It will be an extraordinary achievement if Scotland manages to eradicate Hepatitis C in just five years’ time. An unquestionably good thing, genuinely wonderful news, a stunning demonstration of the benefits of modern medicine.
If that sounds rather over-the-top, it is meant to be. For, sadly, it has become necessary to ram home a point that should not need making: the scientific method is the best way humans have to establish the truth, the reality of the world around us.
The sudden ability of anyone on the planet to become a global publisher – via an amazing scientific invention, the internet – has produced a social revolution as profound as the invention of the printing press. With predictable results.
Suddenly we are awash with fake news, conspiracy theories and bogus advice from self-taught enthusiasts. Even the Flat Earth Society is apparently enjoying an unlikely renaissance. They may be relatively harmless but the campaign against vaccinations is most definitely not.
According to the World Health Organization, the measles vaccination resulted in an 80 per cent drop in measles deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2017, saving an estimated 21.1 million lives. But a WHO expert group has warned that “measles elimination is greatly under threat”, with a resurgence of cases in countries that “had achieved, or were close to achieving, elimination” of the disease.
Today we report the good news that Scotland could eliminate Hepatitis C from this country by 2024, six years ahead of the WHO target date. Scientists in the US have also revealed the discovery of a protein on the surface of cancer cells that stops the body’s immune system from attacking them, raising hope that this “shield of armour” can be removed. Further research is required, but it is hoped this will lead to a new way to tackle hard-to-treat ovarian and breast cancers.
We have always known ‘experts’ don’t get everything right. Science is constantly evolving, theories are revised as new evidence emerges. There are often periods of uncertainty with scientific papers reporting findings at odds with each other. So there will always be ammunition for people who decide they know better – charming but ignorant fools, on-the-make charlatans and cynical vested interests – to exploit. But, in this Age of Untruth, we need to be wise enough to see through them – and put our faith in science.