Another, and similar, model in risk communication states that over-reassuring will frequently back-fire causing people to become more fearful or entrenched in their disagreement with your position.
For those of you in the U.S., you likely heard about the controversy over the recent debut of a new television show on the ABC network. For those unaware, the debut was about, in part, a lawyer who convinced a jury that a vaccine caused his client’s child to develop autism.
Days before the episode aired, various groups, most prominently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pressed aggressively for the episode to be canceled because of the negative portrayal of vaccines. The head of the AAP, in a news release, accused ABC of, “reckless irresponsibility,” and said, “ABC will share in the responsibility for the suffering and deaths [of those who choose to not receive vaccines].”
Although I can appreciate the actions of the AAP and the need they felt to address the issue, I also could not help but think how their communication would sound to people who are anti-vaccine or even to some pro-vaccine people. Science is strongly on the side of the AAP and others who argue that vaccines do not cause autism, yet, science won’t always win the argument.
When we act as if the objections that people have stem only from the “Hazard” variable of the equation, we assume that as long as we continue providing more and more solid scientific evidence in easy-to-understand terms, the objectors will be won. And we will be wrong, because we have done nothing to address the “Outrage” variable, which includes many valid emotional elements.
Whether discussing health, rights, or faith, we can’t afford to see the goal so narrowly that we only see the issues through our perspective. There is more to addressing concerns than simple expert facts, and forgetting that helps no one.