Carrots improve your eyesight at night…

We can’t just go backwards because falsehoods are gaining currency. It is the information age, but sometimes it feels like we’re living in the misinformation age

‘Anti-vax’ protestors in Italy are gaining currency due to the rise of the popular right
‘Anti-vax’ protestors in Italy are gaining currency due to the rise of the popular right

Over the past few months, on social media and in public discussion, a lot of been said and written about vaccinations.

As in other modern countries, Malta has policies in place to make sure our children are protected from a wide array of diseases through vaccinations.

As a country we’ve been relatively immune to the wild theories being propagated in the United States, and elsewhere, about vaccinations. However, it seems that some of these ideas are gaining ground. This is not good news. You might have heard some of these stories, principally that vaccinations cause autism. Without doubt most of these stories from the ‘anti-vax’ movement have been debunked and rejected. They have been rejected because the evidence is simply not there.

Mark Twain once wrote that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

The origin of this claim goes back twenty years. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a paper in The Lancet which essentially linked vaccinations to the development of autism in children. Since then it was proved that the study was flawed. The way the basis of his correlation was worked out was completely incorrect.

Following this study, a lot of analysis went into the claims. The evidence showing that there is no correlation is very large. Study after study indicated that the Wakefield paper was wrong. However, as Twain puts it, it had already travelled halfway around the world.

The end result of this is that there is doubt, when there shouldn’t be. There simply is no evidence. The reason we have built societies and grown as humans is due to the fundamentals of evidence-based research and science.

These are principles which saved us humans and created the parameters to improve ourselves. We have become who we are in the modern world because of these principles, which go back centuries. We can’t simply dismiss facts and evidence-based research and choose what we think or feel is right.

Vaccinations can save a person. In Italy and elsewhere they’re finding about this the wrong way. We’ve crushed a lot of disease because we have protected ourselves from some nasty stuff. We can’t just go backwards because falsehoods are gaining currency. It is the information age, but sometimes it feels like we’re living in the misinformation age.

It’s a tale as old as time.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the rumour was spread around that the British were downing German planes in the dark because their soldiers were being fed carrots. Carrots, the idea goes, improve your eyesight in the dark. The reality was the British were having success in shooting down planes because of radar technology, and carrots had nothing to do with it. But the British military didn’t mind if the carrots became the story, in order to protect their military secrets. Some even say they propagated it in the newspapers at the time to try to send the Germans on a wild goose chase. Posters across Britain were put up saying: ‘Carrots keep you healthy and help you to see in the blackout’.

This nonsense became truth for many. Among the population, both in the UK and Germany, it had somehow become fact.

The actual truth is that carrots aren’t damaging to your eyes, and they do have some benefits, but nothing remotely close to improving your eyesight during night time. It certainly won’t give you any edge if you’re a pilot looking to down enemy planes at night.

But at the end of the day, this myth took a life of its own. It became the truth – because by the time it was everywhere, the truth was still putting on its shoes.

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