Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Report

I just read a fascinating book. Read it in a single sitting, almost. It's called Denialism, and no, it's not about the Egyptian river (sorry, couldn't resist). It's about a general trend that the author believes is very strong in the world today: people not believing in science. The author treats a number of subjects, including genetic manipulation and pharmaceuticals, but my favorite is vaccinations. I had assumed that everyone was enthusiastic about vaccination. I remember as a child standing in line to be given a sugar cube with a drop of the Salk vaccine absorbed in it. It was the first Polio vaccine. Every summer was Polio season, and my mother worried all summer about one of us getting the disease. A friend of mine developed a headache one day after we went swimming at a lake near my home. Shortly after that, he was paralyzed with Polio. I'd been swimming right beside him that day. The Salk vaccine changed all that. Because of vaccines, I've been more or less safe from a variety of diseases, some annoying (I wasn't vaccinated for mumps, and it was a real drag to have them), some really dangerous (diphtheria, for one). Yet I read that today people are opting not to have their kids vaccinated, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is both safe and necessary. As if to put an exclamation point behind it all, in the newspaper yesterday I read about measles outbreaks in Utah. Measles! I have come to two conclusions about the people who don't have their children vaccinated. The first is that they have no idea of the immense relief that vaccination brought to the mothers and fathers of children who were saved from a host of childhood diseases. They have no concept of a world without vaccination, a world where influenza is a major cause of death. The second is that those people who withhold vaccinations from their children have that smug arrogance that only truly profound ignorance and stupidity can bring.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Advice from Harvard

I had to sit in on a discussion by a Harvard Professor last week (Threats were made). In it, the professor deigned to talk to us but didn't go so far as to actually prepare something to say. Instead he had a sort of open mic session in which we could voice supplications and he would reply to them (Are you sensing my response to the whole thing?). One thing he did say (a couple of times) is that if changes are to be made in English Departments (And by English he means literature, blithely unaware that half of English department people don't teach literature), the "leaders" in the field (Harvard) will have to do it first and then the rest of the world will follow like imprinted ducklings. Not so, my Brahmin colleague. In fact, it's the other way around. There is no reason in the world why the "leaders," the ones with the endowments and the prestige, should make any changes. They are quite happy at the top, looking down on the inchworms struggling up the slopes. Change comes from the newcomers, from the proles trying to get ahead in the world of academe. Some upstart university way out past the Mississippi (where civilization ends) will create the first completely on-line Master of Science degree in technical communication. "Technical Communication?" quizzes our Harvard man? "What's that?" P.S. Utah State University, Logan, Utah, developed the first and still very successful on-line program in technical and professional communication.