When I was a new reporter, the human resources manager explained to me that ad people usually scored high on the personality test skepticism indicator.
Reporters — who, in theory, are supposed to not believe anything — tended to be average, or even a little below average, in terms of skepticism. If anything, reporters were a little gullible.
I’m certainly gullible, I still harbor a little bit of secret hope that Santa Claus will somehow turn out to exist, even though my parents never even mentioned Santa Claus, and I’m Jewish.
I’m still rooting for fairies, ESP and even astrology. It’s a big universe. You never know.
In connection with practical matters, I instinctively compensate for the effects of my gullibility by being a little extra skeptical, and to always wonder, “Who paid for that thought to be expressed in that particular way at this particular time?”
I’m always thrilled when I, as a reporter, get a press release from America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) written from the perspective of, “This or that proposal will cost health insurers a lot of money, so, we hate it,” because I understand exactly why AHIP is expressing that thought and don’t have to go through a mental maze to figure out why the press release says what it says.
If I get a public education press release from Americans with Grody Gizzards (AGG) talking about how I should go in for an annual gizzard exam, then I go through a paranoid circle of first wondering if I have a grody gizzard, then wondering if the folks at AGG are overly obsessed with gizzards, then wondering if a manufacturer of gizzard exam tests is whipping people into a hysterical frenzy about the state of our gizzards. Then I wonder if the truffula tree growers are helping to puff up gizzard mania to somehow stick it to the manna farms.
By the time I’ve gone through all of these circles of thoughts about the gizzard exam release, it seems easier to go to the health food store and buy a bottle of organic, vegetarian, gizzard health herb pills, even though no scientific studies whatsoever show that the pills work. At least I can just go in and quickly buy of the unproven, probably nonfunctional gizzard pills. I don’t have to make an appointment to see a primary care doctor for a checkup in six months, then wait in the office for an hour before the appointment starts, and then find that asking about my gizzard gets the “free” checkup billed as a $400 sick gizzard exam.
To me, it looks as if lots of people are sharing that approach to many different topics related to risk, and that the, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” attitude may be affecting wellness campaigns.
Generally, in most cases, I’m actually a fan of conventional medicine, including vaccines, fluoridated toothpaste and the idea of giving birth in a hospital.
A lot of the people around me aren’t.
They seem to have decided that much of what they read in the conventional media is the product of hype.
These folks would go with trust alternative medicine approaches that have been shown to probably not work, or that have been shown to probably work less well than the conventional approaches.
These folks choose those alternative medicine approaches, that could have, say, a 5 percent chance of working better than the conventional approaches than to accept the idea that there’s a 95 percent chance that the conventional medicine approach is the best approach and a 5 percent risk that the conventional medicine approach is actually a scheme cooked up by a corporate marketing department, an ad department, a public relations firm, and a grassroots social media outreach firm that pays Bengalis who are earning money to pay for wells for their isolated villages $1 per message board post.
In most cases, the results are trivial, or even mildly endearing.
If my friends handle their arthritis with copper bracelets, what’s the problem?
But some of my friends are strategizing to figure out how to get around the conventional medicine immunization rules. That’s not so endearing. That actively endangers the health of my child, by increasing the risk that she’ll get sick if one of her own conventional immunizations does not work as well as expected.
One woman in Hoboken, a few blocks from one of LifeHealthPro’s offices, gave birth at home, with an unlicensed midwife a few days ago. The woman avoided the IVs, painkillers, noise and pressure to have a C-section that come with giving birth in a hospital — and the operating room that could have saved her baby’s life when the baby turned out in a breech position.
Even though I like conventional medicine, I find that my current instinctive reaction to anything relating to wellness is to think, “Which pharmaceutical or diagnostic company developed this campaign to manipulate me?”
So, on the one hand: Wellness and public outreach campaigns are great. We probably need more of them.
But, on the other hand: I think it’s important for the folks involved in these campaigns to understand that less is more, and that underpromsising and being modest about what’s known are much better than overpromising or being too certain about what we know.
To me, it seems as if the homeopathic medicine users I know would be a lot more likely to accept conventional medicine advice from authority figures who take their ideas and concerns seriously than from authority figures who come off as they know everything.
And, on the third hand, I think it’s really important that the authority figures for any outreach campaign be clearly identified and not disguised as “just plain Internet folks.”
Plain folks like to get advice on the Internet from other plain folks, but getting advice from “plain folks” who turn out to be paid public relations specialists working undercover is disconcerting. Similarly, if drug companies or testing device companies or others with a financial stake in promoting a public health campaign are involved, they ought to clearly identify themselves and all of their financial and genuinely altruistic motivations.
The goal should be both to promote wellness behavior and the idea that people can take public health campaigns at face value, without always having to wonder what ulterior motives are involved.