Idiotic comment of the week

In a nod to fellow ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton, with his hilarious Dumbass Quote of the Day, I hereby inaugurate the “Idiotic Comment of the Week,” culled from this very blog. I don’t guarantee that I’ll do it every week, but when I see neuron-necrosing idiocy below and beyond the usual call of pseudoscientists and quackery boosters who occasionally like to try to match their “wits” (such as they are) with my reality- and science-based commenters, usually to hilarious effect, I’ll give it the “honor” it deserves. This week, despite highly intense competition (thanks to a recent infestation of new anti-vaccine trolls even dumber than the old bunch of anti-vaccine trolls), this particular comment sank below all the rest with its sheer unrelenting level of utter ignorance:

May I make a suggestion? ….wash your hands, exercise, eat well, live healthy, & fight off bacteria and viruses the old fashion way (like humans have done for 50,000 years.)

Yeah, because that worked so well, say…350 years ago. Back in London in the 1600s, John Graunt compiled one of the earliest examples of vital statistics. In 1662, he published Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made Upon the Bills of Mortality. In this book, Graunt was the first to attempt to construct life tables and mortality tables based on the numbers of births and reported deaths in London. As a tercentenary tribute stated:

300 years ago John Graunt, a London draper, published some “Natural and Political Observations on the Bills of Mortality.” These observations represent the 1st, as well as an extremely competent attempt, to draw scientific conclusions from statistical data. The present study illustrates Graunt’s careful scientific approach, his ability to extract the essence from what by modern standards are distinctly untrustworthy demographic data, and his intuitive appreciation of the amount of interpretation his findings would tolerate. Based upon ratios and proportions of vital events and consideration of the way in which these changed in different circumstances, his analysis is amazingly free of major statistical errors. His statistical understanding was consideration. He is responsible for the 1st scientific estimates of population size, the concept of the life table, the idea of statistical association, the 1st studies of time series, and a pioneer attempt to draw a representative sample. Graunt’s book continued to be worthy of reading today, for it laid the foundations of the science of statistics.

So what did John Graunt find?

Graunt found that the average life expectancy in London was 27 years, with 65% of people dying before age 16, the vast majority due to childhood infectious diseases, diseases, I note, that have now been largely brought under control by vaccines, antibiotics, and advances in medical care. Steve Rappaport reports in Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth-Century London that, a century earlier in the 1500s, of men who made it to age 25 to 26, the ages at which most men became full citizens, the average further life expectancy was 28 years, meaning that men who made it to adulthood would have about a 50-50 chance of living to be older than 53 or 54. One-tenth died by their mid-30s, and only around one-third lived to be older than sixty. I’m not quoting these statistics for precision, but merely to show that life expectancy sucked until fairly recently. Indeed, most of the gains in life expectancy that we’ve experienced have occurred in the last 150 years or less.

As for prehistoric humans 50,000 years ago, it was uncommon for them to live past age 40.

So, yeah, it would be a really good thing to go back to how we “kept microbes at bay” 50,000 years ago. That worked so well, didn’t it?

Finally, comes a comment that plumbs the depths of stupid even more than the first comment, making this award a two-fer. First, commenter Joseph C wrote a very reasonable response to the first comment:

If you want to go back to the life expectancy humans had 50,000 years ago, then go for it. Also, most biologists believe that homo sap is much older than 50,000 years.

Indeed. But then a commenter named brian responded:

how long did people live 50000 years ago?
At least they didnt have any iatrogenesis to contend with!

Yikes! At first I thought he was making fun of anti-vaccinationists, but perusing the rest of his comments (for example, this one) shows me that he was serious. He really does appear to think that iatrogenic injuries kill more people than infectious diseases did 50,000 years ago.

As I am wont to say, perhaps more often than I should, against such ignorance the gods themselves contend in vain.