Cause And Effect

As regular readers know, we’re having a baby. Soon. For me, part of preparing is researching. What products are safe (or safer) for my baby? What things that I do to/for myself affect the baby? Which don’t? What have other people used and found helpful? What was a waste of time/energy/money?

Part of the research is looking for information about vaccines.

This post is not about vaccines.

There are two very emotional camps when it comes to vaccines, and both tell me that I’m endangering my baby if ___. (What I’d love to find is just plain information so I could make a good, educated decision on my own without all the spin. I have yet to find said information.)

The loudest argument about vaccines revolves around autism, and whether vaccines cause autism.

Vaccines don’t cause autism. If they did, then everyone who’s been vaccinated recently would have autism.

However, in the same vein, smoking doesn’t cause cancer. Again, if it did, everyone who smoked would have cancer.

Reducing caloric intake doesn’t cause weight loss. Not everyone who reduces caloric intake loses weight.

Before you scroll and start posting comments about how wacko/wrong/stupid I am, please keep reading.

I have no doubt that some component of vaccines play a role in the development of autism and related neurological disorders in some children.

I have no doubt that smoking plays a role in the development of lung, esophageal, mouth, breast, and other cancers in some people.

I have no doubt that reducing caloric intake plays a role in fat loss in some people.

But if it was a flat-out cause, it would always work. And it doesn’t.

Our bodies are ridiculously complex. Our environments and food supply are increasingly toxic. Our denial is increasingly resilient.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to give a child with an underdeveloped immune system and an underdeveloped brain 32 shots. (That’s the CDC’s schedule for the first two years.) I don’t think it’s a good idea to smoke. I do think it’s a good idea to be aware of how much you’re eating and drinking.

In my opinion, as long as there are two or more groups with discrete outcomes after an event, the event is not the cause. It might be a contributing factor, but it’s not the only one. I know people who smoked for years and never got cancer of any kind. I know people who have died of lung cancer who didn’t smoke, never lived with a smoker, etc.

So how to make an informed decision?

Find out all of the information that you can, from sources that are as unbiased as possible.

For example, it’s pretty well-established that smoking increases your chances of contracting cancer by about 50%. Those aren’t odds I’d like to play with. (That doesn’t even discuss all of the other health issues related to smoking, but this post isn’t about smoking.)

It’s also pretty well-established that being obese increases your chances of contracting cancer by about 45%.

How many people will tell you that smoking causes cancer and we should do what we can to stop people from smoking, but trying to get people to be a healthy weight is just being anti-fat?

When it comes to our bodies, there is very little that causes anything and tons of stuff that increases or decreases likelihood. We make good choices and hope for the best.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michelle on 21 September 2011 at 09:40

    Obviously, given my own personal situation with Julia, I have an opinion on vaccinations. I won’t go into that there. I will say that I agree that there are some very articulate and emotional arguments for both sides of the conversation. I know where I stand, and I know that looking back, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. If you want to talk about it, let me know. 🙂

  2. Posted by Shawn on 23 September 2011 at 23:15

    I know I’ve posted about this subject at great length before, so I’ll keep it brief, and relatively non-caustic.

    You posted twice about looking for information, and I’m glad you did. You said you couldn’t find any. That’s because you can’t prove a negative. No one will ever be able to definitively say “vaccines never cause autism”. However, you can prove a positive, which is why we all know what smoking does.

    Part of the issue I take with your comparisons here is that you compare three issues that aren’t directly analogous. Smoking and vaccines are more so than the weight loss issue. The weight loss issue is a result of a partial understanding of physics. People think “if I eat less, my body will burn more calories than I eat, and I’ll lose weight.” Which, in isolation, is true. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. This is simple physics. People just forget to also consider that metabolism isn’t a constant, and the body will try to burn less calories before it loses weight. Stupid sneaky bodies….

    On to the other two. I said before that you can’t prove a negative. There is overwhelming evidence, to the point where we can consider it fact, that tobacco use can directly lead to cancer. You can find enough evidence to cover over a small state, like a Delaware or a Connecticut. Even the tobacco companies don’t bother claiming otherwise any more. By contrast, the reason you can’t find any reliable information (and I will stress that retracted papers from one ex-doctor who lost his license for malpractice and the ramblings of a former model are not reliable information) about vaccines causing autism is because there is none. No reputable study has ever found even the slightest evidence of a link. Our society is litigious to the point that if even one properly conducted study found reliable evidence of a link, there would be class-action lawsuits that would make the tobacco suits of the 1990s look like chump change. But – there’s nothing, because you can’t find what doesn’t exist.

    Some people considering not vaccinating will claim that they are worried about the other, non-imaginary side effects of vaccines. And yes, like any medication, there are some. But the benefits far, FAR outweigh the risks. And you must keep in mind that if you are considering not vaccinating, that this decision doesn’t effect only your child. Your child can pass diseases on to other vulnerable members of the population whose only defense is herd immunity. You may be able to morally defend allowing your child to catch a preventable disease (although I know where I stand on that), but I don’t see how anyone can morally justify (for example) passing measles on to a newborn simply because they’re too young to vaccinate for the disease.

    I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we might be able to find someone who managed to strangle him- or herself on the straps of a bicycle helmet, but we wear them anyway, and for good reason.

    • There are sometimes factors involved in weight loss beyond simple physics. Thyroid function, amount of sleep, timing of sleep, and content of calories consumed are all examples.

      I am not interested in debating vaccines, as I mentioned in my post, and will therefore not respond to your comments regarding vaccinations.

      As I said in my post, smoking can cause cancer, but not on its own, or everyone who smoked would have or contract cancer, and it just doesn’t happen.

      I haven’t had anyone recommend that I not take the baby in the car, but more people die in car accidents than most other things that we fear death from.

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