One of the bonuses about living in Byron Shire is that most people accept the science.
At least where the big picture is concerned. You will almost never get into one of those silly arguments about whether climate change is real, or a conspiracy cooked up by the United Nations/New World Order/Mad Climatologists Collective aimed at destroying our way of life and sending us back to the caves.
In an area where green politics are the dominant paradigm there is obviously a tendency to accept the research which inevitably leads to sustainability and a cleaner, greener outcome; nonetheless, the defence of the accumulated wisdom of the vast majority of scientists is impressive and welcome. But that’s the good news.
One of the more depressing things about living in Byron Shire is that so many people reject the science – at least where their personal lives are concerned. A few weeks ago Byron became the only local government area in the northern rivers to maintain the rage against fluoride. Its neighbours finally accepted the science: the evidence was, after all, overwhelming: huge improvements in children’s teeth at a minimal cost with negligible, if not non-existent, side effects.
But the Byron consensus was that even if fluoridation is not a devilish government plot to poison the population, it is compulsory medication, and therefore unacceptable. And yes, it is compulsory medication – a preventive health measure like wearing a bicycle helmet or a seat belt. These are laws introduced not only to protect the reckless and stupid, but to make the best use of scarce public resources.
Bad teeth, like road accidents, are obviously a cost to productivity, but they also demand medical attention which is urgently needed elsewhere. In the end fluoridation not only saves teeth and the angst of visiting the dentist: it saves taxpayers money.
But the rejection of fluoride pales into insignificance when set against the murderous movement against vaccination, which is also centred in the Byron Shire. For many years Meryl Dorey and her fellow fanatics in what used to be called the Australian Vaccination Network (the court has now ordered it to adopt a marginally less dishonest name) have run a campaign of falsehood and fear designed to dissuade the more ignorant and gullible from inoculating their children against potential fatal diseases.
The pseudoscience on which Dorey relies was comprehensively discredited many years ago; in particular the alleged association between vaccination and autism has been disproved by a great many rigorous studies, as have Dorey’s other furphies. But, trusting to the dictum of her fellow American P T Barnum that there is a sucker born every minute, she goes on trotting them out, and worried and fearful parents still fall for them.
Once again, the evidence for the benefits of vaccination to individuals and communities is incontestable; the science is in. But as Friedrich Schiller pointed out, against ignorance, the gods themselves contend in vain.
Indeed, it seems to be a given that science is of little account when it comes to personal medication. I know Byronians who are seriously suspicious of conventional medicine; they would never dream of taking so much as an aspirin tablet. Yet they go to doof parties and gulp down handfuls of anonymous pills purchased from the first passing stranger. No wonder there is a market for colonic irrigation.
So when it comes to science Byron is frankly bipolar. Perhaps after all it is not so different from the rest of the country, or indeed, the rest of the world: we believe what suits us, when it suits us. And when it doesn’t, we just say it isn’t science.