Truth dies by misadventure

Tis the season [for flu] it seems…

The Washington Post

Swine Flu Surge Closes Schools, Tests Hospitals [excerpts]

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Austin, so many parents are rushing their children to the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas with swine flu symptoms that the hospital had to set up tents in the parking lot to cope with the onslaught.

In Memphis, the Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center emergency room got so crowded with feverish, miserable youngsters that it had to do the same thing.

And in Manning, S.C., a private school where an 11-year-old girl died shut down after the number of students who were out sick with similar symptoms reached nearly a third of the student body.

“It just kind of snowballed,” said Kim Jordan, a teacher at the Laurence Manning Academy, which closed Wednesday after Ashlie Pipkin died, and the number of ill students hit 287. “We had several teachers out also. That was the reason to close the school — so everyone could just be away from one another for a few days.”

After months of warnings and frantic preparations, the second wave of the swine flu pandemic is starting to be felt around the country, as doctors, health clinics, hospitals and schools are reporting rapidly increasing numbers of patients experiencing flu symptoms.

[...]Despite new federal guidelines aimed at keeping schools open, the pandemic has already prompted scattered school closings around the country in recent weeks, including 42 schools that closed in eight states on Friday, affecting more than 16,000 students.

[...]Individual doctors’ offices are also reporting a surge of patients in many parts of the country.

“We’re completely swamped,” said Ari Brown, an Austin pediatrician whose office had to call in extra nurses to handle the volume of patients. “It’s been extraordinarily busy. We have a small parking lot to begin with. People now are circulating the neighborhood to try to find a place to park and the waiting room is completely packed.”

Unless patients are seriously ill or have other conditions that put them at risk, Brown and other doctors say they tell parents to take their children home, give them Motrin or Tylenol for their fevers, headaches and body aches, and lots of fluids, and wait it out. Some doctors report that children tend to recover within about four days, a day or two shorter than with the typical flu.

Nevertheless, “people are so worried about this,” Brown said. “There’s clearly a certain level of hysteria.”

Although no hospitals in the Washington region have yet had to activate their emergency plans, many are reporting an increase in patients, as are individual doctors.

“Some of that is because of the swine flu and some of it is because of phobia about the flu,” said Steven Mumbauer, a Waynesboro, Va., pediatrician. “But we definitely are seeing sicker kids and have treated more kids with pneumonia than we typically would this time of the year. There have been some days where we’ve been absolutely swamped.”

At the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, some children have gotten so sick that they have required intensive care, and that includes some children with no other health problems.

“We have some very sick children,” said Ina Stephens, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital. “I’m concerned it’s just the tip of the iceberg — that we’re just seeing the beginning of it.”

Even though H1N1-2009 is undeniably mild for the vast majority of sufferers, the sheer number of ill will stress the system as will the small percentage of seriously ill.  They may be a small percentage, but their numbers are not few given the overall number of sick.

And still – daily – I read news bits about the majority of parents unwilling to have their children vaccinated.  Something that drove me away from the issue of pandemic influenza in a fit of disgust.

Another [but older] offering from the Washington Post

Truth: Can You Handle It?
Better Yet: Do You Know It When You See It?
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008


Information vs. Knowledge

What concerns people like Stark is the fact that, without peer review, it’s so easy to be wrong, and for your wrongness to become the top Google hit on a subject, and for your wrongness to be repeated by other people who think it’s right, until everyone decides that it’s raining in Phoenix.

Andrew Keen describes it as “the cult of the amateur” in his same-named book. Stephen Colbert called it “wikiality” — meaning, “a reality where, if enough people agree with a notion, it must be true.”

Information specialists call it the death of information literacy.

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a Tufts University historian and author of “Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed,” has recently noticed something very odd: “Information has replaced knowledge,” he says, “and the truth of that information no longer seems to matter as much.”

Information is about tidbits, crumbs of data. Information can be carried around on a Trivial Pursuit card. Information says, “It’s currently 95 degrees in Anchorage.”

Knowledge is different. Knowledge is about context — about knowing what to do with accumulated information. Knowledge is saying, “Dude, based on what I know of Alaska, it’s never95 degrees in Anchorage.”


True or False?
People have always struggled with perceptions of truth, which ultimately come down to this general rule: We believe what we want to believe.

Two researchers who studied this in the 1960s learned that, when listening to debates on the risks of smoking, nonsmokers tuned in to the parts of the speeches that linked cigarettes to cancer. Smokers, on the other hand, paid closer attention to the parts that denied a health risk.

Rather than use the speeches as an opportunity to better educate themselves, subjects used them as an opportunity to reinforce their own beliefs.

Being an ex-cop I do not “rubber neck” at accident scenes.  It’s dangerous for the driver and all those around.  It’s also annoying as hell for the police/fire/EMS personnel on scene and the drivers stuck behind the rubber necker.  That’s how I came to view my pandemic influenza advocacy … rubber necking at an accident.  An accident that was unfolding and not yet at the mop-up stage, but rubber necking just the same.

But as an ex-cop I also know that sometimes we have a responsibility to signal our fellow travelers of a danger ahead.  In honor of that somewhat old-fashioned concept I am going to attempt to rekindle my inner Flubie [an affectionate nickname for a netizen who participates in Flublogia – the online cyber flu community].  I will attempt to keep my contempt for the anti-vaccine crowd at least somewhat in check as I do so, and hope this unfolding accident is not too messy and the “mop-up” not too overwhelming for those whose job it is to mop up after our poor choices and poor judgments.  Choices and judgments based, at least in part, on the vast cesspool of misinformation … repeated over, and over, and over, and over until the truth drowns in the noxious effluent.

The truth dies by thousands – tens of thousands – acts of misadventure.

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