Monday, March 10, 2014

Imperviousness or inoculation?

Pondering anti-vaccination sentiment and political persuasions, among other things, Razib writes:
One issue that has come up on occasion is the political orientation of the anti-vaccination movement. Many have assumed that it has a Left-liberal bias. I’m actually moderately skeptical of a strong political association (e.g., Michele Bachmann). But the map above suggested to me that we should test the proposition that there’s at least a state level correlation between exemptions and vote for Obama in 2012. The data was easy to get.

The raw Obama vote % and vaccination exemptions correlated at 0.08 (p-value 0.59). Pretty much nothing. But, I thought it might be more interesting to look at Obama vote for whites. Here the correlation was 0.25 (p-value 0.09). This is still a modest correlation, but it does suggest a political tinge. But rather than a standard Left-Right axis, I think we’re seeing a “crunchy counter-culture” sentiment.
Possibly a more relevant and, as it turns out, stronger and more robust state-level correlation (r = .42, p-value = .004) exists between non-medical exemption rates and infant mortality rates. The relationship is, perhaps surprisingly, an inverse one. That is, the higher the infant mortality rate, the more likely kids in a state are to receive their vaccinations. The lower the infant mortality rate, the more likely parents are to forgo vaccinating their children.

We could start speculating about causation (ie, do vaccinations cause children to die, or does a relatively high proportion of dying children prod people into vaccinating more?), but that'd probably be futile. I'd peg this as a classic example of "correlation does not [necessarily] imply causation". To the extent that there is much to healthier states also being less inoculated states, it's presumably because of people's understandable reluctance to take medicine when not ill. I've never been sick enough to miss a day of work in my adult life. Not surprisingly, I've never elected to get a flu shot, either. I don't get sick, so no, I'm not going to go congregate around a bunch of people who do get sick so that I can have someone poke me with a sharp object to protect me from an ailment I'm not going to suffer from anyway.

It's excusable for a healthy, mature adult to pretend to be superman, but it's less forgivable when a vulnerable infant without any agency of his own is involved. Don't worry, my son has been getting and will continue to get all his recommended vaccinations, hard though it is for daddy not to rip the nurse's jugular out as she's making his boy scream bloody murder.


Jokah Macpherson said...

You know infant mortality is much higher among blacks, right? I saw Mississippi was at the top of the list on the link and said, "Well, Vermont's going to be at the bottom," and I was right at #48.

The traditional explanation is racism-related stress, since, you know, white people love going out of their way to be mean to expectant mothers, although I find it kind of weird that after a lifetime of racism-related stress, the conditional life expectancy gap shrinks to just over a year.

I think other explanations are more interesting, though. Charles Murray found a strong relationship between education and infant mortality among whites in The Bell Curve so IQ is a potential culprit like it seemingly is for everything else.

Anyways, vaccines - since Razib found a correlation only when limiting the population to whites, and since whites are generally more liberal in whiter states, I think that accounts for most of the effect.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I'm actually curious now how much of an effect IQ has on the decision to (not) vaccinate - I suspect the relationship is strong and positive. Some blogger, I can't remember which one, used to do state-by-state estimates of IQ, so I may try taking his data and running that.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Only r=.20 apparently. Darn.

Anonymous said...

rural areas.. open spaces.. less crowding to spread to disease seems to be correlated with lower infant mortality better than vaccinations

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, I should have noted as much. I take it for granted that readers are aware of the general Asian->white->Hispanic->Black progression of so many social indicators. I wasn't making any serious argument regarding causation so I didn't make much of an effort to note the relative confounding variables.

Just to clarify, Razib only looked at white rates of support for Obama, but vaccination rates were for all races.


That's certainly a plausible argument with a lot of historical weight behind it for sure.

silly girl said...

"You know infant mortality is much higher among blacks, right? "

Okay, but infant mortality among blacks in the USA is orders of magnitude lower than it is in Africa, so...

Also, infant mortality is higher among whites in the USA than it is in most of Europe, mostly due to different ways of counting the deaths of premature babies.

Anyway, infant mortality rates are so low (even among blacks) are so low that we have probably got them as low as they can possibly get. At this point probably the only way they could get any lower would be to do late late abortions of very sick babies, and seriously that is just six of one or a half dozen of the other as well as being creepy as hell.

silly girl said...

Okay, vaccinations. One friend of mine noted that some disease are pretty darned unlikely that a child would get, like hepatitis B spread by direct contact with infected blood ie. iv drug use or sexual contact. Most intelligent whites in New Hampshire don't go there. Polio on the other hand is alive and well in the environment in mud puddles etc., so that risk smacks little kids right where they live. Her point was basically that not vaccinating kids against diseases makes sense if the disease is either eradicated like small pox, super rare among children like hepatitis B, but not vaccinating against common deadly stuff that is all around us like polio, tetanus and diphtheria is dumb with a capital D.

Anonymous said...

Dumb = get vaccines

Smart = refuse vaccines

Really smart (enough to read scientific studies and understand them) = get vaccines