Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Past Deadline: Stick a Needle in My Eye Already

I’d rather not talk about this. I’d rather change the channel on this thing that so many people are hyperventilating about – the pig bug that’s not really a pig bug. You know. Can I get through a whole column without invoking the name of the pandemic that shall not be named? (And did you realize that “pandemic” begins with “pan” and ends with “ic”? Quite telling, I daresay.)

I’ve made my decision about vaccination – despite the galaxy’s best efforts to have me waffle. Really, what I am learning from this exercise so far is that I miss the days when it felt okay to automatically trust an expert because, well, he or she was an expert and knew best. It kind of makes you wonder why anyone bothers trying to be an expert anymore. Why have experts when we have the Internet? (I am being sarcastic, in case you didn’t know.)

It reminds me of that old joke: A neurosurgeon and a novelist are at a party. The neurosurgeon says, “When I retire I am going to write a book.” The novelist says, “Oh, yeah? When I retire I am going to take up brain surgery.”

I was talking to a sensible fellow I know about vaccinations the other night and he said, “Well, at the end of this there are going to be some people saying ‘I told you so’ and others saying ‘I guess I was wrong.’” I asked, “But which will be which?” He smiled.

Which leads me to spin – a powerful operative in our society.

Most of the time I like spin. I think it is fascinating when someone can use the perfect words to persuade someone into a specific action. It’s common in politics. When you get into communications blitzes about vaccinations for pandemics, though, the spin – on both sides of the argument – can make you dizzy.

It’s a bit like statistics. When I was studying journalism I remember hearing that statistics can be manipulated to suit whatever argument is needed. That seems to be the case in communications, too. There is a counter argument for everything.

People are arguing for and against the vaccine based on ingredients, clinical trials, bad results from 30 years ago, whether or not the pharmaceutical companies can be sued if things go awry, planetary alignment and what the cat advised on Tuesday. I know lots of moms and dads who are wavering wildly from one side to the other. There is much confusion and worry.

Sometimes I think the world is too connected for our own good. It’s too easy to consult “Dr. Google” and then assume we know things. People forget to check sources and ensure information is accurate and that we are comparing apples to apples (e.g. the Canadian version versus the American one). It’s easy and natural to get caught up in the tragedy of rare cases and to scare ourselves with Dr. Google.

If you want to see hype and spin and fear all at once, check out what happens when someone on Facebook posts the question: “Should I vaccinate my kids?” Stand back.

When it comes to kids a parent can’t help but feel any risk is too much risk, but you have to weigh one type against another. Eventually you have to trust someone’s opinion. It’s definitely easier to keep one’s head in the sand and/or to blindly trust. And when I look at how content some of my friends are who have imposed news blackouts in their lives, I can totally see the merit.

Yeah, on days like these I miss that time in my life when someone else made all the big decisions. Things percolated along quite nicely, as I recall. That’s not an option anymore. Now I am the mama bird who wants to wrap big wings around my little ones and keep them safe from all the ickies out there. I put on a brave face as we fly out of the nest every day.

I’ve made my decision. I don’t have an M.D. after my name, but I can write a darned good media release about it all later.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 3/09)


Evenspor said...

Well put.

Your comments on too much information make me think of the number of emails which cross my inbox, which take all of two seconds on snopes (or just a little bit of common sense) to debunk, yet people keep passing them on.

It's no wonder a good spinner can take in so many people.

Sparky said...

so true the facebook post. I got an interesting (wacko) link commented on mine the day I took 4 year old.