Read All About It: Senior Paper Excerpts

Outside of newspaper, our staff does exist and write. Somewhat recently — November — this year’s seniors were tasked with finishing up their senior research paper under senior adviser Phil Comito. The papers were a sort of persuasive cumulative result of source analysis, critical thinking, and, of course, research. Every senior class writes a senior paper. Some of our staff has agreed to share excerpts from their senior papers — highly scored, and researched well, nothing to feel vaguely embarrassed about strangers reading.

Claire Bishop Martin, Ray Doss, and Rachel Brewer provided their papers. The following excerpts are from “Vaccines Cause Autism and Other Lies” by Bishop Martin, “Standardized America: Why The U.S. Should Resolve Its Testing Crisis” by Doss, and “Erasing The Past: ISIS and Cultural Destruction” by Brewer.

Vaccines Cause Autism and Other Lies”:

In this excerpt, Bishop Martin disproves Andrew Wakefield’s original paper on the supposed link between autism and vaccines.

Through the history of vaccinations there have been several different anti-vaccination movements, all with varying points of validity. The current anti-vaccination movement’s main point is that vaccines disrupt the body’s natural immune responses, and that the chemicals contained in vaccines will actually harm the recipient. This group of naturalistic anti-vaxxers finds its roots in a paper published in 1998 by a Dr. Andrew Wakefield (now Mr. Wakefield as he lost his license). This 5-page-long paper published by the scientific journal The Lancet managed to stir up a dispute 17 years ago that is still being fiercely fought to this day, which in all honesty is pretty incredible. Without knowing what it is it’s a fairly unremarkable paper. To encapsulate it, 12 children between the ages of 3 and 10 were referred to a pediatric (or paediatric as the Brits say, also how it’s spelled in the actual paper) gastroenterology unit with a history of normal development followed by loss of acquired skills. Upon examination it was determined that this delayed mental development and gastrointestinal issues stemmed in eight of the twelve children with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. After making this assertation the paper calls for more research to be done in regards to the correlation between developmental disorders (especially autism) and vaccines.

As Brian Deer, an outspoken opponent of Andrew Wakefield’s views on vaccination, puts it, the whole paper is an “elaborate fraud”. The first issue can be found in the study’s sample size, twelve children, hardly the amount to start forming hypotheses off of. Of those twelve children, all had had their medical histories misinterpreted or even altered, most likely by Andrew Wakefield. Five of the children had developmental issues before even receiving the MMR vaccination and three never even had autism. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence has been Wakefield’s inability to recreate the results of this study, something relatively simple when the claims are true.

This paper is obviously fraudulent, too many aspects of it don’t add up. This begs the question, how can the anti-vaccination movement still reference this redacted paper? Well, many members of the anti-vaccination movement claim that the evidence showing that Wakefield falsified evidence was itself falsified evidence, creating a bizarre game of “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?”. These claims themselves find their root in statements made by known whistleblower microbiologist David Lewis (Mercola, 2012). 28 other studies have also come out seemingly supporting the evidence found by Wakefield, however 6 self-controlled case series studies, 2 ecological studies, 1 case crossover trial, 5 time series trials, 17 case-control studies, 27 cohort studies and 5 randomized controlled trials have found his evidence to be false. One study currently being undergone at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina highlights some of the issues researchers face trying to verify the claims of Wakefield. In this study 275 children with regressive autism and bowel disease are being examined for a link between their afflictions and vaccines. So far 82 have been tested, of which 70% (57) were found to have a vaccine strain of measles present in their body.

But consider this, in a nationwide survey conducted in 2014, the CDC found that 91.5% of children between the ages of 19 and 35 months had been received the MMR vaccine. Which means the vaccination rate in this group of afflicted children is much lower than the national average, making this valuable information in proving exactly the opposite of what this study was trying to prove. … The only thing this study is really able to prove is that there is a disproportionately high number of children with autism who also suffer from bowel disease.

Full text: Vaccines Cause Autism and Other Lies

“Standardized America: Why The U.S. Should Resolve Its Testing Crisis”:

In this excerpt, Doss discusses the business of education.

[I]n today’s modern world it is more obvious then ever, testing companies focus more on profit than the basic educational needs of their students.

“In a capitalist society, if there’s a market, somebody will figure out how to serve it” said Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of Fair Test, a nonprofit organization working with the goal of stopping the misuse of standardized tests. This quote holds a large amount of truth. Could it be that our system of government is to blame for the rise of profit in the testing system?

