smarter networks through better narratives

Leadership in a networked world is making our networks and communities smarter so they are able to make better-informed decisions.

In early 2020 New Brunswick’s Education Minister, Dominic Cardy, worked very hard to make his network smarter.

“When Canada’s chief public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, was talking about there being no need to “panic,” and raising alarms instead about the internet-wacko fringe targeting Canadians of Chinese descent with racist comments on social media in late January, a little known Progressive Conservative education minister in a small Maritime province was fully panicking. Cardy was preparing to pitch his premier’s top aide on the need to take drastic action to stop a killer virus …

Cardy kept on talking, and over the next few weeks, he and Leger would talk some more, until the premier’s staffer asked him to put together a report on the virus and be prepared to present it at a caucus retreat on Feb. 24 …

“The COVID-19 virus will arrive in New Brunswick and may be already present given the unreliability of tests, the weakness of Canada’s public health response to date and the nature of our open society,” Cardy wrote. “This is not a question of if, but when.”

After his presentation the premier asked Cardy what he would do. “Shut everything down,” was his reply.

Cardy, the canary in a COVID coal mine, initially came under fire from the New Brunswick Medical Society, for pushing measures some physicians perceived as overly drastic steps.” —National Post 2020-05-08

The Minister is once again trying to make his network smarter but is meeting fierce resistance in making vaccination a mandatory requirement to attend school and eliminating exceptions based on moral or religious grounds. The initial bill included a section that invoked the Constitutional Notwithstanding Clause, so that it could not be challenged in court.

Cardy said the bill is intended to pre-empt what he calls “an organized, well-financed lobby out there that’s intent on derailing efforts to protect vulnerable children.”

He told reporters the clause will avoid “expensive court costs” resulting from charter challenges “by folks who’ve got nothing but conspiracies and medieval fantasies to base their arguments upon.”

The bill would eliminate the ability of parents to exempt their children attending public schools from vaccinations on religious, philosophical and other non-medical grounds. —CBC News 2010-11-22

That clause was struck down yesterday —16 June 2020.

Liberal [Party] MLA Chuck Chiasson lays his cards on the table on Bill 11, the vaccination legislation: bill is “attacking the very foundation of our Charter” by removing rights and freedoms, he says. “Once the freedom is gone, it’s gone for good.”

Alliance [Party] leader Kris Austin: as a parent myself, I’m hard-pressed to vote for a bill that would take away parental rights.

[Green Party Leader] David Coon: the result of this bill will be that the children of those misinformed anti-vaxxers will be educated at home, by those same parents. “I can’t speculate” on how they’ll home-school but the goal is protecting students’ health.

Jacques Poitras, CBC

Many people arguing against the Bill are promoting education instead. But education does not work. Facts are not enough. For example, a mandatory education class in Ontario, Canada — complete with videos and health care professionals to advise — has been useless in getting parents to accept vaccinations for their children.

‘But since it was introduced in 2017, thousands of mothers and fathers have dutifully watched the video, collected their “Vaccine Education Certificate” — then continued to duck the shots.

As one public health manager put it: “We had a zero percent conversion rate.”’ — National Post 2019-03-15

There needs to be a dominant narrative to counter “folks who’ve got nothing but conspiracies and medieval fantasies to base their arguments upon.” A new frame is required, not factual counter-arguments. This is how George Lakoff explains it, “1) Repetition strengthens the synapses in neural circuits that people use in thinking 2) Whoever frames first has an advantage 3) Negating a frame activates and strengthens it.” @GeorgeLakoff.

Debating with anti-vaxxers only strengthens their position. It’s incredible to currently see an increase in anti-vaxxers during a global pandemic, but this is how the collective human mind works

“Most of us are already aware of the direct effect we have on our friends and family; our actions can make them happy or sad, healthy or sick, even rich or poor. But we rarely consider that everything we think, feel, do, or say can spread far beyond the people we know. Conversely, our friends and family serve as conduits for us to be influenced by hundreds or even thousands of other people. In a kind of social chain reaction, we can be deeply affected by events we do not witness that happen to people we do not know. It is as if we can feel the pulse of the social world around us and respond to its persistent rhythms. As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.” —Connected

We mostly go with the crowd, for better or worse — “Sorry to break it to you but arguments and facts don’t change people’s minds. It’s been proven neurologically that only relational warmth, not a war of words, can light up our neocortex awakening us to something new.”@danwhitejr

Medical researchers understand the need to counter narratives with narratives. Building a better narrative takes time and human connection.

Lesson 2: don’t bring a fact to a narrative fight

Experts and health professionals can arm themselves with white papers, peer reviewed studies, and symposia; but if these are our only weapons, we will only ever get so far. In an era in which experts are increasingly distrusted, the “we know best” mindset is counterproductive.

Those wishing to encourage vaccination need to identify and amplify the stories that emerge from the real lives and lived experiences of people in their communities (to start, they need to listen for them). It is no coincidence that the most effective climate advocacy in the world right now comes from the improvisations and stories of a 16 year old girl rather than the strategic plans of a generations old institution. —BMJ: New Power versus Old

The price of not developing a better narrative around vaccination is disaster.

“The MMR vaccine immunises against measles, mumps and rubella … A steady fall in the uptake of the MMR jab means the UK has now lost its measles free status, just three years after the virus was eliminated.
Currently, only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the vaccine.” —Sky News 2019-08-19

child with measles

Child with Measles — Wikimedia Commons


In the long run, society has to continuously work to counter the ‘stupid’, who will always be with us.

Law 5: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
And its corollary:

A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.
We can do nothing about the stupid. The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid citizens and those who transcend them are the makeup of the non-stupid. Those progressing in spite of their stupid possess a high proportion of people acting intelligently, those who counterbalance the stupid’s losses by bringing about gains for themselves and their fellows.

Declining societies have the same percentage of stupid people as successful ones. But they also have high percentages of helpless people and, [Prof. Carlo] Cipolla writes, “an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity.”

“Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the [stupid] fraction and makes decline a certainty,” Cipolla concludes. “And the country goes to Hell.” —Five Universal Laws of Human Stupidity

tetrad on social media and society

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