Appealing to Evidence

CNN covers the vaccine issue in a news article on its website, highlighting a family who nearly lost their child to Hib because they had bought into the doubts, fears, and misinformation out there regarding vaccines. 

It's an effective story, highlighting the very real dangers, say, from contracting Hib, where one in twenty children who contract it will DIE.

According to WHO:
"Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacteria responsible for severe pneumonia, meningitis and other invasive diseases almost exclusively in children aged less than 5 years. It is transmitted through the respiratory tract from infected to susceptible individuals.
In 2000, Hib was estimated to have caused two to three million cases of serious disease, notably pneumonia and meningitis, and 386 000 deaths in young children. Hib disease is observed in all parts of the world but is difficult to confirm because it requires prompt laboratory investigation in patients that have not received prior antibiotic treatment.
The vaccine is now used in the routine immunization schedule of more than 100 countries and WHO recommends the use of Hib conjugate vaccines in all countries. The vaccine is available in monovalent presentation or combined with DTP and other vaccine combinations including with hepatitis B and inactivated polio vaccines."
Even in survivors, "it leaves 15 to 35% of survivors with permanent disabilities such as mental retardation or deafness. Contrary to what the name Haemophilus influenzae suggests, the bacterium does not cause influenza."

Additional information about Hib can be found at the Immunization Action Coalition:
"Is there a treatment for Hib disease?
Hib disease is treated with antibiotics, usually for 10 days. Most cases require hospitalization. Even with antibiotic treatment, 3%-6% of all children with Hib meningitis die from the disease.
How common is Hib disease in the United States?
Before the introduction of a Hib vaccine, H. influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children younger than age five years in the United States. Every year about 20,000 children younger than age five years got severe Hib disease and about 1,000 children died. More than half of children who developed severe Hib disease were younger than age 12 months.
From 1996 through 2000, an average of 68 reported cases of Hib disease occurred in children younger than age 5 years each year. By 2006, this number had dropped to just 29 cases and, although some of the 179 cases with unknown serotype could have been due to Hib, the significant decline in incidence (>99%) since the pre-vaccine era is truly remarkable.
Can you get Hib disease more than once?
Yes. A child with Hib disease may not develop protective levels of antibodies. Children younger than age 24 months who have recovered from invasive Hib disease should be considered unprotected and receive the Hib vaccine as soon as possible."
It isn't an fallacy when it's an appropriate appeal to authority or fear. The tendency for some individuals over at Huffington Post who have a passing knowledge of fallacies is to take an argument which has been made logically but whose conclusion is disliked and throw out a charge that it's an example of some particular fallacy; they never show how it's a fallacy exactly, though. 

