The brand-new book “The Vaccination Picture” isn’t by any means the first publication to make the many compelling arguments in favor of protecting ourselves, our children and our communities from vaccine-preventable diseases. But it might be one of the most unusual and clear books on the subject, and it’s definitely the most colorful.
Author Timothy Caulfield is a professor of law and public health at the University of Alberta, and research director of the Health Law Institute there. But his approach isn’t at all dry or even professorial. Instead, in the first third of the book, he punches his points home with short, pithy headlines and easy-to-digest summaries that cut to the chase on colorful pages, one dramatic fact after another.
Quick! What’s the most vaccine-skeptical nation in the world? (See Answer A below.)
How much did U.S. measles cases increase from 2013 to 2014? (Answer B)
How many deaths are prevented each year, across the globe, by vaccines? (Answer C)
That’s just the start. Caulfield’s book is heavily illustrated throughout by eight different graphic designers and artists. In fact, the vaccination “picture” is exactly what it says: The story is told as much through art as through words. They range from fun cartoons that accompany the shorter, simpler sections to complex drawings and fantastical anatomical renderings further into the book.
The text also grows more complex as you thumb through, with thorough (though not long or wordy) explanations of the many factors that create misunderstanding of vaccine importance and safety. There’s a section on correlation vs. causation – the difference between when two events appear to be associated with each other, and when one actually causes the other.
Another segment explains how our minds are wired to believe stories over data, even though anecdotes aren’t really proof of anything except that something happened once—and didn’t necessarily mean what observers drew from it. Other sections address how celebrity culture helps spread misinformation and lend it a veneer of believability; the “echo chamber” effect of social media, in which like-minded people group together, affirming each other’s beliefs without getting information from the other side; growing beliefs in pseudoscience; and the importance of replication in building a body of true evidence.
Misinformation delivered through popular culture can have an outsized effect even among people who think that celebrity pronouncements have no impact on them, just on everyone else. Caulfield writes. Yet evidence has shown that pop culture already has affected everything from cancer treatment to decisions to start smoking.
“While most in the public recognize the impact of popular culture on health behavior, many believe it doesn’t impact them. This is called the “ ‘third person effect,’ “ Caulfield writes. “Despite the evidence that celebrity culture can be tremendously influential, people have a tendency to think that they are relatively immune to its power.”
Caulfield has created an extraordinary book to get across the crucial message of vaccine safety, effectiveness and importance. Comprehensive, wide-ranging and fully referenced, it nonetheless packs real impact into short, colorful reading.
He ends with words of wisdom for vaccine advocates: Don’t just despair about the impact of social media and hope it will go away. Find ever-smarter ways to use it to counter dangerous messages spreading falsehoods about vaccination. Insist that science be trustworthy in its funding for vaccination research and transparent about its work in all regards, because a major requirement for moving the needle on understanding requires cultivating public trust.
“The Vaccination Picture,” published by Penguin Canada, is a valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone with thoughts on the topic, from casually interested beginners to experts trying to understand why science’s clear message on vaccines is failing to persuade a growing number of people. Most people will find at least some worthy new information to ponder, while enjoying the sometimes funny, often thoughtful, always eye-catching illustrations.
B. Measles cases tripled
C. 2 to 3 million deaths prevented
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