From the Archives: The Great Disconnect

Published on January 15, 2015 on sarasmanyhats.ca.

Between Communication and Critical Thinking. And, yes, HOT TOPIC ALERT: I’m going to touch on vaccination in this post. Tackling communication, critical thinking, AND my personal vaccination opinions, all in ONE post? I think the internet might just IMPLODE.

Community is not a new topic for my blog, and recently I had been mulling over the aspects of community again: in-person interaction, developing friendships, community in partnerships and networking at work, connecting with peers, online connection via Facebook, the ins and outs and pitfalls of texting, etc.

My most recent musing on community and how we communicate had been leading me to dig into the environment of internet communication and how we prepare, receive, digest, and promote information online. Yeah, just a little light thinking for this average STAHM.

Citing an article from Macleans, May 15, 2014, I’m gonna go ahead and say we are experiencing true disconnect as a culture, when connecting with information, more so than ever before. Ironic in today’s information-age and rampant communication technology, eh? The article says, ‘Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.’

But I think it’s more than that. I think we leap to ‘solutions’ to pressing problems and spread them around like gospel. And we leap to quickly-formed opinions on hot topic issues, condensing them to memes, bumper sticker-type shareables on Facebook, and ill-sourced sensational articles that ‘prove’ our point. Sadly, I think a lot of us need to wake up and realize we are completely disconnected with truth. I’m also gonna go ahead and say that I think this is because we are overstimulated as a culture and don’t know how/don’t want to spend the energy to think critically anymore.

I think there is a direct correlation between our ability to think critically and the amount of times we click on things on Facebook. The more we click, the less we think…

And now to do the unthinkable. To illustrate this disconnect in how we receive basic information, I’m going to–da, da, daaaa–wade into the vaccination discussion here for a sec. Wait a second, don’t get carried away. Take off your ‘somebody’s wrong on the internet’ pants and put on your thinking cap. There ya go, now come with me.

Regardless of what side of the vaccination fence you find yourself on, one can very nearly always find oneself getting carried away on the vaccination debate train. Here’s how the getting carried away timeline goes:

  1. We receive information, either from friends, family, TV, internet, dare I say, reading a magazine or newspaper. “Wow, this is amazing. I am intrigued/angered/hopeful/otherwise impacted by this!”
  2. We digest it.
  3. We choose whether it is true or not.
  4. We choose whether to share our information with others. “I’m going to call someone, talk about this at coffee break tomorrow, click share right now!”

My hunch is that in the vaccination debate, and other issues, we far too often, quickly and effortlessly leap from #1 to #4. This is our disconnect. We do not take the time to think and digest information, making a wise decision for ourselves whether this is credible and true. So, let’s talk about how to put on our thinking caps and give more time for tasks #2 and #3.

As we digest information, we ought to make a note of the media we are consuming, its tone, and what exactly is the information it is delivering. Then, we need to ask ourselves ‘where did this information come from’. If you spend 30 seconds thinking critically about WHO is giving you this information, or WHAT website is this coming from, then we might have a giant decrease in all the misinformation being spread out there.

Think about it, is this person you’re talking to over coffee a hot-headed person? Or are they well-educated and calm? Is this website low-budget, full of ads depicting strange products, using sensationalist language in their headlines? Is this doctor being interviewed credible and is the science sound?

Especially when it comes to vaccination, I’m seeing a great gap between science and reason vs. pseudo-science, sensationalism and fear. Unfortunately, it is true that a lot of our media out there, even some credible news sites, depend on sensationalist stories for ratings, and therefore advertising dollars and profit.

It’s a bitterly competitive media world right now as they compete for dollars to stay in business. A lot of media that passes itself off as ‘news’ is profiting from this, and drawing attention away from credible news sites. As a former journalism student and marketing professional, I’ve been taught on what ‘makes news’. I’ve also been trained to fact-check, and check my sources, sadly, what many journalists these days are likely not doing.

Or maybe they are not journalists at all. WHO is writing that article you’re sharing to your friends, family, and people who trust you? Do you trust that source? Are they a credible source? Anyone with an agenda can start a ‘news’ site called ‘healthnewswatch.ca’ or some such and write whatever they want, even cutting and pasting quotes from wherever. This is the blessing and curse of the internet. Anyone can write anything.

If this were the 1950s, clicking and sharing just anyone’s article on the internet would be similar to spreading all manner of ‘news’ from any old titting, tatting biddy, whining and fearful housewife, dangerous huxter, low-brow and brown-nosing upstart, or water cooler/coffee shop gossip around town. And we were all taught not to gossip, right? Not to spread news from sources we didn’t trust, who weren’t credible or having people’s best interests in mind? When did that stop? What happened to having basic manners and common sense about spreading information?

So, regarding all the news and articles on the internet, are we all to become fact-checkers, and basically distrustful? If you want a quick and easy article, that is funny, but somewhat crass, possibly ill-researched and purely fictional, yet chockfull of the smack that comes with common sense, then skip the rest of my article and just read these 5 Easy Ways to Spot a B.S. Story on the Internet.

But I mean, how can we possibly research and critique the qualifications of all of the people being interviewed for study after study that proves one point or the other, or makes arguments for one side or the other? How can we possibly make an informed decision, in this case, regarding vaccination for the safety and best practice for our children?

