tv Tavis Smiley PBS December 12, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST
good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight, first a conversation with best-selling author eula biss whose thome on emmunity was name one of the best nonfiction books of the year by "the new york times" book review and "entertainment weekly." "on immunity" looks at the irrational fear surrounding immunization. we'll pivot to a conversation with musician extraordinary billy chiles whose tribute has been nominated for three grammys. the "map of the treasure" features artists such as allison fleming, allison krause, yo yo yoma. we will close with a performance. we're glad you've joined us. those conversations and a performance by billy chiles coming up right now.
it is a cultural conundrum in this country despite hard science that irrefutably supports vaccines as the only way to eradicate life threatening illnesses like whooping cough and polio. many parents are embracing unfounded fears over medical facts. best-selling author eula biss, her book on immunity has been named one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2014 by both "the new york times" book review and "entertainment weekly." go figure. good to have you on this program. >> it's wonderful to be here. >> that's quite a list. new york time and "entertainment weekly." >> it's high on my list of things i never thought will happen. >> all jokes aside, i suspect that is the case because it is a subject matter that "new york times" readers and "entertainment weekly" readers teamwork different audience, you but -- two different audiences, but everybody is concerned about this issue. >> yeah. i started writing this book over
five years ago, six years ago. at this time, it of just beginning to be an -- it was just beginning to be an issue. now it's something people are thinking about. in part, what i started write being five years ago has started to bear fruit in that people not vaccinating is leading to bigger and bigger epidemics. >> you were -- you're not a doctor, not a scientist, not an expert in this regard -- >> exactly. >> you have been -- >> i'm no expert. >> you've done the research. you're a bit of an expert, not a doctor or scientist. and yet you, for whatever reason which you'll tell me now, were enthralled enough with the subject neither spend five years working on it. why? >> yeah. you know, i think because it branches into so many other areas that go beyond medicine. and i began researching for totally personal reasons. i was pregnant, and eye heard some vague things about vaccination, and i thought i'd ethic them out.
then the more i read, the more i realized this is a tremendous subject that touches on environmentalism and people's feeling about the government and people's feeling about the medical establishment. feminism. all these huge topic touched vaccination. that kept me reading and thinking about it and trying to kind of untangle this knot. >> i would add to that race and class. we've got a list that you detailed for us. how would you characterize the community that is for vaccination and the community or individuals who are scared of, against vaccination? are there ways to profile these groups? >> yep. i think there's a temptation to try to think of people who don't vaccinate as a homogenous
community. i'm not sure that's true. i'm not sure the word community is accurate. in some cases, there are communities where people aren't vaccinating, and it is part of the community ethics. but then there's just individuals who are acting out of their own sense of sometimes it's a discomfort with capitalism. sometimes it's a discomfort with medical systems. sometimes there's personal history feeding in. i think like i can talk to five wju people who don't vaccinate, and they've got five different reasons for it. >> we'll go right inside the book. if the signs say vaccinate -- i intimated in the introduction -- why not snacks. >> some of the most interesting research is about risk assessment and how ordinary citizens like me handle risk assessment and how -- how irregular our risk assessments are. so one of the things that i hear parents saying really often is if there's any risk associated with vaccines, then i don't feel comfortable using them.
