Carl Zimmer and Paul Offit on Genetics, Race, and Vaccinations at CSICon 2018
So people somehow try to find these constellation of characteristics that they can somehow use to define being white in that somehow that is intrinsically biologically special. But it just doesn't work. Hi, everyone. It's me your point of inquiry co-host covens, we're back this week with a couple more interviews that I recorded during last Saipan in Las Vegas, I up checkout. My interview with award winning science writer and New York Times columnist Carl simmer, his talk at sei con was on the powers perversions and potential of heredity, which is also the subtitle to his latest book, she has her mother's laugh after my conversation with Zimmer will hear from Paul off it he'd be attrition inventor of Rotavirus vaccine at tireless advocate for science based medicine, especially when it comes to accedes. Hello everyone. I'm still here. Live from stike con in Las Vegas, and I get to speak to Carl Zimmer today. Thanks for being here. Carl. So Carl gave a talk today about his book and about heredity and misconceptions about this concept, but you raised an interesting point in years past of course, we know that by CS have influenced how scientists carry out research. So when it comes to today's research on Herat be what are the by season mythological issues that you've encountered in covering this in which ones are perhaps the most egregious will. I think that there are. Bias sees in the way that scientists sometimes think about the research in there also just biases that emerge in the data itself. So in terms of heredity and studies on genetics there if you look at the data of who has been studied what populations? Do we understand genetics in connection genetics health? Well is the European population? It's wiping its people in Europe or people the United States of European descent and hardly that is because that has been where a lot of the research began there has been neglected other populations as a result, and you cannot just generalize out from what you learn about the way Jean's work in a your. Opean population to other populations. So just to get one example. By studying European populations. Actually, scientists learned a lot about height height is controlled by many many genes and scientists are denting those jeans, and they can actually like look at the versions of those genes that people have and do pretty good job of predicting their height, you know, within say within a couple inches, which is pretty good in the road genetics. But that's only when they're predicting on people who are European if you look at those same jeans in a group of people from Africa, you do a terrible job. I ended there are tall. People in short people in parts of Africa just tall short people in parts of Europe. But you can become tall by different paths. And I and so by they don't believe they're part of a gene the, gene. There's just a huge amount of genetic diversity in our species. And we right now, we're not we're really been focused on just a fraction of right reminds me of myself actually for my listeners since I'm new to point of inquiry. I am trying to lose about twenty more pounds because I'm pre diabetic, and we have diabetes all through my family in people who are mostly thin, and otherwise very fit, and it turns out that the rate of diabetes and prediabetes in young people in the population is just way higher and the risk factors differ quite a lot on when compared to white people. So I'm interested to seeing to see the research that comes out of India, perhaps reference, genomes, etc. I guess that impacts so many different health issues. Right. Really? Yeah. I mean, and within the United States, you have people from lots of different backgrounds, and so if you're trying to use genetic data that came back from just mostly from one background is going to be a problem when you're trying to do public health across country. But you know, there are people know this this this is not something that people trying to deny the there's a nurse shot. You know, like it takes a lot of effort to start up a whole new research program. As opposed to just building on research program. That's right running. So there are some special initiatives. Now, you know there is a precision medicine initiative from the national institutes of health called all of us and olive festival uh Salma. It's so tired olive fest as otherwise that's all of us. Yeah. Yeah. So so tha majorly the goal is to bring precision medicine to country as a whole public health, I and they fully recognized that they have to reach out to lots of different communities to to get better profile of the genetic -versity of the United States. Even if that means, you know, recognizing that some communities look at this kind of research with a lot of skepticism in hesitance because it hasn't gone well for them interacting with these sorts of scientists in the past. So it's definitely a worker progress for work in progress. But it's good to at least see that initiated. You. You mentioned a lot of misconceptions about heredity any covered a few of them today. What would you think are maybe the top three and most navy stubborn misconception? At least when it comes to just public the American public. I think one big. Misconception is that if your descended from someone special that makes you special, you know, there are there's actually something Charlemagne society actually on which is only open to people who are descended from charming. And you actually have to prove that you're descended concerned people who are known to descend from Johnny to get in. But the fact is pretty much everyone in Europe today is descended from Charlemagne yet is some people can improvement in have the for some reason. Drive to join the society. Yeah. But you know, the implication there is it's part of some, you know, super special group that that's so they really do consider themselves special is what you're saying. I'm not