Monthly Archives: July 2012

It’s your responsibility to get the shot

This is an issue very close to my usually cold and concrete heart as it involves the lives and deaths of innocents from completely preventable diseases and infections. With the recent explosion of anti-vaxers circling internet forums, television, and communities, I felt helpless to stop them or challenge their disastrous messages. I thought, what can I do, as an individual, to make their toxic message just a little bit less effective?

I’m going to help strengthen herd immunity, and urge others to do the same. If we can’t silence the anti-vaxer’s dangerous vocal arguments, we can silently protect those they affect by doing our part biologically.

I was worried that this post might conjure images of me sitting on a very high horse dictating what you should do and how great I am for suggesting you do so. If that does come to mind, what colour is the horse? If this post reminds one person to get their booster shots, then I consider that a large victory.

A lot of anti-vaxers recoil in horror at the mention of ‘herd immunity’ as if they’re being referred to as mindless sheep being herded into the doctor’s office in an orderly assembly line (if only that were the case…). Herd immunity is the immunity of a large proportion of the members of society and the consequent lessening of the likelihood of an affected individual coming into contact with a susceptible individual. These susceptible individuals are usually newborn babies who are too young and vulnerable to receive their vaccinations for various infections such as whooping cough (pertussis) and the measles. So basically, the logic of herd immunity dictates that the more individuals who are vaccinated, the chances that a chain of disease transmission will be interrupted are very high, resulting in self-contained, small outbreaks that will die out quickly.

What many adults do not know, and what I’m endeavouring to spread the word about, is that you need booster shots. I was surprised to learn that the vaccinations I received as a young child are not permanent (and this is why I’m not a doctor), and your body needs ‘reminding’ with regards to fighting these infections. Vaccinations for adults are also highly stressed for new parents, or people who are in contact with young and vulnerable babies and children. What actually spurred me on to getting my boosters was the fact that my neighbour is pregnant and I will no doubt be interacting with, holding, kissing, and sucking the youth out of this newborn baby. I feel like it’s my responsibility to be vaccinated before handling this new innocent baby. I am the adult, and for visits where I am responsible for the baby’s health (not dropping him, holding him correctly, basically keeping him alive), I should be vaccinated against any infections that he may catch.

The same logic applies to older children who I am in contact with as part of my work, study or volunteering. I do not know whether these children have been vaccinated. If I can be one more person that they interact with who CANNOT infect them, I see this as only a positive result of booster vaccinations. Their parents have obviously decided against vaccinating their children (something I vehemently disagree with, and with the help of ‘Stop the AVN’ am trying to change), and I can’t change that, but I can help herd immunity by protecting the ‘innocents’ in society. These innocent new born babies include Dana McCaffery who at 4 weeks old died after being exposed to whooping cough after her mother took her outside in a notoriously anti-vax area of New South Wales here in Australia. My heart breaks every time I hear this story, both for the painful death of this beautiful little baby and for the guilt the family feels for not knowing about the blatant apathy their community had with regards to immunisation. Here is her story:

http://danamccaffery.com/openletter.html

Although verbal back and forths with the anti-vax groups may be falling on deaf ears, you can do your part to fight their dangerous messages. Do exactly what they’re campaigning against. Get vaccinated. Next time you go to your GP, discuss possible booster shots you’re eligible, swallow some concrete, and get the shot. Then, when you’ve got your little bandaid and lollipop for be such a good patient, tell anyone who will listen about what you did and why. You never know whose life you might be saving in the future.

Here is some information for Australian residents about vaccination programs:  http://www.myvaccination.com.au/

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The great company in Hell

The great company in Hell

If this is what hell will be like, sign me up!

(I stole this picture from the FaceBook timeline of the fantastic Australian Atheist Foundation)

Your privileges as a non-cripple

Most people don’t like being labelled as ‘ists’; sexist, racist, homophobic…ist. Have you ever considered whether you’re an ‘ableist’? That’s right, there’s another word to make you feel guilty about your privileged status. This time, this privilege comes from having been born healthy or not having been involved in a major accident. Statistically, there’s a large chance you are an ableist, and according to the blogger ‘Bitch on Wheels’, you carry an invisible ableist back pack (which you can easily carry because you’re physically healthy enough to). I came across this list of privileges and thought it would be a bit of fun to describe my experiences with some of the items included.

