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Participation trophies have resulted in a generation riddled with folks who falsely believe that they are good at everything. It has left many individuals with the inability to distinguish participants from experts -and that, in part, is how we end up with ‘Anti-Vaxxers.’

Somewhere around the early 1990s, parenting took an interesting turn and we decided as a society that we needed to reward our children for merely trying rather than accomplishing. Some parents took this to the extreme. These kids grew up in an environment where an earnest try, regardless of how mediocre the result, was constantly praised and given as much recognition as true success. As a result of this undue praise and encouragement, this generation ended up fraught with people crippled by pseudo-abilities and distrustful of true experts. You see, expertise challenges their deeply ingrained belief that success IS the act of trying.

Guess where those kids are now; they’re all grown up and they are parents themselves. They are parents who are unable to recognize their own limitations even when those limitations put their own children at terrible risk. They are a jack of all trades, master of none, yet they wholeheartedly believe they know better than everyone around them-especially doctors. Becoming a doctor in western society has long been revered as an ultimate measure of achievement. Recognizing success and achievement by validating the expertise of doctors runs contrary to the idea that attempting is equal to being, so doctors must be labeled frauds to protect and preserve their delicate self. Rather than trusting the advice of experts, they surround themselves with people who bolster their ego by agreeing with them.

The adult participation-trophy parent genuinely believes, among other things, that they have the ability, with no formal training in medical research, to read complicated scientific literature and understand its implications. Not only does this parent believe that he/she can read and understand it, they believe that they can then interpret the data and draw a conclusion more weighted than countless experts in the fields of immunology, virology, epidemiology, and every other applicable ology known to man. Where parents with healthy egos are able to defer authority to those more knowledgeable and trained, these parents cannot. Doing so would challenge the fragile nature of their self esteem which has been rooted in undue praise and imagined accomplishments.

Does it matter that they have no formal training in the sciences necessary to interpret the data? Hell no, they tried just as hard as the experts, why shouldn’t they be rewarded with the opportunity to form their own conclusion? Why shouldn’t they be able to practice medicine on their child without a license? My child, my choice, right? Who are the experts to say that they are wrong and that they are harming their children by not vaccinating? The experts must be nefarious evil doers hell bent on the destruction of mankind. It couldn’t be that they are better at this than an unqualified, uneducated, do-it-yourself “researcher” parent who tried. It couldn’t possibly be that their pediatrician spent 12 years of his life going into debt up to his eyeballs because he wanted to help children and came out smarter than someone who didn’t. Those facts would implode the alternative reality these parents were presented with in childhood and continue to believe as adults.

To reinforce this delusion further, in comes the DIY era. Not a mechanic but need to change your spark plugs? No problem. One quick YouTube video later and you are basically Ms. Meineke. Not a contractor but need a kitchen remodel? Great, just watch 3 episodes of ‘Flip This House’ and post your results to pinterest! These new found powers only brace the fantasy that anyone, no matter how unskilled or untrained, can do ANYTHING. The problem is; your kid isn’t a kitchen backsplash. You can’t just use your WebMD diploma to declare yourself a qualified medical researcher and DIY their medical care successfully. Extending this thinking to medicine comes with devastating consequences like the resurgence of eradicated diseases which put them and everyone else at risk.

Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you snowflake, but your parents lied to you. Your coaches lied to you. The spelling bee lied to you. In fact, every person who told you that a “really good try” was just as good as success also lied to you. Unless you have an advanced degree in the sciences, spend years observing, testing and confirming your hypotheses, YOU ARE A GOOGLER, NOT A RESEARCHER. You are a parent, not a pediatrician. Your opinion is not as important as the medical experts and you have no business believing that it is. There’s no clearer way to put this out there for you. There is no participation trophy when it comes to medical research. There is no participation trophy when it comes to being a doctor; there’s the experts and then there is you……the parent putting their inflated ego and imagined abilities above your kids’ health. Vaccines are safe and effective. Your googling is wrong. Put the trophy down, save the DIY for home projects and trust the guys who didn’t just try, but succeeded when it comes to medical research and healthcare.