very familiar with them. I wasn't either. I started doing research book. But there they weren't. And I just think that that kind of like. It shows just how much we cherish these these famous people in our past. I mean, I think we all come across someone who claims to have someone famous William the conqueror and so on, but the fact is that genealogy actually doesn't work that way. Like, actually like, you the further you go back, the chant the more more the chances go up that there's gonna be a common ancestor that a lot of people share so mathematicians of actually solve this basically a graph problem. And so in a continent like Europe, if you go back to the time of Charlemagne, if you find someone who has any living descendants, they probably are the ancestor of all the European made his one, and if you go back a few thousand years for further you're gonna find a common ancestor of everyone alive today. So you don't have to go back very far to find a common ancestor. Obviously, we if you go back years, we all have like millions of ancestors. But the fact that you can track yourself back to somebody famous. Really that's not how genealogy works, and you did not inherit that specialness. Yes. You have to have your own special. Exactly, exactly. And so. Yeah. I mean, we specialness is not. Heritage in that way. Yeah. It's better. If you try to do it on your own. So I think you covered this today at I have yet to read what he wrote. But today, the American society of human genetics denounced attempts to use genetics to bolster the idea our notion of white supremacy or racial supremacy, and they write in a statement that they're alarm to see a societal resurgence of groups rejecting the value of genetic diversity and using discredited or distorted genetic concepts to bolster bogus claims with white supremacy. So I've noticed this resurgence is well, what's your observation on this trend, and what do you think is driving it right now? Well, I think that maybe there is a feeling that among some people that they define themselves as being part of this population that that they think is. How better than other populations? And you know, as in the United States says as we have more more people who are Spanish black who people who are not white than that that makes some people feel threatened. And so I think that they then look around for some kind of justification for why they're special in other people are not. And you know, there are just some people who are just. Just you know, are flat out racist and always have been now, they're like a Neo Nazi they now look to these genetic tests hoping to find, you know, quote, unquote, scientific validation that they are superior the stuff that they come up with is is both just as the geneticists say one example is, you know, there is some white supremacists. To like to make a big deal that they can drink milk because you know, northern Europeans have a high levels of lactose tolerance that just means that they descend from cattle hurting societies where natural selection favored a mutation that allowed people to make the enzyme for lactose when results that's it. That is all there's no like, oh, and also that makes you super special and allows you to be there. Reasoning behind this. Then what's where are they getting that their ability to tolerate lactose makes them superior or how do they spin it? It's really hard to find any sort of coherent statement of reasoning about it. Instead, you just see the men, you know, drinking milk in demonstrations. Like as if that's as a gesture I should like that political almost masculine. Yeah. I I don't know. Maybe you could say that. While we shit. I'm curious now, I'm going to look up videos. It must be on YouTube Bryce, today's white supremacist. Yeah milk. I remind premises drinking milk. I learn something new every day. But here's the thing. Here's the thing is that. They might try to claim that we'll lactose. Tolerance is part of like this this great suite of traits that make northern Europeans great or something. I don't know. But it's just like this one result of evolution in humans. But it's the same. It has happened in parallel in other places. 'cause like northern Europe is not the only place where people have raised cows. So if you go to east Africa Vigo, and and look at Masai and other people there Africans dark-skinned avenues, they are also lactose. Tolerant. It's an unusual trait. It is an unusual trait. But it's not some sort of white special trait. So people somehow try to find these constellation of characteristics that they can somehow use to define being white in that somehow that is intrinsically biologically special. But it just doesn't work, you know, even with skin color. I mean, we're very sensitive skin color. I think just because we're a very visual species. But to to try to use skin color as a way of dividing up races. Classifying races is always doomed to failure. And the fact is that like even in Europe. It turns out ancient DNA shows that people in Europe weren't actually light skinned until maybe overall until maybe four thousand years ago. So they've been people, you know, our our own species in Europe about forty forty five thousand years, at least they were quite dark skinned. Yeah. Yeah. I think this is it's not quite it's almost as ridiculous to me. As flat Arthur's, but not recognizable as ridiculous to your typical person. In most people who aren't fatter Thor's are flat Arthur's, those people are nuts, but white supremacy and now these kinds of justification are so mainstream which is what makes it particularly disturbing. Yeah. And it's and it is I mean, it's their hostility extends in many directions. So, you know, my father Jewish and so like, I whenever I'm writing about this sort of stuff on for the New York Times like on Twitter sooner or later. I see somebody referring to me with all those parentheses marks all far there's a Jew talking about this stuff. So we know what that means is just very