Passionate Intensity, Little Rationality

Theodore Dalrymple reviews Paul Offit's book on the anti-vaccination crusaders:

Paul Offit’s new book, as readable as a good detective novel, tells the story of how autism, a disorder of psychological development, came falsely to be blamed first on the MMR vaccine and then on thimerosal, a preservative found in several vaccines. It is a tale about bad science, worse journalism, unscrupulous political populism, and profiteering litigation lawyers.

[...] Offit’s book raises questions much broader than his ostensibly limited subject matter would suggest. What is the place of scientific and scholarly authority in the modern world, and how is it to be institutionalized in a democracy? Is it inevitable that the best should now lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity? What is the relation between information, on the one hand, and knowledge and wisdom, on the other? Cranks are often oversupplied with the former and deficient in the latter, not realizing that there is a difference between the two. Autism’s False Prophets gives no easy answers, but it does provide a rich source of material for political philosophers and even epistemologists, who ought to assign it to their students.

(Hat tip: Clive Davis)