All posts by Sara

I practice permaculture on my homestead in southeast Louisiana.

An update on our fence for the dogs

Over a year ago we had to do something to keep our dogs under better control, and having them inside during the day isn’t an option (we have young kids and the dogs get really anxious around them.) We ended up building a fence alongside the driveway with 2 dog houses inside and a tarp covering the doghouses. It has been working wonderfully! I let the dogs out daily (usually) so they can run in the fields, but since they are being supervised when they are out, there are fewer excursions down to the neighbors houses. Two improvements have come from this 1) we’re not dealing with flea problems like we were before and 2) our neighbors haven’t been complaining (except to ask “where are the dogs?”).

The flea problems were a result of the dogs running down to the old house on our property, where our uncle lives and feeds stray cats. Because of the cats, the fleas are just awful down there. They rarely go so far now that they’ve been in the pen because we have a good routine when we go on walks. The result is that we didn’t have to use flea control products at all this year. Hooray for integrated pest management!

Now, in theory keeping them penned could make the problem worse if they do pick up fleas, but even in that case it would be much easier to intentionally treat a focused area, rather than having multiple sites around the house where the dogs hang out that are full of fleas. That used to be a big problem. I’ve been enjoying the dogs much more since we’ve made them more manageable.

Two of our dogs were adopted out of urgency– they happened to need adopting and we happened to be open to the idea– so we have more dogs that I would have ideally planned. I’m happy we can make it work and I definitely recommend the Coalition to Unchain Your Dogs fence plan that we used. It has done a great job of keeping them in (along with some behavioral work) and we never had to put down a barrier on the ground to keep from digging.

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Open Courseware for Vaccines, Epidemics and Immunology Information

Both of my kids got shots last week, and now we’ve all gotten the flu shot except the baby (she’s too young.) Apparently there was a shipping delay this season and the pediatrics office ran out quickly. I spent a couple of months calling back every week to see if the shots were in, and finally they were in last Thursday so my oldest was able to get his shot. This is the first year we’ve gotten the flu shot and we’re getting it for a simple reason: so we’re less likely to get sick. An early report showed that 90% of kids who died from flu in 2012-2013 had not been vaccinated, and 40% of these children were previously healthy before dying from the flu. There were 105 reported pediatric deaths in 2013-2014. It’s important for everyone over 6 mos to be vaccinated.

The flu shot varies in effectiveness from year to year, and we have a better chance of being protected (and protecting the baby from getting sick) if we all get vaccinated. Plus, most of the people in our church are in a high risk group so it just makes sense for us to help protect them, too, by reducing our risk of spreading the virus.

So that’s my intro and a partial explanation for why vaccines are my current geek obsession. I figured I’d share these resources (below) on my blog. I’m still working through them and there is so much to learn about vaccines and VPDs so this is by no means comprehensive. I’d caution you to be critical about your sources if you look into it, though, because vaccines are a social controversy. There’s a lot of propaganda about unfounded or misinterpreted dangers, vast conspiracies, etc, but there is no legitimate dispute over the science. In short, the recommended US vaccines are safe and they work.

All of these courses are free and compiled by well known universities. Most of them include video lectures, publicly available scientific papers and other resources. Some are still open and so they have active discussion boards.

Khan Academy has a whole series on influenza, beginning with the first video in the series on calculating flu shot efficacy.

There is a free online course series on Immunology, Pt 1 and Pt 2 at Edx.org

A course on Epidemics at Edx (I think the flu stuff is most interesting!) and Epidemiology at Coursera.

Also, it appears that there will soon be a Coursera course on Vaccines, but it’s not available yet. That one will be taught by Dr. Paul Offit who has done a lot of outreach for parents who want to know more about vaccination. He works as the Chief Infectious Disease Specialist at CHOP and he co-invented the Rotavirus vaccine. He also writes great books.

