A measles outbreak due to anti-vaxxer activity, questionable therapists showcased on TV and politicians who do not hesitate to lie and twist facts to serve financial interests. These are only some of the challenges that science had to face in 2018. Is this a lost war?

2018 began in Israel with a measles outbreak. Since its onset, thousands have contracted the dangerous disease, despite the existence of a safe, available, and an especially effective vaccine against it. The return of the disease and its spreading throughout to Israel is due, in part, to the activity of a populist science-denial movement, which disseminates misinformation – prompting some parents to stop vaccinating their children. Similar misinformation movements have led to a measles outbreak in Europe, where tens of thousands of people have already contracted the disease, and dozens died.

Some of those who are spreading the lies are attempting to frighten parents into replacing vaccines with miracle drugs – magic water, sugar pills, supplements, or a message from angels. But the blame for the outbreak is not only on them – also responsible are certain popular media figures and politicians, who have accustomed the public to accept false claims, alternative "facts," and fake news as truths, while disregarding scientific information or twisting it when it fails to fit their own beliefs or opinions. The educational system is also responsible – instead of eradicating ignorance, it leaves students without the ability to recognize unreliable information, identify statistical lies, and discern evidence-based facts from that which is fictitious, composed of lies, and, at times, contradicts the laws of nature. Also to blame are the researchers and science organizations themselves, for not disseminating the information among the public or making it more communicative, though organizations such as the Davidson Institute of Science Education, the non-profit organization Mida'at, the non-profit Little Big Science, and the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences are leading the change in this approach.

Lies and measles

When disease outbreaks are reported due to vaccine hesitancy among parents misled by different sorts of quacks, it is common to begin with the story of Andrew Wakefield, who published a fake study 20 years ago, which indicated a link between the measles-mumps-rubella triple vaccine and autism. Papers debunking his claims closely followed his false publication.

In a series of articles, journalist Brian Deer revealed how Wakefield falsified his tiny study after he was bribed with over £400,000 from lawyers looking for a way to show that vaccines are dangerous in order to win a court case against vaccine manufacturing companies. They did not win. In addition, it turned out that prior to the publication, Wakefield submitted a patent application for a split vaccine against the same diseases.

In 2010, 12 years after Wakefield's paper was published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet, the journal retracted the paper and deleted it from its archives – especially due to Deer's investigative series. But the damage was already done. When Wakefield's paper came out, journalists began an intimidation campaign against vaccines, inciting public panic. In addition, for the sake of fake balance of opinions – the notion that if there are two opposing views, both should be given the same amount of media attention, no matter how much one of them is unfounded – Wakefield and his followers continued to appear in the media, and so journalists created the illusion that the false evidence tying the triple vaccine with autism is equal to the entire body of evidence debunking it. As a result, many parents refrained from vaccinating their children, herd immunity was damaged, and measles and mumps returned to the UK: as early as 2006, the first measles patient since 1992 had died.

Spreading epidemic

The growing anti-vaccination movement, which could also be referred to as a movement for bringing back dangerous diseases, was not confined to the UK. It spread like an epidemic to other countries in Europe and the rest of the world, and of course did not spare the U.S. and its greatest imitator in terms of science and medicine resistance – Israel.

The false ideas about vaccines are easily spread by mass media, social media, and the internet in general, and this is how they reach new countries and take new victims. For instance, the current measles outbreak began in 2016 in Romania as a result of the activity of Olivia Steer, an ex-television host with tens of thousands of Facebook followers, who appeared on TV and other form of mass media to incite fear of vaccines. Her intimidation campaign is supported by extremely conservative religious groups, and according to her, her claims are based on the books and talks by Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, a world-renowned Israeli immunologist who invented a controversial syndrome.

The profound influence of Steer and others led to a sharp decline in immunization rates in Romania, from over 95% immunization coverage, which is sufficient in protecting the population from measles, to less than 80%. The decline in immunization rates rapidly led to a measles outbreak, which is the most infectious disease known to man: 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people to come into contact with a person with measles will contract the disease. The disease can be contracted by merely being in a closed space with where an individual infected with measles was present, like an office, bus or clinic, up to two hours after that individual had left.

