I am going to present complex information about Swine Flu, or H1N1, in a clear, simple, friendly way based on my own experience.
This is not really a post about BrainPOP UK. We made our special movie about Swine Flu for kids, and placed it on You Tube as well as our site, and it has had 12,000 views (so far) on YouTube alone – partly because it seems no one else is explaining this subject in a way that communicates clearly to a younger audience.
Weirdly, we are also finding that our movie is being used by adults, and those informing adults, in workplaces and even in care homes for the elderly.
Unfortunately, it seems that no one in government, or in senior positions in our health services and media, can find a way of doing this for grown ups without further adding to the confusion and hysteria!
Like thousands of parents this weekend, I was not just concerned in general, but very specifically. One of my children got ill.
High temp, sore throat, and very listless. So, we looked for information to see whether she might have swine flu, and whether we should go to the doctors.
We walked in to a sea of poorly communicated and misleading information.
The main symptoms that adults are meant to watch out for include aspects of self-reporting (a really bad headache? aches and pains typical of a bad flu?) which a small child cannot possibly accurately provide.
We thought she was ok but did not want to miss the 24 hour window to give her anti-virals (Tamiflu). We also had that strange and unnecessary fear of being seen to overreact when she probably just had a normal bug.
So, should we go to the doctors, call NHS Direct…wait and see? What are the risks of not going? The doctors surgeries don’t want people who think they have swine flu in the building.
We rang NHS Direct and they got our doctor to ring us and he diagnosed over the phone. She did not have Swine Flu. For the moment, we believe are in the clear – and our daughter is almost 100% this morning. Good news!
So, what is the bad news (apart from the ongoing risk and growing pandemic)?
There is a huge disconnect between the messages and information available to the general public, and the debate and data that the experts are grappling with.
Put simply, the science and statistics are being poorly reported, because the belief amongst those who are setting policy is that the general public cannot handle the facts and uncertainties without panicking.
Is this true? Are we so poorly informed and educated in these areas that when something of this level of importance challenges our whole society that we find ourselves on the wrong side of a gulf from the experts?
40 years ago, all of the world was inspired by the lunar landings and the power of science was made accessible and attainable to all. We have some enormous challenges before us – such as finding sustainable energy sources, economic models, and new health concerns.
Our science establishment should be demonstrating the depth and value of this aspect of society at this time of crisis – and bridging the divide between our fears and what we can all positively do to protect our families and communities.
These failings have been exemplified by the advice given to pregnant mothers over the weekend. But, in many ways, this is our fault too!
The terrible truth is that we all have got used the idea that science is something that we don’t need to think about because someone else will explain it to us. Only one journalist seems to be giving us the news that we deserve – but nowhere else
As a nation, our quality and numbers of science students have been dropping off a cliff, and we are struggling to fill spaces in engineering and health roles in the UK, due to a lack of high calibre applicants. Science is something that other people do – right?
So, what is my simple advice?
- Demand clearer information from your sources. Post comments on the website of the paper you read if they are not explaining thing in a way that helps you.
- Your doctor is human. Get used to the idea that the health services you depend on might not know best or enough. And that is ok! Ask them questions – but don’t freak out if they cannot give you a simple answer. Ask them to explain it again in a clearer way. We all deserve to know the facts – and part of a doctor’s job is to explain health issues to us.
- Your instincts are probably right about your kid – and if you are worried – get help, and don’t wait.
- Statistics are only useful in context. They do not predict the future. If you don’t understand them – ask your doctor or find someone who does.
- Tell your children how you feel about it. Make it clear that you are trying to find out about Swine Flu and that information is empowering. Tell them to Catch it, Bin it, Kill it and to maintain good hand hygiene. But don’t hide that you are worried, and that there is something to be worried about!
(post script – just had a call from my wife, and she has come home early from work feeling poorly…. Uh oh!)