You knew it would start to happen eventually. California has passed a law effectively making vaccines mandatory, and polls suggest other jurisdictions may follow suit. California has essentially said that a minority of opponents should no longer be able to threaten the safety of the majority of vaccinators, let alone their own children. Perhaps the days of the anti-vaccine scourge are finally numbered. I, however, do not want it to happen this way.
To be sure, I am vaccine zealot. I deliberately avoid, unfollow, and unfriend the anti-vax crowd, not because I don't think they have a right to their opinion (they do), but because I find their deliberate, ignorant endangerment of public safety so repugnant that it interferes with my ability to think about other things. You cannot win an argument with an anti-vaxxer. Any data you cite, and actual evidence you might use in support of your argument is pharmeceutical company progoganda, which you've swallowed whole because you are sheeple. It's lose-lose. Better not to play.
The absurdity of the anti-vaxx movement can be revealed in one simple statement: "We aren't anti-vaccine. We want safer schedules". If you don't believe the science, how would you go about designing a safer schedule? What metric would you use to decide when a schedule is safe? When every study concludes that their is no measurable risk from the current schedule, how will you measure the reduction in the risk you think is there (even when it isn't)?
I would personally benefit from mandatory vaccines. My daughter has an egg allery and getting a flu shot is an all-day event. How much simpler would it be to shuck the yearly ritual and trust in herd immunity instead.
I don't want it to happen this way. Mandatory vaccinations, for all the good they will do, will no doubt convince the true believers that the pharmaceutical companies are even more powerful and influential than they ever imagined, that they have so much control over everyone's lives that they can even force children to get needles stuck in them against their parents' own objections. And this would be very, very bad.
Last spring, a published study claiming that chocolate helps you lose weight was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal by journalist John Bohannon. The study, which was conducted on real human subjects and collected real data, was so deliberately flawed that it could not have actually been peer-reviewed, at least not by anyone knowledgable enough to be called a "peer". Nevertheless - not surprisingly given the subject and conclusion - media outlets jumped all over it.
The existence of the anti-vaccine movement is not the disease: it is the symptom of a much deeper problem. The movement traces it origins to a single, thoroughly discredited study published in the highly reputable journal The Lancet. We can talk about the failures in the editorial process that allowed it to get published way back in 1993. But the fact remains that, with tens of thousands of papers published in the biomedical literature each year, it WILL happen again.
In fact, the very act of "publication" is so much easier and cheaper than it was in 1993 that it no doubt will happen MORE. Many scientific journals do not even offer a print version, do not copy edit, and in fact do little more than convert one type of PDF (manuscript) into another (pupblication). Yes, they oversee peer review, but they don't DO it (in the overwhelming majority of cases, the peers are unpaid volunteers).
I believe that the rapid, cheap, and easy transmission of scientific knowledge is ultimately a good thing, and the benefits outweigh the costs. But whether you agree with me is moot: this mode of communication is here to stay. There will always be bad papers. There will always be bad journals. There will always be bottom-feeding media outlets willing to publish anything that seems like a good story, without fact-checking it.
The simple reality is that the public will have to get used to bad information being out there. How we filter out the bad information from the good is a difficult question, but it's one that I think we're beginning to glimpse an answer to. While the Internet allows anyone to lie, it also talks back. Hack science writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Jonah Lehrer and Nicholas Wade can exposed as the lying frauds they are because the conversation doesn't end they publish. Felissa Wolfe-Simon, who one day might have leveraged her deeply-flawed Science paper into a tenure-track job, was stopped in her tracks when she couldn't answer her critics. And true scientific frauds are exposed every day through channels like PubPeer, because the number of people who can peer-review a paper jumped from three to several hundred.
I am pro-vaccine not because I have studied that particular sub-field in great detail, but because the consensus of experts is overwhelmingly pro-vaccine. I have been around scientists long enough to know that most are NOT paid off by pharmaceutical companies and that a conspiracy among more than a handful of them is laughable. Mostly, I understand the scientific method well to understand how this trust in consensus differs from simple argument from authority.
I really have a great deal of faith in people's ability to think for themselves. The Internet is still new - very new in the timescale of human history. We'll get there. Have patience.