Until December 21, 2018, over 15,000 people in Romania contracted measles, 59 of whom died. Except for one person, none of the casualties were vaccinated. Most of them were children, including babies under immunization age, whose death would have been prevented if enough people around them would have been vaccinated. The measles vaccine is especially effective – 97% of those who receive two vaccine doses will acquire life-long protection against the disease. According to the World Health Organization, before the measles vaccine was first approved in 1963, 2.6 million people died from the disease each year worldwide. In contrast, in 2017, 110,000 people died of measles, mainly due to low accessibility to the vaccine in developing countries, or due to spreading lies regarding the vaccine in western countries.

התפרצות חצבת עקב פעילות של מתנגדי חיסונים, מטפלים מפוקפקים שמקבלים זמן מסך ופוליטיקאים שלא מהססים לשקר ולעוות את העובדות לטובת אינטרסים מסחריים. אלא רק חלק מהאתגרים שעמם התמודד המדע בשנה החולפת. האם המלחמה אבודה?
Intimidation campaign, fake news and controversial information led to a measles outbreak. Olivia Steer and Beppe Grillo | Source: Facebook, Wikipedia

Romans and deception

Romania is not the only country where false information led to a decline in immunization rates. A survey from 2016, which included responders from 67 countries, found that the fear of vaccine unsafety is common mainly in Europe. Nevertheless, a survey from 2018, which explored attitudes towards vaccines in European countries, showed that in several countries – including Romania, Italy, and France – the fear of vaccines has abated, most likely due to the measles outbreak in these countries. In both surveys, participants over the age of 65 had a more positive view of vaccines than younger ones. This finding is not surprising – as children, many people in this age group had witnessed the results of the diseases that are now preventable by vaccines, and thus it is more difficult to overwhelm them with lies about vaccines, which also attempt to undermine the severity of the diseases. In Italy, the group spreading fake news about vaccines and one of the leading causes for the measles outbreak is a political party called the Five Star Movement. One of its founders and leaders is Beppe Grillo, a comedian and blogger who circulated anti-vaccine statements through his blog, which served as the party's official "newspaper" until 2018. The Five Star Movement had even submitted an anti-immunization bill in 2015, which included numerous lies and scare tactics.

These lies and scare tactics led to a drop in immunization rates in Italy, from 85% to well below the threshold required for preventing disease outbreak. The data shows that vaccine refusal is correlated to measles outbreaks; indeed, in 2017, there was a measles outbreak in Italy with numerous patients, second in number only to Romania. In the same year, four people died in Italy from the disease, all of whom were unvaccinated.

In an attempt to slow down the outbreak, the Italian Minster of Health, Beatrice Lorenzin, passed a law in May 2017 that would prevent unvaccinated children from entering schools, while defending vaccines. However, after the 2018 elections, she was replaced by Giulia Grillo from the Five Star Movement, who cancelled the law. But as the outbreak has not subsided, Grillo said she will look for other ways to encourage people to get vaccinated against measles. Nevertheless, perhaps a minister of health from a party that opposes medicine should not be trusted – in December 2018, she fired all 30 members of the board of health experts which advises the government on health policy, to replace them by "other suitable people". This is despite the fact that board members were appointed according to their expertise, and still had two years to complete their term. The Minister of Health has not met with the board members or consulted with them since her appointment six months ago.

President of the Italian National Institute of Public Health, Walter Ricciardi, announced that he had to resign due to the government's anti-scientific policy.

Even countries with a generally high immunization rate to protect them from a measles outbreak, such as Portugal, Germany, and Israel, may have small population pockets with low immunization coverage. For instance, in regions where anti-vaxxers (anti-vaccination advocates) are concentrated, or where many residents are not vaccinated due to religious reasons.