A bit of back story is needed of course. I am ultimately better than you because I am not an ableist. I have a physical disability called Muscular Dystrophy. It basically means the proteins in my muscles deteriorate over time, making my whole body (from the neck down) weaker. This leads to me losing the ability to do normal things such as walking, bending, reaching, and somersaulting. I was diagnosed when I was 12 and currently spend the majority of my time in a wheelchair. It’s become normal for me, I’ve adapted, because I have no other choice. However, there are some things that I shouldn’t HAVE to adapt to, as they are discriminatory and condescending, and this is where the ableist’s back pack comes in.

I’m only going to address the items that most apply to my situation, but if you’d like to see the entire list, check out Bitch on Wheel’s blog here: http://exposingableism.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/the-invisible-backpack-of-able-bodied-privilege-checklist/

  • I can, if I wish, arrange to attend social events without worrying if they are accessible to me.

I’m guessing that not a lot of you have to worry about whether you’ll be able to fit into a certain venue, unless of course you’re the Hulk, but I think if that’s the case, you’ve got bigger problems. I have to research most venues before I attend social events. This includes ringing restaurants to set up wheelchair accessible tables, ordering specialised seating at concerts, and asking friends to scour their houses for small steps or difficult doorways. I miss out on many social gatherings due to their locations, which I’ve come to accept, but there’s still a bitter stab of disappointment when I realise I’ll be missing out on a fun beach party or bonfire.

  • I am not called upon to speak as the token person for people of my mobility level

Now this might not seem strange or offensive to you, but imagine if you were called upon to represent a group of people because of something you were born with. Would you feel comfortable representing everyone with brown eyes? Or everyone who is left handed? Of course I’m completely in support of anyone who chooses to speak for those with disabilities. Disability advocates have made the world a better place for me, and without them, I wouldn’t have ramps built at my university, or government funded help. However, I have been approached many times to speak on behalf of those with Muscular Dystrophy, wheelchair users, or people with varying disabilities, simply because I was born with it. I don’t feel that I can speak for others. Everyone’s experiences are different, and my story doesn’t represent everyone’s.

  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called an ‘inspiration’

This is a major item for me. This is where the condescending nature of people is revealed. Before I continue, I need to say that 99% of people do not mean any harm when they talk to me like a child, they’re simply ignorant of their behaviour. This isn’t a case of people being mean or abusive, it’s a lack of insight into the lives of those disabled people they’re talking to or interacting with. I’ve had people rub the top of my head, pat my shoulder, talk slowly and loudly to me, and completely ignore me and talk to whoever is with me at the time.  It even happens with medical professionals. These are people who should know better, yet I’ve still had doctors address my parents with questions about my health whilst I sit there, staring straight at them, mouth agape.  Along with the blatant condescending treatment, the amount of times I’ve heard the words ‘inspiration’ ‘proud’ and ‘brave’ be thrown around will make you feel a bit queasy. I am very proud of myself and how far I’ve come, because it would have been much easier for me to curl up in bed and refuse to open the curtains (although there have been periods in which I did this). However, when people congratulate me for doing normal things such as graduating high school, going to university, etc, I feel like pointing to the able bodied student next to me and saying ‘We both had to do the same work and pass the same tests’. I didn’t get where I am today because of my disability. I got here in spite of it. I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary. When I conquer Mount Everest, then you can give me a congratulatory high five.

