Please Don’t Confuse Me With Facts, Vaccine Edition


A couple of days ago I watched Othello for the first time.1 By chance, I had never seen or read it before. But good ol’ Shakespeare sure had us humans figured out, didn’t he? Here is Emilia, responding to Desdemona’s plea that she had never given Othello cause to doubt her fidelity:

But jealous souls will not be answer’d so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous: ’tis a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.

Why do I mention this? Because of Aaron Carroll’s tidy little summary of some Brendan Nyhan research on how to persuade people that the MMR vaccine is safe:

When they gave evidence that vaccines aren’t linked to autism, that actually made parents who were already skittish about vaccines less likely to get their child one in the future. When they showed images of sick children to parents it increased their belief that vaccines caused autism. When they told a dramatic story about an infant in danger because he wasn’t immunized, it increased parents’ beliefs that vaccines had serious side effects.

Basically, it was all depressing. Nothing was effective.

So that’s that. They believe not for cause, but believe just to believe. ‘Tis a monster begot on itself, born on itself. Of course, it’s possible that Nyhan simply didn’t find the right intervention. Or that an intervention from a researcher has no effect, but the same intervention from a family doctor might. Still, Carroll is right: it’s all kind of discouraging. It’s nothing new, but still discouraging.

1It was the 1965 movie version with Laurence Olivier in blackface. Kind of disconcerting. But Frank Finlay was great as Iago.

UPDATE: More here from Dan Kahan, including a reminder that (a) vaccination rates in the US actually haven’t declined over the past decade and (b) freaking out about a nonexistent problem is genuinely unhelpful. Also this:

The NR et al. study is superbly well done and very important. But the lesson it teaches is not that it is “futile” to try to communicate with concerned parents. It’s that it is a bad idea to flood public discourse in a blunderbuss fashion with communications that state or imply that there is a “growing crisis of confidence” in vaccines that is “eroding” immunization rates.

It’s a good idea instead to use valid empirical means to formulate targeted and effective vaccine-safety communication strategies.

Much more at the link.

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