Israel in a rash

About 96% of the population in Israel has received two doses of the measles vaccine. While anti-vaxxers are very vocal, at least on social media, when it comes to the measles vaccine, their impact is limited. It is important to keep it that way so that Israel does not end up like Italy and Romania.

Despite the high vaccination rates in the general population, in March 2018, the measles outbreak caught up with Israel, after people who contracted the disease in Europe returned and passed the virus on to concentrations of unvaccinated populations. Since then, thousands of people have contracted the disease, resulting in two deaths to date. A substantial part of the measles cases in Israel occurred in regions where the immunization rates are extremely low. Nearly half of the cases were in Jerusalem, where there are certain Haredi groups that oppose vaccines for religious-ideological reasons, as well as large families that have difficulty arriving to early childhood clinics on time to immunize their children according to schedule. In addition, there are regions where anti-vaxxers and people who refuse and postpone vaccines after being convinced by anti-vaxxer propaganda are concentrated.

As soon as the measles outbreak in Europe went out of control, it was clear that sooner or later the dangerous disease will make landfall in Israel. The lack of informed publicity, disregard of unvaccinated population pockets, adults receiving a single dose, general erosion of the vaccination system, and a slow response rate set the stage for the outbreak in Israel. Even when the Ministry of Health attempted to prevent the import of the disease to Israel, and recommended that travelers to Europe complete their vaccination doses, some mass media channels chose to put the public at risk and, for the sake of the fake balance, presented alongside the official recommendations, an opposing view driven by an unfounded belief in conspiracies.

The “Reshet” media network took this even further, when in June 2018, amidst the measles outbreak in Israel, showcased an unreserved video of an anti-vaxxer who has no relevant education, presenting lies and scare tactics regarding childhood immunizations. The dangerous video invoked angry responses. Mida'at posted on its Facebook page: "We are shocked and disappointed that Reshet is playing with people's lives, just to score likes on Facebook, and refused to remove the video even after we filed an official appeal." Despite the responses from experts who explained to Reshet officials that what was being presented in the video is false and life-threatening, the network opted to create a video presenting the opposing view.

Mida'at refused to participate in an opposing video, as did the doctors’ unions, and Reshet failed to find other medical and public health professionals to do so. In vaccines, as in other topics in which a broad scientific and medical consensus exists, there is no "pro and con." There is no room for a fake balance of opinions, since two sides do not exist in these cases. There is just high-quality science, experts, and health organizations – versus self-declared experts with irrelevant education, who are, at times, plain liars. Presenting these two sides in the media as equals creates the illusion that these are two opinions, while in reality, the recommendation to get vaccinated is based on a large body of evidence and thousands of studies over the years demonstrating that vaccines are safe and effective.

Unable to produce a counter-video – which would have served to boost ratings and mislead the public into thinking this is a subject with two equivalent sides – and following public pressure from tens of thousands of internet users, public health officials, and senior network employees, Reshet removed the video, citing "ethical and medical responsibility." Following this incident, an increasing number of journalists grasped their responsibility towards the public (or, to the very least – feared their response) and ceased illustrating a forced and fake balance between opinions and facts about vaccines. They elected to present evidence-based information, even when the outcome would not be as sensational and intimidating, and thus, in their perception, attract less audiences. Noteworthy are journalists Linoy Bar Geffen and Sivan Klingbail, who, long before the Reshet incident and measles outbreak in Israel, broadcasted an episode about vaccines in their investigative reporting TV show Osot Heshbon. They surveyed the knowledge about vaccines without scares, and presented the anti-vaxxer claims just to debunk them immediately – without creating the illusion that they are valid and equal or that there is any evidence to support them,

The measles outbreak is not the only instance in 2018 where attacking and distorting science threatened public health. There are numerous examples for other damages caused by irresponsible journalism, quacks, religious faith, politicians who do not take care of their voters, or a combination of all of these.

