A lot of the focus of this blog has been on the anti-vaccine forces out there. That was kind of the original intent since “The Poxes” is kind of a dystopian story of what happens when we just stop vaccinating, cold turkey. (That reminds me that I need to get back to writing that story.) But there are other dangerous lines of thought out there, and I’d like to give you a list of things you need to know to fight them.
We all know that you need a primer on immunology and chemistry to fight the anti-vaccine types. Maybe you can throw in a little toxicology. Knowing these things will help you understand why thimerosal, a chemical that contains mercury, doesn’t behave like mercury alone. It’s not as toxic, and it is delivered in such a small amount that your body deals with it well. A little biology will help you know that you produce more formaldehyde just sitting there reading this and eating fruit than you will ever get through all the recommended vaccines. Again, toxicology will help you understand that your body deals well with those tiny amounts of formaldehyde, and you have nothing to worry about.
As far as elemental biology, you need to know that your body is made up of cells, that a collection of cells is a tissue, and that a collection of tissues is an organ. Within cells are tiny structures called organelles, and these organelles perform special functions. Also inside your cells (with the exception of some types of cells) is DNA. DNA is the genetic material that tells your cell what to make as far as products (like proteins) and when to multiply and when to die. DNA requires a lot of energy to be damaged, so you can’t damage DNA through regular radio waves like those in cell phones or television, or even high-tension wires. You need what is called “ionizing” radiation. It has enough energy to damage DNA. Even then, the damage needs to be sustained over some time and in specific locations for the DNA to be irreparably damaged. Such damage can lead to cancers and body disorders. So keep in mind this mix of biology and physics (regarding radiation) when you discuss cell phones and cancer with someone. (Or, sometimes, when you discuss power meters at home with veterinarians.)
Physics can also help you in your discussions with people who are convinced that “The Government” — or any other secret organization — is dousing you with “chemtrails.” They are not chemtrails, they’re contrails, and they’re what happens when the air coming out of jet engines mixes up the air in the atmosphere and causes the condensation of water vapor into visible clouds. Sometimes, if it’s cold and dry enough outside, you can see contrails right behind fast-moving vehicles on the ground, though they don’t last as long. Those same physics will help you counter the idea that vinegar sprayed from a bottle in your backyard can destroy contrails. Not only are the trails just plain-old water vapor that wouldn’t react with vinegar, they’re also thousands of feet up in the air, and none of the vinegar you spray will ever reach them.
A form of physics, astrophysics, will help you counter claims that we are being visited by aliens, or that aliens already occupy this planet and are using us as sheep. See, we live very, very far away from the nearest star system, and there is no evidence that our neighbor system has an inhabitable planet. Then again, if it does, there is no evidence of intelligent life there. And, if there is, there is no evidence that it can travel interstellar distances. The age of the universe is about 14 billion years, give or take. There just hasn’t been enough time for intelligent life to have developed and traveled all the way here from all the way out there. Are there other worlds with civilizations? Probably. The universe is huge, and it would be a waste of space if there wasn’t other intelligent life out there. But the limits on the speeds at which we can travel these huge distances make it highly improbable for aliens to be among us. Will they ever get here? Sure, if they started travelling a long time ago. And I do mean A LONG, LONG time ago. Or they’ll get here a long time from now.
Speaking of the age of the universe, the scientific principles found in geology will help you counter anti-scientific claims that the Earth is only thousands of years old, or that we humans walked with dinosaurs. Geology teaches us that rock sediments predate human civilization by millions of years. So the planet was here long before we were. Further, radiocarbon dating can be performed on all sorts of things to give us a good estimate of their age. So we know that bones found in sediment from millions of years are that old and that there are no human bones from before about 2.3 million years ago, when Homo habilis, the first of the Homo species that decided to use tools. Go read up on human evolution. It makes a lot of sense, and it will help you discuss with people (from religious zealots to racial bigots) the fact that we are all related and we all came from a common ancestor.
Water fluoridation? Again, a little biology and chemistry will go a long way. You’ll just need to know what fluoride is, what it isn’t, and how our bodies deal with it.
AIDS denialism? You have to know what a virus is and what it isn’t, how it infects the host cells and what it does when it is there. In the case of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the virus enters the body and infects a certain type of immune cell (thus requiring that immunology primer I told you about). Once inside, it hijacks the cell into making copies of the virus and nothing else. When those viruses fill the cell, the cell bursts, and the new viruses are free to infect other cells. Do this enough times, and you’ll destroy the immune system’s ability to defend itself against certain diseases. Get enough of these diseases together, and you have the syndrome called AIDS. Now, go back and look at the virus and compare it to other viruses that do the same thing in other animals. You’ll find that it looks like the Simean Immunodeficiency Virus and another virus that causes a type of leukemia (cancer of the immune cells). You’ll then come to the correct conclusion that the virus is a virus, and that it probably evolved from human-animal interaction. Do enough studies on the changes of its RNA (a form of DNA) and you will see how old the first HIV particle probably was… Hint: It predates the Reagan Administration.
And so on and so forth…
If you spend just a little time “doing your own research (the right way),” you’ll be able to counter these claims and do so with evidence and reason on your side. Listening ears might listen, and that’s not a bad thing at all.