Levels of Whackiness

22 March 2015

How far should we go to respect other people’s beliefs?

I was reading an article today written by someone who has decided she is no longer going to tolerate the anti-vaccination point of view and is campaigning for childhood vaccinations to be compulsory for all except those who have good medical reasons to be exempt. 

My pet gripe is that in their quest to be seen to be impartial, television stations give air time to what I consider to be the most ludicrous alternative views (discussions about climate change being a good example).  It isn’t such a problem here but in the US all discussions about evolution seem to have to include a creationist displaying his/her particular brand of ignorance.  And in Australia programmes talking about vaccination have the obligatory interview with an anti-vaccination spokesperson.

Giving these people a voice suggests to the viewer that there is a valid alternative point of view.  In the case of evolution/creationism, I’d rather they didn’t. Spreading ignorance is never a good idea.

But in the case of childhood vaccinations, it’s not just ignorance is it?  It’s the lives of friends, family, children at stake here. 

So is it just a question of numbers?  If one or two people have a whacky belief, we laugh it off.  If a lot of people do, we have to respect it.  But isn’t it still just a whacky belief?




  1. Doctor Karl on Triple J last week opened his Science hour (http://www.abc.net.au/science/drkarl/scienceontriplej/) with comments about beliefs versus acceptance/rejection of scientific evidence. Belief is for those things you cannot prove (eg. religious belief). You don’t “believe” in Science; you accept scientific theories (and we need more education about what a theory is and means).

    There are also moves to remove “false balance” from Science reporting (http://io9.com/bbc-institutes-changes-to-prevent-false-balance-in-sc-1600207025). Hopefully it will be widely adopted!

  2. So, I’m three weeks behind with my RSS feed.

    I tend to draw the line with acceptance of whacky beliefs when it has a detrimental effect on other people. By that measure, climate change denial and anti-vax shouldn’t be tolerated. Where it gets more tricky is that most people inflict their wacky beliefs on their children. Which means even if the beliefs only disadvantage those who hold them (creationism is a contender here), they are problems too.

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