the problem is that everything we do is associated with some risk. if your child is going ride in a car, go swimming, play soccer, all of those things involve risk. and if your child doesn't do any of those things, they're probably sitting too much. that involves a risk, too. yeah. there's major health risks associated with sitting too much. so you know, this thinking that it's -- you know, that we're unwilling to do anything that involves any risk is a mirage in that everything we do in our lives involves some degree of risk. and when i was doing this research, i started reflecting on why do i take the risks that i take in my life. i think some of the risks i take for reasons that aren't spectacularly noble. you know, like whether i put my son in a car, it's usually for convenience. i'm taking that risk because that's an easy way to get him
from one place to another. when i put him on a bicycle, it's because that's how i like to live, that's how i like to get around. the risks we take when we vaccinate are real. i think it's important for people to acknowledge that. but compared to driving in a car, they're incredibly minimal, incredibly small. people are injured through vaccinations. but the number of people who are injured does not even come close to comparing to the people injured in car accidents. >> so what is -- what are the things, what is the storyline, the narrative that people are reading or hearing that they are afraid of? >> it's hard to say -- >> give examples, what are they scared? >> that vaccination will give you cancer. >> okay. >> hurt your brain in some way. give you allergies, give you autism. give you any -- give you any
diseases that we don't not well. i think many of the diseases that are associated with vaccination -- a fear of the unknown being projected. >> you're afraid it's going to cause some other snarm. >> yeah. and there's a fear that we don't know. a fear that our knowledge is incomplete, which of course it is. our knowledge is always incomplete. as a fear that we're working with incomplete knowledge. i want to make clear i'm not talking about other people exactly because i think there's also this us and them thing in the subject that gets really unproductive. i have these fears and that's part of why i wrote the book. i was interested in looking at why i felt afraid of something that is so productive for so many people. so when i was talking about, you know, why we take certain risks and i was thinking about cúdz vaccination, the risks we take around vaccination do have a noble cause. and it's not just protecting thñ
child that we're vaccinating. it's protecting whoever that child might come into contact with. >> i don't think i have to be a sinnic to make it point although some people are cynical. but there may be legitimate reasons for making the point which is -- how i do put this? i can understand why parts of the medical/pharmaceutical industry pushed certain things. they want to make money. i'm not naive. they want to make money. and people talk about being cynics or skeptics. a lot of people think that the health industry isn't about healing us, it's about treating us so they make money. i get that. who would be behind -- what is the value, what do they get behind pushing the narrative that vaccines are bad for you? like who is spreading that message? what would they get out of pushing that message?
if the soybeans says that vaccines -- >> tass hat's an interesting id. as much as you have the idea that pharmaceutical companies are profiting off of vaccines, there are some profiting off of fear of vaccines. >> in what way? >> alternative medicine practitioners. i want to say again that i'm not anti-alternative medicine. i use it sometimes. but there's an interest in seeing people turn away from mainstream medicine in order to support this business. alternative medicine is a huge, huge industry. there's one interest group, and then, you know, when i think about it, i don't think it's really in anyone's best interest, you know. when we think of the global good for us to be refusing vaccination. but there are people who feel
that it's in their children's interest. >> i don't think you should be embarrassed by this, but since we've had this conversation privately, i will go public to make a point. i'm one of eight boys. there are ten kids in my family, two girls, eight boys. because my mother had these boys over a period of time, the science kept going back and forth about whether a boy should be circumsized. had to be circumsized or notdenting whnotden. denting on what year -- >> yes. moms talk about it all the time. >>denting what year you were born -- depending what year you were born, you may be circums e circumsized or not. i put my family business out there, but to get at how people trust science -- you know where i'm going with, this right? when it does change from time to time. forget circumcision, every day i look up what's good or bad for
me. they say eat this, don't eat this. this causes this, this doesn't -- the science goes back and forth like a freaking tennis match between convenient e venus and serena. it -- between venus and serena. it seems there's legitimacy that people don't know what to believe. does that make sense? >> absolutely you. they used to say only put babies on their stomachs. and now it's only put babies on their backs. i think there's a sense of, yeah, we need to put our trust in something other than science. they're saying one thing one day and something different another day. what's interesting about vaccination, it's old in terms of medicine. really old technology. we've been using vaccination, some form, for hundreds of years now. we've lm legislation -- we have almost nothing in modern medicine that we've been using that long. it's been consistently productive even though, you know, the older vaccines were
