Respectful Insolence

I really hate this.

I really hate having to take a friend to task, but he leaves me little choice. You see, I actually like Chris Mooney. Back in the day, I even even hoisted a pint with him at the Toledo Lounge in D.C., round about the time of the commencement of the whole “framing” kerfuffle that has periodically flared up to engulf ScienceBlogs and the rest of the science blogosphere. We had great fun making fun of everyone’s favorite creationist neurosurgeon, particularly his claim that the “design inference” has been “of great value” to medicine and has been a great boon to medical research. Since then, I’ve even defended him on more than one occasion against what I considered to be overblown attacks, although when I disagree with him I don’t hesitate to say so, as when Chris actually proposed trying to build bridges to the leadrs of the anti-vaccine movement

Unfortunately, lately, despite his heart being in the right place and my appreciating it when he’s very good (such as the time when he wrote an excellent article on the anti-vaccine movement), I find myself disagreeing with Chris more often than I agree with him, at least when it comes to science communication and countering denialist attacks on science, particularly after I challenged Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet to apply their “framing” thesis to a problem every bit as intractable and much more immediate than the problem of anthropogenic global warming, namely the anti-vaccine movement, and tell us how to get through to parents that vaccines don’t cause autism and that vaccination is safe.

It looks like now is yet another one of those times to disagree. As I said, I hate this.

You see, Chris wrote another article, this time in the Washington Post entitled If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening. Sadly, Chris appears to have learned little since his misstep in thinking that it’s possible to “build bridges” to the anti-vaccine movement’s leaders. Although he doesn’t make a mistake as obvious as suggesting that we try to build bridges with the anti-vaccine movement, he’s pulling the same old “blame the scientists” game. For someone who’s so into framing, he sure does fall for the denialist frame of scientists as being tin-eared, arrogant, and not listening:

Whenever controversies arise that pit scientists against segments of the U.S. public — the evolution debate, say, or the fight over vaccination — a predictable dance seems to unfold. One the one hand, the nonscientists appear almost entirely impervious to scientific data that undermine their opinions and prone to arguing back with technical claims that are of dubious merit. In response, the scientists shake their heads and lament that if only the public weren’t so ignorant, these kinds of misunderstandings wouldn’t occur.

But what if the fault actually lies with both sides?

Oh, dear. I think you know what’s coming next, right? And it does. Chris seems to buy into the denialist frame of the clueless, out of touch scientist who just doesn’t “get” Joe Average and pontificates condescendingly from on high. As PalMD points out, I don’t buy that frame, at least not as a generalization that covers the majority of scientists. Yes, sometimes we scratch our heads about the ignorance of the public, but many of us go out of our way to try to refute such information. Many of us also understand that the reason the public is misled on several issues is because ideology trumps science all too often and that for some contentious issues there is an active campaign against the science. Examples include evolution, which is opposed by fundamentalist religion-inspired activists; vaccines, which are opposed by an anti-vaccine movement that is driven by distrust of government and big pharma and promotes the myth that vaccines cause autism; and the alternative medicine movement, which promotes various quack nostrums based on a similar basis, coupled with an exaggerated libertarian ideology of “health freedom” that really means nothing more than the freedom of quacks to peddle their wares without any pesky government interference.

At the risk of blowing my own horn, I’ve discussed these very issues time and time again on this very blog. So have many other bloggers who use their platform to combat pseudoscience. Among those of us, it is not news that the reason that the public rejects certain scientific findings is not always due to a lack of information but rather because those findings conflict with deeply held political, religious, or ideological beliefs. And, based on my experience, I would agree with Chris when he writes:

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences convened a series of workshops on this topic over the past year and a half, and many of the scientists and other experts who participated concluded that, as much as the public misunderstands science, scientists misunderstand the public. In particular, they often fail to realize that a more scientifically informed public is not necessarily a public that will more frequently side with scientists.

Take climate change. The battle over global warming has raged for more than a decade, with experts still stunned by the willingness of their political opponents to distort scientific conclusions. They conclude, not illogically, that they’re dealing with a problem of misinformation or downright ignorance — one that can be fixed only by setting the record straight.

