The current widespread measles outbreak results from too many people remaining un-vaccinated. But the underlying cause is deeper – the true cause is misinformation. There are some people who don’t get vaccinated because of an existing health problem. But most people who have not been vaccinated based that choice on information that was inaccurate and/or misleading.
Misinformation abounds in today’s world, and not just in health care. As a consumer educator, I am constantly reminding people to make sure they base important decisions on sound information. That means:
- Not relying solely on the opinion or experience of a few friends. Aside: it’s perfectly appropriate to choose a dessert based on recommendations from friends; that’s a situation where there are no costly consequences if you later regret your choice. Your friends’ insights can be useful, but they should not be the ONLY reason you make an important decision. Examples of important decisions include where and how much to invest your money, whether and where to get a loan, major purchases (house, car, …), college selection, and so on; these are all decisions that could have substantial long-term costs (financial costs and opportunity costs) if an unfortunate choice is made, OR significant long-term benefits (financial or otherwise) if a productive option is chosen.
- Reading and learning from on-line product reviews, but not assuming they are 100% accurate or unbiased. One source of product reviews that are generally unbiased is Consumer Reports. Staff there purchase products as ordinary consumers and conduct rigorous scientific testing to assess product performance and reliability. Most libraries carry the magazine, and some material is available on-line even to non-subscribers.
- Considering the possible motives behind the information you receive, whether it be from a website, a salesperson, an advertisement, or any other source. Advertisements clearly have a goal of selling their product, but a sales goal can also be somewhat hidden. An “informational” website or article might actually be owned by a company that sells investments, for example. In general, you can trust information from websites with a “.gov” or “.edu” URL (including Iowa State University Extension and Outreach). When it comes to “.org” sites, it can be more difficult to discern whether the organization is a credible source. A couple of reliable non-profit organizations are:
- the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and two other sites it owns – Smart About Money and My Retirement Paycheck.
- Consumer Action, a reputable consumer advocacy organization.
- the national Extension website, which is a “.org” site even though it is a compilation of information coming from numerous “.edu” sites around the U.S.
- In many cases, commercial sources of information are a necessary part of your information-gathering. This includes articles in commercial magazines and commercial websites, because there is always a possibility that the information provided may be influenced by their advertisers. When using a commercial source, be sure to seek out multiple sources to see if the information is corroborated elsewhere.
- Taking enough time to gather information from a variety of sources. Avoid succumbing to sales pressure suggesting that a decision must be made now.
Just as with measles vaccinations, relying on unbiased, accurate and complete information about consumer decisions will have a positive impact on your well-being!