|How can you not find this face heart-breaking?|
Those 4 vaccinations bring the total number our baby has received to 13 in six months. She will get another 3 or 4 in the next 3 months. That's a lot of shots, all of which are unpleasant experiences for babies, parents, and nurses. After having experienced holding my precious daughter down while the nurse gives her shots, I understand a little better why some parents and health-care professionals would look to connect those shots with something like autism. The causes of autism are a scientific mystery and there is no scientific treatment for the disorder. But what is very real to parents is that children often start to display symptoms of autism about the same time that the memories of all of those injections are fresh in the minds of parents.
Of course there is no medical evidence for any connection between vaccines and autism. The National Academy of Sciences just became the latest scientific body to certify that vaccines are safe. But try telling that to the Cunningham family of Coal City, West Virginia.
So why do I bring up vaccines and autism on a physics blog? Because here as in many other fields of science, the problem is with what feels true to the public, not the science. The data may clearly show that vaccines save lives and have absolutely no link to autism, but as a parent I have this gut reaction that says that anything that hurts my baby must be evil. The James Webb Space Telescope may be a scientific masterpiece that gets canceled because it feels like "government waste". The only scientific debate about anthropogenic climate change is how much of a change will we make and how fast, but Rick Perry, who may be the next president of the United States, is arguing that it doesn't exist. These are all examples, in my opinion, of areas where the real problems aren't with the science, but the public relations.
So how do we as scientists fix this? I'm afraid I don't have many answers. I think the scientific community needs to work harder to engage the public, but also needs to be better at engaging the public. I am open to suggestions on how to do that.