(For a much better and funnier article about ‘Inspiration Porn’ check out one of my favourite writers, Stella Young: http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2012/07/02/3537035.htm)

  • I can be reasonably sure that my physical ability level will not discourage potential employers from hiring me

Now that I’ve come to a stage in my life where I’ve completed my degree and I’m comfortable with my skill set, I feel that it’s time to look for a job in which I can utilise these skills, and make a step towards procuring a successful and fulfilling career in my field of interest. In fantasy land, everyone is employed based on their skills, experience, personality and work ethic. Skin colour, gender, background or disability isn’t a factor considered by the employer in fantasy land. Also, there are fairy floss trees and unicorns giving kittens free rides. Unfortunately, this is the real world and I have to be realistic about who will employ me. Even I know, if I was an employer and was presented with two candidates of equal worth and quality with regards to what the company wants, I would pick the able bodied applicant. It’s just easier. Desks don’t have to be altered, ramps don’t have to be installed, and special circumstances don’t have to be considered. So when it comes to employment, I know it’s going to be a tough road with lots of rejection and unfair judgement, but I’m going to have to suck it up and trudge on.

  • I can choose to share my life with someone without it being a disadvantage to them

To be honest, this is an issue I still struggle with. I’m often uncomfortable when I see stories in the media about someone having a terrible accident, becoming disabled in some way, and then having their partner described as ‘inspirational’ for staying with them. Surely, if you loved someone enough, you wouldn’t think twice about caring for them in that situation. It makes me feel like if I was to be with anyone, helping me with my condition would be a burden to them because it’s such a big and inspirational task to help someone with a disability. I admit, I have grave doubts and worries about future partners and if I’ll be a burden and whether they’ll resent me, but I feel like these worries will decrease with age and experience.

Contrary to my previous jokes about you all being ableists, I didn’t write this to induce guilt or make you feel bad about complaining about your own lives (although I do have to bite my tongue when people try to sympathise with my situation by saying ‘I know how you feel, I broke my foot once.’). I just thought it was interesting to delve into privileges we don’t know we have. Furthermore, if this can stop just one person from treating those with disabilities in condescending or offensive ways, I feel like I’ve done my good deed for the day. Now I’m off to find those kitten riding unicorns…

‘Fifty Shades of Endorsing Abusive Relationships’ wasn’t as catchy

Fifty_Shades_of_Grey_40313

Let me just preface this by saying in no way am I a connoisseur of literature or writing. I mainly read non-fiction, so any fiction I do read is usually simple, fun and easy to understand (Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich, etc.). It’s a break for my constantly stimulated brain. So when I say that the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ books are terrible, you know that’s coming from someone who LIKES terrible books. I know that’s some messed up logic, but stick with me.

There has been a lot of discussion about the sexual themes of these books and how they’re ‘empowering’ for women. But I don’t want to focus on that, because it’s quite boring to be honest. The book doesn’t offer anything new or exciting in the realm of BDSM or power play. I would like to express my feelings about the blatant advocacy for abusive relationships in these books and separate it from the apparently saucy sexual components.

Before I continue, I’d like to quote Stanford University’s definition of Relationship Abuse:

‘Relationship Abuse is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviours used to maintain power and control over a former or current partner’

Please keep that definition in mind when I inform you of one of the main character’s antics.

Christian Grey is a bajillionaire with floppy hair, a sculpted chest, moodiness, a dark past and… uh… sorry, I just fell asleep. I have such a strong feeling of déjà vu. OH I KNOW WHY. BECAUSE IT’S THE EXACT SAME PLOT AS TWILIGHT.

Christian is described as ‘Fifty Shades of Fucked Up’, which is the only thing in the books I agree with. He exhibits unmistakable behaviours and mental patterns of an abusive partner. I have a feeling that the author (E.L James) thought this would be okay and overlooked by the reader due to the fact that he had an abusive childhood, which apparently led to his ‘kinky’ love of BDSM sexual practices. She seems to be right. The amount of women lapping these books up without thinking twice about what it’s endorsing is sickening. Christian is controlling, insanely jealous, overpowering, manipulative, sexist and very unstable. One of my favourite descriptions of this abhorrent character comes from Aaron Mettey:

‘Truthfully, if I didn’t know that the book was a romance, I would have thought Ana would eventually wake up plastic-wrapped to a table, Dexter style.’

UPCOMING SPOILER ALERT!

Oh who am I kidding? None of you are going to waste your time or money on this rubbish.