הגיעה מאירופה דרך כיסי ההתנגדות. התחלואה בחצבת בישראל (נתוני 2018 עד 22.12 | נתונים: משרד הבריאות
Imported from Europe via concentrations of anti-vaxxers. Measles incidence in Israel (data from 2018 until December 22) | Data: The Israeli Ministry of Health

Alternative deaths

A substantial portion of the people who opposed vaccines and attempted to spread fear of them among parents are alternative “therapists” and food supplements or strange diets salespeople, who, in many cases, have a financial interest in propagating false medical information. The media is often happy to cover such “therapists,” who lack established medical knowledge. Unencumbered by facts and research, the “therapists” can say anything they want, which makes it easy for irresponsible journalists to create an appealing report – at the expense of public health.

One example is a news story broadcasted in December 2018 on the Israeli Channel 10, on the Saturday night news, enabling Yuval Cohen-Asherov to spread his dangerous beliefs over long minutes. Among other things, he gave unfounded promises to cure diseases by “detoxing.” Our body knows how to detoxify itself quite well, and if it ceases to do so due to an illness or injury, no “detox diet” would help. This procedure is ineffective and redundant, and in extreme situations – can even be harmful. Additional preposterous claims that he presented is that bacteria do not cause diseases, foul odors are toxins emitted from the body, and sick children should not be fed. In addition, Asherov said that measles is not dangerous and should not be vaccinated against. Despite the fact that vaccines are the best means in existence for preventing dangerous disease, and that even Asherov's own children have been vaccinated. Anchorwoman Kotler's choice to present his claims is irresponsible journalism, especially at a time of a measles outbreak.

In 2017, that same news show aired Yinnon Miles's very positive and unreserved coverage of Kambo – an alternative “treatment” that claims to cure almost anything, including cancer. A year later, despite criticism on that story, Kan, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, chose to post a video they made that promotes Kambo treatment. The treatment includes inserting a toxin (not venom!) into the body through a burn. The toxin is produced from the skin of a frog from the Amazon (Phyllomedusa bicolor), by tying it in an unpleasant way. The toxin causes nausea and there are some reports of serious intoxication events, leading to severe damage in patients, even death. Besides the danger to humans, the illegal trade of the frog and its products may lead to the invasion of a deadly fungus that kills amphibian populations worldwide to Israel, thus putting the lives of frogs and other amphibians in Israel at risk.

There is no evidence that Kambo can treat sick people, and, of course, that it can cure cancer. News pieces of this sort risk the health of viewers who are cancer patients, since they might be persuaded into attempting to treat their disease with useless alternative means. A study from August 2017 showed that the mortality rates of cancer patients who chose alternative “treatments” as their main treatment option was 2.5 higher than patients who opted for conventional treatment. They also died at a faster rate than those who received real treatments.

הרעל מסוכן לבני אדם ואינו מרפא מחלות, כך שהמטופלים (והצפרדע) סובלים לחינם. קמבו | צילום מסך מהכתבה בערוץ 10
The toxin is dangerous to humans and does not cure diseases, so the patients (and the frog) suffer for nothing. Kambo | Screenshot from the story on Channel 10

Life-shortening treatments

In August 2018, a 31-year-old Israeli woman, who believed she had recovered from aggressive breast cancer by positive thinking and lifestyle changes, had passed away. Just before her death, the media claimed that her story had “a really happy ending” and “she was told she was terminally ill – and today she is completely healthy.”

The subtype of breast cancer that she had tends to return after it supposedly disappearing, and has a higher mortality rate than other subtypes. The woman was diagnosed three years ago, when she was 28, and soon after, she underwent chemotherapy that almost eradicated the tumor completely. However, the tumor became resistant and returned, which led to surgical resection and radiation therapy. At this point, the cancer had already become metastatic, and the woman fought, and succeeded, to receive an innovative treatment that was not covered by the national health insurance.

