Yesterday I wrote about the fraud and science myths that inspired the anti-vaccination movement. Since I’ve gotten a few questions about the demographics of anti-immunisation groups, here is a broad sketch of the American public who don’t believe in vaccination. Scientific data show that anti-vaxxers come from all walks of life. There are no significant differences along gender, education, religion, race and income, though there are some differences in terms of political ideology. The strongest difference is in age.
Any time there is an article about vaccine initiatives, a segment of the public begin to shout about government conspiracies and their perception of nefarious science. What is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I will eventually write a post on the sociology of why this movement has gained support and what can be done about it, but for now I reproduce my comments from another thread filled with these conspiracy theories (http://goo.gl/KqwiVk). My post below presents scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement.
The Australian Government is getting ready to displace Indigenous Australians living in over 150 remote communities in Western Australia, in a bid to save money. Rather than fixing existing social services, Indigenous Australians will be forced to move from their homes. This poorly conceived policy is nothing short of colonial violence, by dispossessing our traditional land owners from their homes. Continue reading Displacement of Indigenous Australians
Indigenous health continue to be in a woeful state in Australia. In late August, a young Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, died in police custody in Western Australia due to lack of basic health services. She was arrested for not paying a fine. She had a blister that seems to have become infected, and she was vomiting and screaming in pain for hours. Plus she had fractured ribs. She pleaded with police to be taken to hospital. The police ignored her pleas: “when the cops finally took her to hospital they were laughing and saying she was acting.” She died in hospital.
More recently, an inquest has begun into the death of, Stanley Lord, an Indigenous Australian man who died in custody early last year for a similarly petty issue. He was serving 18 months for driving while disqualified. At the time of his arrest, he was not driving drunk nor was he arrested for reckless driving. He suffered a heart attack in jail after a delay in getting him adequate healthcare, having being resuscitated five times before being taken to hospital.
The argument that Indigenous people should follow the law does nothing to address the inequity of over-policing of Indigenous Australians. Non-Indigenous Australians are not jailed at the same rate for similar misdemeanour offences. Paying fines is difficult for Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. It should not cost them their lives. Continue reading Impact of Injustice on Indigenous Australian Health
Most of what the media is reporting about the epidemic is incorrect. Ebola is not airborne. It is transmitted by close contact with blood and bodily fluids and secretions. This is why Ebola is spreading in developing regions in Western Africa that have inadequate healthcare.
Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and I speak with virology expert Professor Vincent Racaniello and Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Dr Tara C. Smith. They talk about what Ebola is, how it’s transmitted, how the current epidemic might be contained, and we also talk about some of of the media-driven misconceptions about the virus. We discuss why an outbreak in developed nations is unlikely and we cover the socio-economic factors sustaining the epidemic in poorer nations.
Vincent is a professor of virology at the University of Columbia and is a fantastic science communicator. Tara is an epidemiologist at Kent State University who has written numerous articles debunking some of the myths surrounding Ebola.
Last time, I talked about the problem with holding up celebrity lifestyle habits as reasonable health advice. A popular young American actress had reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She shared this information during an interview, saying she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media jovially shared this story, especially when a writer decided to try it out and recommend the practice, not bothering to investigate whether the health claim was true. This is my second in-depth case study showing why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.
Today let’s look at why the so-called “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” is scientifically invalid. This is a marketing term coined by a self-described “holistic nutrition specialist” who argues that women who feel emotionally overwhelmed and who show other signs of mental illness are abnormal. She argues their emotional issues boil down to a busy lifestyle and hormone imbalance. A celebrity athlete and parts of the Australian media ran with this term, giving the impression that women’s emotions need “biochemical” intervention (at the cost of $600 a pop). This narrative grossly penalises women’s expression of their emotional wellbeing and serves only to stigmatise both women as “moody bitches” (quote used by celebrity Lisa Curry) and it further stigmatises mental illness.
Vulnerable women who are suffering depression or who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements. Continue reading Women’s Mental Health and Celebrity Culture
Many people understand that celebrities are not health experts, yet the media persist on giving them a public forum to share their health and lifestyle advice. Journalists insist on printing celebrity musings without critical insight. This is dangerous. We see this in the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s pervasive in other ways. Over the next couple of days I’ll present a couple of case studies focusing on why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.
First up, I show the problems of presenting scientifically invalid ideas about vaginal health. A popular young American actress, Shailene Woodley, has reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She says she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media has repeated this advice and even recommended it with relish.
Young women who have limited access to sexual health education and who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements.
I first wrote this post for Science on Google+ and the response has been highly emotional and very far removed from the evidence presented. My interest in this story is on the epidemiology of disease, given my work on the sociology of health. Misinformation on the spread and management of infection can severely impede public health campaigns. While bioethics is an important issue to openly debate, the fact is that this particular story about virology research has been hyped up by journalists. The media created a moral panic using doomsday scenarios about what might happen if this research “escaped the lab,” without seriously reviewing the researcher’s body of work, as discussed in the post below.
I’ve previously written that when people think about scientific risks regarding a topic they are uninformed about, they are less likely to support such risks if they have vested interests such as political or personal biases. I’ve also shown how public trust in science is also influenced by education and belief systems. Bad science reporting only serves to complicate things by presenting sensationalist views (see my post here).
Sociologist & public health researcher, Sara Shoener, critiques the dangerous narrative that positions two-parent households as a protection for women and children from domestic abuse. The Washington Post ran a reckless piece of social science by a conservative sociologist who made this claim based on poor use of statistics. This researcher, writing for The New York Times, has conducted ethnographic research on how the criminal justice system handles domestic abuse cases. Her data illustrate the damage of the two parent myth. Continue reading Myth of Domestic and Family Violence
Italian-Australian activist Anna Moo talks about her attraction to social justice and how she worked with a group of migrant women in the 1970s to achieve policy changes on migrant women’s reproductive health. Moo says:
We really wanted to connect back with the women that we were advocating with. They were not aware of health services that might have been available to them. The W.I.C.H. [Women in Industry Contraception and Health] education project was developed in conjunction with Australian women and women from many different backgrounds with the support of a number of organisations.
And the fantastic aspect of that education kit is the fact that it was taken to the factories by women who were themselves from multicultural backgrounds. Each worker spoke a language, a community language, whereby women could actually ask questions and be supported through the discussions. You know, what’s really amazing is that we still have Women in Industry Contraception and Health, it’s called a different name but it’s still that organisation…
It’s really a testament to what women can do together.