John Oliver Explains How Science Works in Vaccine Segment on Last Week Tonight

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The main story for yesterday’s Last Week Tonight was vaccines. Specifically, where these big fears regarding vaccines are, why they’re so persistent, and the consequences of these skeptics.

So how did vaccines go from being celebrated for their success, to a conversation dominated small skeptical small groups that now have the voice of Donald Trump (“Tiny children are not horses,” he tweets) similarly raising doubts?

Oliver points to the abundance of information that parents are constantly overwhelmed with, saying “While it is important to remember that most parents are making sure their children get vaccinated on time, the voices of those who don’t carry.” Their nervousness, in some ways, is understandable. Hopefully, this Last Week Tonight segment might help amend that. Because the number are getting “startlingly high” and putting children in very real and severe danger.

The host tackles the persistent myth that vaccines are linked to autism (something we’ve covered here and here), the flawed science behind anti-vaccine figures across the political spectrum, and the language of “I’m not anti-vaccine, but…” That rhetoric, Oliver says, gives attention to a lot of non-problems and he gives viewers a crash course on how science works.

For instance, “turning it around” and demanding that scientists prove a negative is ridiculous, which the host illustrates with a “Prove you’re not a donkey-fucker” jokes. See how stupid you sound now? “Science can be at a real disadvantage in this debate,” explains Oliver, “because they, by nature, are careful in how they present their conclusions.” Unlike some people.

Oliver is careful to address that there are problems with big Pharma, something the show has covered in the past. He anticipates comments that accuse the show of not looking into every single argument, but likens the conversation to Whack-a-Mole. “The problem with spending more and more time and money trying to prove that link is that it takes resources away from studying actual causes and treatments,” he says, “it’s like that Einstein quote you sometimes see on the internet.”

The host also addresses the “alternative vaccine schedule,” the infectiousness of measles, and the fact that not vaccinating your children isn’t a personal decision for your own family. It’s a decision that will put other lives at risk.

“It’s easy to forget the benefits of vaccines are enormous” Oliver says, suggesting we should talk about the positives more than the untrue or unlikely negatives. The host ends by opening up about his son and the many fears that plague parenthood. “He was born prematurely following a very difficult pregnancy and I’ve worried about his health and I still worry about his health a lot,” he shares, “but we are vaccinating him fully on schedule and if I can overcome the temptation to listen to the irrational shouting of my terrified lizard brain, then I believe everyone can.”

(image: screencap)

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