Next week (04/02 - 04/05/2014), the NSTA is hosting the annual Science Teacher Conference in Boston, MA. Cool. Right up the proverbial road for me. I'll be there.
Oh, wait! No I won't. The keynote speaker this year is Mayim Bialik. Yes, she's a real honest-ta-goodness neuroscientist with a real PhD and everything. However, and this is a huge HOWEVER, she's an anti-vaccine proponent! Yes, you heard right, the largest gathering of science teachers in the world, some 14,000 of them, will be learning about the controversial Common Core, how to teach better, how to grade better, how to learn all the new glitzy technology vendors have to offer, and then pay big bucks to listen to an anti-vaxxer!
What does NSTA have to say? According to NSTA's Facebook page,
NSTA members have asked us some thoughtful questions recently about Mayim Bialik speaking at our national conference. In response, NSTA Executive Director David Evans has made the following statement: “Mayim Bialik holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She is also an enthusiastic advocate and passionate ambassador for science education who encourages students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. These are the reasons we invited her to speak on the topic of ‘The Power of One Teacher.’ Bialik’s personal views, including those regarding vaccinations, are just that—personal. We appreciate her dedication to science and her ability to inspire and motivate teachers. We look forward to hearing about her unique experiences as both a scientist and TV actress.”
To paraphrase George Takei, Oh MY! What the WHAT? I've been a physics and astronomy teacher for 40 frikkin' years and this really has my panties in a bind! How... Why... What... ??? AAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!
Let's take a look at this in detail and perspective.
1. Mayim Bialik is a real science-trained human. I never even knew who she was till I started watching the Big Bang Theory TV show; she plays my alter-ego's girlfriend. According to Wiki, she obtained her PhD in 2007 from UCLA; congratulations. Her dissertation was an investigation of hypothalamic activity in patients with Prader–Willi syndrome. I have better things to do with my life than argue or even pretend to know what that is. She is an advocate for science education, congratulations and thank you.
2. She is probably best known as "Blossom" from an earlier, late '80s, TV show that I never saw. She is currently playing Dr. Sheldon Cooper's somewhat amorphic girlfriend, Amy Farrah Fowler, on CBS's Big Bang Theory; a show worth watching for us geeks.
4. The NSTA, National Science Teachers Association, has hired her as the keynote speaker for the 2014 National Conference in Boston next week.
If you care about #1 and/or #2 above, I don't. Big Deal. She's an actress and a neuroscientist. Like I said, congratulations on the PhD. However, if you don't care about #3 above, then just stop reading this now and go spend some quality time with your doomed non-vaccinated children who will soon be gasping for breath and coughing so violently from pertussis that you will wonder how that small human isn't gone already. If you don't care about #4 above, then let's just agree that you are dumb and leave it at that.
FACT: Vaccines work. Period. I remember several of my elementary classmates walking around with heavy metal-laden leg braces. Suffering from polio. A few sugar cubes later, polio was all but eradicated from the world. Jonas Salk developed that vaccine in 1955. By 1965, polio was a memory. Measles, mumps, rubella (nasty German measles), chickenpox, all memories. However, vaccines work by a process called herd immunity. You must first understand that a vaccine is NOT a cure, it's a preventative. If a vast majority of the population is vaccinated, the general population is protected. Yes, a few slip through the "cracks" and still get sick. However, as Spock said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
A great discussion of this can be found at Dr. Phil Plait's BadAstro blog on Slate here and here. Not only is he a personal friend and hero, but pretty close to the smartest person I've ever met. Quoting Dr. Phil P:
We need people talking about the need for vaccines more than ever right now. Measles cases have nearly doubled over last year in the UK. My hometown of Boulder is suffering through an outbreak of pertussis. California is on its way to having serious epidemics due to lower vaccination rates. In North Carolina just a few days ago, a two month old infant died from pertussis. Let me repeat that: babies die because of diseases that can be prevented by a simple vaccination. Factually-bereft antivaxxers - cough cough Meryl Dorey cough - claim that no one dies from these diseases any more. They are wrong. Antivaccination beliefs are bad science, pure and simple. Vaccines don't cause autism. They don't have toxins in them that can hurt you in the doses given. They don't overtax the immune system.What vaccines do is save millions, hundreds of millions, of lives. They protect us from diseases that used to ravage entire populations. And they save babies' lives. We need to keep up our herd immunity if we are to keep ourselves healthy, and that includes adults. Talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need a booster. Please.
Bottom line? I am very upset that my NSTA is either directly or indirectly endorsing such an anti-science stance. Will the NSTA approve my next workshop application titled, "Global Warming: It's a Joke!"? Nope, but it's my personal view; just as valid as Bialik's anti-vax personal view. Only problem is, once you become a "celebrity" in today's society, you are looked up to and can do much good or much harm. How many needless deaths have been caused by the likes of Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vax / autism bullshit links? At last count, 1375! McCarthy is the deadliest of all; a nude model, an actress, and now a talk-show host. Yeah, real science credentials there. Granted, Mialik has a PhD, but it's in neuroscience, not immunology.
NSTA, wake the hell up!