Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Typhoid Mary and the Anti-Vaxxers

The measles outbreak in Southern California has been generously made possible by California law's "personal belief exemption," which allows adults to refuse vaccinations for their children or themselves based on their so-called "personal belief" that vaccines cause autism. Here "personal belief" is extended to include not simply religious and moral teachings -- the question here isn't that religion teaches that vaccination is morally wrong -- but factual errors. This allows people in Orange County, to construe medical fallacies as "belief." So it's time for a short history lesson about Mary Mallon, who went down in history as Typhoid Mary, and her commitment to her personal medical beliefs.

About a hundred years ago, some doctors told Mary Mallon that she was carrying the germs that cause typhoid fever. She had no symptoms, because she herself was immune to the disease (she might have had it when young and survived). But, the doctors told Mary she was a typhoid carrier, one of the first ever discovered,who was infected with the disease and could infect others, even if she never felt sick herself. Mary didn't believe them.

After all, she wasn't sick. She was never sick. She certainly didn't have typhoid fever. So how could other people get typhoid fever, which she didn't have, from her? It made no sense. She preferred that the doctors go about their own business and let Mary get back to her own. Mary didn't believe in the idea of a "disease carrier." More broadly, she didn't really accept the whole germ theory of disease. It just didn't make sense to her.

So Mary just kept on doing what she was doing. Which was working as a cook.

Of course, everywhere Mary worked, numbers of people who'd eaten her food began coming down with life-threatening cases of typhoid, and a few of them actually died. This was how the doctors had originally found Mary and diagnosed her as a disease carrier: she was the one person who had worked in every kitchen involved in a mysterious string of dangerous typhoid outbreaks. But what could Mary do? She didn't understand why this kept happening, but it clearly wasn't her. She was healthy as a horse. She just needed to keep looking for another kitchen job. She kept finding them.

Did I mention that Mary didn't believe in washing her hands before preparing food? Mary didn't see the point. She wasn't sick, so what could happen?

Eventually, Mary was put in enforced medical isolation; the legal mechanism might have been a little hinky, but eventually the authorities couldn't let her keep going from cooking job to cooking job and infecting people. (At least three people Mary cooked for over the course of her career died; there may have been more.) They finally decided that Mary Mallon did not have the freedom to disbelieve the doctors if she was putting public health at risk. Her personal belief that she was not infectious was outweighed by the fact that she kept infecting people.

After a few years of forced isolation, they let Mary out. They had trained her for a new job, as a laundress, which was basically safe. As long as Mary didn't prepare food for people, everything would be okay.

But Mary preferred cooking, and it paid better than the laundry did. So after a while she took an assumed name and began hiring herself out as a cook.

After continued outbreaks, they put Mary back in isolation for the rest of her life. Was this an infringement of her liberty? Certainly. Her liberty was taken away from her entirely, because she insisted on endangering other people. What Mary believed, or refused to believe, was ultimately not the point.

I've been thinking about Mary a lot lately, because of the anti-vaccine movement. Our culture gives a lot of deference and liberty to people's beliefs, and rightly so. But refusal to believe a scientific or medical fact is not a belief. You can believe that God loves everyone, or that the good in human nature outweighs the bad. You can believe that God doesn't want you to eat cheeseburgers or shellfish. But you are not free to believe that mental illness is caused by sleeping in the moonlight. You are not free to believe that eating pork causes leprosy, or that fluoride in the municipal water supply is a mind-control drug. You are not free to treat your child's case of flu with bleeding or leeches. These are not beliefs. These are mistakes. They might be harmless mistakes. But if they grow to the point that they endanger others around you, you lose any right to them.You are not free to smoke in an enclosed public space because you believe that smoking has nothing to do with cancer. You are not free to have unprotected sex after an AIDS diagnosis because you don't believe that AIDS is sexually transmitted. You are not free to drive your infant around in a car without a car seat; medical evidence has accumulated to the point where that decision has been legally taken out of parents' hands.

There is a deep American conviction that we are entitled to our beliefs. But this is true for things that are ultimately beliefs because they cannot be tested for truth or falsehood. "Jesus loves me" or "Our people were singled out by God" are not testable beliefs in the conventional sense. They are choices of perspective. "MMR vaccine causes autism" is not a belief of this kind. It is a claim of fact that can be tested. And those tests have proved it false. We are entitled to our own values. We are not entitled to simply make things up. That was Typhoid Mary's mistake.

cross-posted from Dagblog

Monday, January 05, 2015

Your New Year's Public Domain Report, 2015

I'm late with my annual public-domain update this year. But that's okay because yet again this year, nothing new entered the public domain this January 1. That's right, because of repeated extensions of the copyright laws in the US, no copyrights expired this year. Or last year. Or the year before.
Almost none have since January 1, 1979.

American copyright law started out by specifying a 14-year term, renewable once to provide 28 years of exclusive protection. That was very much in line with the original 18th-century copyright laws in Britain. By 1976, that 28 years had crept up to 56. But that year Congress passed a new copyright act, extending terms to either fifty years after the author's death or (in the case of previously existing copyrights) 75 years from the work's creation. The law didn't go into effect until 1978, and copyrights that expired in 1978 weren't protected.  So on January 1, 1979, works published in 1922 entered the public domain. Works published in 1923 did not, and still haven't.

