This is the embodiment of everything wrong with the anti-vaccine movement

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I read a post today in the science section of WordPress that made me shake my head in disappointment, and it was about vaccines. I use the word disappointment for two reasons. First, I always find it tragic when people reject evidence and reason in favor of their own personal bias. And second, that this was posted in the science section at all says a lot, because as you’re about to see there’s nothing scientific about it at all. If anything, this post serves to highlight the fact that many Americans are scientifically illiterate. I feel that the post and more importantly the responses in the comments section represent everything that’s wrong with the anti-vaccination movement, in particular the logical fallacies that they rely upon. I won’t bother wasting my time posting what the current science does say about vaccines because rational people already know it and anti-vaccine advocates won’t listen to it; I think highlighting the lack of logic in the ideas presented by the people of this movement will suffice. First, a link to the post to which I shall be referring:

http://gianelloni.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/thanks-pharma-you-created-the-anti-vaccine-movement/

Let’s go through the holes in the argument as they crop up, shall we?

1. In regard to an article in The Daily Beast, the author has this to say:

Say what? 3 WHOLE CASES? 5 hospitalizations? And 2 cases were transmitted right in a doctors office?

And this is what we call an outbreak? And we blame the unvaccinated? I honestly wonder how an “outbreak” such as this can warrant an article titled:  “Thanks, Anti-Vaxxers. You Just Brought Back Measles in NYC”. Is it just me, or have we completely lost grasp of what true journalism is?

First of all, I’m not exactly sure what qualifies this woman to lecture me and everyone else about what constitutes “true journalism.” I guess if she posts a picture of her with her Pulitzer prize I’ll reconsider. Just because you personally don’t like a story doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. But the larger gap in logic is the idea of what constitutes an “outbreak.” Curiously, although not surprisingly, the author offers no clarification here; nowhere does she inform us of exactly what she does consider an outbreak.  So how many people does it take before disease becomes a problem, hmm? 1,000? 10,000? Who knows. Rather than offer any actual facts or information, the author just blindly blasts the reporting.

Even disregarding all of this, though, there is still one huge fact that the author of this piece apparently doesn’t realize or overlooked: all outbreaks start with a single person. There’s never a situation where 10,000 people simultaneously and independently contract the same disease at exactly the same time (unless we’re talking about food poisoning, but the author is clearly talking about MMR with this post). That’s not how the chain of transmission works.

2. In 2000 (the year measles was “eliminated” from the US) there were 86 cases. So I guess somehow the difference between the 189 cases in 2013 and 86 cases in 2000, all 103 of those new cases are considered “outbreaks” and are caused by the small percentage of unvaccinated children? Totally logical, right?

Sigh. Where to begin. First of all, the fact that there were 189 cases in 2013 and 86 in 2000 doesn’t mean that there were only 103 new cases during that decade, but only when comparing those two years. Seems like basic reading comprehension, but apparently not. Again, we’re dealing with someone who is asserting their own, subjective definition of what an outbreak is. And again, I don’t exactly know what qualifies the author as someone who has any knowledge or authority on the subject other than the ability to use Google.

3. And then there’s this little gem:

I love how the original article states: “Most patients recover after an unpleasant but relatively uneventful period of sickness”. Yep, big bad scary measles. Seriously, how have we let measles become so scary? In a healthy child, the symptoms are nothing more than a common cold.

Here’s what having the measles looks like:

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Yep, looks exactly like the common cold. I know that when I get the common cold, I break out in a rash that covers my entire body. Oh, wait, I don’t. Which leads to the author’s next point…

4. As the article suggests, how do we actually know 1 -3 cases per 1,000 in the United States result in death? We don’t.

And here come the conspiracy theories. Yeah how do we know? I mean, it’s not like people are paid to track and record these things…a-a-and even if they were, you can’t trust the government! The CDC is lying to you about measles, man! Because…something. 1-3 deaths per year seems like a pretty stupid thing to lie about. One would think, if one were using logic, that if the CDC were going to lie, they’d either exaggerate the numbers to fear-monger (and thus promote further and more extensive vaccination), or they’d say there were zero deaths to make vaccines look like a success. But logic and reason are two things that escape anti-vaccine advocates.

