Benjamin Franklin was against smallpox vaccination — until his own unvaccinated son died of smallpox, whereupon Franklin changed sides and began urging other parents to vaccinate their children.
This has always struck me as a bit of a black mark against Franklin’s rationality. He’d always known that smallpox kills; he’d always known that vaccinations (at least in the early 18th century) could also kill. As a parent, he’d weighed one risk against the other and used his best judgment about where to place his bets. In a world where smallpox deaths were commonplace, his own son’s death was just one more virtually insignificant data point. Could inoculation have been an unacceptable risk against a disease that killed 100,000 people a year, but a prudent precaution against a disease that killed 100,001?
That’s how I feel, too, about Senator Rob Portman’s turnabout on the issue of gay marriage after learning that his son is gay. Continue reading ‘History Repeats Itself’