Even with that extension, those works from 1923 would have become public on January 1, 1999. But in 1998 Congress passed another extension, variously nicknamed the Millennium Copyright Act or the Sonny Bono Act (after one of its sponsors), which added another 20 years to copyright terms. Now previously-copyrighted works stayed in copyright for 95 years. As we get closer to 2019, we can expect intense lobbying by large media companies to pass yet another extension, defying the Constitution's mandate that intellectual property be protected for "for a limited time." (Article I, section 8, clause 8.)

So there's nothing in under our public-domain tree this morning. But let's look at what would have become public domain if not for these laws.

If not for the Milennium Copyright Act:

The major headline this New Year's Day would have been Batman 's entry into the public domain. Batman would be on his own for a while, without famous supporting characters like Robin, the Catwoman, or the Joker, but they would be entering public domain in 2016 and 2017. For this year, it would just be Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Under the laws in force when he debuted of course, Batman would have become public domain in 1996. I'd like to say better late then never, but late is threatening to turn into never.

At the movies, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would all become public domain this year. So would the rest of the many, many great films produced in 1939, including Stagecoach, Of Mice and Men, Goodbye, Mr Chips, Wuthering Heights, and Dark Victory. And let's not forget Beau Geste, Babes in Arms, At the Circus with the Marx Brothers, Gunga Din, Each Dawn I Die, The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton, Ninotchka, Intermezzo, of Mice and Men, The Women, Son of Frankenstein, old Dr. Cleveland favorite The Roaring Twenties with James Cagney, and of course Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights. Installments in the Thin Man, Andy Hardy, Charlie Chan, and Mr. Moto series would leave copyright, as would classic serials starring Zorro, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, and the Lone Rangehttps://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=35762378#editor/target=post;postID=470211736745711182r.

 In music, "God Bless America" should enter the public domain this week, as should another important American classic: Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit." Also in popular music, "Back in the Saddle," "All of the Things You Are," "At the Woodchopper's Ball," "Brazil," "Go Fly a Kite," "Heaven Can Wait," "I Get Along Very Well Without You," "In the Mood," "The Lamp is Low," "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," "Over the Rainbow," "Moonlight Serenade," "South of the Border," "When You Wish Upon a Star," and "Tuxedo Junction" would all enter public domain. So would Cole Porter's "Darn That Dream," "Give Him the Oooh-La-La," "I've Got My Eyes on You," and "Well, Did You Evah?" -- not necessarily Porter's best year, but pretty good for the rest of us. In classical music, Shostakovich's 6th Symphony, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky and William Wallton's Violin Concerto would all be leaving copyright.

Finnegans Wake, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Grapes of Wrath should be entering the public domain. So should Johnny Got His Gun, The Big Sleep, The Day of the Locust, Goodbye to Berlin, Tarzan the Magnificent, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, At Swim-Two-Birds and Saint-Exupery's Sun, Wind, and Stars. Mystery novels by Eric Ambler, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and three by Agatha Christie would become free from copyright. Brecht's Galileo, Hellman's Little Foxes, and Eliot's Family Reunion would become free for all to perform, as would The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Time of Your Life, Arsenic and Old Lace, and The Philadelphia Story. Poems by Frost, Auden, May Sarton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dylan Thomas, Archibald MacLeish, Muriel Rukeyser, and Louis Macneice would enter public domain, as would the last of Yeats's poems and Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the children's book that became the musical Cats.

 According to Congress, no one has had a fair chance to make a profit off these works yet, and they will stay in copyright until at least 2035.

If not for the 1976 Copyright Act:

Chinua Achebe's classic Things Fall Apart would be entering public domain, as would Suddenly, Last Summer, Krapp's Last Tape, The Unnameable , The Dharma Bums, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Playback, Our Man in Havana, Pinter's The Birthday Party and of course Dr. No. So would poems by William Carlos Williams, e e cummings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Muriel Rukeyser, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, John Betjeman, and Djuna Barnes.

Among the films newly available in public domain would be Vertigo, Gigi, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, South Pacific, No Time for Sergeants, Aunti Mamie and The Vikings. Also entering public domain would be The Blob, The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Hercules, Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, The Fly, The Touch of Evil, The Revenge of Frankenstein, and Run Silent, Run Deep.

It would be a banner year for fans of early rock and roll, with new public-domain hits like "Johnny B. Goode," "Chantilly Lace," "16 Candles," "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Donna," "Do You Want to Dance?," "Maybe Baby," "Yakety Yak," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "The Summertime Blues," and of course, "The Flying Purple People Eater." Folkies would get public-domain access to Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" and "Kumbayah." Also in pop music, "Volare" and the themes from Rawhide and Peter Gunn would enter public domain. So would classical pieces by Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich, and John Cage.

However, all of those works will remain in private hands, usually meaning in the practical control of large corporations engaging in rent-seeking behavior, until 2054 at the earliest. Apparently, none of them count as classics yet. If you don't want to wait even longer than 2054, tell Congress next time copyright-extension time comes along.

cross-posted from Dagblog