Yes, there is a strain of thought among scientists where some really do think that more information and refuting bad science will result in the public changing their mind. It is naivete, of course, naïveté that is the mirror image of Chris Mooney’s naïveté when he proposed that scientists can get anywhere “building bridges” to anti-vaccine loons. In a way, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Mooney’s calling scientists naive while at the same time demonstrating an astonishing naïveté himself! You’ll see what I mean in a minute, and not from my referencing old articles of his but rather right in his own article:

With public health at stake, it’s no wonder medical experts get frustrated when they hear autism activists such as actress Jenny McCarthy attack vaccines. But once again, the skeptics aren’t simply ignorant people. If anything, they seem to be more voracious consumers of the relevant medical information than the nation as a whole. According to a 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, children who go unvaccinated by parental choice (rather than because of inadequate access to vaccines) tend to be white, from well-to-do families and with married, college-educated mothers. Parents in such families are more likely to go onto the Internet (what McCarthy calls the “university of Google”) to research the health risks of inoculation than are other groups of parents.

I’m sorry, Chris. I really am. But I have to say this: “Well, duh!” Has Chris been paying atention? This is no revelation; those of us who have been trying to combat the anti-vaccine movement have known this right from the beginning. Can anyone recall how many times I’ve pointed out that the anti-vaccine movement is made up of predominantly white, upper middle class to wealthy people who are highly educated? Over the five years I’ve been writing this blog, I can’t recall how many times I’ve pointed this simple fact out. The anti-vaccine movement thinks itself to be speaking science, but it is not.

Here’s the problem with Chris’ observations. As he clearly points out, denialists, be they anti-vaccine, creationist, deniers of anthropogenic global warming, or whatever, are indeed highly motivated “consumers of science.” That’s part of the problem. They are consumers of science, but do not understand (or necessarily accept) the scientific method or how science works. While no one expects the average lay person to be versed in the details, at least as much as he can be given his knowledge base, of a complicated and technical subject such as climate change or vaccine science, it is not unreasonable to expect our educational system to instill a basic understanding of science as a process. That is perhaps one reason why so many people view science is an apparent means to and end, and then only that subset of science that they perceive as supporting their viewpoint. It’s also one reason why so many people are expert cherry pickers of scientific findings to use to support their view of reality. So the question, as Evil Monkey points out, is to do more than just “listen,” which is apparently all that Chris thinks that supporters of science should be doing.

That leaves a big question. What makes Chris think that “listening” will work better than anything else we’ve tried? After all, as Chris himself showed in his book, The Republican War on Science and wrote in this very article, denialists are not supporting or doing science. They are using it as a tool to support their ideology. They are not concerned about science per se, regardless of what part of the political spectrum they hale from, other than how it can be used to suit their purposes. Chris assumes honesty and a genuine desire for dialog on both sides. While such a faith in humanity is admirable on some level, it is also disappointing to see such a willingness, in essence, to ignore all the known distortions, cherry picking, and attacks on science.

There’s no arguing that it’s necessary in public relations to interact with your opponents if you’re ever to hope to bring any of them around, even a little, to your way of thinking, but Chris’ examples are fuzzy and not all even necessarily purely scientific, for example:

For this reason, initiatives that engage the public about science policy in a two-way conversation — before controversies explode — show great promise. In Canada, for instance, the national Nuclear Waste Management Organization spent three years listening to the public’s views about how to handle nuclear waste disposal and promised that no dump or repository would be sprung on a community without its consent. Throughout the process, even critics of waste storage efforts remained engaged and supportive of attempts to come up with the best possible solution.

While the question of where to store nuclear waste does have technology and science as two of the factors driving any decisions, there are far more political and economic factors than scientific. Certainly, any site that is chosen must be found to be safe based on sound science, but after that all bets are off. Curiously lacking from Chris’ article is a description of how the Canadian process turned out. Did it actually result in new storage facilities? How did the public near the sites end up accepting them? In other words, is there any data to support Chris’ vague claims? I’m not arguing that it’s a bad thing to engage the public in decisions; that is the very heart of our democracy. What I’m wondering is whether Chris’ proposals are so vague as to represent little more than sitting down with opponents and singing Kumbaya.

Chris is also painfully off base when he buys into the denialist frame of scientists being out of touch and arrogant:

Experts aren’t wrong in thinking that Americans don’t know much about science, but given how little they themselves often know about the public, they should be careful not to throw stones. Rather than simply crusading against ignorance, the defenders of science should also work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes.