At the beginning, Anastasia Steele (yes, let that name soak in for a minute and try and keep the bile from rising in your throat) signs a contract to be Christian’s ‘Sub’ in a Dominant and Submissive sexual relationship. This contract says that Christian controls what she wears, when she eats, when she sleeps, what he does (sexually) to her, etc. Awesome, that’s her choice; she knows what’s going on. As the books progress, they fall in love and all that mushy crap and Christian tears up the contract. That should be the end and they should live happily ever after. However, Christian still likes to think he’s dominant over her and can control her.

She has to get his permission to wear certain clothes, he determines when she eats and sleeps, he cuts her off from her friends and family, he becomes insanely jealous over her male friends, he urges her to quit her job (when she doesn’t he buys the company so he can keep an eye on her), and he forces her to be responsible for all contraception. Remember that definition of relationship abuse? I’d say it’s pretty much spot on in this circumstance. But you may say, ‘He never physically abused her, it doesn’t count’. This is a common misconception about the definition of ‘abuse’. You don’t need cuts or bruises to feel abused. Mental, emotional and psychological manipulation can damage one’s self esteem, independence, self-efficacy and sense of worth, often leading to depression, anxiety and sometimes even suicide. Furthermore, I counted 3 instances in which he threatened physical violence against her (her only crime was leaving the house without him).

I do realise this is simply a poorly written fiction book, and I wouldn’t be so concerned if only a few women were picking it up for a quick read, but the fact is, it’s so widespread and popular (and has now been made into a movie), infiltrating pop culture and infecting so many impressionable brains. A lot of people connect deeply with books (myself included) as they can help shape your lives, ideas, opinions, and morality. These books spread the unhealthy message that abuse is sexy, acceptable, and dreamy. Somehow, if an abuser is rich and handsome, his behaviour is acceptable and even revered. It’s a slap in the face to all those men and women who suffer from real relationship abuse and it trivialises the issue.

 

Support Mr Jacob Fortin’s Book Kickstarter!

Jacob Fortin’s ‘The Good Atheist’ was one of the first atheist podcasts I ever listened to. I was weary that it would be a self congratulatory load of taurus excretus, but I was pleasantly surprised. Every week he manages to pump out quality material with his co-host Ryan or the delightful Carissa Hendrix. It’s funny, topical, crude, and intelligent, everything you want in a podcast. That’s why I’m more than happy to spread the word about Jacob’s campaign to get his book published and then go on a tour to meet up with all it’s readers.

His YouTube video’s viewers are a bit scarce but with the power of social media we can change that!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYxXB7kzkz4&feature=youtu.be

If you don’t feel like hopping on the ol’ Tube, here’s his website:

http://thegoodatheist.com/

Also, if you donate, and express interest, he might draw your face into one of the characters. YOUR FACE!

So get cracking minions. Donate/help your little hearts out!

The Psychology Behind Anti-Vaxers

After studying Psychology for 3 years I am humbled by and extremely confused about the human brain and how it works. Humbled because of the amazing capabilities that have evolved over millions of years, and confused because it is simultaneously the driving force behind the strangest and most dangerous theories, connections, behaviours and actions in history.

One of the most dangerous movements of recent times is that of the anti-vaccination networks, specifically those that say vaccinations (specifically the MMR shot) cause autism. Now I know you’re all sick of the ‘debate’, and I’d be preaching to the choir if I was to tell you that it’s been scientifically debunked, so how about looking at the psychological processes behind this strange conspiracy theory.

Firstly, for those not familiar with the MMR vaccination controversy, in 1998, a theory emerged that the MMR vaccine caused autism. Specifically, the theory argued that the vaccine lingered in the gut, causing gastrointestinal problems which led to autism. This very small study was discredited and debunked. In fact, while the rate of MMR vaccinates has remained constant, the rate of autism diagnoses has continued to soar1. Along with there being no connection with the vaccine, autism is a largely genetic disease, as scientists have found that if one identical twin is diagnosed with autism, the other twin has about 90% chance of developing an autistic disorder2. Also, because this is science, and you’d expect as such from science, I’ve included references of the publications in which I gathered these facts from.