5. Next, we’re treated to this fascinating piece of logic and the following graphic:

You can’t vaccinate believing that your children are protected and then feel that your children are not protected because somehow, some non-vaccinated child is carrying some secret organism that no-one else is carrying. You can’t have it both ways. It just doesn’t make any sense”. -–Dr. Palevsky, board certified pediatrician in New York

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At this point, me reading the article looks something like this:

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Not surprisingly, the author (and somehow a board certified physician…) totally missed the mark. We aren’t concerned about the vaccinated children, we’re concerned about the ones who AREN’T vaccinated. And the immunocompromised kids, let’s not forget that they have a right not to contract measles, mumps, or rubella. The purpose of herd immunity isn’t to protect the vaccinated, it’s to protect the individuals who aren’t immune. Like your children, who you refuse to vaccinate. The more people who aren’t immune, the more people that are at risk for infection. See how that works? That’s why Public health is–shocker!–interested in vaccination. Vaccinating people not only protects the people who do get immunized, it also protects the people who can’t or won’t. 

6. The article ends with the piece de resistance of fallacy in a letter to “Big Pharma”:

You got greedy and added 49 vaccines to the childhood schedule before a child starts Kindergarten. You created an entire generation of sick children. We know them as vaccine injured child. 

Well, as a nurse who works in a clinic where we do vaccinate children, I can tell you that there are only 14 diseases on the CDC vaccination schedule. I’m looking at it right now. And of those 14, not all of them are required by law. And in the state where I live, only 6 are required to go to school. So I don’t know where this “49″ number comes from other than perhaps thin air or someone’s ass. Even if you counted individual shots, the total number of injections you’d need to legally enter Kindergarten in this state is 14, not 49. So…yeah, there’s that.

But let’s tackle that last idea, “vaccine injury.” Sounds scary, right? As I’ve mentioned in past posts about this very subject, every single drug comes with a risk of adverse reaction. So unless these parents are not giving their kids medication of ANY kind, there’s a gap in logic here. And again, not shockingly, we don’t get any information about exactly how many children are “vaccine injured” each year. Nor do we get any information about what exactly constitutes a vaccine injury and whether or not any of said injuries are reversible or temporary. No, all we get is a bunch of conspiracy theory hogwash and fear-mongering about “big pharma.”

7. And last, but certainly not least, is the comments section. Here are a few selected comments:

Ask a parent who does not vaccinate and get ready for hours and hours of PROVEN stats and facts followed by the fact that they LOVE their child MORE than they TRUST their doctor.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never seen love prevent or cure polio. But it doesn’t matter because it’s PROVEN. When you spell in all caps, you can’t argue. Caps lock trumps science.

As a child I got the measles after my vaccine at age 4. Light case of course & then again when I needed my 2nd mmr at age 18 in college. So yes I had a reaction to the vaccine twice. Needless to say both of my boys are unvaccinated

see also:

My sister got whooping cough after her DPT shot.

or…

Since, I’ve become aware it is truly alarming the number of people I know who got the disease the vaccine was supposed to protect them from, were vaccine injured or died immediately following vaccination to be told something else killed them.

And these comments bring me to my final point. So much of the anti-vaccine movement and sentiment is based upon anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence, as any credible scientist will tell you, is the weakest form of evidence. It’s incredibly difficult to test and verify, and it doesn’t at all take into account lurking or confounding variables. How many people have you heard make claims like, “My sister has a friend who couldn’t lose weight no matter what diet she tried.” Or how about the also oft heard, “No matter how much he exercises, my cousin’s fiance can’t seem to lose weight.” Well, if you used the exact same logic that these anti-vaccine people used, then you’d eventually conclude that diet and exercise do not affect weight loss at all, ever. Now how many of us actually believe that? What does science say about that? The fact that so much of the anti-vaccination movement relies upon second and third hand stories as “proof” speaks volumes about the house of cards they’ve built.

I hate to break it you, but you’re a taker too

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Even though I’m in school I still work part time, to pay the bills and help take a small chunk out of tuition. I work in advertising and marketing for a small independent used car dealership. It’s easy work, the owners are nice, and they’ve always been super flexible with my school schedule. And while I’m generally happy with this job and the people I work with, I will say that I’m probably the only person here that holds any liberal leanings; I’m an island in a sea of conservatives. And, working at a car dealership, we receive a lot of sensitive financial information regarding the people who buy (or try to buy) vehicles from us. The other day, a conversation arose between one of the general managers and one of the owners that highlighted the absurdity of some conservative ideas out there.