ETA* Here’s a great resource for weeding through useless, irrelevant, misrepresented or flawed research that has been used to challenge the practice of vaccinating:

Note– comments will be approved according to my discretion. Specifically for vaccine-related posts, this will be based mostly on whether you’ve commented on my blog before and/or have a public identity that can be reasonably verified (e.g. your own blog.) I will not host discussion about claims of illness caused by vaccines. If you want to read these kinds of stories, there are many places online for you to go. If you want to talk about your story and I don’t know you and can’t verify who you are, please find another forum to share your experience.

The status of my microbiome

These are the ways that I challenge my immune system. Inspired by the emerging fascination with the microbiome, and what I think was my aunt’s gentle concern about my views on the immune system. Ok, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek. I’m just amusing myself and trying to reassure concerned friends and family that I probably will not soon succumb to a death of hyper-sanitation or panic/apathy about Ebola.

(I don’t make my kids do it with me, though)

  • I rarely wash my coffee cup out, preferring instead to let the scum that builds up on the side of the cup ferment with unknown organisms, so that each dose of coffee is also a dose of good health. If I do wash my cup, I wash it with an old sponge. Sponges are perfect room-temp incubators. Years ago I swabbed the (regularly washed) lip of my water-bottle and grew a culture of it. My microbiology teacher was stumped and could not ID the bacteria. Whatever it was, it hasn’t killed me yet.
  • I drink authentic bone broth by my own prescription. It makes tasty egg drop soup.
  • I don’t wash my fruits and veggies when I pluck them from the garden. If they are storebought, though, you can bet I’m gonna scrub those suckers down.
  • I drink unfiltered water from 180 feet deep. Who knows what kind of biota lives down there? I suppose if there’s any fecal coliform, regular doses will boost my tolerance. Win-win.

(I’ll admit, I haven’t gone so far as to try inoculating my brain with Naegleria fowleri. Louisiana public water has been having problems with that little critter, and I’m not interested in what he has to offer.)

meningo-encephalitis

Bones and suicide and darker thoughts.

This post will be disturbing, especially for my family members. I am going to talk about suicide and violent death.

I used to collect skulls and bones and odd little things that I’d find on my walks around the property. One time I spotted a coyote on the side of the road, roadkill. It was a busy rural highway with no shoulder, but I devised a plan to collect its corpse to bring home and set out in the yard for the fire ants to clean up for me so I’d have a nice skeleton to add to my stash. I had a biology professor who would do the same thing, because she was working on a study of carrion insects at different levels of decay. I tried to reassure myself that this wasn’t that weird, thinking of her bold project, as jacked up trucks flew by me on the highway, their drivers craning their necks to see why I was maneuvering a stinky roadside corpse into a plastic bag. I had done this before with stinkier things.

I pieced together old, disintegrating cow bones from the fields and delighted in the tiny, fragile little skulls of mice and rats that I’d sometimes find, perfectly intact, on one of my walking trails. At times, my sweet husband would even collect freshly roadkilled oddities for me, a barred owl, a black snake, a baby oppossum. If we left them outside for less than a week, the fire ants cleaned them to the bones. I’d find dried lizards, dried up frogs, and perfectly preserved shells of insects that all became part of my menagerie. It wasn’t for witchcraft, but for science– that’s how I justified my curious habit.

The skulls were the most fascinating. I had a cat skull that I sold on Etsy to an artist. It was an angry looking thing with a deformed eye socket– the bones didn’t fully fuse together to make the orbit of the eye. The raccoon and oppossum skulls were similar in many ways, except where the brain was housed. The oppossum’s cranium was a compact little bulb of dense bone, and the raccoon’s looked unrealistically inflated by comparison– with swollen, thinned cranial bones, as if it was a balloon pumped full of air and stretched taut.

After my son grew older, the habit wore off and I had to tuck away my little creatures, or what was left of them, so that they wouldn’t get broken and lost. The last set of bones I added were the bones of my dad’s old German Shepherd, Jake. I took my girls (dogs), Ginny and Bitsy, on a walk through the woods one evening and they came home delighted that they had plundered his relatively fresh burial site. Ginny is Jake’s sister, and the enthusiasm with which she crunched on his bones irked me. I snatched a hip bone away from her. He had bad hip dysplasia by the time he died, and his bones told the story of it. The hip sockets looked melted, worn away, with bubbly deposits of bone erupting nearby. It wasn’t like osteoporosis, where the bone was just weaker, but it was a disease process that removed bone where it should have been and built bone up where it shouldn’t be. No wonder he had so much trouble. Poor thing.