Again, an argument may be an appeal to a particular thing, but that doesn't automatically render it a fallacy. As stated at the Nizkor Project
"It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) (evidence) and a prudential reason to believe (PRB) (motivation). A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim. For example, it might be prudent to not fail the son of your department chairperson because you fear he will make life tough for you. However, this does not provide evidence for the claim that the son deserves to pass the class."
Some of the favorite fallacies to throw out there are ad hominems and strawmen, but appeal to fear/appeal to emotion work, too. In Stagliano's Huff thread, a poster provided a link to the CNN story with no commentary attached. Most people who take the time to read that story at CNN would be horrified that this family went through this, that this child nearly died. They might be even more horrified when they realize that 1 in 20 kids who get Hib die. Most people, anyway. So, to find instead that the sole reaction to the comment was that the poster who provided the link was committing a fallacy in posting it, using an appeal to emotion, was rather interesting, to say the least. Especially since the argument put forth was that in the very first paragraph of the story, the appeal to emotion was supposedly used. Except it wasn't. Not even close. Here's the first, second, and third paragraphs. Heck, I'll through in the first six:
"For years, Kelly Lacek felt she and her husband made the right choice by not having her two youngest kids vaccinated. After all, the children were thriving without immunizations.
But in 2006, Matthew, their youngest, complained of a sore throat and a pain in his neck. The 3 year old suddenly developed a high fever. Hunched over, he struggled to breathe.
When his parents brought Matthew to the hospital, an older pediatrician asked, "Was your son vaccinated?" 
No, he wasn't. The Laceks were among those parents who had decided to postpone or skip vaccines altogether, because of skepticism over the number of shots required, the ingredients or concerns over a now-largely discredited link between vaccines and autism. 
While vaccine rates are strong overall, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among people who have private health insurance, there's evidence of a troubling decline. 
The rate of vaccination for kids covered under private insurance fell 4 percentage points in 2009, according to a nonprofit association that certifies health care organizations. It was the first time a drop had been seen. Read the full story on CNNMoney."
Hmmm. Nope. No overt appeal to emotion there. It's just relaying the events. Must be some serious reading into it. Oh I get it, just relaying a story without a particular conclusion renders something an appeal. After all the Nizkor Project does note this:
"It should be noted that in many cases it is not particularly obvious that the person committing the fallacy is attempting to support a claim. In many cases, the user of the fallacy will appear to be attempting to move people to take an action, such as buying a product or fighting in a war. However, it is possible to determine what sort of claim the person is actually attempting to support. In such cases one needs to ask "what sort of claim is this person attempting to get people to accept and act on?" Determining this claim (or claims) might take some work. However, in many cases it will be quite evident. For example, if a political leader is attempting to convince her followers to participate in certain acts of violence by the use of a hate speech, then her claim would be "you should participate in these acts of violence." In this case, the "evidence" would be the hatred evoked in the followers. This hatred would serve to make them favorable inclined towards the claim that they should engage in the acts of violence. As another example, a beer commercial might show happy, scantily clad men and women prancing about a beach, guzzling beer. In this case the claim would be "you should buy this beer." The "evidence" would be the excitement evoked by seeing the beautiful people guzzling the beer."
 The obvious conclusion to the CNN piece is that parents should vaccinate their children so that they will be protected against Hib and not be in the 5% of kids who DIE from it or the 35% who are permanently disabled. So, maybe the whole piece can be argued to be an appeal to the evidence, with a nice anecdote to make folks connect. After all, "In all fairness it must be noted that the use of tactics to inspire emotions is an important skill. Without an appeal to peoples' emotions, it is often difficult to get them to take action or to perform at their best. For example, no good coach presents her team with syllogisms before the big game. Instead she inspires them with emotional terms and attempts to "fire" them up. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, it is not any acceptable form of argumentation. As long as one is able to clearly distinguish between what inspires emotions and what justifies a claim, one is unlikely to fall prey to this fallacy" (Nizkor Project).

See, it isn't a fallacy to provide information that is factual. Here, let's look at it this way:

Hib is an infectious disease that kills 1 in 20 children who contract it. It also leaves as much as 35% percent of survivors with permanent disabilities.

Hib is preventable through the use of vaccines.

Based on the risks of death and disability, it is reasonable to protect your children from this disease through the use of vaccination.

This is not a fallacious appeal to fear, even if you add to that argument the real life story of a family who didn't  vaccinate and then nearly lost their child to this disease. There's no question the child contracted Hib. There's no question the child nearly died. Putting a face on facts isn't fearmongering. It's an example. 

The question of whether or not to vaccinate yourself and your children should be made with your doctor. It should be made based on an accurate assessment of the risks of getting the disease, the risks of death and disability from getting the disease, and the risks of vaccination. If the risks are greater without vaccination, then logically, we should vaccinate. Unfortunately, too many of us do not make decision based on logic or rationality. 

It's time to quit being knee-jerk about this. Make informed decisions based on the evidence, not on fear. Don't assume what you've read or heard is the correct information. Go to WHO and look it up if you don't trust the CDC.

I know there's a lot of clatter out there that gets in the way. There are horror stories at every turn. What should make people sit up and take notice in the CNN story is not the family's story, horrifying as it was. People should pay attention to the statistics that all the major health organization in the world agree on. Hib is dangerous. Pertussis is as well. They are both incredibly dangerous infections when it comes to our most vulnerable, our infants and small children. Adults in these children's lives have a responsibility to do what they can to safely protect their children, and sometimes that means vaccinations for those children who are old enough (again, that's for you and your doctor to decide). It should always means that we provide a protective barrier by keeping our vaccines up to date if we can safely be vaccinated.

1 comment:

kathleen said...

I stopped commenting at Huffpo ages ago..it just seems as though it is the same six or so people looking to call each other names. That is of course when the comment is actually approved. I find it interesting which comments are approved and left on-almost as if Huffpo is saying"look at this name calling buffoon" Of course the buffoon-like the emperor with new clothes..thinks they are somehow coming out on top...
To me it is faith based against science based arguments. Neither has room for the other in their convictions. I have a very hard time taking some of the commenter's seriously-as I have watched them change their story so many times.