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VAM, Vaccinations, Politics, Parents, and Science

February 3, 2015

After reading a NYTimes article on the impact of measles vaccinations on the Republican 2016 Presidential election, it struck me that this issue is analogous to the ongoing movement opt out movement from standardized testing and should pose many of the same questions for libertarian leaning Republicans.

In a nutshell, the issue of mandating vaccinations came to the fore when several unvaccinated children got the measles on a trip to Disney World and because a small but critical mass of parents have opted out of vaccinations the formerly rare disease has resulted in a fairly sizable outbreak. In the middle of the article, pediatrician-turned-political-operative Howard Dean summarized the reasons for parents choosing to opt out:

Howard Dean… said there are three groups of people who object to required vaccines: “One is people who are very much scared about their kids getting autism, which is an idea that has been completely discredited. Two, is entitled people who don’t want to put any poison in their kids and view this as poison, which is ignorance more than anything else. And three, people who are antigovernment in any way.”

The article emphasizes repeatedly that the need for government mandated vaccinations is unarguable and the science on vaccinations is settled. There is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines are poison and abundant evidence that the diseases prevented by vaccinations can be devastating. Nevertheless, many libertarian conservatives share the perspective of Rand Paul, who sees opting out of vaccinations as “…a question of “freedom.” When pressed by a CNBC host his retort was: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.”

The parents opting out of mandatory state tests are, on one level, making the same assertion as Mr. Paul. Their argument, though is far stronger because unlike vaccinations, the use of standardized tests as a metric for “quality” is also settled science: there is no evidence that they can or should be used for that purpose. Parents who are opting out of vaccinations are turning a blind eye toward science while parents who do not allow their children to be subjected to lengthy standardized testing protocols are embracing science. Here’s the question: when ESEA is up for reauthorization will the Rand Pauls of this world support the parents outcry against the pointless and scientifically invalid administration of standardized tests? Will they assert that “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children”? 

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