when kiddies suffer needlessly.

    It is not meant to be funny the point is doctors are having conversations like the one in the OP every day and although the outcome is not quite as draconian as suggested, Doctors are left to pick up the pieces when the inevitable herd immunity gets a rather gaping gap in its armour.
    Which is all very well but Doctors are overstretched client wise, with the ageing population,  and in the UK are constantly fighting at 180 degrees the government and their ‘get rich schemes for toadies’ further restricting time and energy that is really best employed at the front line of medicine and care.

    Recently in Blighty, couple of years back now, the health authority for one health area thought it was a jolly good wheeze to provide weekend cover for the exhausted local GP’s  by jetting in European doctors to fill staffing levels in the community on a ad hoc basis, this was apparently a regular feature and the cost was deemed acceptable…go figure!

    One such doctor was a German chappy with a rather murky history in the German health service, but anyway the point is that he hardly spoke English at all and the authority bussed him in for weekend cover and he ended up prescribing a totally inappropriate strength in the medicine prescription…the patient died cos the doctor was not fluent enough to understand basic units or read patient file notes on previous medication regimes.

    So it is easy to blame a cavalier foreign doctor on a bit of moonlighting to earn extra dosh fair enough but it also indicates that the greater blame seems to lie with the fact there are insufficient home grown GP’s and weird and wonderful contracts introduced by a succession of government health minister interference are completely innapropriate in certain areas, and just do not work…period!

    All very sad but the indigenous doctors having to put up with severely pompous, sometimes ignorant, and certainly under educated parents, have their time wasted in surgery and then when the balloon goes up are run ragged by an epidemic that could have been prevented in the first place.

    If the religious were force-indoctrinating random children because of their genuine concern for those children’s souls

    What do you mean IF?

    Disregard for the freedom to be wrong is disregard for the freedom to make a choice in the first place.

    When that ‘freedom’ ends up killing kiddies and infecting their friends and in some cases crippling them for life I think that ‘freedom’ is a rather pointless if not ludicrous term.
    It would deny a life to an innocent child, because mummy and daddy read some cretinous web page filled with hysterical innuendo and completely false and twisted ‘facts’

    Remember just one thing…Wakefield did it for money and prestige and still is…there is no other reason!

    And it would seem that his greed and insanity has fuelled a resurgence of childhood killer diseases because they had been kept at bay for over 50 years with herd immunity…the whole health of a generation has been severely compromised by this reckless clown, and the utter banality of the Christian right that now support his crusade to deliver the message of complete bollocks to the hard of thinking parent are more then culpable for feeding the hysteria.

  8. You’re taking it too seriously.

    If it were serious, you’d have to include hidden assumptions that would detract from the humour. 

    Mainly that the family’s entitlement to medical care would be conditional on their acceptance of institutional policies of their mutually interdependent community. Attempting to include deliberately unvaccinated children in that community would violate those assumptions, potentially a risk for others who are unable to be vaccinated. This would breach implicit rules of community inclusion.

    A related example of mistaken assumptions might be wearing a burka in public in an unfamiliar, anti-sharia culture where women are allowed in public unaccompanied and are entitled to make contractual financial commitments with non-relatives, but where facial recognition is an essential basis of these trust-based transactions. In contrast in western cultures women are allowed out in public on the assumption that they know maths and can read. But these assumptions are not always valid.

    This relates to a recent report on Australian radio attempting to explain Muslim angst leading to recent Islamic riots in Sydney. Being that Muslim men’s introduction to Australia is often as a new migrant, initially dependent on the welfare system until they find their feet economically. But men from Islamic nations are often culturally accustomed to possessing and controlling their family’s economic resources. In Australia welfare benefit payments, based on the number of children, are paid directly to the mother for the purpose of off-setting child-related costs, something which many Islamic men find offensive.

    So a forced vaccination is no different to forcibly not giving child welfare money to the father. It’s an alternative to real force. The money or the vaccination doesn’t have to be accepted. But the the unstated alternative is that not accepting the situation might lead to intervention regarding the children’s welfare or a forced exile from that community.

  9. This reminds me of a moment at school when I was only 16 years old. I arrived at school and was asked what I thought of the mathematics homework we had to do for that day. I’m hardly a star at math but I thought it was pretty easy and had only one question for the teacher. To my surprise I was ridiculed for understanding the math problem. I was lost for words. I asked if the guy though I was stupid for understanding and he confirmed. Go figure…
    Stupidity rules it seems sometimes. I often find myself in discussions where I am able to defend my position with hard facts and figures. People tend to hate this and call me arrogant and a know it all. Well, until I defend a position they hold of course that is because then I’m suddenly knowledgeable.
    Frank Furedi calls this the dumbing-down of cultures (Furedi: Where have all the intellectuals gone? 2006). I tend to agree. And it’s scary too. Irresponsible leaders like George Bush jr. can obviously spin blatant lies in everyone’s face and get away with it. People seem to be living happily in the absence of knowledge. You can’t worry about things you don’t know about now can you? My response to that is that good scientific knowledge can (and does) take away unfounded fears for the majority of B.S. that is shown in the news on a daily basis. I also sleep good at night but that is because I don’t worry about aliens, bad vaccinations or shaving blades in oranges.