This fall, I reluctantly decided to take some courses toward a nursing degree. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, but I’ve always avoided it. It’s a long story. In Anatomy and Physiology we are studying bones and muscles. To most people bones are probably boring. I’ve seen pre-nursing students complain about it. They are dry and hard, a lot like rocks. But if you’ve ever studied rocks, geology specifically, then you must know that the chemical history of rock is very fascinating. I’ve noticed the same thing with bones. Bones go through an incredible process of building, tearing down and rebuilding. They are constructed by these little bone-building cells that excrete minerals until they end up locked in a little pocket within the bone, surrounded by their own waste (the calcium — hydroxyapatite– that makes up the hard mineral bone.) Other cells are activated to resorb bone and release the calcium into the bloodstream, where it performs necessary functions of life, like causing muscle contractions. Building, disintegrating, rebuilding. Living bones are very different from dead, dried bones.

At first I was not prepared to spend hours looking at human skulls. Even more than cadavers, skulls have an ominous reputation. I remember a friend of mine, when were in high school, telling me about an older woman she knew who claimed to be a practicing Satanist and had a human skull in her house, but it was supposed to be a secret. People who have skulls lying around are weirdos or criminals (or both). Unless they are scientists. Wenceslas


Continue reading Bones and suicide and darker thoughts.

The Art of Managing Longleaf

I’ve been using the website Goodreads lately to keep track of my reading list. It is chaotic at times, since I keep adding new books when I’m only about one-quarter through the books on my “currently reading” list. For that reason, I’ve decided it’s a good time to pause and sum up my thoughts so far about a very special book I am reading called The Art of Managing Longleaf: A Personal History of the Stoddard-Neel Approach by Leon Neel, Paul S. Stutter and Albert G. Way.

indexI started reading this book as a guide for longleaf pine management, but the personal history part of the story, which takes up the first one-third of the book, has captivated me. It begins with the story of Leon Neel’s childhood in the Red Hills of Georgia. The hilly topography and erodible soils forced farmers to compensate by farming in patches, rather than broad swaths as they did in the prairies further west. He illustrates lessons learned with  his memories of dove hunting. His father turned the pigs loose on the peanut fields after harvest and they would messily break apart the peanuts, leaving plenty of leftovers for the doves. Then his father turned the boys loose on the doves, with shotguns frustratingly ill-equipped for the chore, he speculates, as his father’s way of having him improve his aim. Neel explains that was “…the way we learned about nature and land use through the experience of hunting.”

The narrative reads very much like the beloved land ethics classic, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry’s essays pondering the history of his native Kentucky.

Another recollection that piqued my curiosity may be of more practical use for today’s hopeful homesteaders. The southern families in Neel’s community grew sweet potatoes primarily for family use, rarely would they sell the sweet potatoes. The potatoes for home use were stored in sweet potato banks.

They would clear a piece of well-drained ground about eight feet in diameter, and then they would lay a deep mat of longleaf pine straw down. After they dug up the sweet potatoes, they stacked them up on the pine straw bed. Folks would use slash pine or loblolly if they had to, but longleaf was the most desireable straw because it made the most durable mat… Once they got the pile of potatoes in a conical shape, they covered them with another layer of pine straw… made a teepee-like structure with… anything that would shed water.

It would all be covered in dirt and the potatoes would stay cool and dry over the winter. It functioned like an above-ground root cellar, which would have air circulation and a slide-away door or contraption to get to the potatoes without tearing down the whole pile. I found this photograph of a sweet potato bank from the Horry County Museum in South Carolina.

sweet potato bankThis book has been on my reading list for a long time but it wasn’t until my father-in-law started showing enthusiasm for my idea to plant the property in pines that I decided to go ahead and buy it. I’ve slid away from my interest in natural history and homesteading over the past year as I’ve just had so many things going through my mind. This lovely book, part memoir, part practical guide, has been a pleasant way for me to refocus and, hopefully, be drawn back toward my love for and interest in the land and the cultural and natural history of the southern US.

