A couple of weeks ago, in Sandman & Lanard On Zika Risk Communications, we looked at an early take by our favorite risk communications experts on how the CDC and WHO were handling their Zika messaging - and both received generally favorable marks.
Overnight Sandman and Lanard posted another essay called Some Additional Zika Risk Communication Notes, this time focusing on 5 specific aspects of Zika messaging:
1. Zika test prioritizing may not be much of an issue fairly soon.
2. Officials would be wise to acknowledge more aggressively the fizzle scenario.
3. Officials keep saying they’re convinced that mosquitoes are the main way Zika is transmitted, not sex – which makes their fervent recommendations about sexual precautions sound a bit extreme.
4. A Zika quarantine is almost certainly a bad idea, at least under current circumstances – but that’s no excuse for U.S. public health professionals making irrational arguments against it.
5. Lots of public health professionals and media commentators seem to think that Americans are panicking about Zika. We don’t see any signs of it.
It is all well worth reading, and taking to heart, but I'd like to make my own comment about item #4.
Not the core issue of whether quarantine is appropriate for Zika - I have a hard time seeing that working given 80% of cases are asymptomatic - but rather the use of sarcasm instead of reasoned debate in making the case against it.
I confess when I started this blog, more than a decade ago, I used sarcasm far too often as part of my repertoire. It was easy, fun, and made me feel oh so clever. But aside from that, it was lousy risk communications on my part.
It wasn't really a conscious decision, but at some point I found myself still writing the barbs (because it was cathartic), but editing them out of my final drafts, because they felt increasingly like `cheap shots'.
If the intent is simply to preach to the choir, then derision and scorn work just fine, and the choir will love you for it.
But if the intent is to reach those who hold different opinions and perhaps convince them otherwise - then insulting their intelligence (individually or as a group) - is a tactic unlikely to achieve those goals.
As risk communicators, we need to do better than that.