Despite all of the treatments, the patient’s doctors told her that her cancer is incurable, that the only things to be discussed are extending her life and her quality of life, and that she should look for a hospice, After searching online, she was deceived into thinking that cancer was not a disease, but “merely” a symptom, and should not be battled against. She became vegan and decided to change her way of thinking and stop fighting. In the beginning of the process, she still said that “even if it is all nonsense, at least I would die optimistic,” but after she felt better, she was convinced that she had recovered from the disease, claiming that tests show that the tumors disappeared from her body.

Following her supposed improvement, she began inspiring others and dedicated her time to passing on the message “stop fighting, start healing.” She claimed that she “was not the first to recover from metastatic cancer using natural means and simple principles,” but in interviews, she made sure to emphasize that she is only sharing her experience with others. She said that she did not explicitly tell them “do what I did,” or that she invented a cure for cancer, and that she does not encourage people to stop treatments – according to her, that is what a quack would do.

Nevertheless, despite her warnings and though she turned to these (ineffective) “treatment” methods only after she was told she will not recover, she still inspired others to fight cancer without drugs, and maybe refuse real treatment. Of course, we should also remember her positive influence – inspiration to courageously and optimistically deal with the disease without losing hope.

This case is, not surprisingly, definitely not the first time the media has presented miraculous stories about “treatments” that helped cancer patients. In 2012, Rina Matzliach reported on the Israeli Channel 2's Friday night news what was described by Yaki Menschenfreund on the site Ha'ayin Hashvi'it as “…one of the most disgraceful examples for irresponsible journalism, and it is hard to comprehend how an editor on Channel 2's news company approved it.” In the piece, Matzliach presents, without reservation, a “therapist” by the name of Hanan Elraz, whose herbal remedy supposedly alleviated the condition of two famous cancer patients – playwright Anat Gov and Ron Nachman, who was mayor of Ariel. In the piece, they even claimed that the remedy may eventually cure the aggressive cancer, but sadly, this of course was not the case – Gov died at the end of that year, and Nachman passed away a few of weeks later.

A healthy lifestyle, balanced diet, and avoidance of carcinogens may reduce the risk of developing certain types of tumors, but no scientific evidence to date has shown that a diet can cure cancer. No magical remedy, Shamanic ceremony, acupuncture, or any other alternative “treatments” have been shown to cure cancer, and those who promise to do so – without research or strong evidence – or promise to cure all types of cancer and other diseases is either a con or blind to reality. We advise you to avoid “alternative treatments,” and especially, not to replace factual, evidence-based treatment by them. As Dr. Ma'ayan Barnea Zohar concludes, “When your car breaks down, we assume that you do not take it to a doctor, but to the auto shop. When you are sick, go to a doctor, not to charismatic people with no medical training or knowledge in the field.” 

Ignorance is power

Ignorance in science and medicine is promoted not only by anti-vaxxers, some alternative “therapists” and media figures, but also by politicians and governments whose agenda is not always best served by the facts. For instance, in 2018 there were politicians did so in the service of the tobacco industry, which has been spreading deadly lies for decades. The tobacco and smoking industry was once again in the headlines in 2018, when it returned to pressure lobbyists and members of the Knesset out in the open to deceive the public, in a desperate attempt to stop a bill aimed at saving many people's lives by limiting advertisement and sales of smoking products. Despite the industry's ample funds, its allies in the Knesset and its sabotage attempts, the bill was passed on December 31, 2018. The bill was submitted by MKs Eitan Cabel, Yehuda Glick, and Eyal Ben Reuven, who were forced to exclude newspapers in print, so that they will be permitted to advertise smoking products, following a request from the office of the Deputy Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman, who is tied to the newspaper Ha’Modia.