A crude poem about an Unlikely Mechanism

Doktor Shnabel von Rom copy

[My thoughts after a semester of studying antivaccine woo, EV-D68, Ebola, Anatomy and Physiology and Nutrition Therapy. The spooky character above is Doktor Shnabel von Rom. The Plague Doctor is the medieval version of today's HazMat suit. He's the guy you don't want to see. The beak holds aromatic herbs to keep away the miasmas.]

Unlikely Mechanism

We became ill by an unlikely mechanism.

Our hands and feet went numb.

We started smelling hallucinations,

But it wasn’t because of our bath products.

Neither because of our diets.

It was an unlikely mechanism, slowly poisoning us.

We struggled to speak as our larynges grew weaker, into dysphagia.

Sipping thickened liquids to try to stay alive.

Dehydration, rehydration. How will we survive?

I knew 6 people who died from an unlikely mechanism.

Their friends and family described the way their skin peeled,

Swelling, erythema, tingling sensations, followed by death.

We were all surprised.

We purged our homes of poisons, the mainstays of our normal lives

In hopes of warding off the toxic vapors.

We sat in sunlight by prescription.

We toiled to purity and back, and forth, and back, and forth.

Suffering, as our limbs grew weaker, into paralysis,

Lesions on our ventral horns. Gray matter.

We could not uncover the mechanism,

And simply saw that we were cursed.

Christians, do not be complacent about vaccination

Pastors and religious leaders have always had an influence on public health. They are the shepherds of their congregations, and as such they would be remiss to fail in upholding basic efforts to fortify God’s people from the spread of infectious disease.

Cotton_MatherThe first well-known pastor to act on the subject of innoculation was Cotton Mather. Yes, the Cotton Mather, who also directed the horrors that were the Salem Witch Trials. While his legacy in the witch trials remains fairly common knowledge, the part he played in introducing variolation into the US is lesser known. Arthur Allen has carefully documented this history in his book Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. During the 1721 smallpox epidemic, Mather began writing fervently to doctors in Boston to find one who would perform a procedure known as variolation. He was convinced that this procedure, uncommon in Europe and thus far unused in the US, would be the only way to stop smallpox from spreading wildly through the population. Variolation, which involved taking the fluid from the pustules of an infected person and scratching it into the skin of the person to be innoculated, was much more dangerous than modern vaccines and the science was virtually untested except in a few published cases. Mather learned of the practice from an African slave, who claimed to have been innoculated against smallpox as a boy.

As people today are prone to argue that vaccination causes harm and poisoning of the body, and undermines faith in God as Divine Healer, so did Mather’s counterparts argue in protest of his urgings. Indeed, this is where the first claims were made by people opposed to innoculation, and some of these same arguments still persist today in discussions about vaccines. Nevertheless, through Cotton Mather’s persistence, his smallpox legacy is a truly victorious one. Smallpox was eradicated from the globe in 1976 through mass innoculation programs, particularly after the practice was improved and made much safer. Smallpox itself was a highly infectious disease that killed at least 1/3 of the people who fell ill. Thanks to the fiery insistence of a puritan preacher, we no longer have to worry about waves of smallpox sweeping through our communities.

Outbreaks

Amish_family,_Lyndenville,_New_York

The vast majority of parents in the US vaccinate their children for most illnesses. This includes parents representing most faith groups. Amish people are one group that has made news in recent decades for disease outbreaks due to low levels of vaccination in their communities. While the Amish lifestyle is strict, the shunning of some technology is a community restriction meant to maintain a focus on God, and does not preclude vaccination. A 2009 study of community member’s attitudes revealed that most Amish do vaccinate to some extent, and among those who do not, they cite the same fears and concerns as those that persist in mainstream society. It is not necessarily unique cultural or religious beliefs that lead to unvaccinated Amish children.

