“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” [The title of the 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky, who criticized the anti-evolution creationist movement.]
Almost 30% of humans carry the Human Papillomavirus. In women, HPV has been linked to 90% of all cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine is 90% effective at preventing infection by HPV. How is it that a virus evades our complex human immune system?
The answer is evolution. The multiple strains of HPV which lie dormant and unkilled in our bodies have adapted to our immune response; those strains which could not temper or evade our immune response were killed, and those that went unkilled then reproduced and became the strains that today routinely suppress our body’s natural defenses. In fact, the ability of a virus to survive, repopulate, and co-habit with our normal cell tissue only makes sense in the light of evolution. The HPV vaccine amends the failure of our body by providing an external means to trigger the desired immune response . Without evolution, one has to posit some unfalsifiable and possibly malicious deity whose existence is consumed with the creation of tiny biological curiosities that wreak havoc on our species. When understanding the natural world, I prefer evolution to a construct.
And so it was a little strange that Gov. Rick Perry leapt to the defense of the HPV vaccine. Perry not only mis-understands the meaning of the phrase “scientific theory,” he chooses to wield it like a machete and then hack at evolution. Each stroke of his tongue seems meant to slash evolution from a grand view of life to some unrecognizable stump whose only merit is that it is somehow equal in stature the cheap theology and pseudo-science of literal Biblical creationism.
Said Perry of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “HPV vaccine causes mental retardation” claim,
“I think that was a statement that had no truth in it, no basis in fact.” [Gov. Rick Perry, Ref. 3]
Perry, who signed an executive order requiring pre-teen girls to receive the HPV vaccine (with parental opt-out), has come out swinging against the Theory of Evolution. This is a terrifying behavior, because a scientific theory is hypothesis that is not only based on facts, but is better than facts because it explains them and predicts new ones which allow us to make progress in understanding and fighting disease.
Yet, while Perry defends his policy choice – one which is meant to insure that the co-evolution of HPV is stopped dead in its tracks – he so easily dismisses the very scientific theory that has given us the power to understand and master our immune response. Without that theory, cervical cancer becomes some punishment whose origin is shrouded in fear and whose treatment is a dose of guess washed down with a sip of hope.
It’s either sad, or funny, or both, that a person so focused on running a country cannot command a consistent and complete view of the facts. He changes his allegiance to the facts depending on whether he needs to support his policy choices or demonize the choices of other people. Choosing the facts that support your policies, rather than the policies that are supported by facts, is just the kind of behavior that led us to war and economic collapse in the last decade. Do we want that again?
 “Immune response to human papillomavirus after prophylactic vaccination with AS04-adjuvanted HPV-16/18 vaccine: Improving upon nature.” Gynecologic Oncology Volume 110, Issue 3, Supplement 1, September 2008, Pages S1-S10. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090825808004939
 “Rick Perry knocks Michele Bachmann’s HPV story.” Politico. September 14, 2011. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/63526.html