As a new parent I found a debate in our society about how to approach vaccinations, which is especially hot here in Colorado. There are now even court battles addressing if vaccinations should be a requirement for anyone wanting to attend public schools. The majority of parents and doctors support vaccinating their children based on the CDC’s immunization schedule, but there are a growing number of parents who elect to forego vaccinations. Parents worry about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the toxins that are included in the vaccine, and find the natural immune system to be a sufficient or even better solution.
For the complete CDC vaccine recommendations, visit CDC - Vaccines - Immunization Schedules for Children in Easy-to-read Formats
Needless to say the wellbeing of young, innocent children makes this an extremely emotional topic, and is irresistible fodder for the likes of celebrities, media, and social networks. People on either side of the issue cast broad generalizations and strong judgments.
I have a great deal of respect for those that challenge scientific methods and findings. Science’s strength is built on being constantly revised and improved. It took the separate careers of both Faraday and Maxwell to disprove electricity and magnetism’s ‘force at a distance’ theory in favor of our current ‘Lines of Force’ theory. Those who take today’s knowledge as an irrevocable, universal truth are overdue for a humility lesson.
With science being a work in progress, how does an engineer with a newborn approach the black and white decision to vaccinate their child? There is so much information to consider, all of which needs to be balanced on the amorphous emotional blob of, ‘I love my kid more than life itself and want to do right by him/her in every way.’ I can see a few approaches that would work for an engineer that needs to make the call for their kid and feel good about it.
Approach 1: Trust in Your Expert
Trust your doctor? Believe in what has worked in your family for generations? Know an expert researcher in the field? Accept that you don’t have the time or knowledge to make an informed call yourself and trust the knowledge and experience of those who know more than you.
This is the same as finding an IC that will meet your specs and copying their reference design. You may not have experience in the technology the chip uses but trust that the IC manufacturer has done a good job in coming up with the best solution possible.
The benefit is gaining confidence from the person who is the best person to make the call. Of course the result is only as good as your expert makes it.
Approach 2: Become an Expert
It is possible to gain access to the same information that doctors and researchers have and make a decision yourself.
This would be like an average person on the street designing a circuit from the transistor level up. It involves research, design, simulations, loop analysis, relying on assumptions, etc… While it takes a ton of time and effort, the benefit is being able to use your own knowledge to eclipse the confidence that you have in others.
The danger is that it is possible to spend a ton of time gaining understanding and confidence but not doing a good enough job to beat the results offered by approach #1. Or that your research proves that you don’t have the tools (like an education or semiconductor fab) to produce a result that beats approach #1. Remember that getting an MD or PhD is a non-trivial task, similar to gaining an education in circuit design.
Approach 3: Trust but Verify
This approach is a combination of the other two. Get the recommendations of your trusted expert discussed in approach #1 but understand why they make their suggestion. Then follow their references and contradictory references in order to see if you agree or disagree with the recommendation.
This would be similar to ordering the demo board of the manufacturer’s reference design and running a test suite strong enough to satisfy your concerns over its usefulness in your particular application. If you find a need to make adjustments, discuss your ideas with the professionals.
The risk with this approach is undoing some of the best work done by the expert and landing at a suboptimal end result.
All three of these approaches look at the problem as one without a certain ‘solution.’ Without the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible to know what is ‘best’ in both the case of child rearing and product development. All parents make mistakes just like all companies release bad products. Parents, like engineers, have to use the best information and tools available to make decisions and get to an optimal end point.