Essentially, we received financials on a woman who had a bunch of children (you can probably see where this is going). The general manager noted that she received more money than she paid in taxes because she got tax credits for each of her children. This turned into a conversation about how people like this woman are just sponging off the rest of us, the hard workers in society. Essentially, the woman was taking hard earned money out of their pockets to help subsidize the poor choices she made regarding contraception. There are two things wrong with this way of thinking.

First, the children exist. What do these people expect this woman to do, shove her children back into her uterus and somehow magically undo the process of childbirth? We can’t turn back time, the children have been born and now exist in the world, hungry little mouths to feed and bodies to clothe and minds to educate. And someone will have to pay for that. Now, mind you, this woman did pay taxes. She just received more back than she paid. But the conservative argument conveniently overlooks the fact that if this woman paid taxes, she obviously worked. So she’s not just some baby-producing unit sitting at home all day doing nothing. In fact, she was using some of that evil tax credit money to patronize our business (but redistribution of wealth never works out for anyone, right?).

But back to the children. So let’s say these conservatives having this conversation in front of me get their way, and this woman no longer receives the tax credits she’s been getting. Well, what happens if or when this woman can no longer afford to support her children? Maybe she gets subsidized housing and food stamps–still on your dime. Or maybe her children get taken away from her and placed in foster care…which is still subsidized. Or maybe they all just wind up living on the streets. None of those are desirable solutions. Now, I automatically know what the knee-jerk conservative response is. “Well, she just needs to pull herself up by her bootstraps and make more money!” 

And how do people make more money? By obtaining a better job. Doing so, however, usually requires one to receive some sort of education or training. So how is this woman supposed to procure said education? She’d have to pay someone for childcare, for starters. Where is she going to get the money? Well she has a job, a job she’ll have to work full time in order to pay for childcare and all her other expenses. So when is she supposed to go to school? It’s a catch 22–in order to go to school and support a family you have to work full time, but working full time makes it difficult to attend any sort of educational program.

But there’s a larger point to be made here, and it’s that these two people judging this woman have absolutely zero right to judge her because they do the exact same thing as this woman. I happen to know that both of these people have multiple children of their own. Are they going to tell me that they never once filed their children as dependents? I highly doubt that. Do they take the mortgage deduction? Probably. The general manager has a daughter with cystic fibrosis, and we were just talking the other day about how his bills would be impossible to pay if not for insurance. Insurance, mind you, is pooled risk–other people are essentially paying for his daughter’s treatment. He’s getting out much more money than he’s paying in (sound familiar?), and that money comes from healthy people who aren’t sick and who aren’t using their insurance.

The bottom line is that any conservative that’s ever taken advantage of any tax credit, deduction, shelter, etc. is really no better than this woman that my two coworkers were talking about. They took full advantage of the tax carrots dangled in front of them, too. Sorry, but that makes you a taker. You’re taking money out of the pocket of the federal and state governments. I know conservatives love that idea, but who does that affect? The poor people of this country, the people who need social safety nets and programs the most. So what’s the moral of this story? Being a taker is okay–so long as you’re taking from the poor.

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Chivalry should be dead–and it should stay that way

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I see “chivalry” pop up time and again in posts in the personal and relationship blogs. A lot women think that chivalry is dead. Over and over again I see posts about dating and relationships wherein women are lamenting the disappearance of chivalry. And in response to this, I’ve decided to call a big, huge “bullshit!” on behalf of all men.

Chivalry is dead and it should stay that way. I’m sorry if that offends you, ladies, but it’s time to get over it. And I think that there are some very compelling reasons why it should be dead. Let’s start, shall we?

1. “Be chivalrous..but not too chivalrous.” No. Just, no. Stop it, women. This sentiment and others similar to it are just ridiculous. Apparently women want to be simultaneously treated like princesses and fiercely independent amazons. We can’t read your goddamned minds. So stop holding us to personalized standards that exist only in your head, and then being disappointed when–surprise!–we fail to clairvoyantly determine what exactly “the right amount of chivalry” is for you. Which leads me to my next point…

2. There is nothing genuine about chivalry. It’s a social convention. Like asking someone how they’re doing. Most of the time you don’t actually want to know what’s new with a person or how they’re doing–but asking is the socially polite and acceptable thing to do, so you do it. The same goes for chivalry. If men feel like they’re expected to open doors and pull out chairs, then it’s really an empty gesture; they’re just going through the motions. It doesn’t show attention or emotion, it’s just something men feel socially obligated to do. And speaking of…

3. Most men are probably only chivalrous to get into your pants. Not only are all of those chivalrous gestures empty and hollow, but they’re probably only being used to get sex. Does the guy you’re with hold doors open for men? For other women? Oh, just you? Really, you don’t say. I wonder why he would only pay you special attention…hmm…I wonder, could it be because he wants access to your vagina? Vaginas are a nice segue into my last point…

4. Why don’t I deserve to have doors opened and chairs pulled out for me? Because I don’t have a vagina? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that having tits and a vag gave you special privileges. Here I am, stupidly going through life thinking that everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly, when all along women are really more special than men. Golly gee whiz. I guess it’s just my lot in life as a man to perpetually be in servitude of women. Oh wait, that’s sexist bullshit. I almost forgot.

All chivalry does is reinforce bullshit gender stereotypes that shouldn’t exist in the 21st century. Women are the weaker sex. Men have to protect women because they’re helpless creatures. Blah blah blah. Women fought long and hard to gain equal rights, and chivalry seems to fly in the face of that. But I have a theory about what this chivalry nonsense is really about.

Women want to feel special.

They want to feel loved, they want to feel like they have your attention. And I totally get that. Because everyone feels that way, even men. So why is there no male equivalent of chivalry? Probably because it’s an outdated, sexist idea. But more to the point, chivalry is not the best way to show someone that you’re interested in them or care about them.

Try listening. And not just nodding and whatever, but actively listening. Having a real conversation, showing a real interest in someone’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings; confiding in another human being is incredibly intimate. Try a small, thoughtful, gesture. And no, not a gesture like holding a door open. Try remembering a little detail and using it create a small gift. Take a surprise trip somewhere. Leave them a cute little note. Or, you could always try physical contact. Holding someone’s hand goes a long way. And you know what the great thing about all of these ideas is?

They work for everyone.

Women, if you want a quality guy, you want to find the man who treats everyone with respect. The guy who isn’t chivalrous, but polite to all. Someone who doesn’t just blindly follow social conventions and “dating rules.” Instead, try and find a guy who seems interested in you and actually shows it by not being a tool, but by doing genuine, meaningful things. Yes, chivalry is dead. But you deserve better than chivalry. Long live respect and authenticity.

Seeing an ex in public

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Yesterday I had an odd experience that really put to the test some things that I’ve posted about recently on this blog. As some of you may know, I’m in the midst of a clinical rotation at a primary care clinic. Our building is one of the newer ones in a rather low-income neighborhood, and we pride ourselves on offering a wide variety of services to the community by partnering with other organizations and institutions. Case in point: in the evenings, we loan our clinic out to the National College of Natural Medicine, where students (under supervision) provide free or low-cost services to people. Most of the providers in our clinic are gone by that time, but the nurses still stick around for a couple of hours after the NCNM takes over. A new term started last week.

So imagine my surprise when I think I see an ex among the natural medicine students. And not just any ex. Some of you may remember a post I wrote awhile back entitled, “A year of lackluster dating.” And, lo and behold, the girl I saw on the list was someone from that post. Specifically:

Girl #2: Younger than me, but quite professionally successful. We met on a dating website. Attractive, intelligent, in great shape. We had a ton of stuff in common. We dated off an on because she had big time commitment issues until finally she moved out of town and we stopped seeing each other.

It seemed almost impossible to me, because when last we were seeing each other, she was an architect and a horse trainer–about as far removed from medicine as one can get. Until of course I remembered that there’s a former architect in my own nursing cohort, and that my previous career in advertising was also pretty far removed from the medical world. And it had been over a year since we’d last seen each other, and lord knows that a lot can change in a year’s time.

But no big deal, right? I’ve got this whole Vulcan thing down pat! I control my emotions, they don’t control me. Curiously, though, I found my reaction was less this…

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And more this…

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So what happened to all that hard work I did to get this whole “feelings” thing under control? If it had been anyone on that list other than girl #2, this would probably be a much different post. But go back and read the description of that girl. Of the six girls on that list, my relationship with girl #2 was the only one that didn’t have any sense of closure to it. As the description indicates, all of the right ingredients were there but I got jerked around until things abruptly faded into obscurity. So what did I end up doing?

