"When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?" -- John Maynard Keynes
Devereux President and CEO, Robert Kreider, on the Vaccine Debate
There was a time when we knew the earth was flat. Beyond the edge lay dragons, and we only sailed so far. We did the best we could with the information at hand. Luckily, as knowledge expanded, so too did the positions of thinking people. New facts require a reconsideration of opinions.
Best practices can and should change drastically over time as knowledge is gained through experimentation, a process which uncovers new data and sometimes proves previous research flawed, or even fake. There is no shame in changing positions when accepted fact or theory is disproven through more accurate or precise findings. It is exactly this evolution of thought that has allowed mankind to advance medically, scientifically and socially.
Just such an evolution of thought played out this week when President Obama made absolutely clear his support for the safety and efficacy of childhood immunizations. This appeared to contradict his position on the issue in 2008, when (then) Candidate Obama supported additional research on vaccines, citing a need for a better understanding of potential risks.
At that time, medical and legislative thinking was still being informed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 peer-reviewed study, published in the highly respected medical journal Lancet, linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Many in the research community were skeptical of that small study and its surprising findings, but it appeared to provide new facts which needed to be considered. Its very presence in such a respected publication gave it weight, and so it shaped thinking.
It would be two more years, well into 2010, before that study was retracted by Lancet and disavowed by the scientific community as “dishonest and irresponsible.” When the President first encouraged the scientific community to continue evaluating vaccine safety, his position was informed by the best information at hand.
That information has changed – the Wakefield study discredited. The best and most current scientific thinking clearly indicates vaccines do not cause autism. They are a vital public health tool, which help save lives.
Facts changed, so the President’s position changed. That’s how scientific thinking works. This week, parallels have been drawn between President Obama’s 2008 position and present-day comments made by more than one 2016 hopeful. Why are both those parallels and the comments they aim to validate wrong? Because the facts have changed.