Facebook ‘fakery’ and vaccine scares

The noughties are defined by fakery | Hadley Freeman | Comment is free | The Guardian

Hadley Freeman, normally a fashion columnist for the Guardian and someone I normally agree with fairly readily, opines that this decade has been defined by ‘fakery’:

The noughties, or whatever we end up calling them, were surely defined by fakery: fake celebrities (anyone who came from reality TV); fake “reality” (see previous); faked news stories (Balloon Boy, which has since been compared to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds stunt – although, as far as I know, Orson wasn’t trying to regain the power he had when he appeared on Wife Swap, as Balloon Boy’s father, Richard Heene, was); fake fashion designers (any celebrity who sewed their name into the back of a badly made dress); fake friends (Facebook); and fake communication (“social” networking sites which tend to involve people sitting at home, alone, and not speaking). Sure, some of these things were around before Millennium New Year. But it was only afterwards that they became so ubiquitous and were given so much leeway.

I agree about reality TV and talent contests: hardly anyone that’s come out of them actually has any talent and most of them have had careers which sank within months of winning the awards. As for friends on social networking sites, I couldn’t disagree more. These sites don’t just enable people to pretend they have friends when they are sad nobodies hiding behind computer screens (always a handy stereotype); they also allow the sharing of information among real friends and family, and they allow acquaintances who might meet up to get to know each other somewhat. I do sometimes hesitate to call a friend I only know on Facebook a friend, even though I might be on more-or-less friendly terms with them, because they aren’t really close friends, but a Facebook friend is no more a fake friend than a penfriend is. They’re just a different kind of friend.

She then diverges into “fake science” and the hostility of the likes of Sarah Palin to the real thing. This includes a sideswipe at the MMR/autism scare earlier this decade, which caused a huge rise in the incidence of measles (more in 2006 and 2007 than in the whole of the previous ten years). However, this is in large part because the government refused to provide a measles-only vaccine at a time when, to the public (or sections of it), the dangers of MMR appeared well-founded even if it didn’t to experts. Surely what was important was preventing measles, rather than saving money or making sure everyone followed government policy.

After all, in my youth (the 1980s and early 1990s), we all got a measles vaccine, but nobody was innoculated against mumps (I got the illness) and girls got the rubella jab around puberty, to protect any future children. It’s true that, as Ben Goldacre pointed out, mumps is not a trivial disease and you weren’t guaranteed to get it in childhood, when it’s usually pretty mild, but if it had been some sort of emergency, there would likely have been a vaccination developed years ago, along with those for smallpox and polio, not the late 1990s or this past decade. The spike in measles cases could not have been prevented by just hoping people would take advice and give their kids the MMR; there needed to be a second line of defence, and there wasn’t.

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