Well, like any normal male in this situation, I naturally hid in my office.

Luckily one of my fellow nurses is super awesome, and volunteered to try and find out if it actually was her. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get close enough to read her ID badge. But she’s promised to do her best to get to the bottom of this and verify whether or not it actually is her. If it was her, she either didn’t recognize me or see me, didn’t care enough to say anything, or also felt surprised and awkward about it. Not that any of this should even matter. I’m an adult, and I’m reasonable, mature, and intelligent. There’s no logical reason why this should bug me or phase me in any way. It’s done, over, and in the past.

But it does phase me. It brings back old feelings and all sorts of other baggage that I’ve been trying to excise from my life. It’s putting to the test the kind of hardcore stoicism that I’ve been so carefully crafting all year. Best case scenario, it isn’t her, just someone who shares her likeness. Worst case scenario it is her, and all of the barriers and mechanisms I’ve put up lately aren’t nearly as strong as I thought they were. Perhaps that’s what I’m most upset about, losing all sense of control. So often in relationships, there’s an element of control that is missing, and this causes a lot of fear and anxiety. Fear an anxiety. Emotions. Complicating things again.

The future of space travel could be now

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I had a reader ask me what I thought of humanity’s chances of reaching and living on other worlds, and thus we have this post. For most people, the idea of interplanetary travel seems like a pipe dream. The obstacles seem to be insurmountable. However, I would assert that the only obstacle preventing us from reaching, say, Mars, is cost, not technology.

Let’s start with some of the problems that need to be overcome. The first of which is there is no gravity in space, and the effects of zero g on the human body are, to say the least, undesirable. Muscle and bone atrophy are huge problems. Your heart is a muscle, so imagine the atrophy that would take place in zero gravity for an extended period of time. Now imagine that you’re suddenly standing on the surface of a planet with earth-like gravity. Your weakened heart would have difficulty adjusting, if it could adjust at all. The same could be said of your bones. Our bone density is dependent upon gravity. Less gravity, less bone density. Depending on how long your travel through zero g took, your legs might snap like twigs the moment you stepped out of the ship and back into normal gravity. These two phenomena are why astronauts on the ISS spend a good chunk of every day exercising.

Another problem that long term deep space travel poses is radiation. Without the magnetosphere of the earth to shield them, the astronauts on any sort of deep space mission would be exposed to all sorts of cosmic radiation, constantly. And no, it wouldn’t give them sweet superpowers a la the fantastic four. It would give them cancer, and probably a lot of it.

There are several ideas for combating these two effects, and they’re all very feasible. The first idea would be to create a spinning capsule of some sort, a habitat ring for the astronauts, that would simulate earth gravity or a close approximation thereof. This is a sound principle, and mechanically there’s nothing beyond our technology required for it (think of those carnival rides that spin around, gluing you to the wall). One idea for shielding astronauts from the effects of radiation would be to simply increase material shielding, although that would require sending much heavier payloads into space, which would dramatically increases the cost. A more promising idea is using plasma to recreate the effects of the earth’s magnetic field. Sounds too sci-fi, but this is a reality: a team at the Rutherford Appleton Lab (RAL) has created a working model. I don’t know what it cost, but the fact remains that the technology exists.

There is a much simpler solution to these two hurdles, though, and it involves speed. With current rocket propulsion technology, it would take about fifty weeks to reach Mars. But what if it only took four weeks? Well, practically speaking you’d only be exposed to 1/12 of the radiation. You’d also only experience 1/12 the muscular and bone atrophy. Another added benefit of traveling at higher speeds would be the simulation of gravity. If you could reach high enough velocities, the thrust that a ship generates might be able to create “weight” for the astronauts on board. And since “up” and “down” don’t technically exist in space, you could essentially design a ship that would allow you to walk around while under thrust.

