Will Vaccination Become Partisan?

According to a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center, the public opinion on vaccine requirements, for example, divides much more by age than by political affiliation. This may be a function of the fact that younger people are less likely to have seen the diseases the vaccines are designed to protect against. (In other words, vaccines are victims of their own success.) However, the poll was worrying in one political respect: In 2009, there was no partisan difference in attitudes toward these requirements. The latest study did find some small differences along party lines. According to Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political science professor who has done research on effective communication around vaccines, injecting partisan politics into individual decisions about whether to vaccinate could have unintended consequences. He argued in the New York Times recently that making the decision to vaccinate one of partisan allegiance could potentially push some individuals who might otherwise have vaccinated their children to forgo the process.

Seth Masket warns that “if enough Republican leaders or conservative cultural figures publicly question the importance of immunizations, and if such messages go unchallenged or even embraced by commentators on Fox and other conservative media outlets, that message could soon be adopted by conservative parents with only modest attachments to politics”:

And in some ways, this argument meshes very well with the American conservative world view. The idea that I can make better judgments about my kids than the government can, that I should be concerned about me and my own rather than the larger social network, that I shouldn’t have to make sacrifices or face risks on behalf of strangers — it wouldn’t take much to fold that into the definition of modern conservatism. Resistance to vaccinations doesn’t have to mean embracing organic food or breastfeeding toddlers; that’s simply a liberal interpretation of it.

But we’re not quite there yet. The main cultural elites advocating avoiding or at least questioning vaccinations, from doctors with celebrity pretensions to celebrities with medical pretensions, are mostly on the left right now. Chris Christie has limited appeal, and Rand Paul has not quite yet demonstrated an ability to reach those outside his libertarian circles. But if we’re going to see the anti-vaxxer belief system mutate and spread to the right, this will be how it happens.

Should Even Heroin Be Legal? Ctd

A reader writes:

I am enjoying Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream very much. For the most part I find that the chasing-screamauthor backs up his views with solid evidence and logic.

However, the suggestion in Chapter 13 that a chaotic, abusive home and the parents’ failure to bond (attach) with the child is what causes addiction proves too much. Recent NIMH studies by Bridget Grant show that personality disorders persistently and robustly predict the persistence of substance abuse disorders. Grant’s work shows that roughly 50% of substance abusers meet the criteria for borderline personality disorder.  There is good reason to believe that these individuals are quite resistant to treatment as usual.

It is fair to say that people with personality disorders feel isolated and alone. So, to that extent, Hari’s thesis has validity. And while early literature connected personality disorders to a chaotic home, abuse and a failure of attachment, the more current view is that these individuals may be so sensitive that they perceive chaos and abuse where others would not. And the failure to attach may be due to something inherent in the child rather the parent.

The point is that it is unfair, as Hari does in his book, to assume that because an addict feels isolated and reports an abusive or chaotic home, that this report is accurate. Sometimes, it is just the way the disordered person has misperceived the world.

Another reader:

I’ve gotten a little more than halfway through Hari‘s book, looking forward to actually being able to take part in the coming Book Club discussion, now never to happen. But the reading itself is worthwhile: What a marvelous book so far.

That it is. And don’t miss Johann on Real Time tomorrow night.

The Genetics Of Fucking Around

The Economist unpacks new research suggesting that humans are not born equally promiscuous:

As with many biological phenomena—height, for example—propensity for promiscuity in either sex might be expected to be normally distributed; that is, to follow what are known colloquially as “bell curves”. The peaks of these curves would have different values between the sexes, just as they do in the case of height. But the curves’ shapes would be similar.

Rafael Wlodarski of Oxford University wondered whether things are a little more complicated than that. Perhaps, he and his colleagues posit in a study just published in Biology Letters, rather than cads, dads and their female equivalents simply being at the extremes of a continuous distribution, individual people are specialised for these roles. If so, the curve for each sex would look less like the cross-section of a bell, and more like that of a Bactrian camel, with two humps instead of one.

They found some evidence to back that theory up:

These results suggest that—probably for men and possibly for women—caddishness, daddishness and so on are indeed discrete behavioural strategies, perhaps underpinned by genetic differences, rather than being extremes of a continuum in the way that tall and short people are. Although there is some overlap between the two strategies, they are, if Dr Wlodarski and his colleagues are correct, what biologists call phenotypes. These are outward manifestations of underlying genes that give natural selection something to get hold of and adapt down the generations.

Intriguingly, the difference in phenotypic mix between the sexes is not huge. Dr Wlodarski and his colleagues calculate that cads outnumber dads by a ratio of 57:43. Loose women, by contrast, are outnumbered by their more constant sisters, but by only 53:47. Each of these ratios tends in the direction of received wisdom. Both, though, are close enough to 50:50 for that fact to need an explanation.

So much more to find out about us as a species. And now, finally, some time …

The Fight For Independent Journalism

A CBC camera crew led by the wonderful Michelle Gagnon visited the Dish “offices” recently:

The CBC’s Neil Macdonald takes on native advertizing sponsored content branded content ads disguised as journalism. Money quote:

Sullivan’s case against native advertisement is powerful and succinct. “It is advertising that is portraying itself as journalism, simple as that,” he told me recently. “It is an act of deception of the readers and consumers of media who believe they’re reading the work of an independent journalist.”

Advertisers, he says, want to buy the integrity built up over decades by journalists and which, in the past, was kept at arm’s length. Now they will happily pay to imitate it: “The whole goal is you not being able to tell the difference.” Sullivan’s argument is so doctrinaire, so principled, that it makes bourgeois practitioners of the craft, like me, squirm.

