On Vaccinations and Forestry
What possible connection could there be between forest management, in particular the use of herbicide in vegetation control, and the current debate raging on mandatory vaccinations in New Brunswick?
These two matters seem so far removed from one another but the recent legislative committee hearing on mandatory vaccinations for school aged children has shed a very telling light on the application of scientific consensus to matters of policy. It speaks to a selective use of the rule of scientific consensus to suit one’s agenda. The “I’ll use it when it suits me” approach has unfortunately been the approach of activist groups and even political parties in furthering their agendas at the cost of good public policy.
Let’s put the debate on vaccinations and herbicide use in the context of climate change. The Green Party, lets use them as an example, would rightly claim that climate change is a real and verifiable problem based on the preponderance of scientific evidence supporting that increased atmospheric CO2 raises temperatures. Great, we are all on the same page. But you will find some corners of the scientific world that report to the contrary and can produce compelling research to make their case. This is to be expected and is important when creating a body of scientific evidence. There should not and rarely will ever be unanimity of consensus in science. What we search for is a significant majority consensus.
So why the double standard from certain groups and particularly political parties. If majority scientific consensus works for climate change, why not for glyphosate herbicide or vaccinations?
Now, no one wants to be on the minority end of this consensus model, and we have seen all stops pulled by anti vaxer and stop spraying groups and climate change deniers to shift public opinion because they are acutely aware that todays public opinion is tomorrows public policy. The problem is when that public opinion has been misinformed by the mere suggestion of some shred of evidence contrary to the majority of scientific opinion and that this should somehow trump incontrovertible evidence, this is where we end up with populist policies.
And when that doesn’t work there is always the evoking of the ever so popular, but mis interpreted “precautionary principle”. It’s the default card played when one realizes they are on the losing end of an argument. What if climate change deniers are right? What if anti -vaxers are right? Are the stop sprayers right as well?
Most of the science doesn’t think so.
Mike Legere, executive director of Forest NB