Science and Other Drugs

….maybe a little less wrong….

Wait, I’m actually a parent?

Parents are other people who have multiple children of at least preschool age. Parenting is the practice of dealing with difficult questions asked by inquisitive six-year-olds.

There is no way I’m a parent. Other people are parents, not me.

At least, that’s been the subconscious train of thought running through my head ever since I found out we were expecting last year. So much so that when I created this blog a few days ago, it didn’t even remotely occur to me that I might be writing about parenting issues in the near future. But apparently (no pun intended), I am.

With parenthood comes a new and novel set of decisions that have to be made. Suddenly, I am completely responsible for another human being, and my decisions will directly determine his fate. Making good decisions becomes even more important….which begs the question: how do we know what constitutes a good decision? What’s the proper process for decision-making?

Online:

Don’t take vaccines! I believe that God created everything we would ever need for every illness out there because He is all knowing and knew what diseases would be a result from sin entering the world. For instance, using Elderberry prevents the flu. Also there are so many remedies if you do get sick with various diseases. Media paints horror stories about diseases and how they kill people! Those stories are taken from 3rd world countries that people are left untreated. Don’t ever believe the media and their majorly twisted stories!

I’m sure this kind of malformed rambling is what every pediatrician thinks of when a parent expresses misgivings about vaccination schedules. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. Nonetheless, we won’t be giving our kid the CDC recommended schedule of vaccinations, regardless of our pediatrician’s protests.

A few important facts about vaccines:

  • They don’t cause autism. Ever. They can’t, and they haven’t, and they never will.
  • They can and have caused auto-immune reactions and immune system disorders ranging from mild to severe. This effect is only present if there is a preexisting vulnerability. However, it is not presently possible to test for this vulnerability.
  • 9 times out of 10, a child receiving the standard CDC recommended vaccination schedule will experience some deleterious side effects, if only drowsiness or irritability. In the vast majority of cases, these side effects will be too mild for most parents to notice.
  • Vaccines are intended to eradicate disease on a societal level before protecting the individual. Vaccines are the single most effective means of eliminating disease in a population.

That last point is perhaps one of the most important ones. The government recommends or mandates vaccination because doing so will directly reduce the incidence of disease in a population, not because it has a personal interest in the well-being of your child. In keeping with basic game theory, it’s quite possible that what is best for your child may not be best for the society at large, and vice versa.

So how do you make a reasonable, reasoned decision? Science, naturally.

If anything makes me want to stop listening to what a person has to say, it’s dogmatic, self-assured inflexibility. This is particularly evident when it comes to making decisions. Someone who won’t change their mind regardless of what they are told—often exemplified when people literally say, “There’s nothing you could say to convince me otherwise. I believe homeopathy works, no matter what.” Seriously? That’s closed-mindedness by definition.

What’s the scientific way to make decision? Define the decision-making process and isolate the variables. For example, let’s take vaccination.

For each potential course of vaccinations, we want to compare the risk of vaccinating against the risk of not vaccinating. Each of those risks can be objectively estimated.

Risk of vaccinating: Probability of a serious adverse reaction (the percentage of the general population who has an adverse reaction or a family history of reactions) times the severity and permanency of potential reactions.

Risk of not vaccinating: Probability of exposure (based on CDC reporting of disease outbreaks and your family’s habits) times the risk of infection (taking into account immune system response and mode of transmission) times the severity of the disease.

It’s a lot to take in, yes….but making good decisions takes work. The more work you do up-front, the better; if you know what you’re looking for and how your decision is made, you’re on the right track. Most importantly, you know exactly what evidence it would take to change your mind….and that’s what’s most important if we’re trying to avoid blind, emotional-response decisions.

Example:

Makes the decision pretty easy, doesn’t it? You know at a glance which things would need to change to swing your decision one way or the other.

Know why you’re making the decisions you’re making, and know what you’d need to learn in order to change your mind. If you want to feel more confident, spend some time trying to find information that could change your mind.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

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