Here you are, folks. What you’ve all been waiting for! My opinion! Yes, become fact-checkers, in as much as you can and it doesn’t drive you crazy or consume all your time. Basically distrustful? No, there’s no need, not really. Don’t get hyped up. But take two minutes to think about who you trust, and what articles you trust, and what science you trust.

How can we find qualified arguments, proven science, and make informed decisions to provide our foundation for our lives and decisions for our children?

Number One: I’m gonna say it: Listen to your doctor and your public health nurse.

Yup. I said it. Am I saying all doctors are perfect and we should disregard our own opinions and gut feelings, never get second opinions, etc.? No, I didn’t say that. But I’m signing up to put my relative trust in someone with a lot more education than me, a someone who belongs to a HUGE body of someones who have more knowledge than me–a huge, accredited body that has a checks and balances system better than I could fact check in my entire lifetime. Infallible? No. Nothing human is. But am I gonna trust them instead of striking out on my own, over putting together my own portfolio of research on medicine and vaccination from the variety of other medical ‘sources’ out there? Yes. Yes, I most certainly am.

Below is a link to a recent reflection written by a doctor regarding the measles outbreak in the states.

He says, “As a doctor I have spent hours upon hours trying to convince such parents of the importance of protecting their children. The years have proven that such efforts by me are futile. As these are emotional and irrational decisions…”

I am not a doctor. And I know I am wading into a ‘big’ issue. I am doing so intentionally. I know this is getting long, but, friends, please read what I have to say. I want to talk a bit about thought and emotion.

The difference between propaganda and credible information is the source, as I’ve been saying. If your source is speaking out because they are a parent and love their child enough to care about the issue of vaccines… well, great… that’s great, and commendable. But… are they a doctor? I just want you to think.

And if you HAVE thought about this issue and are a staunch believer for either side, THINK again. Please.

Because I am NOT a doctor. Are you? I have my own mind and can use it to make the best decisions possible for my family. As we all should. But because I have not had 8+ years of medical training, I cannot Possibly EVER be as informed as a doctor. Please re-think where all of your information is coming from.

Think critically and stop the great disconnect between reading misinformation and spreading misinformation. Please.

Now let’s talk emotions. Let’s consider what we feel, yes FEEL about vaccination. Go ahead and name what you feel. Do you feel confused, feel skeptical, feel afraid, feel convicted, feel confident, feel passionate? I would say don’t blindly buy into any argument. For anything. Ever. Don’t. And don’t pretend that emotions don’t influence your thoughts and convictions. We are human. We can all be emotional, and irrational. It is possible, it is likely, but consider–is it causing you to overlook important information or forget to check your sources?

Now, because social media has afforded me this platform, here is MY emotionally charged, irrational message to all the people whose minds I’d like to change. Please indulge me by reading it and considering my position. Let it affect you if you will.

People, please find a source, that you can personally talk to, who has 8+ years of training in medicine, and then make medical and health decisions based on what they are telling you to do. Today, this means vaccinate your children.

Let’s talk about internet articles. Here’s the thing. They do not count as sources. To any educated person. As I’ve said, writing is kind of a hobby horse of mine, given my background in communications. The articles anyone can write and put on the internet are limitless. Ask any professional what they think about internet sources. Not saying everything out there is junk. But shake yourself out of the virtual world when it comes to recruiting your information about anything important. Please, please talk to someone in person about vaccinations, like your doctor, pediatrician, or public health nurse.

And if you think the medical community is corrupt or somehow getting it wrong or just doesn’t know enough about all the vaccine complications or that these ‘old’ diseases are wiped out by regular hygiene or can be handled with ‘all natural’ remedies or that they’re not ‘that bad’ and can be handled even by the average immune system, then you are just plain wrong. The diseases are real, they can come back, and I am going to do all I can to protect my child, including putting my drop in this bucket of internet opinion in an effort to spread the word. I don’t want my child to die of whooping cough, or measles, or receive an amputation from complications from meningitis, etc. I want these diseases to stay gone, and I am believing both my doctor and her group of pediatricians, along with my public health nurse, who are all advising me to vaccinate.

Now, because science is always changing, and because medicine is always working for the good of mankind (they’ve taken an oath; what other professional are you trusting if you can’t trust one who has taken an oath?), IF down the line the majority of medical professionals advise against or are even split on the issue of the good of vaccinations, then I will reconsider my position.

But, if you have a doctor or public health nurse who does advocate against vaccinations for your family, then find a new one. Because until the majority of the medical professionals you can personally talk to advocate against vaccinations, you are still smarter and safer to go with the advice of the majority of credible sources than not.

So please think. Please go through your emotional responses to vaccination. Please talk to a real live medical professional.

In Landmark, you can call our public health nurse, Melanie, at 204-388-2030 (posted with her permission).

Links: Article from Dr. Bart Barrett re. measles outbreak in Disneyland

http://www.bartbarrett.com/home/one-dead-child-two-foolish-parents#.VLbNqLf4DqA=

http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/189/Supplement_1/S1.long

http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/graph-us-measles-cases

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-antivaccination-update-the-measles-crisis-strikes-disneyland-20150108-column.html


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