much more dangerous than vaccine we're using now. there was consistently a net gain for people to be vaccinating rather than letting disease run rampant. and it's one area where i feel like the message hasn't changed a whole lot. maybe in particular vaccines there's a weighing of which is better, the oral will polio or inactivated. we switched to inactivated because it is safer. other countries use the oral polio vaccine for other reasons. there's the weighing of -- you know, what's best in this moment. but the science hasn't gone back and forth about whether this is a dangerous or productive technology. >> from autism on down the list, there are parents who feel that, again, these vaccines are harmful. have caused harm, caused damage to their family or loved ones. don't want to give the book away
per se. did you come to a particular conclusion? >> i did. i started in one place when i was writing this book andened someplacies. -- and ended someplace else. when i started, i was what people would call vaccine hesitant. i didn't vaccinate my son against hep b, the first in the childhood schedule. in the course of researching, i came to regret the decision and feel that i made the wrong choice. not just for my son, but for my community, as well. >> it's an honest assessment. that's why it's on everybody's best book of the year list including, as i said earlier, "the new york times" and "entertainment weekly." by eula biss, called "on immunity and inoculation." thanks for the work. good to have you on this program. >> thank you very much. coming up, a conversation and performance from grammy nominee three time over billy chiles. stay with us. of
despite good intentions, tributes albums it oftcan often disappoint. but billy chiles celebrates the groundbreaking work of lorne niro does not disappoint. "map to the treasure" is a testament not only to her artistry but to billy chiles' creativity, as well. he'llen our program tonight with a -- heel end our program tonight with a performance from the. does. good to have you here. >> great to be here. >> you call this "map to the treasure" re-imagining. >> exactly. >> the critics have labelled this a tribute album. i even used the word tribute a moment ago in introducing it. >> yeah, uh-huh. >> you agree, disagree? like dislike it? >> i didn't approach if as a tribute album because to me a tribute would be something that
kind of pays homs to the person and is mostly about that person that you're doing the tribute to. this is more kind of a re-imagining of music where we take her music and kind of put it through the prism of our own experience. kind of a joint kind of production. >> for those who do not know who l lauren niro is, how would you describe sthher? >> as one of the most important songwriters there america has produced. and someone that everybody who wants to write songs should check out in the same sense that anyone who wants to play jazz piano should check out herbie hancock. she was somebody who had these different influences and kind of synthesized them into this or n
organic hole. she was coming from the doo-wop, the jazz -- john coltrain of a big influence on her. and she was coming from just the basic folk singer song writing genre, as well. and all of these get synthesized into this kind of organic hole where you get -- where you then just you focus on the drama and the power of the stories that she's telling. >> great storyteller, half italian, half jewish. change her name. >> yeah. it was renally n-i-g-r-o. and i guess she didn't want -- >> she didn't want nigro. half italian, half jewish is enough. i got to be a negro, too? changed it to ,é!n-y-r-o. inducted posthumously into the rock and roll hall of fame, 2012, i think? >> yeah, 2012 she goes into the
hall of fame. >> well served. >> yeah. degrees in '97. >> of ovarian cancer. the same disease that claimed her mom at the same age. >> wow. >> at age 49. >> died young. way too young. >> way too young. >> speaking of young, you've got young folk and not so young folk on this project. everybody and their mother. >> yeah, i know -- >> all of your friends showed up for this one. >> i know. >> sean colvin, chris bowdie, lisa fisher, renee fleming and yo yo ma, ricky lee jones, allison krauss, diai ddiane ree diane stevens, everybody -- >> yeah, it turned into this thing that -- it started out with the idea that -- i've been thinking about this for the past 12, 15 years. but never could figure out how
to do it because it was hard for me to conceive of one singer who could cover all of the ground that lauren nyro, cover with her own song. i thought that it had to be multiple singers. it prevented me from doing it over the years. i got tired of it being on the back burner. i called my agent who made a few years phone calls. turned into this thing. >> your phone calls were answered literally. >> yeah. >> answered and showed up. i've got 30 seconds. tell me about the track that you'll perform live, "the confession," with becca stevens. >> that's a song laura wrote on "eli and the 13th confession." from my perspective, it's a song about -- she takes the idea of virgin, you know, and turns it into somebody who's new to love, you know. and -- and is new to this
feeling of intense love for her lover, you know. and it's a beautiful song. >> a beautiful song. and it can be played by -- couldn't be played by a more beautiful person who has a gift that i have loved for years and finally got him on this program for a project awfully worthy. it's called "map to the treasure: re-imagining lauren nyro," produced by larry cline. you've got a wonderful team behind billy chiles on this project. so as billy mentioned, he's going to perform a song called "the confession." he'll be joined by singer becca stevens as he gets ready to hop on the keys. i will say thank you for coming on. >> thank you for having me. >> thanks for watching, and enjoy billy chiles and becca stevens. as always, keep the faith.
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