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Stray Thoughts – Media Literacy and The Measles Outbreak

Essays, general essay

Think media literacy is a snooze as a topic? I know most of you do. Last year, I couldn’t get anyone to nibble, bite or even yawn. But if you know some kid who has the measles right now, a lack of media literacy is probably why that kid got sick.

Why? Because the hysteria over vaccines is being fueled by a lot of bad information based on what people want to believe about certain big bad guys, never mind that the science behind the issue pretty much doesn’t hold up. In short, a lot of folks preferred to believe actress Jenny McCarthy rather than a host of scientists and doctors that has repeatedly pointed out that the measles vaccines save lives, over a million a year, globally, according to the Wikipedia article on measles I read (you do have to scroll down to the photo of the guy who invented the vaccine to find the citation, but it is footnoted).

Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control
Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control

But this isn’t about stats and whether Big-Pharma doesn’t care about our children or whatever. It’s about the damage that can be done when a rumor gets going fueled by bad science and suspicion of large institutions. In this case, parents noted a coincidence – their kids were exhibiting signs of autism shortly after receiving their measles vaccination. It was happening often enough that doctors did, in fact, start investigating.

According to several of the sites I looked at there were two scientists Dr. Mark Geier and his son Davd Geier who did several studies that did show a link between the vaccines and autism. Problem was, and this was repeated over and over in the articles I read, the studies were faulty. They used bad data, didn’t interpret it correctly, in short, it wasn’t good science. Hey, these things happen. But worried, distraught parents began to panic and then an attractive actress gets on a major TV show and, boom, it’s been proven that vaccines cause autism.

Yet, just because something says it’s a scientific study, doesn’t mean it was done all that appropriately, that people didn’t make mistakes, that it was even scientific in the first place. And unfortunately, there is good reason to be at least moderately suspicious when it looks like something is going to benefit the person or institution touting it.

Finally, there is something called confirmation bias that we all fall prey to – we tend to believe news that supports what we already believe or want to believe. For example, if I read a study that “proves” eating donuts will make me skinny, never mind how many pounds I’ve gained eating donuts, I’m going to wave that study like a flag and keep on eating donuts, never mind the tons of evidence that says otherwise.

Parent devastated by a diagnosis of autism want to believe in a bad guy and, hey, Big Pharma – the companies that have already shown a tendency to prefer profit over their customers’ well-being – makes a perfect target. And if the scientific community says there’s a problem with that belief, then it’s because they’re conspiring with the bad guys. It’s all too easy to believe that and decide not to vaccinate your kids. And now we’re dealing with outbreaks of a potentially deadly disease that is entirely preventable.

Fortunately, we haven’t lost any kids. Yet. But with 600 cases reported last year, and over a 100 just this past month, it’s entirely probable we will. About .01 percent probable. That doesn’t have to happen. But it’s going to take a lot more rational adults learning how to interpret the information they get from TV, from blogs, from whatever in a way that appropriately separates the nonsense from the facts. It takes media literacy and 100-plus sick kids is why you should care about it.

I’m participating in a LinkUp/blog hop, with the below fine blogs – please check them out:


7 thoughts on “Stray Thoughts – Media Literacy and The Measles Outbreak”

  1. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the Autism scare. There are parents who report having their kids get really sick right after getting a vaccination, including having it happen twice. That kind of thing understandably scares parents because it looks like a pattern and it’s hard to know for sure that it’s a coincidence. These parents claim that all those vaccinations given in those early years (sometimes multiple vaccines at the same time) “overwhelm” or “over-stress” their child, and they just don’t want to do that. I haven’t had that experience when I was vaccinated, or when my children were vaccinated. I don’t personally know of anyone it has happened to. So I believe that for any child with a normally functioning immune system, these vaccines are safe. If there are any children who have some unusual constitution who would actually be harmed by a vaccine, they are clearly extremely rare. How else can you explain all the vast numbers of perfectly healthy children and adults who received vaccinations?

  2. Interesting topic. I definitely believe in vaccinations… What I don’t believe in is over-vaccination and my personal belief is that is part of the problem. My youngest son and my daughter are 14 years apart and the increase in the number of vaccinations from when when my sons were little to by the time my daughter came along was very significant. He was born in 1986, she was born in 2000. My only regret is letting her have the chicken pox vaccine. I personally know kids in her age group who were vaccinated for chicken pox and still got it in 2nd & 3rd grade. I had the chicken pox as an adult, (got it from my sons when they were 4 and 2) because I never had it as a child. I was 28 at the time, spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost died. And now, I’m at risk for shingles when I get older. I apologize if that’s a little off topic.

    1. Not at all. That’s one of the things that makes this such a fascinating topic. There’s no doubt vaccinations save lives. But at what point is it too much? That’s a legitimate question and must be asked.

  3. Hi, I’m Janice, I’m one of your hostesses at the Inspire Me Monday Linky Party. Thank you SO much for mentioning my site in your post. I have read many of these posts for weeks, and you are the only one who has mentioned my site. I am truly touched.
    By the way, great idea to connect literacy and current events!
    Thanks again for coming to the Inspire Me Monday Linky Party and mentioning my site.

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