Stop Touching Your Face

Picture-6xx (reduced)I was finally able to watch the movie Contagion.

I have to say, I’ve rarely been so impressed with a movie in my life. I was worried because many people said it was too boring and slow, but I didn’t think that for a moment. It was compelling and interesting all throughout. Then again, I do admit that I am planning on studying disease pathology and epidemiology, so I may be a bit biased. Perhaps my wife would have a more objective assessment of the film.

Not only that, but it was incredibly educational – and scientifically accurate. Dr. W. Ian Lipkin acted as the film’s scientific consultant. Lipkin “is the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Professor of Neurology and Pathology at College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. Lipkin is also Director of the Center for Infection and Immunology, an academic laboratory for microbe hunting in acute and chronic disease (Wikipedia).” He’s most known for his incredible work with West Nile Virus and SARS and many disease-related scientific discovery and response technologies.

One of the plot points in the film is Jude Law’s character, Alan Krumwiede, an anti-pharmacology conspiracy blogger who acted as false prophet against supposed government and pharmaceutical industry collusion to manufacture and spread disease in order to increase pharmaceutical profits. He argued, with no scientific evidence, that everyone could be cured using a homeopathic treatment based on forsythia, an olive plant native to eastern Asia. He took advantage of the pandemic to make money for himself, getting in contact with hedge funds who were trying to capitalize on the disaster. He essentially used his fraudulent conspiracy blogging to spread misinformation and hypocritically made millions off it.

People need to watch this film, and we need more like it, to help break the misinformation machine surrounding disease prevention and the spread of unscientific anti-vaccine fear mongering. I don’t doubt some of the people spreading this misinformation are unlike Mr. Krumwiede in the film; there’s no reason to believe there is some kind of profit motive behind the spreading of this anti-vaccination misinformation, but I wouldn’t put it past anyone to figure out a way to profit from it.

As expressed in the film, not only is it inhuman to try convincing people to refuse help that may save lives, the act of spreading this information is no different than manslaughter if the misinformation ends up causing death – which has already occurred and is likely going to become a bigger problem as the anti-vaccine movement increases. With lives at stake, there is no reason anyone should not fiercely shut down any such talk and misinformation.

There is no doubt that homeopathic treatments can be fruitful. Many medicinal treatments surface and/or are inspired from natural sources. The problem with the homeopathic movement is that it doesn’t use any scientific method to deduce effectiveness.

As a species capable of understanding the world through reasoning, we cannot make leaps of faith on matters of life and livelihood. We have to be careful and reasonable. We can take leaps, but they must have sound reasoning behind them. In the film, one scientist working on a vaccine ended up testing one which was successful in rhesus monkey test subjects on herself and exposed herself to the virus (her father was infected) because human trials tend to be complicated and take too long. Over 2 million people had died already because of the disease, and it had infected almost 100 million people with a mortality rate of up to 30%. She had the science backing her up, and she took that leap. It was a leap, but a leap of reasoning, not faith. It was dangerous, and stupid, but her risk saved millions of lives.

This film made me more certain in my educational and professional desire. The film didn’t introduce me to anything I didn’t already know, but it gives an incredibly accurate impression of the difficulties scientists face such as “the fact that before researchers can study a virus, they need to figure out how to grow it in cell cultures in the lab, without the virus destroying all the cells (New Scientist). The film also “shows how reconstructing the course of an outbreak can provide crucial clues, such as how many people an infected person can give a virus to, how many of them get sick, and how many of them die (Slate).”

Suffice to say, I highly recommend it to everyone. The first part of the film was the most difficult to bear, especially for fathers and mothers, but it sets the tone of the film in a jarringly powerful way. Disease is no joke, no game, and nothing to conspire about. And for your sake, stop touching your face so much. You’re likely to give yourself a mortal disease.


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