Stef Manisero – week 11 – Mnookin & Taylor

November 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

As technology continues to develop, the human need for things to happen as quickly as possible grows too. This being said, people have a tendency to jump to conclusions and form ideas without evidence to back it up. The media adds to this effect, for it has the ability to adjust opinions and beliefs almost immediately. Many parents who have experienced changes in their children’s behaviors after getting vaccines automatically jump to the conclusion that one thing were somehow connected to the other, and the assumption that vaccines cause autism. However, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. In his article “Vaccines and the Changing Epidemiology of Autism,” Taylor argues that autism is not necessarily caused by vaccines, as he discusses prevalence versus incidence. Further discrediting the connection between vaccines and autism is Mnookin’s chapter, “Cognitive Biases and Availability Cascades.” In reading both these articles it becomes evident that the assumption that vaccines can lead to the development of autistic characteristics is not validated and needs to be further investigated before this relationship is proven true.

Mnookin, in this chapter, explains that humans have a tendency to let emotions get in the way of decision-making. Expectation bias occurs when people conduct an experiment, yet already hold the hypothesis to be true. Confirmation bias takes place when we assume we are right and find evidence that supports are already-existent beliefs, yet what we should be doing is looking for reasons that we may be wrong. Mnookin also discusses the “availability cascade,” which is the principle that says that the perception that a belief is widely held, is enough to make it be believed by many. Basically it states that by increasing the availability of an idea in the public sphere, it also increases the amount of people who hold such a belief to be true, and allows for more extreme opinions. For example, as beliefs that vaccines cause autism grow in proportion to the number of people talking about it, more and more people will hold such beliefs to be true. However, Mnookin argues that this happening of the blind leading the blind is dangerous, for it leads to polarization – people will increasingly surround themselves with like-minded people. In doing so, people will be more inclined to believe that their beliefs are correct, and fail to seek out counter-arguments that discredit these beliefs. He also discusses the media and Internet’s role in this process. “Consumers abandon the presumed neutrality of the networks in favor of cable news telecasts that gratify viewers by feeding them exaggerated versions of the opinions they already hold.” Similarly, the Internet makes it easy to avoid seeing things we don’t want to, and only see those things that we already agree with. Through this chapter, readers see Mnookin’s argument that emotions interfere with the ability to make unbiased decisions, and therefore, people who believe that vaccines lead to autism need to put their biases and emotions aside in order to hold rational and truthful opinions.

Taylor’s article further contends that the relation between vaccines and autism is unjustified. He contrasts the two concepts of prevalence and incidence and shows that although they are commonly used interchangeably, they are two very different concepts. He defines prevalence as the numbers of people in a given population who have a “defined” disorder, while incidence is the number of new cases of a condition occurring in a population over a defined period of time. He argues that simply because there has been an increase of reported autism cases, it does not mean that autism cases are necessarily increasing in number. He discusses possibilities as to why the number of autism cases seems to be increasing. He states that while there has been an increase in people diagnosed with autism, simultaneously there has been a decrease in the number of people diagnosed with mental retardation. This brings up the idea that the diagnoses have changed over the years, or that there were under diagnoses in the past. In describing the evidence for vaccines causing autism, the claims are somewhat illegitimate, such as the testimonies of parents. As of now, there is no proof that vaccines lead to autism, and Taylor makes clear in his article that until we get direct evidence that supports such claims, it is wrong to assume that this is the case.

The fact that people are too quick to reach conclusions and will believe just about anything they hear on TV or read on the Internet has proven to be a larger issue than it would seem. It is leading people to jump to false presumptions and neglect to find evidence that proofs them to be wrong. Some of the diseases that vaccines are given for haven’t been around in a while and, therefore the seriousness of such illnesses are being slowly forgotten. Mnookin says that people need to have the ability to put their emotions aside when making decisions, for biases lead to misinformation and misinterpretations. Taylor states that we cannot jump to such conclusions about the relationship between vaccines and autism, for we need to look at the other side of the argument. In neglecting to vaccinate children against serious diseases based upon claims that have not been proven, it puts the larger society at risk in the sense that such sicknesses may someday return in abundance.

From a parents’ perspective, is it safer to vaccinate your child and raise the slim possibility of developing autism, or to choose to not vaccinate your child and raise the possibility of contracting diseases such as chicken pox and measles? While the majority of people contract the chicken pox virus and survive, is a vaccination for it, and illnesses of the same sort, really necessary?



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  1. I think that from a parent’s perspective it seems risky to vaccinate a child if you keep reading about horror stories in the media concerning vaccination’s relationship to autism. However, as the article’s discussed, this connection has not been proven, and in fact, experiments have shown that there is no connection. So scientist’s would say that parents should not fear. It would be more dangerous not to get children vaccinated and then have them possibly contract a virus that could kill them or spread to other children. But from the parents perspective, even if scientists say we shouldn’t worry about vaccinations causing autism, the media presents it as an issue of controversy and uncertainty. So the prevalence of these stories in the media imply the possibility that vaccines cause autism, which to concerned parents constitutes a legitimate, life-changing risk. So it all depends on perspective, but the bottom line is that parents need to be as informed as possible before making the educated decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate their children.

  2. I think a parent’s primary concern is to keep their children safe. I can see why a parent would be reluctant to vaccinate on the slim chance that it could cause harm; it is similar to if a toy has a slim chance of harming a child it is immediately retracted. However, I think the risk of disease proves to be a greater risk for children, and parents should be more concerned about this than the risk of autism. Yes, measles and chicken pox do not often kill, they are still dangerous, and are a danger to young babies and the elderly. I don’t think that just because chicken pox and measles are always deadly means that parents should not worry about their kids contracting the disease.

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