Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medical Morons in the Age of Information

Bad Medicine - Bon Jovi (mp3)
The Sick Bed of Cuchuliann - The Pogues (mp3)

Americans might well be the dumbest and most-easily duped people in the history of the world. Here we are, in what we claim to be an Age of Information, but none of this information prevents us from being stupid. In fact, one could argue, the glut of information makes it much easier to be stupid--er. Stupider? More stupider?

We have people on both sides of the political spectrum who are railing against the swine flu vaccine. Celebrities who have no more medical training or knowledge than you, me, or the Keebler frappin' Elf are claiming that the vaccine is more dangerous than the flu it aims to prevent. (Yes, I'm talkin' ta you, Bill Maher, you friggin' smug ignorant sumbitch.)

I've asked probably a dozen doctors and nurses and pharmacists, some friends and some mere acquaintances, their opinion of the vaccine, and almost all of them just shake their heads. Of COURSE my children should get vaccinated, they say, with the unspoken DUH on the end of it. Not a one of them hesitated or mentioned concerns about how vaccines are a deadly secret scourge to our way of life... because that crap is right up there with black helicopters and the X-Files.

Welcome to the Age of Information, where 95% (98%? 99%?) of all professionals educated in the field of medicine agree, yet where journalists and wackos focus half their attention on the 5% of kooks who disagree so they can be "balanced." We might be enlightened, but we've got a wacky notion of balance.

You want useful information on the subject of vaccinations? You want the history of paranoia? Listen to a few segments from NPR's On the Media. Here's one on the H1N1 vaccine, and here's one on the hysteria that broke out in Britain because a girl died of a brain tumor but people thought she died from a vaccine. Educate yourself, for Christ's sake, rather than looking to pandering, demagoguing kooks to tell you what to think! (And if that category must include me, then so be it, but go learn for yourself!)

It's important to note that the criticism is not so much aimed at medical professionals, but rather at the people in charge of wielding and managing the information. If you want the real reason why newspapers are dying, it's because they do an awful job of filtering anything for us. They'd rather report cotton candy than broccoli. And even when the broccoli shows up, its been cooked to death and drowned in so much butter you'd think it was served at a movie theater.

As yet another report on OTM suggests, part of it's because science reporters are all but extinct. I don't know if this is a killer factor, but it can't help.

What I do know is that when a significant portion of the population has boonswaggled itself into thinking it can't even trust its government to tell its people when a vaccine is safe and effective -- or as safe and effective as anything else involving medicine and the human body... people sometimes die having their tonsils removed, for cryin' out loud -- then the Age of Information truly proves that too much of anything, including information, does more harm than good.

Culture is in one kind of trouble when the only people who can read the Bible and other books are priests and monks. But maybe it's in an altogether equally-treacherous kind of trouble when we all think we're equally capable of being experts about anything and everything just 'cuz we can read shit off the Internet.

The Age of Information risks eroding all sense of trust in any kind of educated authority. And this is a distrust that breaks political barriers. One side believes Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh are honest and knowledgeable, which is a crock, but the other side has doctors blathering on the Huffington Post with the same kind of crap.

And, yet again, as always, the future of our society must rest and rely on those of us in the middle. Let's hope we hold up and keep our heads above the rising tide of the Information Tsunami.


troutking said...

Are people more stupid now or are there are just more outlets for them to demonstrate it to a wider audience? If there was a golden age when people were enlightened, I'm not sure when it was.

Maddy in the middle said...

Maybe ignorance is truly bliss and the problem now is people know too much. They have enough knowledge from enough sources to be truly idiotic.

Bob said...

My parents did not have me vaccinated against anything until we moved to Pittsburgh and I had to have the smallpox vaccine in order to attend school there. In my younger years, I was the kid who sat at his desk while all of the other kids were off getting vaccinated. Probably explains a lot.

But, I would argue, Billy, that if you blindly accept the idea that your government can and will tell you if something is safe, you are fooling yourself and ignoring an awful lot of history. And when doctors become businessmen first, as they seem to have done, I'm not sure you can fully trust them either. They're why so many people are taking so many drugs that they might not need.

Billy said...

Bob, I'm not advocating blind acceptance. I'm advocating either trusting them on things of this nature or educating yourself in a responsible way.

Otherwise you end up being a coworker/science teacher who stores food and water for "Y2K" and refuses to believe we actually landed on the moon. (Yes, readers, that person really exists.) And if he's your paragon of "not blindly accepting" things, then I'm happy for you to jump into his boat.

Daisy said...

I just read this FB status update of a college classmate of mine who is a physician "Got my swine flu shot. Hope it is as safe as FDA and CDC say it is?"

Just had to share.

Bob said...

The FDA didn't issue its warnings about anti-depressants like Prozac leading to increased suicidal behavior in teens until long after the drug had been approved and considered safe and was being regularly prescribed around the country.

troutking said...

Bob B's right with his comment and Bob D's right with his lyric: Money doesn't really talk, it swears. Which is why Bachman Turner Overdrive was right (although still sucky music-wise) when they advocated "Looking out for Number 1"