It is important news, but it’s hardly surprising:
A federal appeals court denied the existence of a link between vaccines and autism, specially the MMR. Autism is a disorder that affects 1 in 110 children in the United States. A special vaccines court was held last year and the appeals court upheld the decision that the evidence was weak and contradictory.
It’s good news for the simple fact that it’s nice to see when a court rules in favor of the scientific evidence.
It’s bad news because we should not be looking to courts to determine what the science says about subjects! And this isn’t because I am biased against courts. It’s just that the court room is traditionally one of the least scientific places in the known universe.
In the court room, one of the most powerful and convincing forms of evidence is eye-witness testimony. But scientists know (and even some non-scientists like yours truly) that eye-witness testimony is the worst form of evidence there is.
On a witness stand, however, a mother or father who is sincerely upset and confused and angry about the condition their child has is infinitely more moving and convincing than cold facts and figures. Because humans are by no means perfect logical and rational animals. We let our emotions rule us quite a lot of the time…and that isn’t a judgment, just an observation.
The problem is that when we let emotions rule the day, as often happens in front of even the best judges and juries, it is so easy to come up with the factually wrong conclusion.
It’s nice when they get it right. But it still scares me when we look to them for the answers.