Instead, I'm going to focus on the how "magical thinking" can lead people to erroneously link cause and effect when there is, in fact, none.
Like how vaccines cause autism.
They don't, by the way. The timing is actually coincidence. The signs and symptoms of autism generally emerge around the same age that children in the West traditionally "get their shots," specifically the the MMR. There really is no cause and effect.
Now I should stress that I've been fighting the good fight about vaccines since 1998, because the widespread belief that there is a link between vaccines and autism was based on a 1998 Lancet study that involved 12 children, 11 of which were boys.
Please re-read that underlined sentence again. Eleven boys represented all boys in the whole wide world who'd ever been vaccinated with the MMR, while one girl represented all girls in the whole wide world who'd ever been vaccinated with the MMR.
Does this describe a study that could even hope to be considered accurate?
If you really don't believe the whole vaccinations-cause-autism mess was based on a clinical study that involved no more than a dozen kids, 11 of which were boys, you can read the study for yourself. Here's the 1998 Lancet article that started it all in the electronic flesh. (Please be advised you have to register to see the article. Registration is free, but if you don't want to register, I've uploaded a PDF of the study to my SendSpace account. Click here to download it.)
Since I was already working the medical field when the study made the big splash, I knew enough to smell a big ol' rat when it came out. Hysteria based on a study that involved a mere dozen kids (and because it bears repeating: 11 of those kids were boys)? Really? It completely boggled my mind. I was sure it would blow over as additional studies came out either proving (unlikely) or disproving the link.
And yet more than 10 years later here we are debating it, despite the fact that there's almost no evidence supporting the "there's a link" side of the equation and a boatload of evidence supporting "there's not a single shred of evidence there's a link" side of the equation.
Needless to say, I've gone 'round and 'round on this issue. I've seen others go 'round and 'round on this issue. I've seen the study after study after study over a 10-year period showing that as soon as you actually had a sufficient sample population of children, the correlation between autism and vaccines was no greater than random chance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control alone has produced 9 studies disproving the link between vaccinations and autism. There have been a total of 25 peer-reviewed articles saying there is no link (Warning! Links to PDF!), compared to three articles that do.
But the true believers — many of whom do not have autistic children or even children with Asperger's Syndrome — are as impossible to convince as, dare I say, a creationist or an a proponent of intelligent design.
It's enough to make you want to wham your head against the wall, especially when you point out to them that by failing to vaccinate their kids, they're putting theirs and other peoples' children at risk for diseases — diseases, I might add that can actually kill people. Hell, the so-called "childhood diseases" were killing people, mostly children, by the boatload in my parents' lifetimes. There are still people alive who can tell you, from first-hand experience, the terror of watching their friends get felled by polio, or who died from the measles, or got chicken pox-related pneumonia.
Just in time for Darwin Day, it's finally come out that Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in that ill-fated 1998 Lancet article...well...lied.
You read that right, Wakefield manipulated the data to manufacture the link out of whole cloth.
I hope Wakefield rots in all seven hells for this. And this. And this. And before I forget, this. But most especially, I hope he rots in all seven hells for causing emotional and mental anguish for God knows how many parents of autistic children.
This may be why no one is exactly shocked by today's decision from the U.S. Federal Court of Claims: Despite more than 10 years of research since the Lancet article, the case for a link between the MMR vaccine and autism is vanishingly small.
Yet, despite the evidence that continues to pile up on the "no link" side, despite the fact that we have a court ruling that's gone on for years coming down on the side of "no link," despite the fact that Wakefield lied about his results 10 years ago, and despite the fact that the incidence of infectious "childhood" diseases are not only on the rise but also claiming lives, everyone pretty much expects the fight over the autism-vaccination connection will continue.
And all the evidence in the world isn't going to change their minds.
So, for this Darwin Day, I'd like to make a wish:
That this one, harmful, deadly belief in the link between autism and vaccinations die a quick death, so researchers can finally devote their full attention into the real causes of autism and, hopefully, a cure for those parents and people who wish to be cured.
ETA: I tried getting into British journalist Brain Deer's site earlier, since he's the one that wrote the Times piece unveiling Andrew Wakefield's con, but his site has been so overwhelmed that I only just now have been able to get into it.
There are two pages full of more information and a truckload of links for more information about how the non-existence link between MMR and autism managed to become "real" for so many people.