Would you rather climb a ladder or contract COVID-19? Seek out info that goes beyond your political views.

By Julie Doll
Special to Gannett Kansas

A couple of months ago, I was giving away some garden pots and tools as I prepared to sell my house and move.

One of the men who took a few of the pots happened to stop by as I was cleaning my gutters.

As he loaded his freebies into his car, the man, who said he was retired military, lectured me about the dangers of climbing ladders. It was a friendly scolding, focusing on how I could seriously injure or kill myself using ladders, and I should buy some of those leaf guards.

Then our chat turned to the COVID-19 virus, and the man proudly stated that he had not been vaccinated and would not get vaccinated because the dangers of COVID-19 were so tiny.

“Why are people so scared of something that 99% of people survive?” he asked.

I noted my disagreement regarding the disease, and we both kept the chat friendly.

But I admit it took effort on my part. I had to hide my amusement — and frustration — at his rickety assessment of the dangers of ladders compared to the dangers of COVID-19.

I don’t have precise statistics, but I will bet big money that people who use ladders have a survival rate that is much higher than 99%. Put another way, your chances of dying this past year from using a ladder were much, much lower than your chances of dying from COVID-19.

There aren’t a lot of statistics available on ladder injuries and death, but one I found from a home inspectors group, which relied on the World Health Organization for an estimate, said about 300 people in the United States die each year in ladder accidents.

More than 2,000 times that many Americans died from COVID-19.

Most of us aren’t skilled at assessing the risks we take in our daily lives, from driving cars to choosing what kinds of food and drink we consume.

And many of us don’t bother to doubt the scare-mongering ads we see on TV. That’s why commercials selling leaf guards work: They sell a product by successfully scaring people.

Similarly, the Facebook posts and cable TV shows that spread misinformation and misleading claims about COVID-19 and the vaccines that could prevent the virus also are effective. We typically don’t verify the spurious claims we read on Facebook and other social media.

These kinds of efforts to sell us products and propaganda succeed when we fail to effectively evaluate information we get from our favored media.

We ought to be somewhat skeptical of what we hear and what we read, and we should be especially skeptical if the information comes from sources whose credentials are questionable or whose identity is unclear.

Critical thinking means analyzing information we get from all media — and that includes the personalities and platforms we like. We also should understand that not every claim can be proven. Sometimes, our best option is to follow the preponderance of evidence and the opinions of experts in the relevant field of study.

It’s easy to embrace information that reinforces what we already believe or jibes with our political views. We make better decisions, however, when we’re willing to dispute not only others’ biases and beliefs, but our own as well.

Julie Doll, a native of Garden City, is a former journalist who worked at newspapers in Kansas, California, New York and Indiana.