1 thought on “Participation Trophies

  1. Hi,

    I working on the case of antivaxx now and I have come to determine that the “debate” isn’t a debate, but not for reasons that you think. Provaxx and Antivaxx are both culpable of allowing anger to escalate into something not recognizable. Antivaxx, like provaxx, is by no means homogeneous. There are many vaccine hesitant people out there. I am not suggesting that “Laura” is one of them. I do think that she has allowed her anger at some Provaxx rhetoric drive her to act unwisely. For instance, some antivaxx says vaccines are a conspiracy, poison, cause birth defects etc. They also point to alternative treatment methodologies that are largely… traditional and unable to meet scientific research standards (Del Bigtree, Polly Tommey and most of the members of the Vaxxed film). Then you have people who have bought into the antivaxx argument based on anecdotal information: someone’s cousin’s friend got autism. Some spread the information and some just ardently support it. Once you get outside of this circle things get hazy. Some people get lumped into the antivaxx movement by coincidentally not having vaccinated their child. There is no sinister design in this case though both sides use these people as part of statistical analysis to suit their own argument. Anyway, these are people who tend to work more than one job with children, have low access to healthcare professionals (of which many are not stellar). Many times they miss the schedule that is put forth because of the rigors of adherence added to a work life style conducive to no free time. The next issue that people who are vulnerable to antivaxx is that they are parents who fear for their children. When you add this factor to condescension from health professionals when questions are asked and an overall lording of information over someone, people get upset. What happens if they just can’t switch Doctors like so many people say. They are stuck with someone’s medical practice who can be somewhat “undesirable” to interact with. So they go looking on the internet when they get off work, or late at night when they have the time. They find all kinds of things. Some things like the “white papers” Del Bigtree is producing that look just like Journal Articles. They have to navigate agnotology, conspiracy theory, and now feature length films. Where is all of this literature coming from? Why is the production values that we see so high? Why is there so much hate, memes, arguing, slander, protests etc. Why is there a vaccine court? Doubt is what is being sold. When I first saw Vaxxed (while it was on YouTube) I was shocked. I felt a ripple of doubt. After a lot of research (debunking websites, reading the studies mentioned, going to government source documents) I was able to decode what was happening. That took almost a month to deconstruct. This time and more importantly access, is not available to everyone. It is quite plausible that people would see the movie (which now has a sequel) and ask themselves how certain they are about vaccines. There are also the medical professional defectors. This does not help. Dr. Sears, who is cited very often, is part of a huge medical practice in the USA. That practice has tons of books on Amazon which are all associated with Pediatric care. Dr. Sears still practices. There are nurses across the USA denouncing vaccines, still practicing. I would say the way the conflict is going, provaxx’s “just listen to me, because I am the professional” argument has to change. More compassion for terrified and confused parents is needed. There are going to be more and more questions as Antivaxx tour buses continue their recruiting drive. While it is true “there is no evidence to support the link between autism and MMR” it doesn’t matter anymore. Antivaxx “feels” it to be true so therefor it is. The academic term is esoteric truth and/or post-truth. This is emotion not rational based decision making. There is no amount of fact, studies, evidence that will persuade the opposition. They need better medical access, better Doctors that have more time, better access to legitimate materials (which mostly rest behind pay walls of Universities), all to build a better world view. Many of the fanatical parts of antivaxx what to believe what happened to their children has some sort of blame. The parents of the statistical outliers are being found and they are talking. What this means is that collective protections over individual assurances are become less effective. The West is polarizing over individual rights and that contradicts “herd immunity.” I wish I new the answer how to persuade people, but I do know we need to persuade them. We can treat people better than we do, even if we can’t persuade them. Each spurned, angry parent who is shamed for being afraid, will find comfort and acceptance in antivaxx.

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