Another example dates back to 2014, when then-Minister of Health, Yael German, chose to ignore facts and findings about water fluoridation and its contribution to dental health and protection from tooth decay. German prohibited fluoridation in Israel – in contradiction to recommendations from numerous health organizations and the opinion of experts in her own ministry, and despite the contribution of fluoride, at controlled concentrations that are safe and effective, to maintaining public dental health. In May 2015, Deputy Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman, undid German's decision, who admitted on her Facebook page that “pediatricians, dentists and even public health doctors united in the appeal to court in favor of water fluoridation.” Though she was aware of the experts’ opinions, German tried to prevent the return of the fluoridation and appealed to the Supreme Court, together with MK Yael Cohen Paran and the non-profit organization Izun Hozer, which opposes water fluoridation in Israel. The appeal was rejected in November 2018, and now Israel’s water can be once again fluoridated, though it still has not been executed.

Make America stupid

Science denial attempts coming from a small number of MKs are nothing compared to what is happening in the United States. Even before he was elected as the President of the United States, Donald Trump did not hide his disrespect for experts and scientific findings that do not comply with his beliefs and business interests. Accordingly, since Trump came into power, his administration has been fighting with all its might against science, in an attempt to hide facts and findings that disagree with the President's opinions. For instance, Trump invited the British quack Wakefield to his inauguration, and attempted to establish a panel discussion for addressing “vaccine safety,” led by a famous anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

A number of decisions made by the Trump administration have benefited the large corporations – at the expense of public health. The government has attempted to prevent a statement by the World Health Organization to encourage breastfeeding and prevent inaccurate or deceiving advertisement by infant formula companies, mostly from Europe and the United States. In conversations about trade agreements in North America between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the administration attempted to limit the measures these countries can take to warn consumers about foods containing high amounts of sugar and fat.

Trump and his administration's main battle on science focuses on climate change and environmental preservation. Trump has been claiming for years that global warming is a hoax, and a few months after he was elected, he canceled the United States' participation in the Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries committed to address climate change. Nevertheless, recently, even Trump was forced to admit that climate change is real, and so he resorted to another type of denial – that mankind is not to blame for it and there is no reason to invest money in attempting to prevent global warming. He second-guessed scientific findings stating that climate change is related to certain damages, and asserted that scientists claiming that climate change is worse than ever, have a “political agenda.” This is despite reports filed by his administration warning of present and future damages due to climate change.

To ensure that the findings of federal science agencies interfere less with industry, especially the oil and coal industries, the Trump administration has limited the ability of agency personnel to present their findings in public and speak to the media (which led to a temporary resistance movement on Twitter). The administration even posted a list of scientific reporting censorship guidelines; encouraged people of the Department of Agriculture to refrain from speaking about climate change and refer only to “weather extremes”; and shortened, and later removed, the section on the Department of the Interior's website about climate change. The U.S. Department of Interior has also chosen, for no good reason, to halt a number of studies that are unfriendly to the coal and oil industries, such as one examining the health problems incurred by residents of regions in which coal is mined by explosions on mountain tops. 

מתחמם והולך. מפגינים נגד עמדותיו של טראמפ בעניין שינויי האקלים בטקס השבעתו לנשיאות | צילום: Science Photo Library
Just getting hotter. Protesters against Trump's stands on climate change at his inauguration | Photograph: Science Photo Library

Adding fuel to the fire

The strongest attack of the administration was aimed, not surprisingly, at the organization that poses the biggest threat to oil and coal companies – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, an ally of the petroleum industry who has sued the agency several times in the past, as its head. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said that “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of firefighting.”

Under Pruitt's management, the EPA canceled some air-pollution prevention power plant regulations, instated during the Obama administration. This trend is continuing even after Pruitt resigned following multiple incidences, with the appointment, in his place, of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist. This retraction goes against a report by the agency itself, which states that canceling the regulations would increase the amount of polluting particles and air-pollution-associated mortality rates.

Trump and his followers did not stop at undoing the EPA regulations, but also ensured that science and scientific findings had a diminished effect on the agency's policy, while increasing the power of the industry within it. In October 2017, Pruitt prohibited scientists who received EPA research grants to be members of its advisory board or to peer-review its publications. The non-convincing excuse was that scientists who receive grants from the agency are at a conflict of interests, to be replaced by those who know something about control regulations – people from the industry whom the EPA is supposed to supervise.

