Never let it be said that we ignore the Republicans! Seeking to further highlight distinctions between the parties, presumptive nominee John McCain has been on something of an anti-science tear lately. First, he dined and spoke with the Discovery Institute in Seattle — not a huge red flag by itself (there were many co-presenters, and one can’t always choose one’s lunch companions), but telling in light of his many flip-flops on teaching intelligent design in schools. (Like any good postmodern conservative, he has staked out firm positions on both sides of a wide variety of issues.)
But the latest news is much worse, as McCain panders to crackpots who believe that vaccination causes autism.
At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. — a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.
The main problem with such a claim is not that just it’s untrue — it’s complete rubbish, of course, but politicians say untrue things all the time. The problem is that, unlike unfortunate choices about NASA spending priorities, in this case the stupidity can cause people to die. Hilzoy quotes the CDC on measles, which these vaccinations protect against:
Measles itself is unpleasant, but the complications are dangerous. Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea, or even pneumonia. One out of 1000 people with measles will develop inflammation of the brain, and about one out of 1000 will die.
Of course, McCain himself will be perfectly safe. He is arguably the most superstitious Presidential candidate of recent times, relying on a defense-in-depth strategy when it comes to lucky charms.
“I’m wearing my lucky shoes from today till Sunday,” McCain says from his bus on Wednesday. At the moment, his pockets contain the compass, feather (from a tribal leader) and penny (flattened, in his wallet). When McCain once misplaced his feather, there was momentary panic in the campaign, until his wife found it in one of his suits. When the compass went missing once, McCain assigned his political director to hunt it down. Weaver found it, and it remains safe, knock wood.
Primary day requires additional rituals. By the time you read this, Steve Dart, McCain’s lucky friend, should have arrived in South Carolina from California. He has been present with McCain for every Election Day since McCain first won a seat in Congress. McCain must sleep on a certain side of the bed, particularly before an election (and he never puts a hat on a bed–bad luck). Rain is good for Election Day, as are motion pictures. McCain requires himself to view a movie before the vote is counted. He fell asleep in his hotel room in New Hampshire before he watched a movie on primary day, but his staff didn’t panic. “We have superstition fire walls,” says Todd Harris, a spokesman.
I presume that one of his first initiatives as President will be to provide lucky compasses, feathers, and pennies to young children throughout this great land, which will keep them safe from those nasty viruses. Ready to lead on day one.