Hmmmm, what to write about?

As a pre-med student and hopeful future doctor, I would say a lot of the topics and potentially controversial isses that interest me are related to medicine and science. Two of the first topics that come to mind are public science education (especially relating to the safety and importance of vaccines) and the american approach to care for the elderly, I think both of these are tremendously important and  high stakes topics of discussion. The topic of the anti-vacc movement in particular is an issue which is caused by a lack of effective public communication.

However, the anti-vacc movement, like (dare say it) the discussion on global warming, is (or at least should be) uncontroversial. Many other topics which interest me, such as the prospect of legalizing prostitution, the debate on abortion, and dialogue regarding gun control, have a very clear and legitimate two sides. While I certainly agree with and align myself with one side, I must recognize the validity of the opposing view. This is not the case with the anti-vaccine movement. While there are two sides to this argument in the public sphere, most people who choose to not vaccinate their children are basing their decision on false information and therefore are unarguably in the wrong.

The question then arises does valid controversy make a topic more interesting or simply more difficult to present? Another rather non controversial, but still important comes to mind: the ivory trade. I would hope that no one would argue with me that killing elephants to the point of near extinction for the harvest of their ivory is a GOOD choice. Yet the trade and illegal poaching continues because the sale of ivory is legal in countries such as China. Fortunately, China recently banned the ivory trade completely which is the first of many steps toward reviving elephant populations throughout Africa. This sudden change in China’s tune was inspired by heavy international pressures which were fueled by public knowledge and passion for the cause. Thus this rather non-controversial topic proves to be nonetheless high stakes and very relevant to communication with the public.

The same is true of Voluntourism. For those who don’t know, this word refers to the global trend of  international volunteering and its portrayal throughout western social media which tends to convey racism and western-centric development ideals. This issue is one that also is less controversial and more propagated by lack of knowledge and education. I would assume that most people who participate in this sort of act truly do intend to help but aren’t realizing the negative consequences that they are creating. The same is true of flawed NGO’s and international development organizations and those who contribute to them.

I would say that less controversial topics (like those I mentioned above) are equally as interesting as highly controversial topics because they still have an aspect to them that keeps them in the public eye, allowing them to retain their relevance. The anti-vaccine movement keeps coming to my mind because of its high stakes nature and surprisingly extensive following. I am interested to see if I may come across any valid arguments FOR the anti vaccine movement but I would suspect that most arguments for this movement are based on pseudo science such as the publication which linked vaccinations to autism.  This misinformation and lack of understanding of how vaccines word  lead to the emotionally charged movements against vaccines. A campaign to correct these misunderstandings could be useful for public science education.


3 thoughts on “Hmmmm, what to write about?

  1. Was really interesting to consider whether it is easier or more difficult to try to tackle controversial or (seemingly) uncontroversial topics. I bet it depends on the case, but it certainly is an interesting thing to think about! For one, perhaps controversy promotes interest, even if lots of disagreement. Maybe in our current media cycle, we just don’t have the appetite for things that don’t bring along with it a potential for heated argument.

    With the education move for vaccines, who might your audience be do you think? What are some possibilities? Prospective parents? K-12 students (or some slice of that)? What are the attitudes and/or actions that you specifically want? I know it is to promote vaccines, but what about it? Do you want to dispel myths of the pseudoscience that claims vaccines are not worth the “risk”? Do you want to focus instead on benefits of vaccines? I’m just naming possibilities, there are more I bet!

    Looking forward to see what direction you go in!

  2. I think you came up with some very interesting topics of discussion and would be interested in hearing about any of these topics. As for the subject of the anti-vaccination movement, what is the best way of preventing false studies from reaching the headlines? As scientists, especially in academia, there sometimes exists a notion of “publish or perish” in which the researchers can feel pressure from their employers to continue to pump out scientific articles. Could this be part of the reason for misleading articles? If so, how can scientists be held more accountable for not publishing findings that are not thoroughly vetted and confirmed?

    Furthermore, some religions are against vaccinations. This throws a twist on the subject because some people may support not vaccinating themselves and their children because of their beliefs. Several states offer exemptions to vaccination requirements for children on the grounds of religious views even though a majority of religions are not opposed to vaccines (according to a Huffington Post article). Personally, I am all for vaccinations (they save lives!) but the first amendment cannot be thrown aside to get children vaccines. How can you go about convincing people who maybe don’t have strong beliefs against vaccines to vaccinate their children?

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