How Not to Engage in Science Communication

27 09 2012

Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I lost my shit yesterday. Not in a calm, rational, lets have a debate of the facts way, but in a visibly angry, shaking, refraining from telling this person that they’re a fucking idiot type of way.

How did this happen? Well I was at monkeys gymnastics class and had just walked into the viewing area after combing through bears hair to remove the wonderful lice that have taken up residence there. I was minding my own business when I overheard a parent telling other parents they were waiting to innoculate their child against Chicken Pox Virus (CPX)because if the child contact cpx, hir immune system would be stronger.

Parent: “getting over the virus will strengthen child’s immune system”

SM: deep breath, calmly “that is actually not true”

Parent: “will that is your opinion”

And cue me losing my shit.

SM: “No it is NOT my opinion it is scientific FACT. I am a scientist. I not some celeb listening to oprah.

Parent: “Well how do you feel about the flu vaccine”

SM: “its necessary for elderly, children and immune comprised individuals”

Parent: something about making choices and she’s entitled to those.

Cue me going fucking ape shit. As in this converstation is no longer between me and the parent but me telling off the WHOLE group of parents.

SM: “No its not just a choice you’re making for yourself. You are putting other children at risk. You are going to let other kids get sick. It is because of people like you that pertussi and whooping cough are coming back. Its because of people like you that kids are dying”

Parent: “I am not putting society at risk because I will inoculate my child if they don’t get CPV before a set age:

SM: “Do you know the reprecussion of having CPV? Its not just the mild scars and itching as a child. At minimum, you will develop Shingles when you’re older. Ask any elderly individual how it feel to have shingles. Its lighting your skin on fire”

SM: To entire group of parents “I am sorry for reacting this way, but it is a privilage of our education and where we live that we think we can choose not to have these vaccines. Ask any mother in Africa or the middle east and they would kill to have these vaccinations”

At this point a grandma got involved and told me to ask the women if she given her child the polio vaccination. Had any of us had to watch our children suffer with whooping cough.
Many of you may think I did the right thing. But I”m not sure. I was visibly angry. I was shaking and was pissed off at the attitude of this parent. Maybe I changed the minds of some parent there or confirmed to some parents that vaccinations are right. What I did not do was engage on a debate of the facts. What was this parents pychoNaturapath telling hir? I just put this parent on the defensive. It was a lost opportunity. I let every parent there know that if they didn’t agree with me, I was gong to bite there heads. That does our cause no good.

But seriously how can I not lose my shit when you are listening to a fucking Naturapath!!!!

 

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9 responses

27 09 2012
DrugMonkey

You done good and it was awesome someone from a prior generation was there for backup. Great job!

27 09 2012
scientistmother

I don’t know DM. I think if I stayed calm, I may have been able to change this persons mind or at least enabled other parents to ask questions. I am glad the grandma told them what it was like in her time.

27 09 2012
chall

you know, some people will never listen even if you are calm. “They know” etc… I can understand that you would’ve felt better not losing it while talking (I’m the same way) BUT it does show that you don’t think it is a trival matter. Good that the older woman was there – in regards to polio etc..

As for the whole “strenghtening the immune system”; I’d like to have a miniscreen to show the stats on the ones who doesn’t get “strenghtened” and have a little conversation about the origin of that qoute (what ever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” <- first half?!?! KILL baby… yeah, just so.

27 09 2012
Alyssa

This topic gets me all worked up too – it’s so hard not to get fired up/emotional/personal about it because their actions do effect other people and they just don’t get that. The “that’s your opinion” argument just makes it even more frustrating. NO. It’s not an OPINION. Just like climate change and evolution aren’t OPINIONS. Gah!!!

See…now I’m all worked up too! I think you did the right thing – much better than just letting it go!

28 09 2012
Amanda@LadyScientist

I would’ve gotten just as worked up (probably). I took the head off a friend of mine when she said she wasn’t going to get the MMR vaccine for her kid. A pregnant woman contract rubella and she is likely to miscarry and/or have a baby with awful birth defects. I may or may not have told her that if I or any other woman miscarried because of contracting rubella it was her and other nonvaccinating people’s fault.

I think that a lot of people don’t see *death* or *horrific disability* as a result of contracting disease. They think of it as a minor deal. And they are wrong.

28 09 2012
Cath Ennis (@enniscath)

People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Anti-vaxxers drive me nuts, too. My sister and I both had whooping cough as kids – I was two and was very sick for a long time, but my sister was just a few weeks old and spent weeks on end in intensive care. She very nearly didn’t make it. This is in MY lifetime, not some awesome granny’s. Now that there’s a vaccine, it boggles the mind that people aren’t using it.

Also, I know a family whose little girl has leukemia. Chemo and a bone marrow transplant have both failed – she’s clear right now but the long-term prognosis is terrible (she doesn’t know this). She just wants to go back to school and be with her friends – but every time anyone at the school gets measles or other completely preventable diseases, she has to stay at home for days on end and it’s getting to the point that they may have to pull her out of school, all because of the collapse of herd immunity.

Rant on, my friend, rant on.

3 10 2012
anonymous

I read somewhere else, and put in a more eloquent and nuanced way than I am stating here, that basically the anti-vax movement is a shadow class war. Rich who don’t “believe” in vaccines can afford to have their children hospitalized and treated by the best doctors if their sweet darlings pick up whooping cough or measles, but poorer people who lack health insurance do not have the option if their children fall ill from these once eradicated diseases. And guess whose children thrive and whose die (or live with serious physical and/or mental disability)?

Funny thing is, people don’t understand how fickle fate is, that if they are living a good, comfortable life today that they could be at the bottom of fortune’s wheel tomorrow.

17 10 2012
genegeek

Thank you for ranting. Anti-vaxxers get me all rant-y too. I like Cath Ennis’s point about: entitled to own opinion but not own fact.
Just under 2 years ago, a friend was going through chemo and was avoiding general public due to immune suppression. Her cousin visited her at home, bringing whooping cough – but it wasn’t a big deal because her kids didn’t get that sick. My friend died. I always wonder what her cousin thought.
I don’t get vaccines just for myself but I work near patients and I would feel awful if I was passing on a vaccine-preventable disease to someone who is vulnerable.

18 06 2013
nicoleandmaggie

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