What do you believe?

Do you believe that cell phones cause brain cancer? Do you believe that acupuncture works? Do you believe that taking low-dose aspirin prevents heart attacks? Do you believe that the flu vaccine is safe? Do you believe that HIV causes AIDS? Or that high levels of cholesterol are a cause of heart attacks? Or that megadoses of vitamins are beneficial? Some people believe these things, but others do not. Who is correct? How should we decide?

Why do you believe what you believe?

Is it because other people believe it? Or because 'knowledgeable' people said it was true? Or because you read it somewhere? Or because people have always believed it? According to The Foundation for Critical Thinking, much of our thinking is unstructured. It is based on our past experiences, by what we have been told by people we love, people we respect, people in positions of authority, people with advanced degrees… people who are incorrect, misinformed, illogical, misguided, or mistaken. Much of what we believe, we just accept, despite the fact that it may be incorrect. It may be based on opinion, limited experience, anecdotal observation or downright bias, prejudice, or distortion. It is easier to believe, than to think. (Link to The Foundation for Critical Thinking)

Your First Assignment

There is controversy among the general public regarding the safety and efficacy of influenza vaccines. Watch the following short video on and consider both the evidence and the conclusions.

Video - Dystonia after receiving a seasonal flu shot·       

alternative accessible content

Thinking man icon indicating a question for the student

After reflecting on the conclusions and evidence presented in the video, compose your thoughts regarding the conclusions that are implied. Here are some points that might be considered to guide your discussion:

Critical Thinking

An alternative to just believing something is to think about it in a structured way, by which I mean:

Epidemiology is a science that provides a way to establish (or refute) associations, by which I mean identifying factors that are associated with specific health outcomes (e.g., is heavy smoking associated with an increased risk of lung cancer?). I think of epidemiology as a discipline that provides a simple, logical methodology for thinking about associations in a structured way. However, epidemiologic thinking is relatively new and evolved slowly over the past few centuries. This module will provide a short historical perspective on how thinking about the determinants of health and disease has evolved over time.

Learning Objectives

After completing this module, the student will be able to: