Your Reproduction

Unusual disclaimer:  This post will probably make me sound hateful, or like a colossal elitist jerk — the latter of which I have repeatedly said that I am, so nobody should be surprised.  This post is not genuinely intended to cut, it is observational only.  I wish I had an idea of how to resolve these anomalies so that society could advance (ideally by concurrently rewarding excellence and mitigating suffering), but I don’t.  I’m just me.  And even if I sound hateful or like an elitist jerk, I’m still me.  So let me start by quoting somebody with a reputation even worse than mine.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. –Friedrich Nietzsche

An unusual pairing of headlines generated a chunk of cognitive dissonance for me over the weekend.  The first was a report of yet another protest against the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which effectively legalized abortion in the United States.  This was paired with concern about voting on a couple of tax increases.  A lot of the state-employed teachers and coaches I work with are concerned about taxes not going up, but some of them are concerned for their small-business owning relatives in case the taxes do go up.  The Oregonian has several shots of its own against the tax increases.

We’ll get back to the taxes, but first there’s Roe v. Wade.  This particular Supreme Court decision holds a special cold place in my heart because it tends to make people stupid (and I used to be one of them).  The ruling was not that “a woman has a constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion” or even anything to do with choice or life.  The precise summarize ruling was that the work necessary to prosecute abortion would “violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy” — or put another way, if the state can’t reasonably expect that you are viably pregnant, then the state has no just cause to expect that your non-pregnancy is the result of having an abortion.  It is also worth noting that the Roe v. Wade decision also includes its own limiter, promptly following the line quoted above, noting that the state has “legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a ‘compelling’ point at various stages of the woman’s approach to term.”

The thing that really strikes me about Roe v. Wade — especially that last clause — is that it is why people who are very pro-choice should be very afraid of government involvement in health care.  Government involvement in health care increases the government interest in “protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life” and reduces the barrier between state and citizen such that there is less privacy to be violated should abortion be outlawed and prosecutions follow.  All it would take is a conservative court that could actually, and with reasonable legitimacy, cite the original precedent of Roe v. Wade to not overturn it at all, but instead adjust the legal implications to be in-tune with the new social status quo.  Then again, there are people who earnestly want government to subsidize abortions for the economically disadvantaged without realizing how close they’re coming to promoting eugenics.

Conversely, a lot of the pro-life people should be thankful for Roe v. Wade because Roe v. Wade’s staunch re-assertion of the right to privacy also allows people who are so desperate to become pregnant to do so in unnatural ways which run counter to at least several thousand years of natural selection, if not making headlines for their gross abuse of society’s generosity.  (Just for the record, if you ever have to choose between “life finds a way” or “mad scientists find a way,” bet on the mad scientists.)

The point here is that “abort or not” isn’t really the choice here.  The real choice is “parenthood or not” and the government is staying away from that decision, too.

Or it would be if it weren’t mired in that decision for reasons of tradition and future et cetera.  In much the same way the religious institution of marriage has been recognized by the state with special statuses and tax breaks, so has the very private, intimate (or personal in some cases) decision to raise children been marked in public policy from the public school system to the tax deductions that reduce the amount of funding schools get from the people who are sending their children to them.  This means, conversely, that the people with no children are being taxed an astonishing amount (compared to the lack of resource consumption) to subsidize public education for other people’s children given that the private nature of the decision to have children, which the government wants no part of.

There is some strange economy at work here.  Erik Naggum, in responding to Atlas Shrugged, claims that an open capitalist economy gives people something more desirable to do than procreate, so they’ll do it.

The single factor that best defines civilizations as they become richer and therefore offer more freedom, is that people procreate less and at a later age. Capitalism has proved to be inordinately effective in keeping people from procreating when they could not produce enough to feed and care for their offspring… By giving women something that it costs so much to give up by having children that they weigh the cost that having children is and decide against it, capitalist society has short-circuited the senseless wastes of procreation with wild abandon that have marred every pre-capitalist society that happened to overproduce.

Paul Graham, meanwhile, notes that kids produced in a suburban-oriented society are an economic liability to the society in question.

Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend… Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they’d be a net loss. But they’re also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them.

The point behind this is these is that our capitalist society has no intention of having generally well-paid teachers due in no small part to the fact that the people who are making the most money and paying the most taxes either don’t have children or simply can’t put their career on hold long enough to pay that much attention to them because, if/when they do, the ongoing role of the public schoolteacher is diminished.

To clarify:  for the people who made the private economic decision to not have children, the public economic burden of educating children that were the result of other people’s private choices is a strange one.

And now the state is asking voters, of which I am one, if we should raise taxes on the people who are focused on making money — and probably not consuming so many state resources — to subsidize the (pejoratively pigeonholed) breeders’ so-called “public” education system (and, honestly, general budget).  Put that way, I’m really rather disinclined to agree to putting further fiscal support behind the state-entitled education system, especially since I know I disagree with its general educational priorities.  But the galling aspect of this is that there is no upper boundary on how much we may be asked to give to publicly mitigate private consequences — that is, subsidize the education of other people’s never-ending kids.  At a some point, freedom to choose must necessarily be read as freedom to choose the consequences and entitlements that scale to mitigate consequences prevent that point from ever being set.

I can only be and accept responsibility for being my brother’s keeper inasmuch as my brother, as a free moral agent, allows himself to be kept.  This is the point where all solvency breaks down.  But interestingly enough, this is also why making abortion illegal would not increase the net morality of our society.

Update: Going through the backlog on my RSS feed, we’ve got “Oregon State study says having fewer children is best way to reduce your carbon footprint.”  Of course, the other interesting thing is that “the rich” are having more children (The Economist from August 6, 2009 — subscription required at this point), representing a change in demography from the trend assumed above (particularly by Naggum) and further undermining the presumed necessity of having a fully public education system.

Revaluation FTWTF

The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.  The state of Oregon has (non-linear) standards for judging high schools, and they apparently rate Glencoe as Satisfactory.  But Glencoe’s reputation at the federal level is “Repeatedly missed targets, on ‘troubled’ list.”  Which really doesn’t hold with what Oregon says, and is rather opposite of the US News rating of the school (which the Oregonian is rather proud of).  See, they say that Glencoe gets a silver medal which is rather more than satisfactory and certainly not troubled.  Who’s right?  Well that probably depends on what you care most about.

So when we get to the Christian Science Monitor not doing a particularly stellar job of explaining “Why US high school reform efforts aren’t working,” we’re keyed to look for a line like “almost half of low-income high school students and their parents say that the primary mission of high school is to prepare them for college, only 9 percent of educators say that’s their primary task” which really highlights the disparity between expectations.

Traditionally, the college education has been viewed as a necessary-and-good step on the ladder of personal socioeconomic progress.  It has been woven into our cultural narrative and Matt Crawford covers it extensively in Shop Class as Soulcraft, which I’ve mentioned before and lays the groundwork of a counterpoint.  The counterpoint has been growing ever since the Dot-Com Burst at the turn of the century left a lot of college graduates trying to start careers that weren’t where they had been the year before.  And now we’ve got Fast Company, as a for-example, asking “Is College Really Worth It?” which is rather more gentle than Philip Greenspun or the Boston Globe’s calling-out of “The college admissions scam” (which we know, from Inside Higher Ed that I’ve referenced in “Valuation,” is partially a side effect of overzealous capacity expansion of universities but is also certainly a bubble effect as we have to rethink the knowledge economy).

So there are two especially glaring issues that are disrupting the dialog about the narrative.  For higher education, the simple fact of the matter is that not all college educations are created equal — the institutions, subject matter, and students all set the stage for unequal return on investment.  But what concerns me more is that our primary education systems are, from a legislative level on down, being told to ensure that we have No Child Left Behind… which conversely means that we’ve got a dearth of Children Actually Getting Ahead.  Public schools are being run with such an aversion to failure that the kids who are fairly well set up to achieve something are instead disenfranchised as “successful enough.”  Yes, I’ve yowled about this before, but the problem is that now we’ve got college professors complaining in the Boston Globe about their “lazy American students” and prompting a knee-jerk response about “lazy American teachers,” go figure.  Now there are numerous things wrong here (more with the latter than the former) but the thing that strikes me as odd as that the latter doesn’t realize that in as much as his complaint about “lazy teachers” covers the High School spectrum where kids are becoming bored instead of disciplined and focused, he’s got the exact same complaint as the college professor.  But the subtler similarity is that both the college professor and the guy who dropped out of college also both assume, per the cultural narrative, that people are supposed to go to college and continue with formalized secondary education.  The professor doesn’t even begin to suggest that perhaps some of her lazy students just plain don’t belong in her lecture hall.  And the person of dubious academic qualifications seems quite sure that the problem with the system is the people who have implemented it rather than anything more core to the system than that.

Anyway, the point behind all of the lazy people is that we’ve got so much common ground we don’t seem to notice that we’re all standing on it.  Our real problem is holding down specific goals, even as we share a vocabulary.  I noticed this a while back when one of my debaters mentioned that there were two years of AP English.  This surprised me at the time, but the New York Times confirms (via Patrick Welsh, a career educator and one voice among several) that advanced placement curriculum is changing:

In the last 10 years, Advanced Placement has become a game of labels and numbers, a public relations ploy used by school officials who are dumping as many students as they can into A.P. courses to create the illusion that they are raising overall standards and closing the gap between whites and minorities. In fact, they are doing just the opposite. And in the process, Advanced Placement has become the College Board’s cash cow as each year tens of thousands more students — or their school boards — fork over an $86 fee for each exam.

So the lingering mental model of AP curriculum that I recall from 12th grade apparently can be substituted with its modern counterpart in the same way that teachers can be substituted for, excepting that they can’t.

But meandering back a bit and on a tangent, what I found to be particularly galling about the “lazy teachers” article isn’t his apparent “I was wronged by the faulty people implementing a perfect cultural narrative and my socioeconomic success is my revenge” attitude, and it isn’t that he seems to believe that cursing the darkness and lighting candles are mutually exclusive activities, but rather that he thinks — sarcastically I’m certain, but the words are there — that the coffee provided to public school teachers (typically in the staff lounge, not the cafeteria as far as I know) in the United States is capable of motivating anybody.  Seriously.  If you think a cup of coffee is going to help, then let’s invest more in their coffee — because I can assure you that the unholy ashes of coffee-flavored substance that typically gets used is pretty much at the bottom of the economic bean-pile.  If coffee is going to help, then how about we start picking up some nice Ethiopian beans?  I’m polishing off a pound of Columbian from El Jordan which is really probably the nicest full-on coffee I’ve brewed since the Ethiopian Wondo, though the Rwandan Vunga was quite nice.  Of course, the best I ever had would be the Panama Geisha at Lava Java… which was sitting at $100 per pound.  But if that’s what it takes to ensure the future progress of our civilization through properly educated youth, then maybe it’s a small price to pay.  Except that it isn’t what it will take and I rather expect that everybody knows it and the terseness of the “wake up and smell the coffee” line is just another form of cursing the darkness because somebody thinks that lighting a candle is too damned hard.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it is almost that simple.  So I could be wrong, and kudos to the chef who is doing something interesting with his 15 minutes of fame; sir, you do put a smile on my face.

And also, to be fair about the lazy teachers, there are reports of professors using PowerPoint in “the wild” as it were.  You would think that they might have heard rumors of Tufte’s work on the subject of PowerPoint, but evidently not.  Presumably no more than, oh say, their employers realized that they were issuing diplomas to felines.  So we are almost certainly seeing a decline in academic rigor in universities, which strikes me as little more than the first consequence of over-expansion (see above) and will be nothing compared to the shock and pain the industry goes through and entire colleges are culled out of existence because our cultural narrative becomes honest about how the value of a college education is speculative, not guaranteed.

So in the end (more because it is late than because it is over), there’s two things kids need to know about the modern education that is being inflicted upon them which I suspect I’ve said before or at least heard elsewhere:

  1. The goal of primary education is increasingly to ensure that anybody can pass it.  If you want to be somebody, you have to have higher standards for yourself than just “pass.”  There is no set upper limit to your success; there is no set speed limit preventing you from getting there faster.  If you think, for example, that you’re not learning chemistry properly, then go requisition a chemistry set and an experiment book.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s more than I’ve done with science lately.
  2. As far as college education goes, if you’re a smart enough and self-starting enough kind of person, then skip as much of the 100-level coursework as possible.  Even some of the 200-level coursework can be rather flat.  The best singular decision I made in college — which is to say that I made it once and never reconsidered — was to jump right into a (university mandated) philosophy course at the 300-level where the subject matter was focused and the professor actually cared about it… and the class only had a dozen or so students.

Hopefully this will be useful to somebody, but since it is now tomorrow, I’m going to downgrade my optimism to hoping that it’s merely coherent.

Reading Fiction

This post was originally written after judging a “Public” debate at a tournament last year. Having recently gotten several questions about Public debate form and style, I think I should probably re-post this as a short sample case. This is a simple, definitional-fact case, gussied up with a lot of pretty and congenial talk to build rapport with the judge(s).

This house believes that reading fiction is useless.

Of course, through a lens of existential autonomy operating within a de facto absurdist framework, nothing is particularly useful. People simply reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead won’t necessarily get more use out of it than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would get out of being read. So that’s part of what we want you to keep in mind as we explain our position: it is up to the individual person to add value, or usefulness, to their activities.

By way of resolutional analysis, we’d like to point out that the resolution is using the word reading, which indicates an active, present-tense verb. It is the actual process of reading. It is not learning to read using fiction. It is not reflecting deeply upon and writing analytical essays of fiction. It is nothing more than reading fiction. And we’re going to talk about why merely reading fiction is useless.

So our initial point of contention is that merely reading is useless, regardless of whether the matter is fiction or non-fiction. If valuable action or thought follows the reading, then the individual may attribute use to that, but specifically to reading there is no particular use. After all, what use is there in reading any particular thing? The matter of the printed word never amounts to more than, as Hamlet summarized it, “Words, words… words.” Now it would be right to say that I’ve put Hamlet to use here, but it was not the reading of Hamlet, but rather the employ of Hamlet — and this distinction is important because far more people have encountered Hamlet, read Hamlet, been subjected to the tragedy of Hamlet, than have used it to construct an argument in a debate. So the point here is that reading is not the same thing as gaining use of, and as long as that distinction is clear — which, through an existentially autonomous lens it should be — we’re clearly looking to the affirmation that merely “reading fiction is useless.”

But through that lens of existential autonomy, you — being a well-read jury of critics — may be thinking “But I don’t read anything that I don’t intend to put to use!” and I do not doubt it. But consider what you read: do you read high-literature in order to gain enlightenment? Or do you read bestsellers to stay engaged in popular culture? No matter what your ultimate reason is, what the ultimate use you put the book to is, chances are that you don’t merely read any random fiction that happens to have a compelling cover, by which you know you should not judge the book. And this goes back to our point: that merely reading arbitrary and random “fiction” is useless. Even our bookworm friends that do buy any random tome that strikes their fancy admit that thtere is no more value in their reading habits than killing the time that would be passing with quiet futility anyway. Surely such fine critics would be at least honest in the scope of their limited amusements, and cede to affirm that the mere act of reading fiction, for nothing more than the sake of reading fiction, is useless.

This reminds me of a story one of my friends told me. A while back, the book Infinite Jest (by David Wallace) was quite popular. The book is a thick and difficult tome, but people were buying copies and presumably reading them. Well one guy bought it. And read it — all 1100-plus thick, twisted and convoluted pages of it. And when he tried to discuss the matter of the fiction with the other people who had been packing around or casting knowing nods towards their copies of Infinite Jest, he found that he was the only one who had actually read the book: everybody else had given up a couple of hundred pages in and was merely posing as if they had made it through the mammoth lump of fiction. And so, being foiled in what he hoped to achieve after reading the book, it is amusing — at his unfortunately illustrative expense — that reading the fiction wasn’t ultimately valuable to him, or even transitively valuable to any of his classmates that merely nodded and winked their way past it.

And thus we affirm that reading fiction is useless. The mere act of reading doesn’t contain any particular use. Some people may be able to assign value to reading, but not to something that they would merely and dismissively describe as fiction. And beyond that, the ex post facto value of the reading cannot be genuinely determined until after the fiction is read, not as a matter of the reading.

Economic Sanctions

Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives. That’s the next LD topic. Let’s see what we can do with just a bit of Wikipedia clicking…

Wikipedia states that “Economic sanctions are domestic penalties applied by one country (or group of countries) on another for a variety of reasons. Economic sanctions include, but are not limited to, tariffs, trade barriers, import duties, and import or export quotas.”

Additionally, “A country’s foreign policy… is a set of goals outlining how the country will interact with other countries economically, politically, socially and militarily… Foreign policies are designed to help protect a country’s national interests, national security, ideological goals, and economic prosperity.”

So the resolution is asking the affirmative to show why tariffs, trade barriers, import duties, et al, should not — due to a moral standard — be used to achieve foreign policy objectives which are designed to help protect a country’s national interests etc.

I suspect that the easy case for the affirmative to make is that economic sanctions on a country are designed to influence the policy maker — who is necessarily a despotic tyrant, or possibly a despotic oligarchy — to be nice to us. The evil-doer practically never notices because being the person with power over a nation has the perk of not having to suffer like your citizenry. So the nefarious head-of-state continues to live in luxury (and not submit to our will or succumb to our foreign policy objectives) while their citizens suffer from lack of economic interface with us. Tragic, right?

So why would we do it at all? It’s because we believe in the capability of those suffering citizens as humans and as citizens of their country. We believe that governments derive their just powers from the consent of their governed (it’s in our Declaration of Independence) thus if the current head-of-state isn’t willing to cooperate with our foreign policy objectives, then the citizens of that nation probably generally aren’t either. So if we can convince them — economically, without dropping bombs on them — that some regime change might improve their lot in life and they act on it, then our ideology about “consent of the governed” is upheld and if they don’t change their head-of-state, then there’s a measure of complicity in the head-of-state’s actions that we’ve thrown economic sanctions against. In other words: let them suffer because they’re not opposing their government that is opposing us.

Except that it doesn’t work so well. Economic sanctions against Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, and — of course — Cuba all show that economic sanctions don’t bring about regime change. Generally they either help the people of the nation feel strong and independent because they don’t need our help to do as well as they’re doing, or the suffering citizens live in fear of their oppressive and well-fed government and its military. Really, when was the last time there was a successful coup d’etat that wasn’t executed by a nation’s military?

So the short of it is that the historically bad track record of economic sanctions for achieving major foreign policy objectives is pretty poor, with the mass of citizenry being the people who bear the brunt of the punative punishment for their government’s offenses. If Immanuel Kant — to poll a name at not-at-all random — were to examine this situation using deontological ethics, he would probably say that we’re not acting out of good will because we’re (at best) intending for people to suffer until they’re motivated to cause suffering to their government and (at worst) ignoring the humanity of the people who we will be causing to suffer as a means of altering the behavior of their government.

So, when looking at the ought-factor here, we see that we need to make a moral decision — and thus we’ll value Morality. And as the criterion for determining whether or not we’re acting in a moral fashion, we’ll refer back to Kant, citing this time his formulations of the Categorical Imperative which Wikipedia summarizes as

  • Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.
  • Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
  • Act as though you were, through your maxims, a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.

And while the third one doesn’t really apply — we are talking about national and foreign policy here such that we are, effectively, law-making members — it is clear to see that we wouldn’t want economic sanctions against our nation and, more uniquely and distressingly, we can be seen as treating the citizens of foreign nations as a means to end certain policies of their government. Ergo, it is immoral to use economic sanctions to achieve foreign policy goals and we ought to not use them.

Of course, a canny negative speaker would stand up and ask if, since the affirmative is not actually a policy-maker, if they are only calling the behaviors of actual policy-makers immoral to win a debate and are, in fact, thus using the policy-makers — who are people — as a means to the end of winning a debate.

So if the negative were to take Kant and run with it, the negative would say that passing broad and preclusive judgment on the possible actions of other people without full respect for the nuances and humanity of their situation fails to pass the morality standards set by the categorical imperative: we do not want to rush to judgment on this matter or to disrespect the very human job and role of our policy-makers. Ergo, voting affirmative is immoral in this case and should not be done. Since the tab room won’t let you turn in a blank ballot, please write in “neg” instead.

The negative position relies on three elements here: First, Kamm’s Principle of Permissible Harm (see Deontology in Wikipedia again) which says that it is always morally permissible to do the least amount of harm. Thus, if a set of economic sanctions are being used instead of violence to prevent war against an intractable and non-cooperative nation such as North Korea or Iran, then it is possible that those sanctions are doing less harm than an alternative method to avoid significant net harms. In as much as the economic sanctions constitute a less-immoral practice, they must be accepted as morally permissible in order for a possibility for moral action.

Secondly, extending on that point, the affirmative fails to acknowledge the existence of foreign nations full of free moral agents who are choosing whether or not to act with or against our foreign policy objectives. We’re not simply slapping economic sanctions on nations because we’re the big rude hegemon of the world; we’re doing it because they are refusing to do something we need them to do in order to maintain a good, healthy, cooperative relationship with them. Both nations (and all citizens thereof) are free moral agents and to be treated as such we must acknowledge that their actions — inclusive of possibly responding to possible maleficence with economic sanctions — do not happen in a deontological bubble that we can judge to be immoral from this little half-hour debate round.

Third and finally, the affirmative isn’t really showing that people generally suffer from economic sanctions. Any independent and free nation can survive just fine even with economic sanctions in place against it. Cuba tenaciously continues to exist south of Florida despite an exceptionally long-running set of economic sanctions against it. Generally, and most commonly, people may not be able to get imported goods as cheaply or as readily as they otherwise might, but is — for example — a lack of computer CPUs (which are export-restricted due to cryptographic capabilities) really causing an immoral amount of suffering in the world? Not so much, no.

So let’s get real: economic sanctions are a barely effective way to pursue foreign policy objectives. They do not directly attempt to harm anybody and any suffering that might be felt in a nation subject to particularly stringent sanctions is almost certainly being felt because the economic sanctions have been set in response to threats of harm from that nation to the nation (or nations) laying out the sanctions while being in lieu of actual (and quasi-arbitrary) violence, thus making them morally permissible. Certainly more morally permissible than branding all of our policy-makers who frequently use some degree of economic sanctions or another in pursuit of foreign policy objectives as acting immorally for the sake of a debate round.

As a judge, I’d vote for the negative there. So I think the affirmative needs a different strategy.

So for something that’s coming a bit more out of left field, I’d say that economic sanctions ought not be used because using economic sanctions precludes corporations’ ability to autonomously fulfill their fiduciary duty to their stockholders.

Generally, as a society, we value fulfilling our duties. So when we say we value Duty, we’re using duty as “a term that conveys a sense of moral commitment to someone or something. The moral commitment is the sort that results in action, and it is not a matter of passive feeling or mere recognition. When someone recognizes a duty, that person commits himself/herself to the cause involved without considering the self-interested courses of actions that may have been relevant previously. This is not to suggest that living a life of duty precludes one from the best sort of life, but duty does involve some sacrifice of immediate self-interest.” (Wikipedia on Duty) The key thing to bear in mind is that accepting a duty is accepting a commitment that generally involves a sacrifice of self-interest.

Now you might find yourself thinking about “noble” right about now, and people heeding the call of duty. We don’t want to interfere with people acting out of a sense of duty or discharging their duties, so we’re going to use a very simple weighing mechanism here: who can avoid interfering with duties? We’re not necessarily trying to fulfill duties here — those who are called to or bound by duty are responsible for their duties — but we should not interfere with them any more than we would want somebody to interfere with us if we were so called or obligated.

And economic sanctions preclude corporations from fully carrying out their fiduciary duties to their shareholders.

Going back to Wikipedia (on “fiduciary duty”) “A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care at either equity or law. A fiduciary (abbreviation fid) is expected to be extremely loyal to the person to whom he owes the duty (the “principal”): he must not put his personal interests before the duty, and must not profit from his position as a fiduciary, unless the principal consents… corporate directors, may be held to a fiduciary duty similar in some respects to that of a trustee. This happens when… the directors of a corporation are trustees for the stockholders…” Put another way, the constant duty of a corporation is to make money for the corporations’ shareholders, regardless of the personal interests of the people running the corporation. And economic sanctions against a nation alter the flow of free capitalistic trade, specifically preventing at least one (but usually many) corporations — both domestic and foreign — from fulfilling their fiduciary duties to their shareholders.

  1. Now the negative may object that a corporation is not a moral entity and thus failure to carry out a fiduciary duty is not immoral and thus fails to prove that we ought not interfere with it but: “Despite not being natural persons, corporations are recognized by the law to have rights and responsibilities like actual people. Corporations can exercise human rights against real individuals and the state, and they may be responsible for human rights violations. Just as they are “born” into existence through its members obtaining a certificate of incorporation, they can “die” when they lose money into insolvency. Corporations can even be convicted of criminal offenses, such as fraud and manslaughter.” (Wikipedia: Corporation) It is worth noting, however, that they are generally not considered to be actual citizens and, despite usually paying taxes, they are not considered to have an actual vote in democratic societies. I wouldn’t claim that this is taxation without representation at this juncture, but I would note that this explicit lack of representation disenfranchises the corporate duties and interest from national interests.
  2. The shareholder to whom the corporation is bound by fiduciary duty are, ultimately, people and thus breaking the discharge of the duty would constitute a harm to the people and thus be immoral.

An important example in this case is Halliburton. And while I shudder to hold Halliburton up as an example of moral behavior, it is hard to contend that Halliburton’s opening of a second corporate headquarters in Dubai — which was widely regarded as a transparent move designed to get around economic sanctions the United States placed on Iran — was motivated not by CEO David J. Lesar’s desire to be expatriated, but by their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to pursue profit and return on investment. They rightly set aside their self-interest to pursue the more-correct business strategy to carry out their fiduciary duty. And our economic sanctions against Iran created barriers that mitigated their ability to do so and increased the investment that they had to make to pursue this strategy, thus necessarily reducing their return on investment and harming Halliburton’s investors. We ought not do that.

Now the negative is probably going to stand up and say that we need some level of economic sanctions to prevent exporting weaponry to our enemies which, frankly, I have just justified. To this, there are two obvious responses:

  1. The black market will always supply our enemies with plenty of weapons, be they recycled, second-hand, or simply lost in transit on their way to our not-enemies. Economic sanctions are ineffective in preventing the flow of weapons; they only reduce the profit available for the discharge of the corporate fiduciary duty. Watch the movie Lord of War — it’s an eye-opener. But more importantly,
  2. The real problem isn’t the exporting of “goods” per se, but the exporting of devices that can do harm. If we didn’t allow the formation of corporations that exist to create things that do harm — if we didn’t make it possible for people to burden a corporation with a fiduciary responsibility to facilitate harming people — then we wouldn’t be nearly so worried about where they sell their wares. But inasmuch as we allow these corporations to exist and create these harmful products for the profit of the people who choose to invest in them (which may be considered reprehensible), then we must necessarily treat them as equals with other corporations that have identical fiduciary duties to their respective shareholders — so it’s still wrong to intervene in their discharge of fiduciary duties.

And the assured preclusion of proper discharge of fiduciary duties by corporations, foreign and domestic, when economic sanctions are used for any reason — to achieve foreign policy objectives or not — is why we ought not use economic sanctions. It is unacceptable to interfere in the discharge of legally codified duties.

But I suspect that a “foreign policy objectives are hegemonic evil” is going to be more common affirmative case than that corporation-friendly case there.  To which, the negative might respond with something like this…

  1. The usage of the ‘to’ places emphasis on the agent for focus of this debate. That foreign policy objectives are ultimately going to be achieved — regardless of their morality — is not in question.  What is in question is whether or not (or not or whether, actually) we ought use economic sanctions in the potentially protracted and/or protractable process of achieving them.  Point being that just because foreign policy objectives are bad things to have, achieve or pursue does not automatically warrant an affirmative ballot.  See,
  2. Per Kamm’s Principle of Permissible Harm, we can realize that economic sanctions are less immoral than other options — hegemonic assassinations, proactive wars, etc — to achieve the foreign policy objectives which will be achieved in some way, so it seems entirely possible that economic sanctions are the least immoral way to achieve these objectives and are thus the only way we ought to achieve them.
  3. Economic sanctions don’t even work to achieve those immoral hegemonic foreign policy objectives.  Really, look at Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Et Cetera.  But we like economic sanctions because they’re the least evil way to still feel like we’re powerful and hegemonic and in the meantime, the more-immoral actions which would more effectively achieve those evil foreign policy objectives are deferred while we wait to see if the less-harmful actions are effective.  They aren’t, but time marches on while they’re not and during that time, we’re less-immoral than we otherwise would be if we were taking more direct action.

So, on the whole, yes, foreign policy objectives are bad.  But we’re not debating that — we’re debating about whether there are better or worse ways to get to an agreed-upon bad ends.  (That’s the “to” in the resolution, remember — without that “to,” the affirmative isn’t topical.)  And what I’ve just told you is that economic sanctions are the laziest, least-effective, least-impactful, least harmful way that we regularly use to pursue those hegemonically bad foreign policy objectives and because it is the least-wrong thing we can do, economic sanctions are therefore the only thing we ought to do when we’re pursuing those bad ends — because simply not pursuing them is outside of the scope of this debate.

Of course, the negative shifting the focus of the debate should get a question in cross-examination related to the usage of “To,” which may be responded to by the negative thusly: “Your easily-affirmed interpretation of the resolution would be better stated as ‘foreign policy objectives ought not be achieved via economic sanctions’ which couples the ought-not to the achieve verb on the foreign policy objective, with economic sanctions being an incidental frame.  Our resolution, however, couples ought-not with use of economic sanctions; the achievement of foreign policy objectives being the incidental frame.  I expect you are trying to affirm the topical reading of the resolution, so that’s what I’m arguing against — but if you’re happy with being off-topic, I’ll happily drop my arguments since I don’t need to argue against something that doesn’t affirm the resolution.”

January 11, 2010: Going through old articles today, I ran across a list of corporations that have moved their headquarters abroad for (at least partially) tax reasons.

Valuation

One of the most heinous problems with value-based debate is that the kids who are actively doing it tend to not understand what a value actually is.  This problem isn’t restricted just to kids.  Ashley Merryman, writing for Newsweek, suggests that “US School Kids Are Doing Better Than Ever – But You Never Hear It” using graduation rates and tests and all of that stuff.  What she never does is correlate that to actual success in a competitive field, or demonstrate that the metrics she is providing have intrinsic worth.  Certainly scoring higher on A Test is going to be a prima facie good thing… but what makes A Test worth taking?  The question is outside the scope of the article, which really undermines its ability to be contrary to the usual doom-oriented thinking that most trolls (like me) engage in.  The closest she comes to providing a qualitative measure of things getting better would be claiming that “fewer colleges and universities even offer remedial programs than they did in decades past.”  I would generally expect that this is because colleges don’t want to have to offer those courses more often than their not being necessary.  First case in point would be Mr. Newell’s counter-claim that in 2001, 10% of students in Oregon’s state university system took remedial math.  But the other counter-point here would be that the selectivity of colleges has gone down due to freshman seats in colleges outpacing the increase of high school graduates.  The evidence is over here, with the key point being

The number of high school graduates in the United States, from 1955 to today, increased by 131 percent, she notes, but the number of freshman seats in the U.S. rose by 297 percent. “This suggests that the absolute standard of achievement required of a freshman who successfully competed for a seat was falling,” Hoxby writes… The number of college seats available to students who — judging by NAEP scores and college admission records — are only moderately or minimally prepared has gone up.

There’s two points to be made here, with the easier point starting a long chain that hooks into the second point near the end.  The easier point to make is that, when offered money to deliver “success,” people adjust their definition of “success” to make it more achievable — and this is especially true for cash-starved state education systems.  The Christian Science Monitor recently summarized a survey of “proficiency” definitions in “Student ‘proficiency’: What is your state’s definition?” which came back with disappointing results:

“A proficient reader in State A may be very different from a proficient reader in State B – even though those students may have the same academic skill,” says Peggy Carr, associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which released the study Thursday… The level considered proficient in 31 states didn’t even reach the “basic” level on NAEP. Not a single state had standards that reached NAEP’s “proficient” level… “This is a black box to most people,” Ms. Winkler adds. “The concept of proficiency is bandied about, … but there are a lot of ways and mechanisms states can use to make it appear they’re performing better than they are.”

Never mind the correlation that the Washington State Board of Health found between soda consumption and academic failure, as a nation we’re unable to define success at a level that is actually successful — let alone definitive.  But testing harder isn’t going to give us more learning or better education by itself.  Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, explains to the Wall Street Journal that improving education requires motivating — frankly — smarter people to teach.

The most important thing is to bring to K-12 education college graduates who excel in math and science. Those countries that are doing best are recruiting their K-12 teachers from the top third of their college graduates. America is recruiting our teachers generally from the bottom third, and when you go into our high-needs communities, we’re clearly underserving them.

And this clearly echoes writing from Paul Graham which I’ve linked to elsewhere, even before we get into how lowered standards stifle gifted students — ignoring bizarre cases where you can’t tell whether the school is being dumb about the student or the student is being dumb about the cultural narrative.  My ongoing point, based on my as-a-student experience with mathematics teachers especially, is that we need more motivational teachers to help engage kids with subject matter.  Somewhere along the line, somebody boiled down “smart” to “IQ” which was never the right thing to do — but it fits on a PowerPoint slide! — and we now have to be reminded by New Scientist that the correlation between IQ and intellect is not absolute.

But the tests fall down when it comes to measuring those abilities crucial to making good judgements in real-life situations. That’s because they are unable to assess things such as a person’s ability to critically weigh up information, or whether an individual can override the intuitive cognitive biases that can lead us astray… “A high IQ is like height in a basketball player,” says David Perkins, who studies thinking and reasoning skills at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It is very important, all other things being equal. But all other things aren’t equal. There’s a lot more to being a good basketball player than being tall, and there’s a lot more to being a good thinker than having a high IQ.”

To put it another way, it requires more than latent talent to think; you also have to be engaged.  Po Bronson, who also writes for Newsweek, allegedly on the same column that started us off, appears to have  been surprised by this when he (mis-)wrote “Why Dumb Toys Make Kids Smarter” and lost most of his credibility with me.  The article in question isn’t about dumb toys at all; it’s about toys that don’t tout their educational benefits — in this case, collectible card games.  Po was previously unaware of how much directly-applied math and statistics kids are inspired to learn when competing with friends over zero-sum card games.  He is still, as near as I can tell, unaware of how to teach the less pleasant of economic realities associated with collectible card games — and I speak from my experience having been a kid who obsessed over baseball cards because Magic: The Gathering hadn’t been introduced quite yet, but boy was I a sucker for that, too, when the time came.  I shudder to think of the conclusions of Po’s slack-jawed drooling if I were to point him to the World of Warcraft Recount add-on which is, frankly, is really stinking awesome but utterly fails the directive of “Under no circumstances should you not solve a real problem” and thus needs to be taken as it is, and as limited as it is, because Po’s experience with Pokemon which his son abandoned of his own volition made Po realize

When it comes to kids, we often bring moralistic bias to their interests. There’s a pervasive tendency in our society to label things as either good for children or bad for children. Cultivating children’s natural intrinsic motivation requires abandoning all judgment of good and bad content. Society has a long list of subjects that we’ve determined they should learn. But learning itself is kick-started when enmeshed and inseparable from what a child inherently loves.

This may be a bit overstated, but is consistent with Mike Crawford’s claims about Shop Class as Soulcraft, in which he cites Doug Stowe making the much more precise assertion that

[I]n schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.

which, again, echoes links I’ve previously made to Paul Graham, and reminds me of my own experience with the public school system.  Simply put, any student who is merely smart (in the “quick-witted and/or clever” sense of the word, not necessarily in the “learned” and certainly not “wise”) can coast through through the continually diminishing standards of our public school system without ever developing the kind of motivation that they should have to maximize their value to society and civilization.  Put another way, most kids “value” education because people tell them that it’s the ticket to a better life, rather than because they love being educated, probably, I expect (based on my previous experience as a student and current feedback as a volunteer) because teachers that can share the joys of applied discovery aren’t the norm, and are further constrained by state-specified curriculum — which is why I’m happy-enough with my choice to be a programmer instead of a teacher at this juncture.

My volunteering with a local school is motivated by the belief — for which I have no actual evidence — that there is a statistical band of kids, probably between the 85th and 97th percentiles that are disenfranchised by doing well-enough such that they don’t warrant the kind of special attention that geniuses or failures or “socioeconomically underpriviledged” youth get in our society.  Intel recently sponsored a study that found that a lot of parents aren’t really involved in their kids’ homework — specifically math and science, in which, to be fair, I’m not involved in either — without regard for whether the children were socioeconomically underprivileged or not.  But this detachment between parents* in the real world and kids in contrived classrooms only serves to reinforce how contrived the classroom is and demotivate the child from appreciating the material so that it can be readily-known for real-world application later.  I have even seen this in debate cases written by one student who is sharp enough to apparently be bored out of his mind and thus doesn’t seriously consider the resolution on his way to writing something which is as outlandish as it is theoretically correct.  While the limits-testing he is expressing can be healthy, the limited amount of time spent in coaching and competition mitigates the actual learning he could be doing, both in his testing of limits and, when he (quickly) tires of that, plumbing the depths of the resolution as originally intended.

The consequence of the students who are good enough to be disenfranchised (no matter which of the multifaceted points of causation rouses the rabble at the moment) appears to be showing up in “Student-to-College Mismatch seen as Graduation-Rate Issue” which starts by pointing at the book Crossing the Finish Line.  This book “suggests that one reason so many academically talented students leave college without a diploma may be that they enroll in schools for which they are overqualified.”  The article goes on with some actual evidence, noting that

Among all North Carolina students who qualified on paper for a top-tier state school, the study found, those who chose the next-most-competitive level of school were 15 percentage points less likely to graduate within four years, and 22 percentage points less likely to graduate in six years… Some other experts have pointed out, however, that the findings do not take into account other differences among students, such as variations in motivation or drive, that could also explain the better outcomes for high-achieving students at the elite schools.

And I would agree, within the multifaceted nature of this issue, that “variations in motivation or drive” are absolutely the source of collegiate disconnection, and here we hook the second point on reduce college admissions selectivity.  Given a college that needs some moneyed students (or rather, parents) to pay full price for their education and some students to be support staff, as it were, that will provide the academic laurels that will inspire said moneyed parents to pay for the less academically capable students to attend the glorious institution — I’ve written about this — then the combination of “Oh, you belong here” and “Here’s a generous financial aid package to make it easy” are going to sucker fully-capable kids into enrolling in and filling seats at universities that are — frankly — not capable of fulfilling them.  Having survived four years of high school with the anticipation of moving on from the contrived, boring and sterile classroom, the prospect of paying any amount for four more years of boring, contrived and sterile lecture hall — which is how most freshman classes are; they don’t get better until the 300 level and above — may motivate students to quit.  Honestly, I expect the only reason I was able to get my 4-year degree from the university I did was because I got it in 3 years: I couldn’t have tolerated it for another year.  (And it was just as well — I got out of college and into a job just as the dot-com craze began to collapse.)

This reaction to underwhelming sterility is a reaction to an unnatural normality.  Going back to Mike Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, he writes “It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work, yet… this has become the one-size-fits-all norm, even as we go on about ‘diversity.'”  And now we’re seeing the fallout in the quantity of people that aren’t sticking with the cultural narrative of getting a college education as being the absolute ticket to a better life.

So let’s look back to Ashley Merryman, who, in the context of a value debate, would almost certainly claim to value “education.”  There’s nothing wrong with that stance — I expect a lot of people would value education as a piece of the cultural narrative.  But what does it mean?  With deference to a Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., let me say…

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about [education]. All right, here is how I feel about [education]:

If when you say education, you mean the transferring of knowledge and experience from an elder generation of our species and civilization to a younger generation, such that the younger generation is better-prepared to address and succeed in the world they inhabit and are to inherit, then I certainly am for it.

But if when you say education, you mean the blanket conferrence of state-approved homogenized cultural norms onto the vital and vibrant youth of our great nation in the taxpayer-funded isolation of structures and institutions which create the pejorative meaning of “school” until they have generally attained such age and conformity as they may be fit to serve the continuity of our civilization, perhaps in Iraq or Afghanistan, then I certainly am against it.

“This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

But hopefully it shows how a shallowly held value can be readily twisted by the implementation of efforts to promote that value, how criterion and metrics can be skewed, and the fruitlessness of debating on the merits of achieving a value through any manner of action that can be described in a 16-minute case (inclusive of rebuttals) — with that final point being a bit of wisdom that we ultimately hope our debate geeks will all come to realize before they slack their way into something myopic that may mitigate the realization of their potential.

Update November 17, 2009: I’m afraid a lot of my education-oriented writings may come across as generally disparaging of teachers.  To be clear, I generally regard people who teach because they want to teach as having an abundance of good motives (required to make up for the lack of socioeconomic appreciation), but varying degrees of capability — and those with the most capability tend to get it mitigated out of them by bureaucrats reinforcing Parkinson’s Law and our lovely society misallocating resources for maximized ineffectiveness.  So when the New York Times runs a story about teachers selling lesson plans online, I have to generally say “Good on ya!” to the teachers that are doing good enough work to package and sell.  While I have a strong preference towards supporting the teachers that reinvest their revenue stream into either their classroom or their continued education, I have to say that I generally support this on the initial assumption that the career teachers that are successfully selling lesson plans and not currently reinvesting the revenue in the career have likely already spent more than their supplemental income on spare training or materials for their classrooms or specific students anyway.  The odd flip-side of this, of course, are the teachers who are buying these materials: given that selling is a sign of capability, then buying is necessarily an admission of incapability.  And when there is more incapability than there is capability in any professional, then they’re not really operating at the “professional” level, are they?  And these are the people — the football coaches actively misteaching history, the little old ladies extolling the virtues of not consuming poison or sharing venereal diseases as a “health” class, et cetera — that we actively rely upon to do a disservice to young people throughout the nation so that we not only don’t feel guilty about ignoring them ourselves but can also use to demonstrate a failing educational system that shouldn’t have more money thrown at it.  Rejoining back to the question of who I’m disparaging here, it would be the people whose (hypothetical) good intentions have outstripped their capacity for professional success — because the best of intentions do nothing to mitigate the worst of results.  Of course, the other issue is that of copyright on the lesson plans and, legally speaking, school districts can make claims that they own the copyright on those works as teachers are employed and salaried and so forth.  Legally, I expect this is correct.  I don’t believe that it is right, but it is legally correct.  And thus the people who are lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness only to find that the candle must meet union regulations and state requirements on where is goes and what it illuminates… become more unfortunate examples of good intentions being compromised by capabilities.

* Parents who may well be eagerly anticipating the day they can be emancipated from their children by the simple act of buying the burdensome offspring A Car! — yet another aspect of parenthood I don’t feel I’m missing out on…

Immunizations

I’m rather pleased by the nation-wide interest (no matter how niche) that my post on the previous Lincoln-Douglas high school debate topic generated.  So let’s take a few moments to look at the next LD Resolution: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.  I am pleased that this topic smacks of higher social relevance than Yet Another Bloody Standardized Test, and I’m even more pleased to have an affirmative case that features exactly no jack-booted thugs.
That stated, let’s begin with how I’m opposed to the claim: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.
The crucial word to understand here is “compulsory.”  It has a three-word definition of “required; mandatory; obligatory.”  Now obligatory denotes either a moral or legal obligation which is “something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.” and that’s easy enough to ignore.  People shirk their obligations and flake out on their duties with distressing frequency.  But when you look at the “mandatory” word, things get a bit more intense because “mandatory” comes down as “authoritatively orderd… permitting no option; not to be disregarded or modified.”  So that’s pretty serious — we’re going to try to force people to do something.  But it’ll be justified (“to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done… to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded”) because The Public has concerns (“a matter that engages a person’s attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person’s welfare or happiness”) about The Public’s Health.  And, just to be clear, The Public is “of, pertaining to, or affecting a population or a community as a whole,” and this is relevant when cross-applied with the definition of concerns because the concern for the public’s health is always going to be based in self-interest and is not intra-populous; to put it another way, I can’t cite “public health concerns” to justify compulsory immunization of a group of people of which I am not a member.  This shouldn’t be a problem — if I can justify immunizing anybody, I really should be able to justify immunizing myself.  (All definitional material taken from dictionary.reference.com’s original sourcing.)
But we’re already on thin ice for affirmative ground:  We’re going to justify policy actions that impinge on personal liberties based on something as fleeting as “a person’s attention, interest or care” in the age of the 24 hour news network?  I would rather see “statistical evidence suggesting the potential for epidemic prevention” than “public health concerns” before I — or rather, the Government — tells people they must undergo a medical procedure.  But the really distressing thing about the notion of mandatory medical procedures is that they diminish the distinction between free citizens and prisoners of the state.  Kathy Swedlow, writing for the American Bar Association, says
“incarcerated individuals… have a reduced right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. Within prison walls the rights of the state must be balanced with the prisoner’s right to refuse treatment. Thus, the state may offer a variety of medical and legal reasons to forcibly administer medical treatment to a prisoner, including the need to quell the spread of disease within prison walls…” (http://www.abanet.org/irr/hr/spring03/forcedmedication.html)
Two key things jump out at me here.  First of all, that there is a right of free citizens to refuse unwanted medical treatment.  (And as long as health care is not socialized within the United States, that will certainly be the case — which, looking at Roe v. Wade, would be the top reason why liberals shouldn’t want public health care and neo-conservatives should, but I digress.) Secondly, that the state, when imposing medical treatment upon the incarcerated, meets a higher standard than mere “concern” to justify their actions.  Certainly by the time they’ve provided those medical (or in some cases legal) reasons for imposed treatments they’ve had “concerns,” but the concerns are what caused them to do the work and research to have actual medical (or legal) reasons to impose medication.  The point here is that even when the state does justify mandatory medical procedures on incarcerated wards of the state, they justify with rather more than mere “concern.”
But why wouldn’t somebody want to be immunized regardless of authoritarian mandate?  Well, the simple fact of the matter is that medications usually have side effects.  The CDC reports that the DTaP vaccine may, in rare cases, cause “Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness; Permanent brain damage.”  I’m sure we can take comfort from their claim that “Life-threatening allergic reactions from [Inflenza] vaccines are very rare.”  These are the rare worst-known-case scenarios, documented at http://www.cdc.gov/VACCINES/vac-gen/side-effects.htm.  But the “mild problems” for some vaccines can affect substantial — 25% or more — portions of the population.  These are statistical risks that the CDC has tabulated against immunization and any free citizen getting immunized should be aware of these risks and make the conscious decision that they’d rather take the probably known risks with the medical procedure than roll the dice against a disease.  And this year, I seriously considering getting a flu shot for the first time ever because I’m seeing reports like “Get That Vaccine, It’s Going to Be a Bad Flu Year” (http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/oreilly/radar/atom/~3/viVIISyMEEw/get-that-vaccine-its-going-to.html) — but that’s just self-interest, not a government mandate.  And as much as I would like my co-workers with the germ-infested larvae known as children, and as much as I would like my spouse who works the the wandering plague-bearing populous known as art students, and as much as I would like the people who are serving me my tasty lunch or measuring my feet for new boots or repairing my air conditioning to absolutely not be diseased because they’ve been immunized, the simple fact of the matter is that if I am really concerned about my health, then I should get myself immunized.
And this is where we call shenanigans on “Public Health Concerns.”  Because as Margaret Thatcher (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher) pointed out, “There is no such thing as society.  There are men and women, and there are families.  And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.  It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbors.”  To put it another way, if I have “public health concerns” that can be theoretically resolved by my being immunized, then I should be immunized.  And while I may advocate that other people get immunized because being diseased, or losing out on opportunities for gainful employment because their children are diseased and they must tend to them, sucks, “getting sick sucks” isn’t sufficient ground for inflicting compulsory medical procedures on another free citizen.
Above and beyond all of this, though, is the simple fact that compulsory immunization based on “concerns” creates a fallacy of composition.  If people are going to be mandatorially immunized, then the simple fact of the matter is that the disease can’t possibly be transmitted from last person yet-to-be immunized to anybody who already has been immunized.  By that point in time, the public cannot possibly be having health concerns strong enough to warrant violation of that last person’s liberty.  Thus, the last mandatory immunization breaks the use of “public health concerns” for its justification — the compulsory nature of it may be justified by normalized social actions and equality of the citizenry, but the concerns are no longer well-grounded enough to justify the action.
And that’s why I can’t agree with the claim that “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.”
But all of that relies on understanding — or rather the assumption — that the “public” is comprised at least everybody in my geographic community, with geographic limitations possibly being bounded by the jurisdiction of the US federal government, and the US federal government being the only suitable authority to make anything compulsory for said public.  But the definition of public allows for “a” community, not “the” community, and if we specify which community we’re talking about to be one that has a different point of authority, we may get different results.  This would be using the “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists” definition of community which has become increasingly popular in these technologically advanced times.
So let’s try this on for size:  The public we’re talking about is the community of people who have health insurance provided by a specific carrier.  Maybe they are senators, maybe they’re Canadians, maybe they’re all just insured by a corporation like Blue Cross.  The point is that they share a common characteristic — their insurance provider — and are commonly interested in having their medical bills paid by said insurance provider.  Now as you are very probably aware, health insurance isn’t just a matter of “you go to a doctor and insurance foots the bill;” health insurance is “you go to an approved doctor for an approved procedure and then hopefully insurance foots the bill.”  What this means, in terms of the relationship between the community and the insurer, is that the insurer is authoritatively legislating the extent of the service they will provide to their constiuency.  Therefore, if a health insurance organization has concerns for its public’s health — say, with regards to Disease X — that could be averted by proactive immunization, then it seems entirely reasonable that they could mandate that anybody who expects to have medical bills associated with Disease X covered must also be immunized against Disease X.
So, for example, let us say that Blue Cross is looking at the possibility of an H1N1 epidemic.  Blue Cross also sees that there is a H1N1 Flu vaccine available.  It seems entirely reasonable for Blue Cross to tell the community of people insured by Blue Cross “We are concerned for your health due to the possibility of an H1N1 epidemic.  We want every one of you to get immunized against H1N1.  If you are not immunized against H1N1, then we will not cover any medical costs associated with you contracting H1N1 and needing treatment because, well, we told you so.”  Playing it back, the insurance provider is using its authority as bill-payer to compel its public to be immunized against a disease on threat of possible bills not being paid.  That’s the enforcement mechanism.  There are no fascists here; no syringe-bearing jack-booted thugs.  There’s just common sense:  insurance companies shouldn’t have to pay for treating diseases that the insured public could’ve prevented with immunization, no matter how many times the disease-ridden populous try to foist the bill off to their insurer.
And why shouldn’t insurance companies have to pay the bills of those people who didn’t want to get immunized?  Because they’re using their public’s money to pay the bills.  That’s how insurance works — they collect money from all of their policy holders and give it out to the policy holders that need it.  So if one policy holder needs $20 to cover an immunization and another policy holder needs $2000 to cover a hospitalization because they didn’t want to be immunized, then the insurance company is going to need $2020 to cover both claims — which, distributed amoung the two policy holders, means that the immunized (and fiscally responsible) policy holder got shafted to the tune of $990 by being in the same — very small — insured public as the one that got hospitalized.  But the insured person never sees the uninsured person’s bill — the insured person only sees that health insurance costs are going through the roof (and possibly hears their employer lamenting about it on a regular basis).
So what it comes down to for the affirmative is this: given a community of people insured by a common entity (thus forming a public), when faced with a disease for which a vaccine exists, some people are going to get immunized against the disease.  If it is reasonable — and concerning — to expect that the disease poses a significant enough risk to the health of the public, then in the interests of fiscal equanimity and fiduciary responsibility, above and beyond just wanting people to not have to suffer through preventable diseases, it is not only justifiable but should in fact be expected that health insurance companies compel their policy-holding public to be immunized against the disease as a condition of having medical bills associated to that disease covered.
And that’s why, as a healthy person paying for health insurance — for myself, my spouse, employees of my federal government, and probably an awful lot of my fellow citizens within the next few years — I can stand firmly resolved that “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.”

I’m rather pleased by the nation-wide interest (no matter how niche) that my post on the previous Lincoln-Douglas high school debate topic generated.  So let’s take a few moments to look at the Nov-Dec 2009 Lincoln-Douglas debate resolution: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.  I am pleased that this topic smacks of higher social relevance than Yet Another Bloody Standardized Test, and I’m even more pleased to have an affirmative position that features exactly no jack-booted thugs.

That stated, let’s begin with how I’m opposed to the claim: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.

The crucial word to understand here is “compulsory.”  It has a three-word definition of “required; mandatory; obligatory.”  Now obligatory denotes either a moral or legal obligation which is “something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.” and that’s easy enough to ignore.  People shirk their obligations and flake out on their duties with distressing frequency.  But when you look at the “mandatory” word, things get a bit more intense because “mandatory” comes down as “authoritatively orderd… permitting no option; not to be disregarded or modified.”  So that’s pretty serious — we’re going to try to force people to do something.  But it’ll be justified (“to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done… to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded”) because The Public has concerns (“a matter that engages a person’s attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person’s welfare or happiness”) about The Public’s Health.  And, just to be clear, The Public is “of, pertaining to, or affecting a population or a community as a whole,” and this is relevant when cross-applied with the definition of concerns because the concern for the public’s health is always going to be based in self-interest and is not intra-populous; to put it another way, I can’t cite “public health concerns” to justify compulsory immunization of a group of people of which I am not a member.  This shouldn’t be a problem — if I can justify immunizing anybody, I really should be able to justify immunizing myself.  (All definitional material taken from dictionary.reference.com‘s original sourcing.)

But we’re already on thin ice for affirmative ground:  We’re going to justify policy actions that impinge on personal liberties based on something as fleeting as “a person’s attention, interest or care” in the age of the 24 hour news network?  I would rather see “statistical evidence suggesting the potential for epidemic prevention” than “public health concerns” before I — or rather, the Government — tells people they must undergo a medical procedure.  But the really distressing thing about the notion of mandatory medical procedures is that they diminish the distinction between free citizens and prisoners of the state.  Kathy Swedlow, writing for the American Bar Association, says

“incarcerated individuals… have a reduced right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. Within prison walls the rights of the state must be balanced with the prisoner’s right to refuse treatment. Thus, the state may offer a variety of medical and legal reasons to forcibly administer medical treatment to a prisoner, including the need to quell the spread of disease within prison walls…”

Two key things jump out at me here.  First of all, that there is a right of free citizens to refuse unwanted medical treatment.  (And as long as health care is not socialized within the United States, that will certainly be the case — which, looking at Roe v. Wade, would be the top reason why liberals shouldn’t want public health care and neo-conservatives should, but I digress.) Secondly, that the state, when imposing medical treatment upon the incarcerated, meets a higher standard than mere “concern” to justify their actions.  Certainly by the time they’ve provided those medical (or in some cases legal) reasons for imposed treatments they’ve had “concerns,” but the concerns are what caused them to do the work and research to have actual medical (or legal) reasons to impose medication.  The point here is that even when the state does justify mandatory medical procedures on incarcerated wards of the state, they justify with rather more than mere “concern.”

But why wouldn’t somebody want to be immunized regardless of authoritarian mandate?  Well, the simple fact of the matter is that medications usually have side effects.  The CDC reports that the DTaP vaccine may, in rare cases, cause “Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness; Permanent brain damage.”  I’m sure we can take comfort from their claim that “Life-threatening allergic reactions from [Inflenza] vaccines are very rare.”  These are the rare worst-known-case scenarios, yes, but the “mild problems” for some vaccines can affect substantial — 25% or more — portions of the population.  These are statistical risks that the CDC has tabulated against immunization and any free citizen getting immunized should be aware of these risks and make the conscious decision that they’d rather take the probably known risks with the medical procedure than roll the dice against a disease.  And this year, I seriously considering getting a flu shot for the first time ever because I’m seeing reports like “Get That Vaccine, It’s Going to Be a Bad Flu Year” — but that’s just self-interest, not some external mandate.  And as much as I would like my co-workers with the germ-infested larvae known as children, and as much as I would like my spouse who works the the wandering plague-bearing populous known as art students, and as much as I would like the people who are serving me my tasty lunch or measuring my feet for new boots or repairing my air conditioning to absolutely not be diseased because they’ve been immunized, the simple fact of the matter is that if I am really concerned about my health, then I should get myself immunized.

And this is where we call shenanigans on “Public Health Concerns.”  Because as Margaret Thatcher pointed out, “There is no such thing as society.  There are men and women, and there are families.  And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.  It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbors.”  To put it another way, if I have “public health concerns” that can be theoretically resolved by my being immunized, then I should be immunized.  And while I may advocate that other people get immunized because being diseased, or losing out on opportunities for gainful employment because their children are diseased and they must tend to them, sucks, “getting sick sucks” isn’t sufficient ground for inflicting compulsory medical procedures on another free citizen.

Above and beyond all of this, though, is the simple fact that compulsory immunization based on “concerns” creates a fallacy of composition.  If people are going to be mandatorially immunized, then the simple fact of the matter is that the disease can’t possibly be transmitted from last person yet-to-be immunized to anybody who already has been immunized.  By that point in time, the public cannot possibly be having health concerns strong enough to warrant violation of that last person’s liberty.  Thus, the last mandatory immunization breaks the use of “public health concerns” for its justification — the compulsory nature of it may be justified by normalized social actions and equality of the citizenry, but the concerns are no longer well-grounded enough to justify the action.

And that’s why I can’t agree with the claim that “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.”

But all of that relies on understanding — or rather the assumption — that the “public” is comprised at least everybody in my geographic community, with geographic limitations possibly being bounded by the jurisdiction of the US federal government, and the US federal government being the only suitable authority to make anything compulsory for said public.  But the definition of public allows for “a” community, not “the” community, and if we specify which community we’re talking about to be one that has a different point of authority, we may get different results.  This would be using the “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists” definition of community which has become increasingly popular in these technologically advanced times.

So let’s try this on for size:  The public we’re talking about is the community of people who have health insurance provided by a specific carrier.  Maybe they are senators, maybe they’re Canadians, maybe they’re all just insured by a corporation like Blue Cross.  The point is that they share a common characteristic — their insurance provider — and are commonly interested in having their medical bills paid by said insurance provider.  Now as you are very probably aware, health insurance isn’t just a matter of “you go to a doctor and insurance foots the bill;” health insurance is “you go to an approved doctor for an approved procedure and then hopefully insurance foots the bill.”  What this means, in terms of the relationship between the community and the insurer, is that the insurer is authoritatively legislating the extent of the service they will provide to their constiuency.  Therefore, if a health insurance organization has concerns for its public’s health — say, with regards to Disease X — that could be averted by proactive immunization, then it seems entirely reasonable that they could mandate that anybody who expects to have medical bills associated with Disease X covered must also be immunized against Disease X.

So, for example, let us say that Blue Cross is looking at the possibility of an H1N1 epidemic.  Blue Cross also sees that there is a H1N1 Flu vaccine available.  It seems entirely reasonable for Blue Cross to tell the community of people insured by Blue Cross “We are concerned for your health due to the possibility of an H1N1 epidemic.  We want every one of you to get immunized against H1N1.  If you are not immunized against H1N1, then we will not cover any medical costs associated with you contracting H1N1 and needing treatment because, well, we told you so.”  Playing it back, the insurance provider is using its authority as bill-payer to compel its public to be immunized against a disease on threat of possible bills not being paid.  That’s the enforcement mechanism.  There are no fascists here; no syringe-bearing jack-booted thugs.  There’s just common sense:  insurance companies shouldn’t have to pay for treating diseases that the insured public could’ve prevented with immunization, no matter how many times the disease-ridden populous try to foist the bill off to their insurer.

And why shouldn’t insurance companies have to pay the bills of those people who didn’t want to get immunized?  Because they’re using their public’s money to pay the bills.  That’s how insurance works — they collect money from all of their policy holders and give it out to the policy holders that need it.  So if one policy holder needs $20 to cover an immunization and another policy holder needs $2000 to cover a hospitalization because they didn’t want to be immunized, then the insurance company is going to need $2020 to cover both claims — which, distributed amoung the two policy holders, means that the immunized (and fiscally responsible) policy holder got shafted to the tune of $990 by being in the same — very small — insured public as the one that got hospitalized.  But the insured person never sees the uninsured person’s bill — the insured person only sees that health insurance costs are going through the roof (and possibly hears their employer lamenting about it on a regular basis).

So what it comes down to for the affirmative is this: given a community of people insured by a common entity (thus forming a public), when faced with a disease for which a vaccine exists, some people are going to get immunized against the disease.  If it is reasonable — and concerning — to expect that the disease poses a significant enough risk to the health of the public, then in the interests of fiscal equanimity and fiduciary responsibility, above and beyond just wanting people to not have to suffer through preventable diseases, it is not only justifiable but should in fact be expected that health insurance companies compel their policy-holding public to be immunized against the disease as a condition of having medical bills associated to that disease covered.

And that’s why, as a healthy person paying for health insurance — for myself, my spouse, employees of my federal government, and probably an awful lot of my fellow citizens within the next few years — I can stand firmly resolved that “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.”

But.

Immunization does not necessarily confer immunity.  The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, cited by dictionary.reference.com, defines immunization as “The process of inducing immunity, usually through inoculation or vaccination,” while Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary clarifies that vaccination is merely “the introduction into humans or domestic animals of microorganisms that have previously been treated to make them harmless for the purpose of inducing the development of immunity” — with the crucial phrase being “inducing the development of immunity.”  Even when people are immunized — and this is regardless of whether or not they are immunized voluntarily or are under compulsion — they might not develop the immunity.  For the affirmative, this gets rid of the negative’s fallacy of composition argument since immunization doesn’t guarantee immunity and thus public health concerns may linger while for the negative this argument comes out saying that we shouldn’t be justifying violations of rights-of-self with stuff that doesn’t even necessarily work.   But this has additional implications, described by Brownlee and Lenzer, 2009, (and cited more in just a moment): “All vaccines work by delivering a dose of killed or weakened virus or bacteria, which provokes the immune system into producing antibodies. When the person is subsequently exposed to the real thing, the body is already prepared to repel the bug completely or to get rid of it after a mild illness… Unfortunately, the very people who most need protection from the flu also have immune systems that are least likely to respond to vaccine.” Which is to say that if you’ve got a strong immune system — and shouldn’t be concerned — already, then a vaccine will probably immunize you, but if you’ve got a weak immune system and should be concerned, then a vaccine may not help you much at all.  For the negative, this (again) means that public health concerns can’t be solved by vaccinations, compulsory or otherwise, so making them compulsory can’t be justified.  For the affirmative, however, it means that even if I trust my immune system to be able to handle the disease, I should still — and may be obligated to — get vaccinated against it to help protect the frail people with weak immune systems that won’t be helped by being vaccinated themselves.

Overall, that isn’t to say that vaccines don’t work, just that they might not work.  Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer have an impressive article in The Atlantic on immunizations and flu treatments and skepticism about their efficacy, which would be a major component of a myopic negative case.  They provide the refutation that the affirmative needs for a flu-obsessed negative case right in their article.  The main counter-argument would be that we’re not just talking about the flu; we’re talking about any hypothetical disease and vaccinations do have a good track record. “Public-health officials consider vaccine their most formidable defense against the pandemic—indeed, against any flu—and on the surface, their faith seems justified. Vaccines developed over the course of the 20th century slashed the death rates of nearly a dozen infectious diseases, such as smallpox and polio, and vaccination became one of medicine’s most potent weapons.” Furthermore, from that article, flu vaccines may not even immunize people against “the flu” and are therefore non-topical: “More than 200 known viruses and other pathogens can cause the suite of symptoms known as “influenza-like illness”; respiratory syncytial virus, bocavirus, coronavirus, and rhinovirus are just a few of the bugs that can make a person feel rotten. And depending on the season, in up to two-thirds of the cases of flu-like illness, no cause at all can be found… In addition, vaccine “mismatches” occurred in 1968 and 1997: in both years, the vaccine that had been produced in the summer protected against one set of viruses, but come winter, a different set was circulating. In effect, nobody was vaccinated.”  To put it another way, if a vaccination successfully induces the development of the wrong immunity, then the person in question was, for all intents and purposes, not immunized.  (Except that the negative should turn that last bit right around because the debate is on the compulsory nature of this process and it doesn’t matter whether the stuff in the syringe is the right stuff or not, the question is whether or not public health concerns can be used to justify jabbing people with syringes.  And it goes back to the point that the “concerns” might not be valid ones, so no, we can’t justify violations of rights-of-self with mere concerns.)

Moving on to a crucial policy point, Brownlee and Lenzer observe that reliance on vaccines to provide immunizations that should lead to immunity tends to detract from our willingness and ability to pursue other pandemic-mitigation strategies: “The other possibility, of course, is that we’re relying heavily on vaccines and antivirals that simply don’t work, or don’t work as well as we believe. And as a result, we may be neglecting other, proven measures that could minimize the death rate during pandemics. “Vaccines give us a false sense of security,” says Sumit Majumdar. “When you have a strategy that [everybody thinks] reduces death by 50 percent, it’s pretty hard to invest resources to come up with better remedies.””  Looking at alternatives, we can view Mexico and the UK and constrast their “social distancing” compared to the vaccinations we prefer in the US.  They continue,  “In Mexico, for instance, where the first swine flu cases were identified in March, the government launched an aggressive program to get people to wash their hands and exhorted those who were sick to stay home and effectively quarantine themselves. In the United Kingdom, the national health department is promoting a “buddy” program, encouraging citizens to find a friend or neighbor willing to deliver food and medicine so people who fall ill can stay home. In the U.S., by contrast, our reliance on vaccination may have the opposite effect: breeding feelings of invulnerability, and leading some people to ignore simple measures like better-than-normal hygiene, staying away from those who are sick, and staying home when they feel ill.”  This last point is particularly crucial, and Brownlee and Lenzer revisit it — or rather, send it to a hospital to encounter all the diseases that are going around. “Late last spring, as headlines and airwaves warned of a possible pandemic, patients like [Dr. David] Newman’s began clogging emergency rooms across the country, a sneezing, coughing, infectious tide of humanity more worried than truly sick, but whose mere presence in the emergency room has endangered the lives of others. “Studies show that when there is ER crowding, mortality goes up, because patients who need immediate attention don’t get it,” says Newman, the director of clinical research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, which is affiliated with Columbia University… when patients with even mild flu symptoms show up in the hospital, they vastly increase the spread of the virus, simply because they inevitably sneeze and cough in rooms that are jammed with other people.”  So did the negative side catch all that?  By the time a specific disease is pandemic-looking enough to possibly warrant compulsory vaccinations, what people really should be doing is not all coming together and sharing their plethora of germs while waiting in line to get jabbed by a needle; to do exactly that — which is what happens — is to harm the collective public health, especially since the people most likely to be concerned are the ones with weak immune systems that won’t develop immunity from the vaccination but will catch whatever other communicable diseases have been brought to the waiting room.  To which the affirmative should respond — if they were clever enough to used a limited definition of public such that a non-legal authority is doing the compelling — that “pandemic” is not part of the resolution; any public health concerns (like continuing to be concerned about polio or smallpox in this day and age) will do — excepting that there’s also no “on balance” or “may” in the resolution; it’s a blanket justification and a negative ballot.  The better affirmative response would be that the method of vaccination isn’t prescribed by the resolution and the future of medicine is moving more towards distributed in-home self-care due to the elderly-intensive shift in national demographic which will mitigate these risks, so the implementation is moot when we’re asked to be resolved about the justifiability of compulsion in 32-ish minutes.

But getting back on the possibility that vaccinations don’t lead to immunity, the final point I wanted surface from the Brownlee and Lenzer article is that diseases are living organisms as well and just as subject to natural selection as the rest of us — which means, unfortunately for us, that the more aggressively we kill them off, the stronger the ones that survive and thrive (and don’t have to compete with their peers that we killed off for the resources) will be. “Guidelines issued by the New York City Department of Health, says Newman, “encourage us to give a prescription to just about every patient with the sniffles,” a practice that some experts worry will quickly lead to resistant strains of the virus… Indeed, that’s already happening. Daniel Janies, an associate professor of biomedical informatics at Ohio State University, tracks the genetic mutations that allow flu virus to develop resistance to drugs. Flu can become resistant to Tamiflu in a matter of days, he says. Handing out the drug early in the pandemic, when H1N1 poses only a minimal threat to the vast majority of patients, strikes him as “shortsighted.” Indeed, samples of resistant H1N1 were cropping up by midsummer, increasing the likelihood that come late fall, many people will be infected with a resistant strain of swine flu.”  And when that disease — which now comes fortified with its human-resistant genes such that everybody will be getting it at full-severity  — starts spreading again, we’ll have to come up with some new and different way to get rid of the disease.  Or we could just call in sick and help keep the disease from spreading in the first place, regardless of whether or not the compulsory vaccinations that the public subjected itself to adequately induced the development of immunity to whatever it was the public was concerned about.

On the whole, this looks like another negative ballot.  The public tends to be readily concerned, but not necessarily well-informed.  Vaccines do not guarantee immunity any more than a placebo can qualify as “immunization,” therefore any concerns of the public that might be well-founded and used to justify a policy response cannot be genuinely assuaged by compulsory immunizations, so what we’re left with is ill-founded concerns that could be assuaged by a compulsory action — but can’t really be used to justify the compulsory nature of that action.  And that’s a substantial part of the ground covered by a resolution that clearly reads “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.”  It doesn’t say “in cases where immunization is proven effective, like polio and smallpox and the like.”  It includes it, but is not limited to it.  The resolution, in its fatal brevity, includes the spurious concerns of The Public that has, historically, been flim-flamed by charlatans and snake-oil salesmen and 24-hour news networks and wants us to use those to justify compulsory medical procedures which may or may not confer any benefit upon the recipient, but will make The Public feel better about its health until… next week?

No, Public Health Concerns do not currently justify anything.  If they did, then smoking would be outlawed.  High-fructose corn syrup would not be subsidized.  Aspartame would not have been approved by the FDA, to say nothing of rBGH.  And, honestly, we’d be much more interested in obesity-avoidance over the lifetime of any and every individual than any trivial diseases that come and go in a matter of days.  But we’re busy hocking hair transplants, erectile dysfunction pills, in-vitro fertilization and, yes, speculative flu vaccinations because that’s what concerns the public rather than necessarily providing for its collective better health.

And if this were an After-Dinner Speech, the toast would be “So this tincture is for you, America.  Here’s to your health.”

But it isn’t.  It’s a debate.  And the simple fact of the matter — looking at polio, measles, smallpox, etc — is that humans can develop herd immunity through mass-vaccinations.  Dr. Harriet Hall writes in “Vaccines and Autism: a Dangerous Manufactroversy” that a decline in vaccinations has resulted in the “return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. [C]hildren have died. Herd immunity has been lost. The public health consequences are serious and are likely to get worse before they get better…”  The source article is specifically concerned with parents who don’t vaccinate their children based on the fear that vaccines may cause autism.  In case the negative suggests that the public is concerned with negative health impacts from vaccines, the introduction to Dr. Hall’s article is a choice response:

The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism. There is no controversy… There is, however, a manufactroversy — a manufactured controversy — created by junk science, dishonest researchers, professional misconduct, outright fraud, lies, misrepresentations, irresponsible reporting, unfortunate media publicity, poor judgment, celebrities who think they are wiser than the whole of medical science, and a few maverick doctors who ought to know better.

The article also brings the consequences of measles returning to the U.K., steps through each of three “vaccines are scary!” points, and their subsequent discrediting.  If the affirmative is concerned that the negative may run a case with Dr. Wakefield, Mark Geier, Dr. Gordon, Oprah or Jenny McCarthy cutting loose with fearmongering, Dr. Hall’s writing may help to counterpoint it.

The negative (that was running Oprah and McCarthyism), in rebuttal, would want to look at Dr. Hall’s article and say that the concerns of the public, as delivered to them by Jenny McCarthy and Oprah, don’t stop being concerns just because they’re not legitimate concerns.  The word “legitimate” does not appear in the resolution.  So the affirmative, in essence, is still trying to violate rights of self for any spurious reason that the torch-and-pitchfork-and-Oprah-watching crowd can toss out.

And then the affirmative would want to conclude that the mass of doctors that have legitimate concerns for public health, combined with the societal benefits that can be reaped from mass-vaccinations (we call it “dead kid prevention”), justify compulsory immunizations because 1) illegitimate concerns don’t somehow unjustify legitimate concerns and they certainly don’t undo the very real benefits of mass-vaccinations and 2) immunization is not some reckless fad and the fact that any concern is adequate to justify it doesn’t translate into any concern justifying investing in torch-and-pitchfork companies which is exactly where the negative was trying to fallaciously slippery-slope that last argument down to.  To put it another way, do we really trust our health to the currently heart-felt beliefs of a Playboy bunny or to the scientific conclusions of the medical community?  Because even if the negative successfully severs case for its rebuttal, the fundamental question still comes down of “Whose opinion do you listen to?” and being concerned about a fountain of illegitimate concerns — as the negative was in that rebuttal — really just says “We retain our right to be mislead by whomever Oprah chooses.”  And when the public health is at stake, when children in first world countries are dying of preventable diseases because their parents are being mislead, that is not an acceptable position or value to hold.

That doesn’t mean, however, that people don’t cherish charlatans.  Amy Wallace in Wired magazine’s November 2009 issue describes the situation as

This isn’t a religious dispute, like the debate over creationism and intelligent design. It’s a challenge to traditional science that crosses party, class, and religious lines. It is partly a reaction to Big Pharma’s blunders and PR missteps, from Vioxx to illegal marketing ploys, which have encouraged a distrust of experts. It is also, ironically, a product of the era of instant communication and easy access to information. The doubters and deniers are empowered by the Internet (online, nobody knows you’re not a doctor) and helped by the mainstream media, which has an interest in pumping up bad science to create a “debate” where there should be none.

Unfortunately, the existence of the debate, the ability of people like Jim Carrey to summarize vaccination advocates as “Grab ’em and stab ’em,” means that compulsory vaccination is a scary thing for the public.  And this is relevant because one of the people being railed against — Paul Offit — acknowledges this when he says “People are getting hurt. The parent who reads what Jenny McCarthy says and thinks, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t get this vaccine,’ and their child dies of Hib meningitis… It’s such a fundamental failure on our part that we haven’t convinced that parent.”  To put it another way, if our evidence, our proof, and our science in favor of vaccinations positive effects aren’t enough to convince people that we know more-and-better than a Playboy bunny, then we need to figure out how to put together better evidence, proof and science, not appeal for some kind of authoritarian mandate.  Offit isn’t sure how to do this; he expects that it is an eventuality as more children die from easily preventable diseases.  Wallace, however, takes a more Sagan-esque view of the torch-and-pitchfork crowd:

Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard.

And this trend toward irrationality is probably why Offit is right that the problem is one of convincing people, not compelling people.  Because the truth of the matter is that all scientists and doctors are people, too, and may be prone to points of irrationality or fits of “geeking out” on something where even their slight potential for objectivity is compromised.  And the beginning of individual rights is the right to disbelieve, to mistrust, to say “but you’re just another person — why should I trust you more than I trust myself?”  The solution to that isn’t to make something compulsory, it’s to be more persuasive.  But what will that take?  Offit says “I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die… So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”

So what is the evidence in favor of vaccines? Wallace hammers out a quick listing of success stories:

Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality.

Clearly this doesn’t include the mis-targeted influenza vaccines, and we haven’t yet seen the natural selection in the listed diseases that would allow them to overcome the herd immunity we’ve developed to them.  But the point is that science and progress are historically on the side of vaccines and, if you want to do a direct comparison to autism, diseases which are now preventable were causing brain damage in up to 35,000 children per year, paralyzing another 16,000 and killing 3000 more.  And those are scary numbers.  The problem is, the reason they don’t persuade, the reason they don’t compel people to act of their own volition, is that you can’t distrust a disease like you can distrust a person who says they want to protect you from that disease.  Maybe if we had more reminders that these diseases are only out to thrive and do so by using and disposing of us such that “trust” doesn’t enter into it, people might think higher of the science.  Perhaps some of the Giant Plush Microbes from ThinkGeek.com would be a good visual reminder — though it might help if they had huge fangs.  Or the book The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You might just slake the public’s primal need to fear things.  Or maybe if people as photogenic as movie stars and Playboy bunnies weren’t telling us that doctors were taking our money to brutalize our children by injecting them with toxins instead of harmless placebos.

So let’s pause here for a rationality check: if a vaccine vendor is motivated by greed, as claimed by Jim Carrey, then why aren’t they selling placebos which “might” not work — like any other vaccine — but also won’t directly cause any of those nasty and frequent side-effects, whether documented by the CDC or claimed by McCarthy?  To not make and sell the cheap-as-water-and-liability-free placebos would be to raise expenses and introduce unnecessary liability, both of which run counter to the fiduciary responsibility that the pharmaceutical corporation owes its shareholders.  Put another way, if they’re being greedy, they’re doing a poor job of it.  Besides, as Offit expanded to Wallace: “Vaccines, after all, are given once or twice or three times in a lifetime. Diabetes drugs, neurological drugs, Lipitor, Viagra, even Rogaine — stuff that a large number of people use every day —that’s where the money is.”

(Did you catch that bit?  Diabetes drugs [are] where the money is?  While our government is subsidizing the corn that gets reduced to High-Fructose Corn Syrup?  That is what successful greed looks like — continual mitigatory treatment of a condition so ingrained that the government is helping to facilitate its existence.)

But Wallace goes on to further discredit the irrationality of the anti-vaccine torch-and-pitchfork crowd.  Of interest to debaters may be the rebuttal of Kennedy’s 2005 Rolling Stone article:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called “Deadly Immunity.” In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications.

This was reinforced by a study in mercury levels of autistic children in California. The Oregonian reported on October 20th that “In fact, researchers found that autistic children tended to have less mercury exposure than other kids, mostly because they ate less fish.” (The Oregonian also has links out to medical and research sites, if you really want to pursue this further.)

But let’s step back to the right to not trust somebody and take a brief tangent.  One of the things called out in the film Food Inc. is how deeply entrenched in our government the Monsanto corporation is.  Monsanto also figured heavily in The Corporation. As a corporation, I regard them with only slightly more fondness than I have reserved for Halliburton*.  So our government getting agricultural advice from a corporation that holds patents on making plants sterile and actively sues farmers out of business strikes me as concerning.  But I may just be buying into a failure-prone populist notion here, as Wallace expounds on:

Consider the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which reviews new vaccines and administration schedules: Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Offit was a member of the panel, along with experts in infectious diseases, virology, microbiology, and immunology. Now the 15-person panel is made up mostly of state epidemiologists and public-health officials… That’s not by accident. According to science journalist Michael Specter, author of the new book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, the controversy surrounding vaccine safety has made lack of expertise a requirement when choosing members of prominent advisory panels on the issue. “It’s shocking,” Specter says. “We live in a country where it’s actually a detriment to be an expert about something.” When expertise is diminished to such an extent, irrationality and fear can run amok.

Which it does anyway, but now the decision makers are being precluded from having expert advice because the public is afraid that the de facto psychopathic behavior of the corporation has tainted the brilliant and luminary experts that the corporations hired to create the products that the corporation needed to sell to make money.  To rationalize it, the thinking is “We know that the entity which has subsidized your becoming the recognized expert you are in your field cannot be trusted to have, and therefore act in, good conscience and thus we do not, on face, trust you to act in good conscience in these matters either.”  And because it can be thusly rationalized, corporations are increasingly wanting to be viewed as “good citizens,” as having a conscience such that the public — whether prone to fits of torch-and-pitchforkism or just rationally cautious as any properly skeptical scientist should be — won’t transfer the amorality of the corporation along with the credentials of the corporation to the expert that is theoretically trying to serve the public in a moral and conscientious fashion.

Anyway, back on topic.  Wallace has loaded down her extensive article with a lot of good information and poignant anecdotes.  Probably the most relevant to forming an affirmative case would be her clarification on the value and benefit of developing herd immunity:

Ah, risk. It is the idea that fuels the anti-vaccine movement — that parents should be allowed to opt out, because it is their right to evaluate risk for their own children. It is also the idea that underlies the CDC’s vaccination schedule — that the risk to public health is too great to allow individuals, one by one, to make decisions that will impact their communities. (The concept of herd immunity is key here: It holds that, in diseases passed from person to person, it is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when large numbers of a population are immune.)… The frightening implications of this kind of anecdote were illustrated by a 2002 study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. Looking at 3,292 cases of measles in the Netherlands, the study found that the risk of contracting the disease was lower if you were completely unvaccinated and living in a highly vaccinated community than if you were completely vaccinated and living in a relatively unvaccinated community. Why? Because vaccines don’t always take. What does that mean? You can’t minimize your individual risk unless your herd, your friends and neighbors, also buy in.

This clearly reiterates my previous point: the choice to not vaccinate is not just a personal choice.  It is a choice that the individual makes to put those around them at risk.  And as a public, as a society, as a herd, it is within both the collective interest in the herd and the individual interests of every member of the herd to want the herd to be immune to a disease.  Remember the fallacious fallacy-of-composition argument from before?  This is where we reverse it.  If everybody except me gets vaccinated on the known-wrong expectation that vaccines guarantee immunity, but I choose to not be vaccinated I am, in effect, accepting the risk of contracting disease but also re-surfacing the possibility that I will pass that disease on to friends, family, or loved ones — you know, the people you hope will care about and for you if you get sick — that explicitly took action to avoid contracting the disease.  Suffice to say, such behavior is completely unfair to them.  So even outside of the definition of “public,” holding as the negative perhaps might, that “there is no such thing as society,” the health concerns of the people who constitute my “herd” should be adequate for me to feel obligated and compelled to be vaccinated against the disease du jour, whether I’m concerned about Grandpa or my 1-year old nephew.

To put it another way: the McCarthy-centric negative wants us to be concerned about the damage we can do to ourselves with vaccines.  I do not believe that this is a rational fear, but it may be, so we’ll let them keep their fear and not be vaccinated against, oh say, Hib meningitis.  Which we may then infect them with because — on their advice — we didn’t see the point in being vaccinated either.  As Offit concludes, “The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk… It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.”

But how did we even get here?  Carl Sagan, cited by Wallace, says that there’s always room for pseudoscience and its ilk when the facts that we’ve collected don’t meet the emotional needs of people — people trying to figure out what to do with the messy biological stuff that life is.  I’m going to suggest, briefly, that the parents who are afraid to vaccinate their children are going to, pretty much categorically, be the same parents who will be unable to help their children with math and science homework.  Intel released the results of a survey that showed while roughly 90% of parents of US teenagers believe in the value of math and science, most parents surveyed have trouble helping with math and science homework.  Almost a quarter of the parents surveyed claimed they wanted to help, but just didn’t have enough knowledge to help.  And while I can sympathize with the few parents who are gawking at the complexities of chemistry and calculus, wondering if their offspring will find more use for those subjects than they have, generally I would suspect that scientific illiteracy is spreading and making it increasingly difficult to learn hard-and-serious stuff and part of how it is spreading is the over-specialization of the economy has people not practicing math or science.  Really, I’m a computer programmer and I’m probably incapable of solving most any calculus problem posed directly as such partly because I don’t see what the point of it is and mostly because it’s not relevant to my day-to-day livelihood.  Honestly, if I didn’t actively read Burke, Bryson, Hawking and Sagan, I wouldn’t have a soapbox to stand on here.  But the problem that we’re facing here isn’t how scientifically literate people or parents are, it’s how aware they are of their shortcomings and where they intend to go to cover their shortcomings.  And we should be concerned that too many people and too many parents won’t know where to get sound advice when their information runs out — instead, they will pick up on whatever sounds like advice to the detriment of all involved.

Anyway, if you want to know how to win this debate…

The affirmative should focus on a small, confined definition of “public,” preferably with a strong definition of “concern.”  Also, if you can neutralize the “compulsory” to avoid jack-booted thuggery, that’s a good thing.  But really, you’re trying to paint a picture that shows that vaccinations aren’t dangerous, that everybody in your little herd of people should want them, and that voting against herd immunity is not just letting the person who’s going to get the disease take the risk, but also putting anybody whose vaccine didn’t provide immunity at risk — and that’s not socially acceptable.

The negative is going to want to focus on concerns and compulsions.  The public is not rational.  The anti-vaccine movement going on could be described as a “public health concern” that rails against compulsory immunization, even if all their concerns are a sham.  The point is that you don’t want those people’s ruckus-making turned into an actual mandate — policy mandates needs to have higher standards of origin than mere “concern.”  This means that you’re going to have to be ready to counter-define concern, and probably provide example phrases to justify why your definition of concern is more common parlance and grammatically correct.

Hope that helps.

Update: November 9, 2009

There is a depressingly stock Affirmative case in circulation — that is, of the two LD rounds I judged, I judged this case twice and it made me sad because the kids running it clearly didn’t know what they were running with, far more so the second time around than the first.  The case doesn’t have a definition of concern, has a sorely unused value of life, a generally ignored criterion of utilitarianism, a contention about how nice herd immunity is, and some dodgy bit about executive power as defended by the US Supreme Court.  It’s pretty easy to recognize, especially when they say “no pun intended.”  This is what I would like to see used to utterly break it.

A good negative case should start with an aggressive cross examination:

  1. Do a soft-frame the debate on the United States with a question like “Your second contention relies on a Supreme Court opinion; can we agree to debate this resolution as if it specified a jurisdiction of the United States, supported by model information from other nations?”  The affirmative should want to agree to this; if they don’t then they just dropped their second contention because the SCotUS can’t justify anything outside of the US.
  2. Call them out on the people who can’t get or won’t be immunized by vaccination.  “Just to clarify, your definition of compulsory does not include people who are allergic to a vaccination?  And you are aware that the act of vaccination does not always lead to the state of immunization?”  The first, on this affirmative case is absolutely true and the second is scientific fact regardless of whether the affirmative knows their case well enough to agree with it.  This is where we’re going to break their herd immunity, but let’s move on to ask…
  3. “How do we know who is allergic to a vaccination?”  Because I’d bet that they don’t actually know.  And a brief display of ignorance on the affirmative’s part is bad for their credibility and good for yours.  Even if they do know — doubtful — they’ll probably describe a somewhat unpleasant, inconvienent medical procedure that will bolster the case you’re about to run.  If you’ve got ample time — you should — you can expound on this if you’d like.
  4. And now we frame the compulsory part in a bad kind of way: “While I expect that we can agree that vaccines are, for the people on whom they are effective and don’t have negative side-effects, a generally good thing, would it make you nervous if I told you that I’ve got a syringe in my pocket that you must allow me stick in you because it’s a generally good thing?  I can assure you that I’m only doing so because I’m concerned for my health because I don’t know where you’ve been…”  If they say “OMG, what? No!” then they lose right there.  But they may (lie and) say yes, but the question was for the judge anyway — you want to make the judge nervous about strangers with needles, big grins and the best of intentions.

That should set up the following oratory-oriented case, which runs more than seven minutes when read at a solid clip and thus you’ll need to nip-and-tuck it a bit to make it “yours,” which is good since I don’t want to judge just a stock case.  Anyway, using almost exclusively evidence I linked to above, it goes like this…

Just to be clear: Concerns, which the affirmative did not define, are “a matter that engages a person’s attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person’s welfare or happiness” (dictionary.reference.com).  So this means that the affirmative is trying to justify policy actions that impinge on personal liberties based on something as fleeting as “a person’s attention, interest or care” in the age of the 24 hour news network.  As the negative, I say we should demand something more than “concerns” in order to justify any authoritarian action.

Now that we’ve established that, I’d like to start by addressing their second contention, involving the Supreme Court saying it’s all okay because it isn’t. Free citizens in the United States — where the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction — are free to refuse medical procedures as demonstrated by citing of religious exclusions and the like.  Kathy Swedlow, writing for the American Bar Association in 2003 says “As a general matter, most of us are free to refuse unwanted medical treatment, even when such treatment may be in our best medical interests; in most circumstances, we may choose to decline blood transfusions, refuse to accept lifesaving cancer treatments, and decide not to vaccinate our children… In the context of the criminal justice system, however, incarcerated individuals… have a reduced right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. Within prison walls the rights of the state must be balanced with the prisoner’s right to refuse treatment.”  Acceptance of absolute governmental authority in this situation is a direct detriment to our rights as free citizens and should be rejected, and unless the card presented supporting their second contention was based on a landmark decision after 2003, I’d have to speculate that it only applies to the incarcerated.

The other half of the affirmative case rests on how wonderful herd immunity is.  And herd immunity is great for generally preventing cows from getting sick and thus saving the lives of cows.  But this is the only connection we’ve got between herd immunity and their abstract value of life because if we take them at the flat value of “life,” well, they’re pretty actively committing genocide against germs in violation of their value until they stand back up and — in a generally speciesist but acceptable way — clarify that they meant human life, which really has no connection to the mostly amoral (hedonistic at best) criterion of “utility,” especially since the affirmative hasn’t even attempted to measure any of the pains that they’re actively trying to inflict on other people against the happiness they’re trying to derive from such actions.  And I say “trying” because it’s scientific fact that some people are allergic to or will not be immunized by whichever specific vaccination the affirmative wants to inject them with, so the utility that the affirmative is trying to achieve is already mitigated even before we’ve violated anybody’s human (not cow) rights.  Above and beyond that, if we’re valuing human life, then we must value what makes them human instead of making them cows or germs — which is ultimately, as Sartre said, the ability to reject, to say “no,” to not be compelled.  By trying to justify an authoritarian compulsion, the affirmative is actively de-valuing humanity in human life, which they can’t even really measure with a criterion like utility.  So their reasoning behind justifying compulsory immunizations does not logically follow their value and should be rejected.

But herd immunity is a good concept and a nice thing to generally achieve, so let’s talk for a bit about why it doesn’t follow from public health concerns justifying compulsory immunization.  In a large enough population, some people are going to be allergic to (and potentially harmed by) vaccines while some other people are going to have immune systems that don’t work with the vaccine to convey the person to that lovely condition we call “immunized.”  This is just scientific fact.  But the bigger issue is that you can’t identify these people just by looking at them — any more than you can identify somebody who rejects germ theory or thinks that Jenny McCarthy’s “mommy sense” is sound-enough science just by looking at them.  And while we can compel the latter group of people to get vaccinated, we can’t compel an immunity into the first group which will always be at some degree of risk from people like themselves.  They can’t get away from that.

So not knowing who these people are — could be me, you, the affirmative — we should look at this resolution through John Rawls’ veil of ignorance from “A Theory of Justice,” which wikipedia nicely summarizes as “a method of determining the morality of a certain issue… based upon the following principle: imagine that societal roles were completely re-fashioned and redistributed, and that from behind your veil of ignorance you do not know what role you will be reassigned. Only then can you truly consider the morality of an issue.”  So from behind our veil, we’ve got a few roles to look at:  Some people will go out and get vaccinated and be immunized.  And some people won’t.  And some people can’t.  Not knowing which group we’re going to be in, how should we behave?  The affirmative position is very supportive of a person who can’t, boiling down to “I’ve got a syringe in my pocket that you must allow me stick in you because I’m concerned for my health because I don’t know where you’ve been…”  But when multiple people who can’t be immunized come together, the supposed benefits of the affirmative position which rely on successful vaccinations fall apart — even without making the people who would voluntarily be vaccinated nervous or directly violating the rights of people who don’t want to be vaccinated.

How should people who don’t want to get sick behave, given that they don’t know whether or not they can rely on vaccines, even if there are vaccines to the diseases they don’t want to get and there is an ample supply of the vaccines?  Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer compare pandemic control techniques in Mexico and the UK to the US in the November 2009 edition of the Atlantic and report that

“Washing hands diligently, avoiding public places during an outbreak, and having a supply of canned goods and water on hand are sound defenses, he says. Such steps could be highly effective in helping to slow the spread of the virus. In Mexico, for instance, where the first swine flu cases were identified in March, the government launched an aggressive program to get people to wash their hands and exhorted those who were sick to stay home and effectively quarantine themselves. In the United Kingdom, the national health department is promoting a “buddy” program, encouraging citizens to find a friend or neighbor willing to deliver food and medicine so people who fall ill can stay home… In the U.S., by contrast, our reliance on vaccination may have the opposite effect: breeding feelings of invulnerability, and leading some people to ignore simple measures like better-than-normal hygiene, staying away from those who are sick, and staying home when they feel ill.”

And that’s crucial.  By thinking without the veil of ignorance, Americans are lead to believe either that they can’t become ill or clustering up with all other marginally-ill people in emergency rooms at the first sign of any illness, whether they’ve actually got the disease the public is currently concerned about or — more commonly — not.  So the point here is that if we really want to help the people who can’t be immunized (even if we could magically conjure up enough vaccine for everybody, which we know we can’t, especially for the multitude of diseases that we don’t have vaccines for) then our society should be more supportive of people who want to quarantine themselves.

Let me conclude briefly by going back and picking up on those public health Concerns.  These are the concerns that cause the public to congregate in the ER where they can all share their various sundry diseases for which vaccinations do not exist and thus exacerbate pandemics.  These are the concerns that Jenny McCarthy creates when she goes on Oprah and claims that her “mommy-sense” tells her that vaccines are a threat to people’s health.  No, people are not behaving rationally here — but should we be surprised?  A segment of the public was concerned that the President wanted to have “death panels” executing senior citizens to keep the cost of socialized health care low.  These are the concerns of the public.  And I don’t think they can possibly justify sticking a needle in me.  If you want Public Health Concerns to justify anything, then please start by justifying an absolute ban on smoking.  Please ban aspartame which has been linked to all manner of personal health problems and birth defects because the it digests down to three creatively toxic substances and nothing good.  Please stop subsidizing the production of corn for the creation of high-fructose corn syrup which contributes to the rising tide of Type 2 Diabetes our society is currently facing.  And please start by pursuing an agenda of obesity-avoidance to improve life-long health instead of panicking about diseases that generally pass in a matter of days.  Public health concerns haven’t justified doing any of those things yet, so I really find it impossible to generally believe that public health concerns can justify compulsory immunizations, and strongly urge a negative vote on this resolution.

When reading this, I hit the seven-minute mark at “I don’t think they can possibly justify sticking a needle in me.”  Do trim to fit.  Anyway, if the affirmative is lucky, they’ll be able to pull out

Dr. Harriet Hall writes in “Vaccines and Autism: a Dangerous Manufactroversy” that a decline in vaccinations has resulted in the “return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. [C]hildren have died. Herd immunity has been lost. The public health consequences are serious and are likely to get worse before they get better…”

except that the problem is that Dr. Hall prefaced that statement with “Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children,” which is to say “public health concerns justify an avoidance of immunizations” which goes back to Jenny McCarthy and how dumb people are.  Good science and medicine, not mere “concerns,” should justify compulsory immunizations, and that’s why this resolution should always produce negative ballots unless the affirmative did something very clever with their framing which — in this case — they absolutely did not.

Update: November 10, 2009

Slate has an article which puts a more-human face on the kids who can’t be vaccinated — specifically the kids who have cancer, especially leukemia.  It has a couple of (unsourced) accounts of unvaccinated kids sharing diseases and talks lightly about the science of immunization and how immunities get wiped out by chemotherapy and the like.  Unfortunately, the article is — frankly — rife with bitchy entitlement, featuring gems like

My son… can’t go into day care because of unvaccinated children… For now, we will hire an at-home sitter for him. It’s more expensive and not what we had wanted, but it’s the best, safest option… [Because of parents that exempt their children from vaccination] my son will not be able to attend a day care that would have been magical for him.

without ever realizing that day care isn’t a right and, more grievously, that her son also isn’t vaccinated and therefore brings the exact same risks for anybody just like him as I described just yesterday in the negative case featuring John Rawls’ veil of ignorance filter.  So it’s good evidence for the affirmative if dealing with an incompetent negative, but it should be easy to blow away if the negative can spot the obvious flaws in it.

* In case you’re not sure how much this is, I purged a well-performing mutual fund — Brandywine Blue — from my 401k after they sent out a report saying they were pleased with how Halliburton was performing.