Feeding studied ignorance

Respectful Insolence wonders The anti-vaccine movement: Is it too late for scientists to bridge the gap between evidence and fear?

Unfortunately it’s still going strong, fueled by a toxic brew of pseudoscience, quackery, and celebrity know-nothings like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey dancing on their strings according to the will of their puppetmasters in the antivaccine movement. But the real question is why? Why is this myth so resistant to science, data, and reason?

It doesn’t take much. One example is that the rationale and moderate authority can send a mixed message just by the proper lack of absolute certainty.

To this day, this is one of the most spectacular examples of the law of unintended consequences that I’ve ever seen, and I can’t believe that anyone would think that a line like “the current levels of thimerosal will not hurt children, but reducing those levels will make safe vaccines even safer” would do anything other than what it did: spark a panic. Talk about your classic case of mixed messages! On the one hand, the government was saying that thimerosal was safe, but on the other hand it was removing thimerosal from vaccines. The discordant messages fed the worst aspects of the conspiracy-minded

Some of the other factors suggested include a lay persons’ inability to evaluate risk, qualify sources effectively, the lack of visibility of proper outcomes, and an inability to qualify the issue in the scheme of context. If your child demonstrates autism then you can go after whatever medical personnel did something to him but if he gets measles or whooping cough, who do you blame?

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