ugly fact of life right now. And I'm sorry sorry that that made it shouldn't have anyone. But it happens, of course, all of us in its sake can be ugly place. I look I mean, I am. I am not pretend. Ending that I have to deal with a fraction of what other people do this regard. It's just that I think of myself, and very privileged wipers. But I get it while it's if it's good that you recognize that because a lot of people don't so your book, she has her mother's laugh. Tell me about the title, and what the impetus behind this is what you hope readers gather from it. So I think ever since I became a father some teen years ago have two kids I have been really fascinated by Haredi simply because I've been watching these two people grow up, and I know that they're descended from me. And my wife, I look at them in wonder like, well, how did they become becoming? It's fascinating. My kids are seven and five just their behaviors there. So you can pinpoint who they seem to come from him. Sure. Some of this is just invented in our mind, but some of it is uncanny. Any there? I'm sure there's a lot of pattern matching. And and it is funny that like people will say, oh, she got that from you. Oh, she got that from you. Or didn't get that. From me. No way or only member how great grandma Mary had did that. Sometimes she must have guy from great-grandma on there and things like that. So somehow just saying like, oh, she has her mother's laugh to meet kind of captures that that ambiguity of of trying to figure out heredity in wondering, you know. He's this something that's encoded in DNA that you inherited. Or is it something that you inherit through the experience of growing up in household someone? I was just say nobody has done study haired ability of laughter. I can't tell you. If there's, you know laughter flashing your has. Okay. I don't know. But more like a metaphor to get at what I was trying to explore in the book, which is this. How does it heredity has such a power over us in? What is ready action? While check it out. She has her mother's laugh by Carl Zimmer thanks for being here with me today. Thanks so much. There's just so much to consider when it comes to heredity, isn't there? It was just thinking I mentioned before that. I'm a parent of young heads. We spent so much time trying to work with Oren guest heredity, depending on what's going on. But we've been doing that since well before we ever sequenced or even knew about the human genome moving on. Let's dive into my interview with Paul off. It he presented at side this year on communicating back seen science and ventures and miss adventures with the media. Hello everyone. I'm here. Again, live from Las Vegas at side Kahn, which of course, is totally. You know, we come to every year, and we have a great time. And there's no better time than talking to some of these speakers at SICOM. I'm here right now with Dr Paul off it who is a higher less communicator and defender of science and all things back seen. He's called inventor of road of virus vaccine and a hero to the skeptic community. You could say so welcome thanks for being here. So today. Paul talked a little bit about some of his mistakes when it comes to communicating science. And I think that we as a community can learn from that. So can you tell us about a couple of your mistakes? You will have some of the obvious ones that you don't have to answer the question exactly as ask. So once I was asked the question on a local show. So Dr Patel, how many vaccines children get when do they get them in which ones they get. I mean, if you actually answer that question, I think you'll set healthcare communication back about twenty years. I mean, you need a broader answer like children get axes to prevent have Titus and meningitis bloodstream infections among others. Children should make sure they get the vaccines. They need to be safe not to actually answer the records. But it took me a while to figure that out. That's one example. So how would you answer that question today? That's all it answer. The answer by saying children, get vaccines to prevent diseases like, and then just mentioned the disease and not all of that. You get more vaccines. All the Bax this age this age, you got hit back soon decisions Kanter the pretty much conjures that that image of the baby with all of their needle stuck in their leg. That's the other mistake. I made actually all this question. How many how many vaccines coulda child get instead of answering? It the way I should've which has said, the children's responses are broad and deep they can respond to many more vaccines getting I actually answered it the way you knowledge us when answer it was trying to figure out, you know, the sort of nets of antibody diversity, how many how many antibodies can you make you know, give yourselves make antibodies how many b cells having about and I came up with a very conservative figure ten thousand. But when I answered it that way, when I said, it trial could get as many as ten thousand bucks. I became the ten thousand vaccines. I mean here the people challenge me to get down XI's. There was a PR news wire that came up that said I received ten thousand vaccines died. I mean, also like the PR people in my. Ospital call to make sure I was still alive. I mean, it's Molly. That reminds me of the similar mistake. You were just talking to Dr Karl von mobile the plant geneticist. But there was a similar mistake. I think made by a few scientists when it came to drink pesticide and like I would drink that. And then they became the people who would drink toxic pesticides. So just yeah. Let's let's not drink pesticides. Even though maybe they wouldn't hurt. You. What are some mistakes that you see because I know you're pretty active on the internet. So when it comes to, you know, someone being wrong on the internet about vaccines. And of course, there are are many in the pro vaccine and skeptics community that are quick to jump in. And do I mean what I