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What is a Fact?

Greetings, astronomy lovers!

So we’ve been bombarded in the news lately by the current outbreak of measles.  It’s very sad to read about, and of course, since this began in the U.S. in Disneyland, a place so closely associated with childhood, happiness, and joy, it becomes even more tragic, somehow.

But the truly sad thing is, this entire episode was entirely preventable.

The spotlight, and a negative one at that, has really been thrown on the anti-vaccination movement.  I feel badly for those folks, but I’m hoping this will make a majority of them reconsider.  Not vaccinating your child is dangerous…not only to your child, but to any person around them who truly cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

And danger from vaccines?  So minuscule as to be not worth considering.  Vaccines are not only safe, they are necessary if we are to keep menaces like measles, mumps, polio, and other terrible diseases from affecting our population.  And make no mistake, while these may be diseases of childhood, they are neither mild nor trivial.  As we’ve all read lately, the complications from measles can be deadly, and one need only look back at old photos of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to remember what polio can do someone.  No, these are diseases to be avoided at all costs.

Here at the museum, we teach critical thinking to the students who come to visit us.  How can we determine what is a fact, and what is an opinion?  Especially in this day and age of the internet, the two can become hard to tell apart.   We tell our students that a fact is a statement of objective reality independent of observer perception.  Scientists strive to find facts.  We work hard to keep our own biases out of the equation.

Sadly, much of the anti-vaccination furor is based not on fact, but on feelings.  And on one now long-since discredited scientific paper, published by a man who was not at all interested in keeping his perceptions out of his work…in fact, he was paid not to.  Vaccines are not poisons, or dangerous chemicals.  They are chemicals, yes, but then again, so are you.  Everything is made of chemicals, and chemicals are not bad.  Water is a chemical compound, and you can’t get a more basic life-need than that.

We need to set our fears aside and look at the facts.  And the facts very clearly show that vaccines are not the problem, they are the solution.  Want more information?  Check out Phil Plait’s fabulous blog, Bad Astronomy.  He’s a clearinghouse for excellent information on this and many other anti-science issues.

Dr. Phil Plait, author of the blog Bad Astronomy.  Join him for "Death From the Skies!" on March 16th at 7pm in the CNU Ballroom.  Tickets on sale for $10 from the VLM now.

Dr. Phil Plait, author of the blog Bad Astronomy. Join him for “Death From the Skies!” on March 16th at 7pm in the CNU Ballroom. Tickets on sale for $10 from the VLM now.

You can even meet the man himself!  We here at the Virginia Living Museum are excited to have Dr. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, coming to give a special talk on Monday, March 16th at 7pm.  The good folks at CNU have partnered with us to bring Dr. Plait here and arrange for a larger space than we have available for his talk – the CNU Ballroom.  Tickets are on sale now here at the VLM for only $10!  We have only 200 tickets available for this great evening.  Also please note that while tickets are available online, Ticketmaster tacks on a $3.50 service charge which you can avoid by coming in to the museum to get your tickets.  Phil will be talking to us about “Death From the Skies!” – how asteroids or other space objects will be doing us all in, or maybe not.

See you on March 16th!

Until next time – carpe noctem!

Kelly

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