To diminish the ability of facts and scientific findings to affect agency policy even further, Pruitt suggested, in April 2018, a regulation that really sounds like Newspeak from the George Orwell’s 1984: “The science transparency rule.” The regulation attempts to subordinate the scientific method to the will of the agency’s head, but the result is less amusing than the Indiana Pi Bill – a failed attempt to change mathematical truth with legislation.

According to the Pruitt’s suggestion, the EPA would not be able to use studies whose data is not completely public. This means that if the regulation is enacted, the agency would not be able to rely on public health studies, which usually keep some of the personal medical information confidential to protect participants’ privacy. Namely, the agency will not have the appropriate data to determine whether the emission of a certain substance is dangerous, or what are the effects of living near a coal-fired power plant. The clear purpose of the regulation is to interfere with the EPA's ability to protect the environment and pass regulations; and applying it retroactively would require erasing previous findings by the agency and regulations formulated accordingly.

אפילו אם חקיקה תקבע שזיהום אוויר בריא, זה לא ישנה את העובדה שהוא גורם לתחלואה. זיהום תעשייתי | צילום: Shutterstock
Even if legislation determines that air pollution is healthy, it will not change the fact that it causes illnesses. Industrial pollution | Photograph: Shutterstock

Has ignorance won?

It seems that the Trump administration has declared war, at least partially, on science; diseases are returning because of anti-vaxxer ignorance; alternative “therapies” are endangering patients and sometimes even speed up their death; and the media encourages all of these irresponsibly. In addition, people have continued to deny extremely substantiated scientific theories in the passing year. Has ignorance won in 2018?


Effective vaccines against diseases, such as polio and measles, have eradicated them from our collective memory, opening the road for various quacks to take advantage of this and mislead innocent parents. But the outbreak of diseases due to anti-vaxxers, especially those that should have disappeared years ago, made them an issue once again in people's minds and incited a counter-response. Many parents who hesitated and did not vaccinate their children due to scare tactics and lies they were exposed to, rushed to get their children the immunizations they missed. And almost of equal importance – the media realized the severity of the situation and stopped, for the most part, to give anti-vaxxers the means to spread their lies. Even politicians understood the severity of the situation. Recently, a bill for a national vaccination policy passed the first round in the Knesset, widely supported by MKs belonging from the entire political spectrum. The bill, submitted by MKs Yoel Hasson and Shuli Mualem, in collaboration with Mida'at, aims to promote immunization, improve communication of information about vaccines, and make them more accessible.

However, it is not advisable to wait for outbreaks of deadly diseases to deal with the anti-vaxxer issue. In addition, the immediate dangers of climate change, for instance, are not as tangible as diseases, and if we hold out on treating them to when the damage becomes obvious, it would already be too late.

We must fight phenomena that allow “therapists” to take advantage of innocent people and immunize the public against science-twisting and exploitation. After all, if such a big climate-change denier and science resistor as Donald Trump can change his mind, even a little, there is hope for anyone.

How can this be done?

Scientists need to address the public and present science in a fun and comprehensible, or even useful, manner; scientific studies in school need to be improved; cooperation with the media should be initiated and encouraged, but not in instances where a fake balance is being presented; and when the government or other organizations try to censure and twist science, scientists should not stay silent. In addition, the educational system and the media should provide the public with tools to identify high-quality science, bad science, and misleading promotional content. Indeed, when it comes to vaccines, it is easy to know who not to listen to: Any person who supports Wakefield, or claims that vaccines cause autism, is wrong (or lying) and misleading, so they certainly do not know anything about the subject. But the distinction between made-up explanations and real knowledge is not so simple in all fields. And as we saw – sometimes this distinction is a matter of life or death. For us, or for the generations to come.

Another way to convey criticism: a video of "project parody" about Trump's scientific policy:

Translated by Elee Shimshoni