Archive for June, 2017

Clear thinking: vaccination

2017/06/18

I really hate discovering irrationality in my thinking.

I hate seeing a cherished belief go up in smoke, not because of new evidence, but because I had been committing the sort of error that I was long ago trained to avoid.

Rational thinking, scientific skepticism – these are among my core values as a human. As such, it is very hard to watch people I love and respect express ideas or engage in actions that seem to contradict those values.

So, when a Facebook friend recently commented favourably on an article titled “Harvard Study Proves Unvaccinated Children pose no risk“, I went through a familiar and disquieting sequence:

  1. I wanted to scream at this friend, to tell them that they were wrong, to warn them away from the irrational and harmful anti-vaccination path. But of course, screaming at people rarely changes their minds. Even worse, it sets me up as an enemy, rather than as a potential ally in the search for the right answer. More awful yet, if I happen to be wrong on this point, this reaction would make it harder for my friend to correct me.
  2. I wanted to dig up a mountain of references to hurl at my friend, to help them see the error of their ways. Links to good, scientifically-sound rebuttals of the original article. Sadly, research has shown that even this approach tends to backfire – making someone even more committed to the false belief.
  3. I felt like letting it lie – there is no way for me to change my friend’s belief, so why even wade into that morass? But … but that’s not going to help anybody. At least one of us is wrong, and I want us to be as correct as possible. On anything. But especially something like this that can affect our health and our children’s health.

So what am I left with?

I am left with this: No strategy. No clever potted response. Just a conversation. An invitation.

My friend might be wrong. I might be wrong. I cannot force my friend to open their mind and accept my position, nor would I want to. That’s not how true understanding comes. What I can do is openly, publicly acknowledge my current position. I am more persuaded by the science of vaccines, and by critiques such as this one, than by the article my friend commented on.

Now, if anyone wants to have the discussion, I’m here. (“Here” means in the comments section of my blog, as well as on the Facebook post that it will create. It also means by email, for those who have my email, and any other venue that a person legitimately has for pursuing a discussion with me.)

(Once upon a time, I fantasized that my blog would be a way to reach thousands of people, to persuade and influence en masse. Today, I am content for it to be a platform to open one-on-one conversations. It may not be much, but it is enough.)