So how do we travel that fast? Well, there are two technologies currently available that could realistically deliver those kinds of a results. The first is the solar sail. Photons, the packets of energy that make up light, hit a reflective surface and push the sail forward, just like the wind on a conventional sail. The materials for this exist, and there have been successful tests of small probes that use solar sails. There are two disadvantages to using solar sails. The mass of a photon is almost negligible, ergo the acceleration of a craft using a solar sail would be small, probably measures in millimeters per second–although the upper limit of your speed could theoretically be up to 20% the speed of light, so solar sails are theoretically better for much longer ranged mission. Another obstacle is space debris. The material for the sail would have to be very thin, and the sail would have to be very large to collect enough light to generate any appreciable thrust. All it would take is one spec of dust to put a hole in the sail once you got up to speed. One advantage to the solar sail, though, is that there’s no need to carry fuel (the sun is your fuel!) and the acceleration is constant. It would take several years to reach Jupiter with a solar sail, but if you could use a plasma shield like the RAL lab has developed, you wouldn’t have to worry about radiation, and if you constructed a spinning crew module, you could potentially mitigate the ill effects of zero g upon the body. Here’s an artist’s rendering.

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And here’s a real life solar sail:

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A much more promising and feasible idea is nuclear pulse propulsion (NPP). NPP is a very simple premise: a ship is constructed with a concave pusher plate in the aft section; a nuclear bomb is denoted some distance from the ship, and the energy is captured by the pusher plate and the ship is propelled forward. The beauty of this idea is that a) we have pretty huge stockpile of nuclear weapons on earth essentially just sitting around doing nothing, and b) you can reach high velocities much faster than you could with a solar sail. Like 8-10% the speed of light. At speeds attainable by NPP the travel time to Mars is, you guess it, four weeks.  And, amazingly, the materials for this have existed since the 1960′s. The US government developed a project to create a NPP powered spacecraft called Orion, with plans drawn up by none other than Freeman Dyson (of Dyson sphere fame). Materials that could withstand repeated nuclear blasts were tested successfully (I believe they were steel spheres covered in graphite). So what stopped this promising technology? The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which prohibited the detonation of nuclear weapons in space (actually, it prohibited testing and detonation of nuclear weapons anywhere except underground, but this precludes detonation in space). And I know what you’re thinking: nuclear bomb = radiation. But you’re forgetting shielding and the plasma field! Let’s take a look at another artist’s rendering and some plans drafted for the Orion project:

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So I believe that the hurdles preventing us from traveling to another planet are all entirely surmountable, right now with our current level of technology. We already know how to recycle air and water, and hydroponics could supply food. There are a lot of planets in our solar system that have ice that could be used for water and agriculture. In fact, it was recently announced that Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has an ocean of liquid water beneath it’s frozen surface. So actually living on another planet is the relatively easy part; it’s the getting there part that poses the greatest hazards and complications. But, as I believe scientists have shown, it’s not nearly as hazardous and complicated as we think it is, and it’s only getting more feasible and less dangerous every year as technology improves.

What is holding us back, as usual, is money. Obviously these projects would cost money. But they wouldn’t cost an insane amount of money. For the amount of money we poured into the Iraq war would probably could have already constructed and launched a NPP powered spacecraft. It’s simply a matter of priority. In 2011, NASA’s budget was $18.4 billion dollars, or about 0.5% of the federal budget. And even that number is 35% of the total spending we did on scientific research. By comparison, the defense budget for that year was $683.7 billion dollars, or 18% federal spending–37x that of NASA. By 2008, we’d spent $900 billion on the Iraq war, which would be enough to double NASA’s funding for 25 years. As of June 2011, we’d spent 3.7 TRILLION to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning we could have effectively quadrupled NASA’s budget for the next 25 years. So yes, there is enough money out there to fund these scientific and exploratory endeavors. It just seems that as a country, we’d rather make war than explore the universe. We obviously have a lot of growing up to do as a species.

The reproduction conundrum

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Look at that little face. How could you not fall in love with it? Growing up, I always imagined that someday I would have a family, complete with children. As I got older I discovered that I really liked children, and they indeed seemed to like me. As more time passed, and the more I interacted with children–relatives, friends’ kids, etc–the more I could see myself having some of my own someday. And then I took an interest in science.

