I’ve learned from experience recently that when it comes to the news, there is often a dramatic difference between facts and stories. Although both can be true, how I react to news headlines can impact my life—and usually not for the better.
For example, I once read a news story about a person taking a shower who saw a snake slither up from his bathtub drain. My immediate takeaway was to no longer take showers, as I had no interest having a snake join me in the tub. Instead, I started spraying myself down outside each morning with the hose.
Another news story told of a person who was walking down a sidewalk to get milk when he was killed by a falling tree branch. After reading that story, I came to the obvious conclusion that I needed to start walking down the middle of the street, given that most falling tree branches wouldn’t reach that far.
News stories even resulted in my regrettable decision about our family pet. Uncertain about what type of animal to get, I turned on the Google machine and read about a rabid dog that had bitten its owner, a cat that had blinded a woman while playfully clawing at her, and a house that had burned down after an aquarium broke and short-circuited the refrigerator. That’s a long way of explaining why I now own a sloth, which I named Fido. There were no online stories about sloths causing problems—I now realize that’s because no one has been dumb enough to have a sloth as a family pet.
So after getting hypothermia from hosing myself outside in the winter, constantly dodging honking cars while walking in the street, and standing on a tabletop screaming while a hostile Fido snarled at me (sloths have fangs!), I decided to rethink my strategy of basing life decisions on news stories.
It turns out that stories often make the news because they are unusual. Newspapers don’t sell a lot of copies with headlines like “Man Walks to Store for Milk, Chooses 2%” or “Local Resident Takes Shower, Fails to Rinse and Repeat.”
So while all of those stories I read technically may have been true, they weren’t the best basis for decision-making.
Another problem with getting information online is that you can generally find whatever kind of story you want to find. If you don’t want to eat your vegetables, the Daily Mail has an article proclaiming “Eating Vegetables Can Seriously Damage Your Health.” If you’d rather eat candy, Candy Club’s website offers a piece titled “The Surprising Health Benefits of Candy.”
But finding the answer you want is different from finding the best answer.
My point—to the degree my prattling ever has a point—is now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available, I’ll be turning off the Google machine and consulting with my doctor for the best medical advice. I’m doing so because my doctor is smart, is someone I trust, and keeps current on facts-based news (not stories). When I ask him whether or not I should take the vaccine, he’s won’t say, “Well, I read this story about this one person in Alaska who … .” Instead, we’ll talk about what’s best for me.
I’m also willing to wager that my doctor has never owned a sloth (see above: my doctor is smart). Although my experience with one would probably make a good story.