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The Psychological Choice Environment of Vaccine Decision Making. Two Examples. One Warning.
When Edward Jenner proposed to the parents of 8 year-old James Phipps the risky idea that rubbing some stuff from sick cows onto the young lad might protect him from small pox, James' parents faced a choice. It was 1794 and smallpox was ravaging the British population, and in that emotional environment, the fear of smallpox won out over the frightening idea Jenner was proposing.
With no data or experience to go on, James' parents could only rely on their emotions and instincts. Since then, we've learned an immense amount about vaccination, firmly establishing that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their real but minimal risks. But those facts don't change the reality that we consider whether to vaccinate in a psychological choice environment shaped far more by our feelings than the facts alone. The modern vaccination program offers two clarion examples of the emotional nature of our risk perception system, and how it can sometimes get us into trouble.
1. Childhood vaccination
Despite lots of alarming news stories about declining childhood vaccination rates, in general those rates remain high. The vast majority of parents worry more about the diseases than the vaccines that prevent them, or trust their health care providers and just follow their advice. (A full list of rates per disease, per state, are in this CDC chart.)
But small groups in some local areas either refuse to vaccinate their children at all (less than 1% of children overall in the U.S.), or choose not to vaccinate or to delay vaccination against some diseases. For example, in 17 states, local pockets of vaccine hesitancy have dropped the statewide average rates for measles/mumps/rubella vaccination below the 90% target.
The facts about the risks of diseases and vaccines are the same for the tiny group of vaccine refusers or the slightly larger group of those hesitant about the recommend schedule, as they are for the general public. But the psychological choice environment in which the 'refusers/hesitants' are making vaccine decisions is different. Some of those people don't like the government telling them what to do. Some have particularly high fears of human-made risks, like vaccines. Some live in communities that place high priority on micro-level decision making about parenting. These different emotional risk perception factors lead them to worry more about the vaccines than the diseases, or mistrust the public health system that recommends vaccines, or the pharmaceutical industry that produces them.
As a result of those emotional differences, these people expose their kids and themselves and the public to far greater risk than the minimal danger of vaccines. But these choices are neither irrational, nor 'science denialism', as some academics and doctors and pundits dismissively label them. These choices are based on people's legitimate and valid feelings, emotions and instincts we all use to assess the facts and gauge potential risk. The feelings and values and life experiences and circumstances of the refusers and hesitants just lead them to see the same facts about vaccines through different emotional lenses than most people do.
2. Seasonal influenza vaccine
Childhood vaccination is getting most of the attention from the news media that now raises alarms about declining vaccination rates but just a few years ago was full of scary stories about the risks of vaccines, helping trigger the very decline about which they are now raising concern. But another form of vaccination offers a lesson about the potential danger of our emotion-based risk perception system; the regular vaccination for seasonal flu, which is now recommended for everyone six months old and up.
Childhood vaccination rates in the U.S. are above 90%. But in a good season, vaccination rates for seasonal flu hover around 40% for adults and 50% for children.
According to the CDC, influenza kills 1,532 Americans a year directly, and contributes to the deaths of between 3,000 and 49,000. The number of people unvaccinated against the flu dwarfs the number of un- or partially-vaccinated kids. And the numbers of people who get sick or die from influenza, many of whom are young children with still-developing immune systems, dwarfs the number of people who get sick or die because childhood vaccination rates run low in some areas. Between the two, the low vaccination rates for influenza pose a far greater threat to public health in terms of illness and death. Talk about “irrational"!
But the psychological choice environment for whether to get a flu shot is different than the emotional factors influencing concerns about childhood vaccination. When risks to kids are involved, fears almost always run higher. So does media coverage, which is why we hear more about the childhood vaccine issue, coverage which magnifies the fear. On the other hand, flu is familiar, and familiarity with any risk reduces concern. A flu shot is always available for most of us, so we think that we can always go get one, a reassuring sense of control that seduces some of us into not worrying enough to get the shot in the first place. And unless you've had a bad case of influenza, you're like most people; you don't think getting it is that bad...and when we don't sense a lot of suffering from a risk, we don't worry about it as much. (Trust me on this one. You REALLY SUFFER, for weeks or more, when you get a bad case of influenza, as millions do each year.)
We worry more about new UNfamiliar flu, or when there might be vaccine shortages that threaten our sense of control. But in normal times, far fewer of us get flu shots than should.
Two vaccine issues. Two different sets of numbers, two different sets of emotional factors that cause some of us worry more than we need to, or less than we should. But together, these examples illustrate a single phenomenon; the Risk Perception Gap, the risk we face when our fears don't match the facts. These examples help make the case that we need to recognize how powerfully the psychological choice environment shapes our judgments and behaviors, and account for those emotional factors as we try to make healthier choices for ourselves and for society.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.