I’m angry so today you get what you came for…
I wrote a post on Autism and Vaccines a while back that went through why there are people still arguing about this and took the position that I don’t think that there is a link between autism and thimerosal but that some of the arguments that people on the other side make do have some validity, though not compelling. I specifically ended the post saying that I fully believe that all children should get vaccinated, that mine are, and that in any event thimerosal isn’t in the single dose shots anymore. I won’t go into the whole thing here but apparently not being rabidly pro or con and calling the other side idiots makes me an idiot. Fascinatingly the worst ones are from those I agree with (no link with thimerosal; vaccines good), although the opposition ones aren’t all that friendly either, especially on the original post. I got one such comment on the 21st. Here’s the last paragraph:
I think what you’re not getting is the danger inherent in continuing to describe this as an open question. For parents, this is as good as saying vaccines are dangerous. Possibly dangerous, maybe dangerous, potentially dangerous…all adds up to “dangerous” in the minds of people looking to do right by their kids. What they need to hear, loud and clear, is that the science shows there is no issue as to thimerosal. I know you said that…after a long post insinuating the opposite.
Well, let me retort. Your argument that we need to say firmly that there is nothing going on is the absolute worst crap from scientists and public health officials that infuriates me. Your premise is: Vaccines are good, people should take them, we should tell them what they need to hear to get them. Your implication is that people are stupid and can’t understand complexity and will run away because you told them that one small point of the opposition has some validity. “Oh my God, we can’t admit that people that don’t agree with us could have a valid point!” I do not believe that and I also refuse to withhold the whole truth from people, complicated as it may be (well, it’s not that much – Vaccines good, people should take them, science is complex).
Who do you think the public will listen to?
Public health official 1: No problem, no problem, no problem. Anything you’ve heard otherwise is wrong. They are idiots as is anyone who questions this position.
Public health official 2: I understand your concerns and the scientific issues behind them. There are reasons why those issues when taken into context of other data aren’t compelling. The overall picture of x is of safety.
You will convince no one with your ‘no problem, no problem’ and in fact will get people’s backs up and less likely to trust you (DDT, no problem; leaded gasoline, no problem; lead paint, no problem; PCBs, no problem; asbestos, no problem; tobacco, no problem; arsenic, no problem….um until they were problems and everyone knew it. Whoops! There went our credibility!). This is the problem with much of the government and the public health community in general – “Don’t scare the public, they’re like little kiddies you don’t want to spook”. The end result is that when something really is a problem that you thought wasn’t likely a problem, the public realizes you weren’t being straight with them and loses all trust. The same applies for preparing for a flu pandemic/epidemic that Effect Measure covers so well. It all has an aspect of “Let’s not do anything to prepare people for a potential problem in the name of people keeping calm (and probably $$).” This doesn’t mean sounding the alarm at the smallest thing but it means being straight with people when they want answers.
People can handle things better than you think. They deal with uncertainty and complex problems every day. Our fast paced media makes us think that we have to deliver sound bytes too. You don’t, you just have to be a smart communicator. Scientists (as much as we like to think we do) don’t have a monopoly on understanding complexity. Sure, some people will over-react because they don’t want to take any risk voluntarily and they may be harmed. I believe that there are enough people out there to do the right thing. For me, I’d rather tell the truth and let people make informed decisions (good or bad), than lie in the name of health.