On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon, and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time, a Gallup poll reported 58 percent of the country opposed this endeavor.
While I was too young to actually recall him saying this, I do remember always being fascinated with astronomy, studying the solar system, and very closely following the space program. I remember the space race being an important part of our studies in elementary and junior high school. I learned every possible fact about our planets (when we still had nine, before the demotion of Pluto), and all of the then-known moons in our solar system.
So many kids found science and space exploration exciting.
I vividly remember that fateful Sunday night, July 20, 1969, when the United States landed the first people on the Moon (the same year that the “Miracle Mets” won the World Series, and the Jets won the Super Bowl). The Moon landings were once held up as a pinnacle of what we can achieve through science, and it never occurred to me that people might someday not believe that humans had accomplished this incredible feat.
I’m sure I never gave much thought in 1969 as to where we’d be 50 years later, but I’m sure I would have been appalled at the anti-science sickness gripping so many people on the political extremes. Paranoia has always been a part of the American psyche, but it is now dangerous. Scientific fact is often maligned and ignored, replaced instead by feverish fictions spun by any attention-seeker with an internet connection and a social media account.
Scientists agree the greatest threat facing Earth right now is human-caused climate change, yet large numbers of people deny its existence, despite the near unanimous consensus of the scientific community. Similarly, scientists agree we are experiencing the worst measles outbreak in a generation as a result of people who reject the advice of doctors and choose not to vaccinate their children.
The anti-science “vaccine choice advocates” are a small, but incredibly vocal, group, consisting of people at both ends of the political spectrum who insist that vaccines are more dangerous than disease outbreaks. One such extremist at the recent anti-vaxxer rally in Albany — headlined by Robert Kennedy Jr., and former daytime television host Del Bigtree — had a sign stating, “Like many diseases, measles is a beneficial disease, strengthens immune system, prevents cancer.”
In many ways, we are in a dark time in this country, reminiscent of the days of Galileo when he was convicted of heresy and confined for the rest of his life for daring to believe the Earth revolves around the sun. The climate deniers are doing incalculable damage to our planet and all life on it, simply by helping to delay the drastic actions we must take to save it.
The anti-vaxxer extremists are contributing to a giant risk facing our population, particularly children with legitimate medical reasons to not vaccinate, and are jeopardizing our society’s health.
I know we walked on the moon a half-century ago. I know climate change is real, and that it is caused by human activity. I know vaccines, extensively tested and continuously refined by scientists, have saved millions and millions of lives. I know not to get medical advice from Facebook groups or a YouTube show.
I trust my doctors. I believe in science.
The author is the Assemblyman representing the 81st district, which includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.