In 1979, a polio outbreak occurred that included Amish persons from 4 different states. This was the last outbreak of wild poliovirus in the US. The CDC concluded:

The 1979 outbreak demonstrated both the tremendous progress to date in achieving protection of the U.S. population but also the fact that polio could find a way to reach the remaining pockets of susceptible persons in the country. In addition, the outbreak made clear the necessity of taking a global approach to polio…

At the heart of this issue is the fact that, if not for those pockets who resist vaccination, illnesses that spread only through human populations could potentially be eradicated by strong vaccine efforts. That would be the end of the disease, and of the need to vaccinate. Smallpox is gone. Polio and measles could be gone.

The polio-free status the United States has enjoyed since 1979 comes at a cost… [vaccine-associated polio] should be reduced substantially as a result of the recently adopted sequential IPV-OPV schedule. An estimated $230 million also is spent each year to maintain the high levels of polio vaccine coverage. Once polio is eradicated from the planet, polio vaccination can be discontinued…

The fact that vaccination carries a small risk only serves to underscore the benefit of eradicating the disease. It does not make sense to avoid a very small risk of vaccination by allowing the return of very devastating illness and disease. It does make sense to work to have these diseases eliminated in this generation– not to allow pockets to emerge for outbreaks to erupt– so that the next generation will have no need for the vaccine.

Many Amish were convinced after the 1979 polio outbreak that vaccination was worth it. It was a small outbreak but it led to 15 cases of paralytic polio. Many of the Amish who chose to be vaccinated during that outbreak did so after seeing these results, and knowing that what might be a mild illness for them could be spread to someone for whom the illness would be deadly. In his book Amish Society, John Hostetler documents (p. 324):

In the case of the polio outbreak, after a series of visits by health officials, the Amish arranged for mass immunization in their homes and schools. The objection to polio immunization was finally overcome when a lay member argued that the Amish would not want to be the cause of other persons getting the disease.

Much more recently, in 2014, several unvaccinated members of an Amish community returned from mission work in the Philippines carrying the highly contagious measles virus. In June of 2014, NPR reported that many Amish families who had not vaccinated their children for a number of reasons were choosing to be vaccinated because of the great burden of the measles outbreak. It started in April, when a nurse identified measles in one Amish family.

“The rash. They had the conjunctivitis in the eyes, their eyes were red,” she says. “They don’t want the light, they sit in the darkened room, wear dark glasses. I mean they were just miserable. High temperatures, 103, 104 temps. So this was the measles.”

When one family was asked why they had not vaccinated, the father responded

“I guess there was no scare to us before… I guess we were too relaxed.”

All of the community’s activities, including their worship, were interrupted for months as the disease spread wildly. As of September of this year, 377 cases of measles were reported in Ohio despite more than 8,000 unvaccinated people choosing to be vaccinated in response to the outbreak.

Measles-Cases-616pxThis year has seen a total of 594 cases, mostly in unvaccinated people, resulting from 18 separate outbreaks caused by unvaccinated people bringing the disease into the country.

The recurring themes here are that concerns about vaccination are valid, and in religious communities they can be especially troubling as we sort through our views of obligation to God and to our neighbors. These diseases, though, are far from benign and evidence shows that we can hold some hope of eradicating serious, debilitating, life-altering and even life-ending illnesses by preventive measures– by vaccination. Vaccines work best before an outbreak, and as the Ohio measles case shows, mass vaccination after an outbreak has limited benefits. People who are exposed before vaccination will still fall ill. People who are exposed between the time of vaccination and the time that it takes the body to produce antibodies may still fall ill and spread the disease to others.

It is not wise for Christians to grow complacent, following the example of Hollywood’s elite. Let’s heed these examples that God has given us, the wisdom of those who have suffered this before us, and take measures to prevent the next outbreak.

A Moral Duty to Vaccinate?

