Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Statistics, Sensationalism, and Legal Liability

Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, and not touch a hair of the wily agitator who induces him to desert? - Abraham Lincoln

Humans are by nature horrible statisticians, which is why this article is tremendously damaging. The only redeeming factor about that article is that it has a relatively narrow audience. People will not remember that this is entirely conjectural. People will not think that 12,000 people died in 2009 from a preventable disease. People will not know that a critical distribution of vaccinated people kept even more from becoming infected an dying. All they will remember is the blurb: flu vaccines cause paralysis! There is no context, and even if there was, the natural tendency to remember a dramatic event, rather than a dry statistic, would cause them to forget it.

What will happen as a result of this article? More people will remember it and refuse the vaccine. More people will get sick and die. Will those be reported? No, that's just another hash mark in the CDC statistics. Will the flu season be particularly bad this year because we didn't have the critical mass of vaccinated people? It depends on the article's reach, but it can happen. Vaccines are very much victims of their own success. People don't see the cases of polio, mumps, scarlet fever, etc., that didn't happen, but they do see the rare adverse reaction, and that's what sticks in their minds. They then refuse vaccination, and their freeloading works for a time, because a disease can't travel in a vaccinated population. It isn't until we have an outbreak of a preventable disease that people understand why we vaccinate people.

I think the author of that article should be sued for endangering the public health.

2 Comments:

OpenID bruce-church said...

I think the reason this made news was the Swine Flu shots fell under an anti-terrorism bill in order to hasten their distribution, but that's left no recourse for the victims. That was mentioned in the piece. Moreover, there was increased risk due to little to no testing. This was not made clear to those who received the shots. This wasn't mentioned in the piece. Again, if there was national healthcare, people would take the flu shot because they know they'd be helped if things went south. But as it is now, their main recourse is "Brother, can you spare a dime?"

2:03 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

Because people react so well to government mandated fluoridation. But of course, if we had universal healthcare, everything would be solved.

7:52 PM  

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