How many people can this little blue marble we call earth support? Previously I’ve posted that in order for everyone on the planet to live the lifestyle that the average American is used to, we would need 4 earth’s worth of resources. Obviously that isn’t feasible. So either the world population is continually divided into classes, have’s and have-not’s, or at some point everything is equalized and we all live at the same level. I don’t foresee the latter happening any time soon for a variety of reasons, and I have severe ethical and moral problems with the former option. So, at the moment, it looks like nothing will change: everyone around the world will continue to consume resources at an increasing rate in order to catch up to America and Europe, despite the fact that there literally aren’t enough resources on the planet for that.

This thought spurred me to think, well, what is the upper limit of the population that the earth is able to sustain? That concept is known in biology as carrying capacity–the ability of a given environment to provide enough resources to support a population. Given current conditions, scientists at Harvard estimate that the carrying capacity of the earth is roughly around 10 billion people. And that’s if we want to live relatively humble lives…as vegetarians. That 10 billion number grows if everyone is willing to live on basically a minimal subsistence level (which may be a reality given our propensity to consume and destroy our environment). Here’s a lovely picture of population projections.

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The number reached by the Harvard biologists is based on the amounts of fresh water and arable land available. And that 10 billion number is only realistic if we devote 100% of it to growing grains and vegetables–not raising livestock. And I seriously doubt that we’re all about to forget meat anytime soon. These estimates also don’t factor things like climate change, pollution, and the ability of science to keep us alive longer and to save people who would have otherwise died. The bottom line is that the 10 billion estimate is very optimistic, and the real number is probably much lower. And, as the graph suggests, we’re not far away from hitting that upper limit.

So what does this have to do with me having children? Well, basically, I feel like having children would be irresponsible at this point. And that’s not necessarily an indictment of people who do have children (more on that later); reproduction is a natural part of life, and if you only have enough children to replace you and your partner then you’re doing it responsibly. I just feel that for me, personally, it would be unethical. And I think that for two reasons. One, I’d just be contributing to the problem. Another consumer and another polluter on the planet. But second, it seems like a terrible thing to do to the child. “Hey kids, I love you. Now here’s a toxic, dying planet incapable of supporting your existence.” Seems kind of shitty.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ryan, you seem like a very socially responsible person, reasonably intelligent and forward thinking. You could instill your values in your children and create more positive forces in the world!” I agree with this in theory, but the reality is that it won’t make a difference because the number of lazy, greedy, narrow-minded, and uneducated people vastly outnumbers the amount of reasonable people in the world. Again, I know what you’re thinking. “Well then why don’t you just have one child! Or better yet, adopt! That won’t contribute to overall growth.” While I technically agree with those sentiments, unfortunately, other people do not.

Like this moron.

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Or these two jackasses.

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And not to be outdone, these two fucking assholes and their 20 goddamn spawn.

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So yes, while I can be a socially responsible person and take one step back by only having one child, idiots like the Duggar family can go ahead and undo that by taking 19 fucking steps forward again. And for every one person out there who recycles and conserves, there are probably fifty people who love disposable plastic crap, leave the water running and the lights on, and drive a tank of an SUV that gets 8 MPG. Who knows how many more kids the Duggars can pump out, and who knows how many children their kids will have and so forth.

All of this to say, I think I would make an excellent father. I’m certainly not a genius, but I think I’m an intelligent person, and I think that my genes would make an excellent contribution to the gene pool. Except they probably won’t be passed on precisely because of my intelligence. And this brings me to my overall point. Well-educated, intelligent people are more likely to have fewer children or no children at all, while lower income, poorly educated people will have more. So while the intelligent people on the planet will look at the state of affairs and realize the steps they need to take to correct it, the other ignorant people we share this earth with will not. So you have a situation where intelligent people, realizing the effects of population and pollution, will decrease or stop reproducing, which means fewer smart genes in the ol’ gene pool. Meanwhile, the stupid or ignorant people who can’t or won’t see and understand the effects of population and pollution will continue along their merry way, and research indicates that they’ll be pumping out a lot of children as they go forth, increasing the amount of stupidity in the gene pool. Eventually, the decreasing number of intelligent ideas and voices will be completely drowned out by the exponentially increasing number of ignoramuses infesting the planet, and we’ll have essentially phased intelligence out of the gene pool.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I won’t have kids. Because it’s too late. The tables have already turned. Everything is already lopsided, and it’s in favor of the morons of the planet. Me having kids won’t make a goddamn difference, no matter what I teach them or instill in them, so long as the amount of people willing and able to change is smaller than the number of people who are not.