(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I’m no scientist—I don’t even play one on TV. But writers and scientists often share in common the traits of constant observation and question-asking. We seek to understand better. And with access to the information on the Internet, I’ve gotten good at finding valid resources and understanding many basic aspects of science from a layman’s view. No, I don’t understand how things work on a cellular basis or get the chemistry behind what happens, but I do understand how to interpret much of what the experts are saying—and to know when the data do not support an airtight conclusion.

So often when bad things happen, people want to pinpoint the exact reason they happened. You know, you smoked cigarettes, thus you got lung cancer. Then if say you don’t smoke cigarettes, then you can smugly, but falsely, assume you will not get lung cancer. You can leave out all the other variables and make that unassailable conclusion—if only in your mind.

If I make my bed every day, my sheets won’t have dust mites. That person who eats junk food will most certainly get some awful disease from doing so. I put my kids in time-out and provide limits so they will always do as I want.

In other words, if I can check off all sorts of protective behaviors or avoid risky behaviors, then I will be safe.

And the people to whom bad things happen? Well, they did something wrong and got what they deserved.

Makes life so much easier if you think that playing by the rules means all goes well for you and that if things don’t work out for you, then it’s your own darn fault.

You know, my husband and kids have called me Safety Mom for years. I do believe in knowing the facts and not taking unnecessary risks, but I also understand about accidents—they do happen. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have responsibility for dealing with the aftermath from them. There are so many court cases that revolve around determining whether or not someone is at fault for an accident (through risky behavior) or if what happened, just happened.

Sometimes what happened did just happen, through nobody’s fault—especially if the prevailing science shows that there is no good way to determine how someone was exposed to something. But when the results are messy and painful, it’s so much easier to blame the victim—especially if his or her bad luck affects us.

However, back to that research thing. If you’re inclined to blame someone, maybe you should verify whether or not your blame has any scientific basis. You can choose to ignore the research that doesn’t suit your conclusion or your desire to keep your beliefs intact but that doesn’t mean someone else deserves what they got, especially if the science suggests other variables are involved.

Playing ostrich doesn’t change what’s happening or what needs to be done to resolve a situation.

Both scientists and journalists need to be careful not to make conclusions that cannot be supported by the data—and so does the general public, especially when doing so further harms people who are already dealing with trauma.