The Rise of the Lowest Common Denominator

Today, scientists will introduce a new vaccine through the World Health Organization to three African countries in a pilot program designed to prevent malaria. Three hundred sixty thousand children each year will receive the vaccine, which has a 40% success rate in preventing the disease. 40% may not sound impressive, however, when you consider 435,000 people die of malaria each year (a child dies every two minutes from the disease, 250,000 children alone in Africa) this “complementary malaria control tool” is better than nothing at all. This is a victory for humanity and a proud moment for science.

This news comes on the same day (April 24, 2019) when, in the United States, a record 681 cases of the once eradicated measles disease have been reported. Twenty-two states report instances. The previous record for an entire year was 667 in 2014. Again, it’s only April 24th. This is a loss for humanity and an embarrassing moment for rational thinkers.

Science, I believe, is in its infancy. We pose far more questions each year than we answer. But as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Knowing there are unknowns (both known and unknown!) keeps science humble and curious. Each step forward reveals new questions, new problems, but more knowns (even if they are known unknowns).

Research into the demographics of “anti-vaxxers” always identified them as living on the outskirts of both political parties, but recent analysis has identified a distinct skewing toward the far right. The same conspiracy believing, science ignoring (climate change, pollution, flat earth), demographic who consider education to be an elitist, global cabal and who embraced the plain-spoken crudeness of a New York billionaire as their savior, believing he tells the truth, is a victim of the deep state and the mainstream media and was fully exonerated by the Mueller report. The echo chamber from which they obtain their news meets their confirmation bias, and anyone disagreeing is ignored and scorned as unpatriotic.

Fortunately, some African children will benefit from scientific advancement, children not of privilege or means, but beneficiaries of scientific progress. At the same time, some children in the United States will suffer from an entirely preventable disease because first world freedoms afford even the ignorant the right to put them in jeopardy.

As Harlan Ellison wrote, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” Unfortunately, specific demographics of our society have all of the answers when the rest of us are convinced of less and less each year, embrace that limitation, and continue to seek wisdom.

Thomas Paine wrote, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” In a country where education should be celebrated, instead, we seem to elevate the lowest common denominator — shame on us.

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