Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Empathy versus judgement (vaccinations)

I have been pondering for a while about empathy and judgement but I decided I would write something about my feelings after reading these two articles:

Comedian to retire controversial Katie Hopkins character - “I pretended to be someone so horrible that nobody could possibly believe she was a real person. I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. How could they?”

Vaccines work - here are the facts - “in herd immunity the vaccinated protect the unvaccinated...help contribute to herd immunity by educating your community today!”

Very different articles I know but both made me think about the problem of passing judgement without compassion or empathy. It seems from what have read about and seen from Katie Hopkins that she is very good at passing judgement without even considering that the people she is talking about or she is arguing against, deserve her compassion or empathy. She is just totally sure that she is right and that everyone else is just wrong and they deserve to be educated by her superior knowledge or opinion.

The Vaccines work article on the other hand is yet again such a missed opportunity. I would be much happier reading an article about the facts of vaccines as long as it was a balanced article about vaccinations. This article states that we stopped smallpox and implies that this was done by vaccination alone (not true - Smallpox was eradicated by people going door to door.) The article also states that Andrew Wakefield did many dodgy things and had numerous conflicts of interest. But other companies and individuals have done similar things. For example read about the Vioxx recall here. And herein lies the problem. There is so much data out there that it is really, really difficult to find the truth about anything. Until recently one couldn't even rely on ALL studies associated with a scientific trial being published. If the trials didn't give the desired results there was no legal requirement to publish all the reports: you could leave out the ones which didn't back up your desired results!!!  Thank goodness that Dr Ben Goldacre has spear-headed a campaign to get this stopped in Europe - read here - but that doesn't bode well for anyone trying to find the truth about vaccines, drugs, GMO-food, etc. at present.

Another thing cited in the Vaccines article is that people wanted to keep their children "pure" by not injecting them with "chemicals" like this is some sort of weird behaviour. I like the idea that people actually think about what they are putting in their bodies including drugs, types of food, foreign bodies, sugar, fizzy drinks, etc. This is doubly important when it comes to our children because they cannot make that choice for themselves until they are  a lot older than when we vaccinate them, give them antibiotics, breastfeed or not, etc. Just look at the list of drugs that have been withdrawn over time because of adverse reactions. It is very thought provoking.

I also like the idea that people consider why they would or wouldn't vaccinate rather than blindly going along with the norm. I am all for going against the norm just to consider the possibilities. This sort of thinking is what got me into autocratically educating and trusting my children to carve an education for themselves. It is also probably a hang up from my BSc Philosophy days that I actually want people to stop and think and possible change their opinion when given reason to do so.  However, the problem is that there are very, very few people who will ever change their opinion even when proper thought is put into it. In my 42 years on this earth I have actually only ever found two people who I would say would change their opinion about anything given a decent argument backed by scientific evidence and neither of them is me!! I am more like the people written about here. I know that I am biased and as Tim Minchin quite rightly said here - "We'd as well be ten minutes back in time, for all the chance you'll change your mind" - I don't often change my mind. Luckily I am married to one of those two people I know of who can change their mind and not see it as a human failing. But he also has empathy for people who don't share his scientifically moulded brain and he accepts (although he finds them frustrating) those who refuse point-blank to change their mind even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So when it comes down to it the only thing we can really do in any given situation is have empathy for the difficult decisions that as parents we make for our children every day. In the same way that I wouldn't "blame" a parent for losing a child through not breastfeeding (see here) or for losing a child to suicide after being bullied at school and not having removed them from that environment and home-educating or from allowing a kid to climb a tree and them falling out and dying or for not vaccinating and losing a child to measles, what I can do is have empathy for all parents who do what they believe is the best for their children given the information that they think they have a grasp on. As human beings we don't have enough time, brain power or access to accurate information to investigate everything or even understand those things that are investigated and anyone who says that they do can only do so in a very, very small sphere of their life.

If someone actually wrote a decent, honest article about vaccinations which actually gave proper information about (with thoughts in italics):
  • herd immunity 
what is it?; does it actually exist?; what percentage does it work at?; do we really want to live in a utilitarian world where the greatest good of the greatest number is the most important things which means most of us should be neutered and NEVER allowed to have children
  • why and how vaccines sometimes fail 
no drug works perfectly on everyone, every single time so let's be honest about vaccines too
  • that there are trials paid for by companies who have a vested interest in the manufacture 
give us the honest truth so we can be proper consumers with all the information to make a decent choice
  • statistics about how realistically problematic these diseases are as opposed to conflated ideas about how dangerous these childhood diseases are 
measles; rubella; mumps used to be classed as mild childhood diseases with very rare problems for a very small number - when did they suddenly become so dangerous?
  • why vaccinated children get versions of the diseases that they are vaccinated against and why this doesn't seem to be reported 
why does this happen and are these vaccinated children getting mild versions of the disease reported and included in any stats?
  • shut up about Andrew Wakefield because most of the people I know who didn't vaccinate did not do so because of Andrew Wakefield 
stop vilifying people, he isn't the only one and he won't be the last
  • told the truth without resorting to over-playing it or slagging off  other people who might have a different point of view to yours
just common sense if your view is valid
  • ingredients 
  • possible side effects 
  • lots of other things I cannot think of right now
  • etc.

that would be fantastic and in the words of Tim Minchin again "I will take a compass and carve 'Fancy That' on the side of my cock" (if I had one) . But neither the pro or anti campaigners for vaccines seem to be able to do this because both have a "high-horse" stance to retain. Truly empathetic beings don't need a "high-horse" stance and would never resort to one, even when pushed. 

So let's all just start being lovely to each other and let's not resort to blaming and saying nasty, judgemental things to each other. Those that cannot do this really need to investigate why. It is a very interesting experience to actually sit with why you are so passionately judgemental about something or towards someone. Why not just have empathy, because you never know when you might want empathy back.

Useful links
A useful article about controversial statements being scientifically true.

Also if you see an article which makes claims which seem a bit off, type www.rbutr.com/ at the start of the web page leaving the rest of the http address as it is and see if there have been any rebuttals.

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