The stats don’t work

Nicky Hawkins blogs about the missing human side in the current debate around human rights:

The measles outbreak  in the US has led to impassioned responses on both sides of the Atlantic. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filling up with articles about vaccination, many of them pronouncing that if you choose not to vaccinate your children you are wrong, dangerous and stupid. Clinical evidence and statistics are cited to prove this, and those making the point feel satisfied that they are RIGHT and that anyone who believes otherwise is WRONG.

My experience communicating divisive issues like child poverty, climate change and human rights suggests that this is unlikely to persuade more people to vaccinate their children. No-one likes to be told they’re wrong (even my not quite two-year-old daughter). And facts and stats tend to bounce off people if they don’t already agree with the point they’re being used to make.

So it was refreshing to read an article talking about the real-life impact of measles to encourage uptake of vaccinations. Instead of beating people over the head with evidence and facts, the medical community should be prepared to lead with the stories of the children, parents and families who’ve been affected by the disease. This simple approach can be hard for experts – especially scientists and doctors with a great deal of detailed and technical knowledge to share.

There are parallels to the situation playing out in the UK debate around human rights. Story after story emerges in the papers revealing how human rights laws are protecting criminals and keeping terrorists on our shores. Defenders of human rights respond with counter arguments, with claims that our laws are fair and with reasoned arguments about the importance of rights for the UK’s standing on the international stage.

But all to often we’re missing the human side of human rights – the stories of the people who’ve relied on this all-important safety net. People like Jan  who’ve used human rights laws to ensure they get decent care. Because unlike dry statistics, stories stick. People remember them and act on them and we need many more of them if we’re to change the debate when it comes to human rights.

Share your human rights story with Equally Ours.

Posted 11 February 2015

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