Well, we never compromised on this. Of that I am deeply proud.

A Final Bleg


What was your favorite moment of Dishness over the years?

Email your reply under the subject heading “Moment of Dishness” to dish@andrewsullivan.com and we’ll post some for tomorrow morning. Please keep your response under 100 words (about twice the length of this post) so we can read as many as we can. Points for esoteric or embarrassing moments.

(Photo mashup of this post and this thing sent by a reader this morning, because Dishness.)

The Latest On Those Gitmo “Suicides”

It’s a story we have long covered, even as many MSM outlets pooh-poohed the idea of accidental-homicide-through-torture. So we’re glad to be able to the recent Newsweek piece as the definitive latest word on the affair. It contains the following key paragraph:

A highly placed source in the Department of Defense who deals with detainees’ affairs, and who asked to remain anonymous because he is not permitted to speak to the media without receiving prior clearance, camp-nowrote to me in an email: “After reviewing the information concerning the three deaths at Camp Delta on June 9, 2006, it is painfully apparent the personnel involved in fact created an illusion of an investigation. When you consider the missing documents, the lack of key interviews, and the questionable evidence found on the bodies, it is blatantly obvious there was something that occurred that night that is not documented.”

It may take time but if more people refuse to believe the official line on this, the truth may eventually win out.

(Photo: Google Earth picture of a facility, allegedly known as “Camp No”, outside the perimeter of the main detention camp, where Gitmo guards say they saw prisoners being taken to on a regular basis.)

The Long Game Of Barack Obama

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Perhaps the prevailing theme of this blog these past seven years has been the hope and promise of the Obama presidency. I’ve long insisted that his record will only be fully understood after eight years, that his role as the liberal Reagan of our time could not be glimpsed fully in real time – the only time a blog can function in – but needed some perspective. I’m sure in the future I will write an essay on all this, but I owe you my current state of mind before I bid farewell tomorrow.

First up: notice how his approval ratings have rallied since the Republicans trounced the Democrats in the mid-terms. He isn’t headed into Bush territory any time soon:

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Obama’s average approval in the last quarter was ten points higher than Bush’s at this point. Obama’s ratings are now a smidgen higher than Ronald Reagan’s at this point in their time in office. Reagan came crashing down to earth in his second term after Iran-Contra:

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The Republican Congress, as one might expect from a brain-dead party, has staggered or meandered out of the gate in 2015. It awaits a message and a platform from a presidential candidate. And look a little at what they’re saying. Romney wanted to run on tackling poverty. Jeb Bush is running on economic mobility. There is, in fact, a budding consensus that social and economic inequality is a real problem – and that the right should have some sort of answer. This is the moment for the reformocons to make their move, and I’m glad this blog has championed (and even employed) them over the years as well. But as growth has returned, the Democrats have the advantage: “middle-class economics” may well only work by raising some taxes on the extremely wealthy, in order to de-rig the system, and the Democrats may be the only party prepared to do this. The last six years, moreover, have vindicated the Democratic strategy of using a stimulus to get out of recession, rather than the Republican one of following Angela Merkel toward deflation.

The wars? They’ve become minimalist. The economy? It’s growing faster than anywhere else in the world. The deficit? Plummeting. Unemployment? Lower than before the recession. Gay rights? A revolution. Climate change? A decisive shift in government spending and regulations. Healthcare? A new guarantee of security for millions (including me) that will become very hard to take away – unless the Supreme Court decides to politicize itself more profoundly than it has since Roe vs Wade. Iran? Still very hard to tell if the negotiations can work – but we seem to have avoided premature Congressional meddling. Legal weed? He got well out of the way. Iraq? So far, the ISIS containment strategy seems to be holding. Israel? The final showdown with Netanyahu is imminent – but again, Bibi may have over-reached in the last few weeks. If he is not re-elected, it will be a huge triumph for the president. Torture? Ended with at least some formal, public accounting. There is much more work to be done. But we have made a start.

Knowing Obama – and history – some of these assumptions will shift in the next two years.

He’s always worked our nerves – and so can events unknown. But the case for this unlikely president as a pivotal figure in American history – ridiculed by so many for so long – is mounting. I have mixed feelings, of course. Obama challenged my own free market, small government principles in ways no previous politician had – and the evidence of history did the rest. But an Oakeshottian conservative knows better than to stick to dogma in the face of data, and I can see this presidency as a critical balancing out of the excesses of the Bush-Cheney years – and the Reagan legacy – in order to keep the ship of state on an even keel. What happens next I may find less congenial – a more liberal and expansive role for government. But the Clintons have to make that case on new foundations in a new world.

I’m known for changing my mind, when the facts change. But on this, I remain convinced that we were more than right to elect Obama twice. His even temperament, his endurance of so many slings and arrows, his integrity and his patriotism loom large at this moment, but will seem, in my view, even larger from the rear-view mirror. We will miss this man when he is gone; and I am deeply proud of having played some small part in framing the case for him, and in seeing it through.

Ah yes. One last time with feeling.

Meep meep, motherfuckers. Meep Meep.

The Blogger Uniform Exposed

This is a disgusting picture, but an actual one we took today of my blogger poitrine every morning. It’s so foul it’s going after the jump:


The brown Jackson Pollock is created from little droplets of coffee that migrate from my beard and moustache to adorn my bathrobe and, yes, laptop, as I blog through the morning. Hey, we’re all about transparency here. But, yes, I really do need to put it in the laundry, before it is able to do so all by itself. But for the record …