Rachael Dunlop, consensus scientist!
A recent study reports that stories about vaccines that include false balance are actually more dangerous than those that are purely anti-vaccine.
Yes, you read that correctly. Stories that offer both sides of the coin can have a greater negative influence on people’s decision to not vaccinate than those that are purely anti-vaccine.
Well, yes. A well-argued back-and-forth does, it seems, persuade people that the two opponents have at least put in some effort, and so holds more weight than a one-sided polemic…
Let’s drill down on it a little further. In the study, 320 undergraduate students were assigned a news item presenting either claims both for and against a vaccine/autism link (false balance), a purely anti-vax “vaccines-definitely-cause-autism” article and a “there is no link” article.
Unsurprisingly, the participants who read the article saying vaccines cause autism indicated they would be less likely to have their children vaccinated in the future. But what was surprising was those who read the false balance article were even less confident about the safety of vaccines than the “vaccines-definitely-cause-autism” article.
The authors suggested the reasons for this may be that false balance elicits a stronger perception that experts are divided, or that experts truly are uncertain whether vaccines cause autism (let me make this crystal clear, there is no good evidence to support a link between vaccines and autism, but as an urban myth it is an unsinkable rubber duck).
God help us if we ever think that experts might be divided or uncertain!
And have we considered trying to repeat the experiment using, in place of the 320 undergraduate students, a very different group? Say, a bunch of building workers?
I now know of a couple of mainstream media outlets who have policies of not speaking to anti-vaxers at all when they do science based vaccine stories, which is a fantastic result.
Yes, hiding the counter-evidence worked so well for the AGW alarmists, didn’t it?
Whilst no one gets hurt if you ask a flying carpet salesman questions about commercial flight, the consequences of people not vaccinating are real and potentially tragic. With vaccination, there is not debate. The science is in and the benefits far outweigh the risks. No balance required.
The fact that there are risks means it is. As far as the parents are concerned. They are the ones you have to persuade, and if you don’t discuss the issue honestly, how can you expect them to trust you?