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Not long after I wrote my last post, I read the blog of another Voices for Vaccines parent advocate who is also a Christian. She laid out her thoughts and offered a rather forceful conclusion– Christians have a moral duty to vaccinate themselves and their children. I was glad to find her post Worship of the “Natural” & Why I’m Pro-Vaccine, because she touched on some points that speak to me personally, having been antivaccine and still preferring most things wholesome and unadulterated.

The people who are anti-vaccine are generally in love with all things “natural” and organic. They worship nature. I’ve listened as Christians make the argument that God made our bodies a certain way, totally skipping over the parts of the Bible where we’re cursed. In fact, the Bible does not speak highly of “natural” anything. At best, it’s neutral and at worst, it’s damned to hell.

I can identify with this. I came from this place, and I am now very prickly about the subject. Of course, I still love cooking with fresh, whole ingredients but more for the creative process and simple nutritional benefits than for any other reason. Healthy food is good, but it’s not magic.

So while I readily identified with that statement, I kind of glossed over the issue of moral duty when I posted this to my personal Facebook page. To me, yes, it is a moral duty to vaccinate your children both for their own protection and for others. But I didn’t come to that conclusion just by reading another blogger’s words and nodding along. My husband and I have been considering this issue for the past year. I am often the one reading the science, and together we work through the Scripture.

It would be wrong to say that God does or does not directly demand a certain behavior from us regarding vaccination. However, this doesn’t mean we can be flippant about the subject. It’s not merely a preference like choosing homebaked bread vs. store-bought. Vaccination is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a healthcare decision, but it’s also a public health issue. By nature, the government’s recommendation for people to vaccinate compels us to consider this as a social duty. Only a concern more urgent than that social duty, such as the risk of imminent harm from the vaccine, can justify relief from that duty. A social duty is not necessarily a moral one, but as the author of the blog post I mention above pointed out, vaccines are an issue of life or death. If we consider ourselves pro-life Christians because of a moral duty to protect life, then we must examine our attitudes about vaccination with that level of seriousness and not with a less rigorous “Christian liberty” defense. On the subject of Christian liberty, Sinclair Ferguson points out:

We are given liberty in Christ in order to be the servants of others, not in order to indulge our own preferences… “We … ought … not to please ourselves… . For even Christ did not please himself ” (Rom. 15:1–3). There is something devastatingly simple about this. It reduces the issue to the basic questions of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to imitate Him since His Spirit indwells us to make us more like Him. True Christian liberty, unlike the various “freedom” or “liberation” movements of the secular world, is not a matter of demanding the “rights” we have.

Christ died for us. He suffered miserably for our sakes. He lived again that we might follow him in faithfulness. Aren’t we compelled to go so far for each other, and for Him, if we must? Well, vaccines aren’t anything like that in terms of the commitment, and with them we can only help protect our brothers and sisters physically, not spiritually. Yet we cannot shrink away from these very basic responsibilities too easily.  I think it is fair to say with what I have laid out, then the only remaining issue in my mind is whether a person who refuses vaccines is doing so because the risk of harm to themselves is truly greater than the duty to act in accordance with efforts of public health. Far be it from me to make that judgment on someone else’s behalf.

I do have one last point to make and it is this: there aren’t really two sides on this issue. There are the facts, and there are the fears. The provaccine side is where the scientific consensus exists. Potential reactions are carefully scrutinized to ensure that, while some people still do have reactions, very very few serious reactions occur. When the risks are too high, the vaccine is pulled off the market. The antivaccine side exists primarily as a place where the gaps of science are filled in with speculation. Yes, there are heart-wrenching stories of purported vaccine injury, and only those families and their doctors can truly know the accuracy of those. These families are suffering. Yet, there are some extraordinary cases where such stories have been woven with apparent intent to deceive.

