Climate denial? Vaccine denial? Don’t Pa. lawmakers have better ways to spend their time — and our money? | Opinion

May 3, 2019 2:51 pm

So I really wanted to believe that this guy was just trolling us:

Screenshot of a comment sent to The Capital-Star this week.

In case you’re wondering what you’re looking at, that’s what a reader comment to a Capital-Star story looks like before we make the decision to publish it or not. Unlike some other news organizations, the Capital-Star has a moderated comments section, meaning we screen all our comments before we make a call on publication.

More than 99 percent of the time, we publish what’s sent to us.

In this case, it was a reader comment to a column I wrote about an event in Gov. Tom Wolf’s office on Wednesday morning: the 35th annual civic commemoration of the Holocaust.

This one, for reasons that should not even require explanation, was put straight into the trash. I’ve saved the author from his own stupidity by redacting his name and email address — though there are some on Twitter who thought I was being too kind.

Like I said, I wanted to believe that the reader was just trolling us, posting a comment just for the sheer shock value of it. No actual human could hold beliefs that irrational, right?


That is until I remembered that it came in the middle of a legislative session that’s also seen attempts to normalize both climate and vaccine denial.

First up, vaccines.

This week, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, held a news conference on a bill that prohibits “discrimination” or “harassment” by health care providers or insurance companies against parents who decline to vaccinate their children. It also prevents doctors from making these parents sign a liability waiver acknowledging that the child could either catch or spread an illness.

To further make his point, Metcalfe called in some anti-vaccination academics, and surrounded himself with dozens of parents (and their presumably unvaccinated) children, who supported his deeply bonkers and utterly irresponsible proposal.

That the news conference happened in the middle of a historic measles outbreak beggars belief. Then again, this is Metcalfe we’re talking about here, so you never know.

Writing on our Commentary Page this week, Joel Michael Reynolds, a bioethicist at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, made an argument far more articulate and eloquent than I could hope to make about this issue.

So I’m just going to leave it to him:

“In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence concerning the efficacy, safety and importance of vaccines, citizens have a duty to support vaccination and encourage others to do so as well,” he wrote, also observing that, “Anti-science attitudes are dangerous because they undermine our ability to make decisions together as a society, whether about education, infrastructure or health.”

“At the foundation of each of these duties lies a simple and powerful truth: Health is communal. Health-related ethical obligations do not stop at our own doorstep. To think that they do is both empirically misguided and ethically indefensible,” he wrote.

So, apart from making a crass political point, there was not a single good reason for Metcalfe to expose those kids — or any of the other thousands of people who crammed into the Capitol this week — to potential contagion. More than one person I talked to in the wake of that event darkly wondered about the possibility of a measles outbreak in the Capitol as a result.

I’ll stipulate that those parents, if they have a deep enough moral, religious, or philosophical objection, have the right not to get their kids vaccinated. But I also have the right to make sure my child doesn’t suffer as a result of their decision. And if that means their plague-carrying tyke has to stay home from school or get turned away at the pediatrician’s office, sorry, anti-vaxx parents, that’s the bed you’ve decided to lie in.

This session has also seen not one, but two hearings by legislative committees, calling into question the legitimacy of climate change and man’s role in it. Never mind, again, that like vaccination, this is settled science. And debating it is the proverbial “Man yelling at cloud.”

I’m going back to Reynolds again, who observed that “political philosophers like John Dewey have argued that democratic public institutions necessarily rely upon belief in scientific evidence and facts. People can hold different personal beliefs, but there are some truths that are irrefutable, such as the fact that the Earth is round and revolves around the sun.

“For example, if too many people treat the scientific consensus on climate change as just ‘one perspective,’ that will hinder our ability to respond to the massive changes already underway,” he continued, adding that treating the science on climate change (or vaccines) “as just ‘one perspective’ negatively impacts everyone.”

Lawmakers presumably have better things to do with their time — and our tax money — than to spend a single minute debating clown car propositions like vaccine or climate denial.

So if all that is true — and it is — that means there’s absolutely zero room in our discourse for people like our would-be commenter who want to deny an undeniable historical fact, the Holocaust, which caused the death of millions, with the willing cooperation of thousands.

That it came six months after a madman opened fire on peaceful worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and days after another person, with a heart full of hate, shot at worshippers at a synagogue outside San Diego, compounds the verbal atrocity and assault on decency that would-be commenter tried to foist on our readers.

In our binary, two-party world, we’ve become accustomed to the premise that there are two sides to every argument. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, in a nuanced debate over substantive issues, like education or transportation funding, there are multiple sides to an argument.

But sometimes, like in Holocaust denial or vaccine denial, there just isn’t “another” side. Sometimes something benefits the public good, or it doesn’t.

This week was a vivid reminder of the importance of keeping that in perspective.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.