One example of a Capitalism-based education system can be seen in the success of the company Pearson. Founded in 1844 by Samuel Pearson, the company was merely a building and engineering business. Soon after it quickly grew and became one of the world’s largest and most successful construction companies for the time. As Pearson continued to grow, the corporation wore many different hats. Through acquiring newspaper companies, publishers, and eventually broadcasting corporations, it became very clear that the intent of Pearson was not construction, it was profit. Over a hundred years after its founding in 1844, Pearson acquired the education division of Harper Collins, and became Pearson Education in 1998 (Pearson PLC, Wikipedia). This made Pearson what it is today, the largest education and publishing company in the world, bringing in $9 billion annually (Alyssa Figueroa, Alternet).

This is just one of many examples of companies turning education into a business, and one of the biggest sources of revenue for these corporations is issuing standardized tests. Pearson, for example, is paid millions of dollars by different U.S. states to produce these tests. They have a $500 million contract with the state of Texas and other contracts made in states like New York. They have also acquired many other education based corporations, for example Connections Academy, a for-profit charter school company (Pearson PLC, Wikipedia). Pearson also owns the GED program, so even in the case of students looking to drop out of the entire U.S. education system, Pearson can still turn a profit off of them. This is not an education system based on students needs or desires, this is a system based off of how much profit can be made. Instead of these companies looking to educate, they are looking to take advantage of the students they consider their “customers.”

These companies are also nearly impossible to challenge. In 2011 Pearson spent almost $700,000 lobbying in multiple states (Alyssa Figueroa, Alternet). These corporations have the ability to pass laws in their favor, and continue to take advantage of students just trying to obtain an education. This is a clear example of a company putting profits before the students. Companies using vertical integration to dominate a market is something that does happen, but it shouldn’t happen to an education system. Capitalism has no place in education.

Full text: Standardized America: Why The U.S. Should Resolve Its Testing Crisis

Erasing The Past: ISIS and Cultural Destruction

In this excerpt, Brewer discusses the destruction of archaeological sites and its use as a propaganda technique for ISIS.

ISIS also uses the destruction of archaeological sites as propaganda, both for the attraction of more recruits and for inciting the desired reaction from the rest of the world. ISIS is very deliberate in its decisions regarding the release of its videos for media coverage. It carefully calculates which audience it hopes to appeal to and how best to reach each given audience. This can be seen in its decisions regarding the language in which different videos are released. ISIS releases the videos intended for western audiences in English, such as the videos depicting the beheadings of western hostages. The reaction ISIS hopes to draw from the West is one of terror, and the subjects of the videos it releases to the West reflect this intent (Jones, “What is ISIS’ Media Strategy”). On the other hand, the videos released in Arabic are intended for the Arabic-speaking world. So far, all of the videos pertaining to the destruction of archaeological sites are in Arabic, and thus targeting Arabic-speaking individuals. It can be deduced that these videos are reaching out to possible recruits who might be attracted to the power and purpose displayed by ISIS extremists in the demolition videos.

The horrified reaction of the Western world is really just a bonus, and the media’s English translations simply help broadcast the videos to potential English speaking recruits abroad. With the media as active as it is in covering ISIS’ actions, the organization doesn’t have to put much effort into reaching its foreign supporters. Of course, it does extend its propaganda to English speaking Muslims through its online magazine, Dabiq, but it is the videos that are receiving much of the attention and sparking the most interest. ISIS’ ability to use the razing of archaeological sites as a fear tactic and publicity stunt has only developed over time, and what began as 20 seconds of footage has evolved into months of world wide trepidation punctuated by moments of devastation.

As Joanne Farchakh explains, “ISIS is manipulating the world in its dramas of destruction. …There are no stories in the media without an ‘event.’ First, (ISIS) gave the media blood. Then the media decided not to show any more blood. So it has given them archaeology” (Fisk). As explained by Jones, propaganda is essential to ISIS’ success: “ISIS’ grand strategy requires that it continuously pull Muslims into itself in order to continue to expand…since people are fleeing the caliphate as refugees in all directions expanding the ranks of its army for further military offensives depends on a steady supply of foreign fighters” (“What is ISIS’ Media Strategy”). Recruits are flooding in, and not only from ISIS occupied regions. ISIS is appealing to Americans and Europeans as well, and Belgium currently has the highest per capita rate of foreign ISIS recruits. As Jones concludes, “ISIS is certainly aware of how their actions were discussed in the media…and they use that reaction to further their own propaganda goals” (“What is ISIS’ Media Strategy”). Unfortunately, even if a media blackout could be put in place, it would do little use as it is almost impossible to censor the internet. The internet is so decentralized, no one can censor anything permanently. Thus, the documentation and the distribution of knowledge regarding ISIS’ heinous crimes remains the best option against its blossoming propaganda campaign.

Full text: Erasing The Past: ISIS and Cultural Destruction