When it comes to the facts, there are many decades of evidence of effective vaccines thwarting millions of deaths and serious illnesses worldwide– suffering we never had to hear about because it didn’t take place. Science demonstrates the clear causal link between pathogen and disease, and the clear association between public vaccination efforts and drastically reduced incidence of disease. What science has also shown is that the vast majority of illnesses attributed to vaccines, in internet forums and elsewhere, aren’t even associated with vaccines, much less caused by them. Vaccines cannot and should not be the scapegoat for every illness for which a cause has not been found. They have done too much good to have people scared away because of misunderstood tragedy, fear and speculation.

Brief seasonal updates and an explanation about vaccines

This year we had to pay someone to do the bush hogging. Our neighbor who has been cutting hay for the past 4 years has been swamped with work and presumably doesn’t need the hay. Now it’s all lying around in the fields… so much hay, and it’s thick Bahia, too.

Cleared
There we are, hiding behind the trees (from the blazing sun.)

I even had to have my garden cleared because by the time I was ready to get out and do garden work, too many thick woody weeds had grown up. I was deeply discouraged, but trying to remind myself that this is just the nature of managing land. Like with anything, you can either give the garden a regular dose of maintenance, or let it sit around and have a major cleanup at the end of it all.

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You may be wondering why I’ve been posting things about vaccines so often. To be frank, I am very concerned about people refusing vaccines. Vaccines are extremely safe for most people, and effective against the diseases they are designed to prevent. This is shown not just because of one immunologist, or epidemiologist, or one organization or corporation or university saying so– but because of a wide agreement among all of these people and among those who are directly working with patients. There are a few outliers within these groups who disagree. There are a lot of parents who want to believe that it’s safer and more natural *not* to inject their children. I understand these concerns. It doesn’t change the facts.

With my first child, I was in that camp. I was terrified that giving him shots was a decision that would harm him or even kill him. Going through the process of getting my degree, I had to read a lot of scientific papers and show that I could accurately comprehend the points that were being made. Anyone who has done this in an academic setting knows that it is not simple, especially when you haven’t developed the skills and haven’t practiced it frequently. This changed my views. I reexamined the evidence. I did my research and then I did even more research after gaining experience in the process of researching. Inevitably, I found that many of the things I wanted to believe emotionally were simply not in the science.

I don’t mean to say that academics are the only people who can read and understand scientific papers, but it is something that takes a lot of work and an *objective* approach. For example, if I assume that all pesticides are always bad and always harm honeybees, it would be hard for me to accurately read a paper that carefully documents the methods and results, and concludes that some pesticides are actually beneficial or neutral for honeybees. I might not even read that paper. Instead, I’d go and find a paper that confirmed what I already thought. Maybe in that second paper, the methods weren’t as carefully documented as the first paper, and maybe the results weren’t fully disclosed. That’s a confirmation bias. It’s widespread in vaccine discussions. Just read the history of this recent event with the “CDC Whistleblower.”

There are other problems with vaccine misinformation, too. One of them is cherry picking. I liken this to the rather lazy way of teaching high school writing. The teacher insists that students cite their sources, so the student develops a thesis and writes his or her paper, then goes and finds blurbs and sentences from various sources that match what the student said, and slips it in the “works cited” or bibliography page. This does not show a lack of creativity or intelligence. It’s actually quite creative. Yet, it *is* intellectually lazy, and potentially dishonest (depending on the writer’s awareness about what they are doing.) High school students are taught to write persuasive essays where the focus is on the writing and rhetoric, not the research. It is a shame, in my experience, that this persists often beyond college.

So I grew tired of it, and I have grown tired of conspiracy theories. I haven’t become complacent. I’ve just gotten to a point where if I learn something new and exciting, and especially something alarming, I’m more likely to demand meaningful evidence.

I’ve been thinking about how this is going to change my gardening style. Admittedly, Round-Up became a part of my no-till growing last year and it has been very helpful. I didn’t use it this year because I was pregnant, and now I am nursing, but as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I also had to bush hog my weedy garden this year. Last year I magically melted those weeds. Just saying.

I don’t want to deceive anyone. I’m a lot less “crunchy” than I once was. More practical, perhaps. More cautious, but not completely jaded.

My faith is much stronger and I am so very thankful just to be where I am.