With my particular formal educational background and skills, I am able to “do my own research” on most subjects competently, at least on a basic level, even if I was not previously well-studied in those subjects. And I sometimes have to update and revise my understanding in deference to those patient mentors who know more than I do, an indication that I’m doing it right.
However, that does NOT mean I’m qualified to “decide for myself” or give advice on most matters of medicine. That is why I will not argue with people about vaccines. Even being somewhat educated and having a lifelong passion for science, I am not qualified — AND NEITHER ARE THEY. They are welcome to argue or discuss it with their physician, but when I suggest this, I hear crickets.
There are even health professionals — who are NOT immunologists or even doctors — who don’t know medicine enough to not spread misunderstandings and misinformation. And because people just can’t see the difference between their GP and a random “expert” on YouTube or acquaintance on Facebook, the people who repeat this stuff or play keyboard doctor with no credentials are in turn risking other people’s lives. For nearly all of us, “doing your own research” and “deciding for yourself” is a sin against sense, and not a harmless one.
But such ethics include those of us who try to correct them. If we try to educate someone who just spent hours watching videos or reading articles they are not qualified to qualify, we don’t stand a chance anyway. Their time and energy has been invested. And we are plagued with the notion we are all entitled to our opinion and choice as if it is equal to anyone else’s. But we play the game by trying to make our own voice heard just because we think we know better as well. Not only is it NOT OUR JOB in terms of being responsible for their beliefs, but, more or less, we are still unqualified to do so.
I’m not suggesting we should give undue respect to someone’s non-medical opinion on medical things. I’m not even suggesting we should keep quiet. But unless one of the people involved is truly an expert in the field, our discussion should be confined to the subjects of responsibility and trust. It is our responsibility to judge what we can, and more importantly NOT judge what we falsely think we can. And trust in expertise — however imperfect — is the foundation of any functioning society. Trusting experts isn’t blind — ignoring them is. But others may choose not to trust us and that should be fine. So let experts do the talking.
But some people can’t even be trusted to trust experts. The details of credible sources can’t be truly understood without background knowledge of the subject. I am finding people without the slightest knowledge of biochemistry and no understanding of immunology accurately quote all sorts of things about vaccines, often as arguments against things they actually prove or vice versa. There’s a reason we have experts and frankly, you don’t have to understand what they mean to defer to their judgment. And it’s not their job to explain it to you except as a courtesy under the assumption you are able to understand in the first place. Don’t trust them? That’s what second opinions are for, but most often I see people asking friends and strangers on SOCIAL MEDIA for their advice about an expert’s advice.
It’s just head-scratching, but then I realize sometimes I am the one chiming in. I’m not doing that any more. We’re not going to discuss a subject way over our heads as if they should be making major life decisions based on a thread of comments and the numbers of likes.
Knowing the problem begets the solution. We need to stop digging our heels in and thinking we can know and understand everything as if that’s our right. No person can. It’s god-level hubris. And some of us need to be boldly apologetic now rather than meekly embarrassed later, or worse. It is easy to respect for the former; for the latter, not so much.