think is the noble work of of correcting misrepresentations about vaccines and other issues. But I do see some mistakes. And I was wondering what you see the most. When it comes to vaccine vaccines in particular biggest mistake to think, we don't need to explain our selves. The thank you know, when my parents were children in the twenties thirties they saw diphtheria killer teenagers. They saw polio. Crippled of young people. They understood the imports. I was a child of the fifties sixties. I have I had mumps I bel- I have I had all those neck convince me vaccinate nitro, but my children are in their twenties. I mean, they don't see these these today they didn't grow up with these over that vaccinations matter faith, faith, and Hoon pharmaceutical industry, medical stabs -ment in the government. There's lack at least in that kind of fade. So I think we need to step back and say, here's why it's still important to get these vaccines because prepared standpoint, you know, we as parents of young children to to give their their their children about fourteen vaccines court different disease. I can be as. As twenty six occupation during that time, you can meet as many as five at one time disease. Most people don't see using biological fluids. Most people don't understand and people look at this. I need a polio vaccine. Why depicts the polio their own black and white? I need theory of accede attendance next what he talking about. So I think it's hard to watch your child get five shots at once. No matter decay, you are in knowledge or science Veraldi. So I think we do need to vigorously explain. So we'd all to them. What's gonna happen is what's happening, which is that you'll see some of these these are coming back. I mean, we eliminated this company in the year two thousand gone, but it came back because we chose not to the accident children. We eliminated rebel which is a dangerous faction. If you get rebellious or measles in the first trimester pregnancy, you have an eighty five percent chance of delivering a child with birth defects, permanent birth defects. Do I think would rebel which we eliminate it from this country could come back? Absolutely for the same reason that measles come back. And then. And maybe that's what it takes. Maybe the only way people are going to really get vaccinated again is they're scared of the diseases that happen really in southern California. Which was a hotbed of antibac- seen activity two thousand fourteen two thousand fifteen there was a measles outbreak. That started in the Disneyland area spread states one hundred eighty nine people, and then suddenly mothers and fathers, southern California. We're getting their vaccinate. Because the vaccination rate call up like noticeably because measles now is knocking at their door or the next door neighbor. And now they were scared. But it's always the children have to suffer ignorance of stuff. Yeah. Yeah. And that's that's unfortunate thing I only had to go through chickenpox. So I consider myself lucky, I'm thirty six, but I guess my kids are luckier than I am because they don't have to get chicken pox before. I had kids I guess up oblivious to a lot of this. I didn't even know there was an anti vaccine movement. And I'm reading all of this information coming at me. And I'm like, wait. I'm supposed to be worried about vaccines. One of my supposed to believe, I don't know. So then I I guess fortunate enough and had some somehow found the skeptics community. I think I was already may be prime to find which was great. And then I learned I learned all about it. And I'm like, oh, yeah vaccines. Great. Good wonderful. Let's do it. But I mean, I think at least in my observation there are a lot of people like that. Not really thinking about these issues until they have kids. So what do you think differentiate someone stay like me, and I should add. I'm I was a huge doctrines fan until I had kids too. So I was the kind of person that was saying, Dr Oz recommended supplements. So I'm still trying to figure out why I went in in the direction of skepticism. So what do you think it is that maybe? Might cause a person than to have a child and not really know about this and fall into the other rabbit hole in decide to either not vaccinate their kids or though some vaccines. It's hard to what your get five shots at once. That's it. That's what you said before. And that's the one little two month old. You're lying. I will be back seen giving us it within twenty four hours birth. And that just doesn't seem fair two months of getting five shots. Once just like, they don't even have enough limbs, it seems to get all that. And so it's that it's motion. And I think for those who has attained its understand why I want to say it. It's not hard to find information on the internet will make you feel better about not vaccinating a group of people who also don't vaccinate you cannot vaccinate to. Here's all the reasons why because backseats calls all these things that they don't actually cause. But at least, you know, it makes you feel like you're not not making a bad trade because right now, it's what you're doing is. You're protecting yourself against infectious disease that could kill you. But if the anti vaccine people argument, essentially is that, you know, I'll risk the infections, which I don't think are that common to prevent these chronic disease. The can be lifelong awful. So so that they think is the trade even though that's not the trick. Right. Yeah. So I guess basically. What you're saying is if you're already feeling like this is very emotional harm than you have confirmation bias than you go to that information on the internet. It's just it's endlessly frustrating. How do you deal with the frustration of of fighting against us? I mean, doesn't it seem like an uphill battle. Sometimes. The I haven't my mind our children who come into our house blew suffering, doc vaccine Venezia's, I mean, they've got it because their parents invariably got bad