  10. Topo’theKlaasjansch,

    You have to realise early on that names like ‘smartypants’,’ bighead’ ‘know-all’ or ‘too clever by half” are really compliments.

    It’s hard to be popular if you stand out from the crowd in intelligence.

    Or so I’m told :¬(

  11. I’m printing this and posting it in the ER break room. We have one nurse, that I know of, who is anti-vaccine. I like to tell her that I’m saving up money to send her to India without a rabies inoculation.


  12.  I’ve heard the same idea regarding possible parapertussis – although I suspect almost all queried cases of whooping coughs in the UK are tested with rapid PCR I’m not sure if the kits are all made to differentiate the two since I’ve seen a fair few I would have sworn were whooping cough and came up negative. Be interesting to see the epidemiology once it’s pieced together.

    The other problem is waning of immunisation and exposure-based immunity (which seems on the order of 5-20 years) so that there is a pool of the previously immune able to spread it about later. There’s now a roll-out to re-immunise pregnant women in the early 3rd trimester to ensure passive infant immunity until the 2/3/4 month jabs take effect and give the mothers another 10-odd year boost.

  13.  I first saw this story via Orac’s Respectful Insolence blog; like him, I wish I had written it. Totalitarianism aside, in those dark, head-desk moments when parents tell you their ‘4 year-old never had any vaccines and they’re fine’  I’ve wished I could trigger a similar alert and get through to them that this is not the same kind of abdication of effort that proudly stating how bad one is at arithmetic and that the ‘research’ they are quoting is not helping their case.

    My other plan (on those really bad days) would be like cigarette packets with pictures of diseased lungs on them. This generation just haven’t seen that measles and Haemophilus influenzae  B can kill. If they had to go through some sort of Holodeck enactment of their unimmunised 6-month old with whooping cough being ventilated for transfer to Intensive Care, or their toddler suffocating with HiB epiglottitis, they might bloody well think again.

    And now back to my regularly scheduled mental programming of sunshine and cute, fluffy animals…

  14. Interesting.

    It’s not something that comes up in discussion much, but I only know 2 people who are opposed to vaccinating children. One is a nurse, the other a physiologist.

    It seems that superstition-like mere association is such a powerful mental shortcut to perceive cause and effect that it overwhelms even medical and scientific training.

    On the other hand, maybe it’ really is just a maths thing. There might be something in common with innumeracy and lawyers going on. I have a theory that many people become lawyers because they opted to study law so that they could avoid maths at uni. I noticed this one when our legal counsel tried to insert a several page long prose description and definition of a pricing arrangement, when a simple function with a few variables would have been easier to understand. (Apparently assuming that a ‘reasonable man’ could understand a simple algebraic formula is not a reasonable assumption in the legal community.)

    Perhaps physiology and nursing have relatively minimal maths prerequisites for course entry.

  15. Pete H – it’s disturbing that the people you know who are opposed to immunisation are in life science-associated fields.  I wonder if their exposure to ‘myths’ in their professional environment is a factor? Or is it because of their training they feel their (erroneous) conclusions are somehow more valid?

    I like your example of reducing a financial arrangement to an equation. I remember being in Year 3 (age 9) and being shown how to reformat my prose description of experimental results (differing breaking strength of various thread/wool types) in table format – it was a light-bulb moment!

    Where I studied Physiology, you needed at least B at Maths A Level (I did…considerably worse than that and sneaked in via another degree course that didn’t have Maths as an absolute prerequisite!). Pharmacology on the other hand was chock full of algebraic derivation from first principles and I needed to add to my school-boy statistics for my lab dissertation. A Nursing Studies degree usually requires at least C for GCSE Maths plus Double Science. I’ve met many newly-qualified nurses who feel ‘bad’ at maths but get by with calculating drug concentrations etc. and gain confidence over time. That said, I spent part of a night recently chatting to a nurse who was flicking through (for her own ‘amusement’) a presentation on receptor pharmacology that made my intraparietal sulcus stroke out a bit…

    Unfortunately all the maths education/talent in the world is no barrier to post hoc, ergo propter hoc if there is no applying the scientific method to the question asked. Some people can read equations like rote-translating a foreign language – they have an answer but they don’t have to necessarily understand its significance. 

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