Trust Vaccines? Then Please STFU

Kids should be vaccinated. My kids are vaccinated. My father-in-law is a polio survivor. My husband had a dangerous case of chicken pox as an adult. I have lived in third world countries and seen children disfigured by diseases that we don’t get in this country.

I was raised by scientists (well, they’re social scientists, but they will tell you that’s just as important as regular science, and also, they lack all the same social skills as regular scientists, so you know, they’re scientists). I believe in the scientific method and scientific evidence. I like my aromatherapy and my yoga and my pressure points, but when I have a cold bring on the Nyquil. I spent 8 weeks in Bradley Method classes. But after 36 hours of painful but going nowhere labor, pitocin was welcome. When my baby was stuck on my pelvis and we were both in danger of dying, I was pretty happy the midwife left and brought in a doctor with a suction cup. I believe in modern, Western medicine.

Here’s something that’s been shown by science, social science, but still, science. When someone has a firmly held belief, presenting them with facts to the contrary does not change their mind. In fact, it can cause them to cling to that belief more fiercely.

I understand that a sample size of two is not scientifically acceptable, but my kids have been conducting an experiment for years and the results may surprise you. Calling someone an idiot never gets them to do what you want them to do. Shocking I know, but my guess is that same thing holds true for adults. If you write a yelling, screaming blog post or newspaper article or Facebook status calling someone who doesn’t vaccinate their child an idiot they will not rush out and stick a needle that they firmly believe contains poison in to their child’s arm. It just won’t work.

I know that vaccines are safe and useful, but here’s something that may make you a little uncomfortable. Not everyone who thinks otherwise is an uninformed idiot. Yes, some people are being stupid and trendy. But as much as I believe in science, I also believe in history. History has made it pretty clear that sometimes doctors and scientists are wrong (remember thalidomide babies). Sometimes doctors and scientists make shit up (remember when autism was caused by cold-hearted moms).  Sometimes the government does not have our best interests at heart lies to us about science (hello Tuskeegee syphillis experiments). Sometimes pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to over-prescribe medicines (hi, ritalin).

It may feel great to toss off an angry post about stupid non-vaccinating parents. It may feel great to share angry posts on Facebook. I’ll be honest, I  read one too many of those angry posts this morning and it felt pretty good to write this, so I get the impulse.

But truly, what is that blog post or snarky Facebook post accomplishing? If you truly believe in science or you have any experience with human beings, you know that your snark, your anger, your name calling isn’t helping. Calling someone an idiot has not done a single thing to help prevent measles or polio or any other disease, and in fact, may make the situation worse.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we convince people who distrust medicine and science to do so.

I’m sure that my children will keep working on their name calling experiment if they come up with a workable, scientifically replicable solution I’ll let you know. Until then, maybe you know, just try not to be an ass.

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