Re: @John H Woods - economics in two pages never really works
Dear AC 04:21,
It is impossible to answer your question, if indeed you really seek an answer, without understanding the distinction you intend to convey by quoting "education" in that manner.
I am naturally aware, as are many people, that there is a risk that at least some medical journals may effectively operate as the part of the marketing departments of Big Pharma (Smith, 2005; Spurling et al., 2011; Handel et al., 2012).
Presumably we could agree that the ability to read and understand cogent arguments (i.e. that some journal articles should be taken with varying sizes of pinches of salt) and come to our own conclusions about them is a product of (perhaps a certain kind of) education. As, I would suggest, is the ability to go beyond feelings such as "there's no smoke without fire; it's obviously a conspiracy" and consider the evidence directly -- in this case that the benefits of MMR massively outweigh its risk.
A recent example: there was outrage a few weeks ago from some politicians that approximately £700 of the cost of an NHS childbirth was insurance premium. This was repeated ad nauseam by the journalists, and many people relayed this "news" to me (I have worked on projects for Insurance Companies, and the NHS) as if it were shocking. When I asked them what was shocking, that the risk of an accident necessitating life-long support of the child might be "as high" as a few cases in 100,000 or that the cost of that life-long support might be "as much" as a few £million, these people looked at me as if I were a special kind of idiot - of course those figures are perfectly reasonable. But, nevertheless, wasn't it shocking that insuring against this risk cost several hundred pounds?
This is what I mean by lack of education being the opposite of a public good. The politicians expressing the outrage are either uneducated themselves, or are exploiting a lack of public education to promote a political agenda. The journalists repeating it are either uneducated themselves, or are exploiting a lack of public education to report a good story. The people repeating it to me as if it were amazing are mostly intelligent people who have unfortunately missed that part of their education that would have empowered them to think critically about what is presented to them and to realize that it is not really all that amazing. In fact, I think it is mainly lack of empowerment (i.e. self confidence to apply their own intelligence and reach their own conclusions) rather than ability. Nevertheless, I did not see a single politician or pundit on the TV, Radio or in print putting forward the point of view that the insurance premium is pretty much the right order of magnitude for the insured risk. I'm sure some did, but it would certainly not have attracted the same attention.
Now that little storm in a teacup subsided without apparent harm, apart from wasting everybody's time. But it is the same sort of thing preventing us from using more nuclear power, even though the radiological risks are lower than those of fossil fuels; causing children to die of preventable illnesses, even though the risks of preventative vaccination are tiny in comparison; and numerous other public policy problems.
Handel et al., 2012 BMJ 2012;344:e4212
Smith R., 2005 Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies. PLoS Med 2(5)
Spurling et al., 2011, The Lancet, 378