We pride ourselves on being logical and rational beings, above all other animals, capable of intelligent decisions and proud of our newly formed frontal cortexes. Yet this belief is constantly challenged by observing ourselves and others who continually make emotionally driven decisions, whether it’s by believing in a particular religion, or simply buying a chocolate bar because you ‘felt like it’. This is because our frontal cortex is intimately linked to our primary emotions (fear, anger, surprise, happiness, sadness) and these easily take over the function of the frontal cortex. So when your offspring’s health is at stake, what do you think wins out?

Here is a quote from one of the many anti-vaccination websites floating around:

‘The scientific proof of vaccine caused autism has been around for some time but kept from the public by the industry controlled media who trumpet the smokescreen of junk science epidemiology studies that have all been shredded numerous times. Plus, the thousands of parent anecdotes are ignored for obvious reasons’.

Before steam starts billowing out your ears from the sheer ridiculousness, understand that these anti-vaccinators share our brain structures and connections. So what could explain these unfounded beliefs?

A major factor is external explanatory attribution. If you’re unfortunate enough to have a child with a disability like autism, there is the natural inclination to blame something or someone other than yourself to deal with any guilt or frustration you may feel. Everyone does it. We all make explanatory attributions to understand the world and to seek reasons for particular events. In this case, the external blame is placed on vaccines, doctors, the media and ‘big pharma’. No-one wants to be held responsible for their child’s sickness or disease, and with autism, no parent should be. An interesting feature of this psychological theory is the difference in attributions we make about ourselves and others. We tend to blame environmental influences on our behaviour and circumstances (‘I smoke because my job stresses me’), whilst we blame other’s behaviour on their internal choices (‘He smokes because he’s got no will power’).

These attributions flow seamlessly into forming strong and emotional cognitive and confirmation biases. The complaint of parent’s anecdotes being ignored is firstly failing to know that anecdotes don’t count as scientific evidence, but most importantly, is a great example of confirmation bias. We all have opinions and ideas that we wish to be reinforced and supported by others. I think dressing up cats in human clothes is hilarious, and I feel justified and supported when I find other people or groups that share my interest. This confirmation bias is evident in the anti-vaccination groups who actively seek out information that supports their claims and beliefs and ignore those that don’t (or blame it on a conspiracy). This is why they place so much importance on anecdotes. They trust fellow parents/people who share their opinions and are puzzled and insulted when others don’t.

As well as valuing anecdotes from others that support their position, anti-vacs employ the use of the ‘availability heuristic’. This is a cognitive bias tactic that our brains use to help report the frequency of an event based on how easily an example to be brought to mind. If you surround yourself with people who are convinced that a vaccination gave their child autism, and information supporting this theory, then these will be the first examples that come to your mind. But what makes this a vicious cycle of unstoppable madness and dangerous ‘information’ is that cognitive and confirmation biases are so strong and ingrained in individuals, that bringing them to their attention will most likely be ineffective as they will be dismissed by those who hold anti-vaccination views.

Of course these psychological tendencies and theories can be applied to anything in life. They are the core components of large organisations such as religions and cults, and can filter down into the smallest of decisions and opinions in everyday life. So even though you may vehemently disagree with and campaign with every fibre of your being against their movement, it’s hard not to identify with them on a purely human and emotional level.

1 –  Exkorn, Karen Siff. 2005. The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know about Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping, and Healing. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

2 –  Lathe, Richard. 2006. Autism, Brain, and Environment. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

(This post was originally featured on the brilliant Martin Pribble’s website http://martinspribble.com/ Check him out!)

My mother flippin’ blog

So I’ve decided to start a blog. As you all know, all blogs are amazingly successful and contribute to the collective intelligence of all human kind, so… you’re welcome.

I basically started this as a way to express some things that I might not be able to adequately do on video. Plus, you can’t always access videos. This way you can read my rants in the toilet at work. Once again, you’re welcome.

I’m passionate about science communication and hope to be doing some proper articles on specific issues, theories and ideas. Of course, I welcome any suggestions on topics as well.

Let the experiment begin!