I stumbled across this article the other day and it just made my blood boil.
As a quick overview, Bond and Nolan explore the community perceptions of child vaccinations. They identify that despite the overwhelming evidence in favour of vaccinations, some parents object to the practice. They conducted a series of intimate survey discussions with parents to attempt to determine why some parents object to the practice.
Although the methods used by Bond and Nolan were slightly flawed (often they are discussing tribalism and self-interest rather than the pros and cons of immunisation) they are able to record some relevant responses from their subjects. In general, those who immunise are confident, worldly people who want to be part of a larger community. While those who are hesitant to immunise are less confident, insular people, who fear outsiders.
The article concludes what they already knew; people don’t understand immunisation. They conclude that when risk is presented as equal that people consider their personal risk as low; the old “it won’t happen to me” idea. They go on to extrapolate that this has implications for the communication of public health messages in general. The reality, as always, is more harsh and complicated.
Parents believe their children to be unique beautiful butterflies that can cause no harm. They feel helplessly out of control and think that if they have enough answers they can stop bad things happening. This is exacerbated by the evolution of a 24 media that looks for stories that may not even exist, in a desperate attempt to grasp the reader’s attention for a moment. Public health messages fail to reach these people because the message is rational and the reader is irrational.
The problem with communicating messages of immunisations is that parents are scared idiots who want easy answers:
“I think if you’ve given birth to a perfect healthy child and then you’ve introduced foreign substances into their body which has then damaged them in some way, ah, yeah, I don’t know, I don’t think I could live with myself. Whereas if they’ve caught the disease that’s kind of c’est la via you know.”
Yes I do “know”, you pretentious imbecile. I know that you’re taking a philosophical approach to the health of all of our children. I know that philosophy has no place in a hospital and that if your child was ever sick you’d forget that philosophic crap in a heartbeat and ask that doctor for the best drugs they have. You’re a risk to society and deserve a suspension in privileges.
I don’t believe that communication will ever overcome the human nature of irrational behaviour. I believe that motivation that appeals to human nature is more effective than communication. To me, it comes down to “carrot or stick”. Either make people’s welfare payments dependent on immunisations or ban these non-immunised kids from school and employment. Science communication will never reach those who refer to philosophy in times of scientific questions.