A half century ago, at the dawn of the TV age, there was a big hue-and-cry against flouridation, the addition of chemicals to drinking water aimed at increasing its flouride content.
The goal was better teeth. It worked.
Despite a recent fall-off in dental visits most kids keep their teeth. My own kids have had far fewer cavities than I did. Yours too, probably.
Where did the opposition come from? Compulsion was one cause. Once the water supply was flouridated you could not escape it. Any more than you could escape the impact of TV broadcasting.
Now, with the rise of the Internet, comes a new movement against vaccination. Again, compulsion may have something to do with it. It may also, partly, be a reaction against the Internet. It may also be the Internet itself.
There is unanimity among medical experts, and therefore "mainstream" health sites, on the wisdom of vaccinating children against disease.
Despite this, resistance to vaccines is growing and with predictable results. Kids are once again suffering from diseases we once thought had been wiped out.
It's the way vaccines work. To wipe out the bug everyone must be protected. As people shun protection the bug thrives. The more protection is shunned, the more people get sick and, in time, the bug has a chance to mutate and overcome the vaccine.
Naturally some are blaming the Internet. Anyone can put together a professional looking Web site. How something looks is no guarantee of its truth. And appeals to emotions work better than those to the intellect.
The Internet, like TV, is a two-edged sword. Both have enormous education benefits. Both can be used to misinform.
The reaction of the profession to the rise of online Luddism has, so far, been to circle the wagons. The coming launch of Medpedia is an attempt to draw people away from Wikipedia, and by extension any site lacking authority.
The question is whether it will work. Is the issue really the Internet at all, and its ability to reinforce one's own opinions? It's easy, online, to avoid anything you disagree with. No matter what you believe you will find abundant validation here.
Placing a site like Medpedia online is no guarantee it will be read. So how do we get truth to people, about flouridation, vaccination, and a host of other public health issues?
Will the Internet be the final triumph of Ludd? Or is there a way for scientific truth to triumph here over calls to emotion?