information, which calls them to make a bad decision which put their child at risk and occasionally death watch that for few times, and you become a vigorous passionate advocate for this. Because that's always your your mind. Would you do is you try to understand mode? Most parents say eighty five percent of the parents who call me really wanna know what's going on. They smell the smoke. They want to know whether it's any fire there reassure bowl. I may really would prefer to trust their doctor because when you go to your documents. I don't want these vaccines, you're saying, I don't trust you. And if I you know, I don't trust for vaccines. There's other things I may not trust you for to you want your doctor to like you because you when you're sick, you want your document care. And when you say yourself apart of your doctor, that's hard thing. So I think most people really do want the facts. And are influenced by the facts may say eighty five percent of the people can be influenced to get back seat. Because once they have the facts they see what the right decisions but fifteen percent or conspiracy theories they think there's a conspiracy to hurt their child. I think you're part of it wonder while they recall to begin with because they know more than I do. And they don't care what I say forget it. And which case I forget it. I bail on those conversations because we live in a country where you can choose not to actually while. Here's the thing. I don't know more than you do and at most of us in this community, the skeptics community don't know more than you. Do we can't all be experts in everything I know that a lot of us want to help. So what is a non expert skeptic to do what are one example say a friend or a neighbor of mine says I, you know, I don't vaccinate my kids. 'cause I've heard that, you know, there's toxins in it XYZ is it should I say some. Thing. So there's there's a neighbor scenario, and then, of course, on the internet. What are what are the two top tips? You can give if someone's questioning not necessarily if they're already in the in the far extreme anti vaccine. I mean because they're not just making the decision for themselves or their children. They're making decision for you and your child if your child is exposed to children on backsied Novak a high percent of fact, you take something like the measles vaccine is ninety five percent effective, which is one of the more effective axes. But one at twenty children there for all right risky had gotten measles vaccine. You don't wanna be in a community to Thailand. Vaccinate. 'cause you're that's what happened. So the California. The second part of your question was all right the internet. So I would say. The wheel answer the question. Get calls like I've done my research on the chicken pox, vaccine decided not to get people mean by doing the research. They read other people's opinions of Maxine the that's really not doing your research. If you want to do research read, the three hundred articles that have been published on chicken box, which would mean you have to have some expertise in Veraldi's Satistics, biology algae, which most people don't have the most doctors don't have. So what do you do you what we turn to experts at least collectively had that advice that advise the centers for disease control and prevention in the American cabinet pediatrics, and those are the experts that have given said, okay, here's the data. I think we can recommend this axiom. Be given this time in this age group x number of those because they they have looked at all the order, but nobody's going to buy that right in the twenty th century trust, this were experts. So I think what what the best you can do is these go to reputable sites. It's not that hard. I mean, I think that sites possible Philadelphia. The mayo clinic the American Academy the address sites that are university affiliated hospital -ffiliated. Raca democ societies affiliated don't go to those sites that sell something as being a conspiracy. Don't go to sites that sell things. I mean, they're selling on chores that should be a hint chanting. Oh, by the way, here's an ion rearranging machine that can make your autism. That should be a clue that this is not a reputable site autism cures part of it is enough to drive me nuts. And then here's here's something. I'll close with something that I've been interested in wondering if you can fill me in on what you know, I've been hearing from more and more parents who are divorced and one is anti vaccine and one is not anti vaccine. So there are the legal issues of compromising on what vaccine their child gets doesn't get have you encountered this in. How has this been playing out in the real world court? Maybe the parents go to court and usually the mother and father each get their own lawyers who then try and argue for the job shooter shouldn't be accidental. It's ugly. Either lawyers that in this is it got into that extent. There early lawyers will vaccine side, especially and can't eat like are they all over the country of I know some names, but we're not to talk. Okay. Okay. I'll try I'll try to pick your brain later. But we don't have to talk about it. Now. Interesting. I mean disturbing but interesting, thanks so much for me. Thank you. This has been your host covets obvi-. Thanks again to my guests Carl's inner and all audit point of inquiry is production of the center. Ring ry CFI is five onc- three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence science in compassion rather than superstitions pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. You can visit us at point of inquiry dot org. Dairy can listen to all of PEO is archived episodes. Learn about me and my co host Jim Underdown and support the show and CF advocacy work by clicking the blue support. But another site, please remember to subscribe in share with your friends where available on I tunes, Google play Spotify and other podcast apps. Thanks sense. You again in two weeks.