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Trust the Law?

On several occasions in this blog I have criticised the legal system but I have also pointed out that it usually gets things right and while it could be better it could also be a lot worse. I’m talking about the legal systems in most modern, western countries here: most of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc, not some of the more corrupt systems in developing countries.

I know that there are times when the law fails: either an innocent person is convicted or a guilty person escapes justice, but we cannot expect a system to be perfect. Another system which establishes the truth through systematic examination is science. Its a slightly different mechanism to the law and in some ways it is complementary. The two systems together: science and the law, make a powerful combination.

If you follow my blog you will know this is leading somewhere – these rambling, general introductions always do! So what is is this time?

There are many areas of skepticism which interest me but two which are really annoying are the groups who reject vaccination and the groups who want to inflict their own silly religious beliefs on other people, especially children. Both of these issues have been tested by science and by the law and in both cases there has been agreement that the beliefs of the fringe groups are nonsense.

Recently a court case in the USA rejected the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism. This has been a problem in many countries recently. We had a case here in New Zealand even (a country which often escapes the worse effects of the crazies) where people’s refusal to immunise their kids resulted in a dangerous outbreak of measles. So both science and the courts have rejected the idea that the vaccine causes autism. Will that stop the crazies? Of course not. They will have to believe in a slightly bigger conspiracy now – one which involves both scientists and judges – but the credibility of their beliefs has never been a serious concern to them in the past.

A while back now the famous Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District case in the USA threw out the introduction of “Intelligent Design” into classrooms because it was just religion thinly disguised. Judge Jones, a conservative Christian, not only rejected the attempt to introduce it but he thoroughly berated the people trying to use this subterfuge to push their own religious ideas onto children. How low do you have to be to use brainwashing techniques in schools just to forward your own beliefs? Do they have no merit on their own? Apparently not.

So in this case science and the law agree again. Not only does the law agree but the particular person was someone who would be far more likely to be biased towards the teaching of creationism than against it. As it happens the judge did a great job and no personal bias was evident at all. But again the creationists (or intelligent design proponents – there’s no real difference) will claim its all part of a conspiracy. A conspiracy so strong that even a conservative judge is involved! Do they sound a little bit deluded to you? Yes, I think so too!

As I have often said, both the law and science occasionally get things wrong. When they do they usually correct the error later (especially in science). What chance is there that these two powerful, independent forces would both rule against the pseudoscientist nutters and both be wrong? That chance is surely really low. I think we can safely say that, unless really strong new evidence is discovered, the safety of vaccines is assured and the credibility of Intelligent Design is destroyed.

We can almost always trust science and the law. Together they are even stronger.

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