Monday, January 14, 2013

Flu Season

Flu season gives the media another excuse to trot out experts to give us advice about how to live.  If we exhibited a little more critical thinking behavior, they might decide that this is not necessary.

Much of critical thinking is pretty simple.  It doesn’t require an understanding of experimental design, statistics or other mathematical concepts.  Mostly it comprises what used to be called common sense or what I call “the rules of the game.”

These rules of the game we have heard often.  They make sense and lead to a happier life.  Despite hearing them over and over, apparently many people ignore them.

Flu season is just one example.  Every year people are advised to get flu shots.  This year, when the outbreak is worse than normal, the call is longer and louder, but it’s not new.  We are also advised to wash our hands more often and to keep them away from our faces.  This article repeats that advice with some very interesting data.  Children who wash their hands regularly miss less school.  “When 40,000 Navy recruits were instructed to wash their hands five times a day, their rate of respiratory infections fell by 45 percent.”  We know we should, but do we?  “Ninety-one percent of Americans say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, but an observational study conducted in the six US airports found that only 26 percent of men and 17 percent of women actually did.”

Once we get through flu season, we will hear from financial experts telling us to "pay yourself first," that is, put aside savings before you start spending.  They will advise us to have an emergency fund and to make a list before going to the store to avoid the temptation of impulse items or unneeded purchases.  They will tell us how much we can save by making our coffee at home or brown bagging instead of buying lunch.  The list is always the same.  The rules of the game don’t change.

In the summer we will be told to use sunscreen.  Before school starts we will hear about the importance of vaccinations and be reminded that rumors about a link between vaccinations and autism are completely untrue.  Don’t forget to see the dentist twice a year and, between visits, to brush and floss.  Eat well and exercise.

The rules of the game don’t change.  They are basic.  We should know them by heart.  If we can’t follow through on these simple, common sense behaviors, how do we expect to grasp and solve more difficult issues like gun violence, education, healthcare, poverty, legalizing drugs, or the national debt?

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