So while Chris is admitting that Americans don’t know much about science, once again he has trouble coming up with anything concrete. Kumbaya indeed.

PalMD also pointed out the conflict inherent in applying science to policy in a democracy. Our nation is a democratic republic, where elected officials are accountable to the voters. Science, however, is not a democracy. Unfortunately, all too often it’s treated like one, particularly in the press. Whenever, for example, climate change science is discussed, almost inevitably the “skeptics” are interviewed because the press likes controversy and because there always have to be two sides to a story. Ditto vaccines. Until he was stripped of his U.K. medical license, rare was the vaccine story, particularly in the U.K., that didn’t mention Andrew Wakefield. In fact, Andrew Wakefield couldn’t have caused the damage he did without willing accomplices in the press. In any rational world, he would have disappeared from any stories about vaccines by no later than 2004, which is when Brian Deer first started exposing his conflicts of interest adn shoddy science. He didn’t. He remained in the limelight for six more years, and it took disciplinary action against him in the form of stripping him of his medical license before the press finally started viewing him as the disgrace that he is.

From my perspective, Chris seems to be demanding more of scientists than we should be. He also dances around a question that PalMD also nailed exactly. What happens when the best scientific solution to a problem is politically unpopular? The reason that the people of Nevada oppose having nuclear waste stored in their state is, as Chris points out, because they perceive it as unfair. Will they perceive it as any less unfair if scientists persuade them it’s safe? I doubt it. It’s a political issue, and Chris seems to be demanding that scientists become politicians and advertisers right in the thick of such policy fights. He’s right about one thing. We’re not too good at that. But should we try to become as good at it as Chris thinks we should become?

I’m not so sure.

Personally, I tend to agree with PalMD that scientists and physicians should hew more closely to the science in public debates about policies that are primarily driven by science. Our job is to provide the best science-based assessment of options for these important policy debates and to try to convince legislators to insulate science policy from the vagaries of the election cycle. The NIH is an excellent example of how this can be achieved. Congress controls its budget and general structure, but the NIH decides how research dollars are spent, and support for NIH funding remains high. Ditto the National Science Foundation. There’s also a distinct risk for scientists in becoming too active. That real risk is the erosion of the high level of respect that scientists in general enjoy from the public, who could easily come to view them as just another interest group if scientists associate themselves too closely with various political policies. That is exactly the sort of attack that climate scientists frequently endure from AGW denialists, and it works because it resonates.

Contrary to Chris’ seeming belief that scientists don’t understand that we’re fighting ideology rather than necessarily ignorance, scientists by and large do realize it. I don’t know that defeating those ideologies should be a job that scientists should primarily take on. Engaging the public about the science behind important policy decisions is critically important, but we have to be very careful not to become the mirror image of the denialist ideologues whose misinformation we’re trying to combat.

Comments

  1. #1 Rene Najera
    June 28, 2010

    I see the problem comes in communication, in adding extra remarks to the delivery of information. That extra commentary really muddies things up so that deniers cover their ears and hum. Humans are funny like that. If we don’t want to hear, we won’t, and no amount of science in the known universe will change that if it is delivered in such a way that, right off the bat, antagonizes them.
    It’s one of those communication things I heard in college… I could be wrong.
    Scientist: “Vaccines have not been associated with autism in the many scientifically-sound studies looking into it.”
    Jenny Doe: “But Google says…”
    Scientist: “Vaccines have NOT been associated with autism in the many scientifically-sound studies looking into it.”
    Jenny Doe: “You (insert insulting, hateful, shrill comments here)!!! How dare you? You are not suffering what I am suffering through!”
    Scientist: “Vaccines have NOT been associated with autism in the many scientifically-sound studies looking into it.”

    Name, rank, and serial number… That’s all they need to know. We may sound like mindless drones, or Vulcans, but we’ll suck the emotions out of it and maybe (and it’s a big maybe) put some reason into the discussion.

  2. #2 Meme Mine
    June 28, 2010

    How many climate scientists does it take to change a light bulb?
    None. BUT, they DO have consensus that it “will” change.

    Speaking of climate scientists, why are there countless thousands more of them, than protestors? Climate Change is an aging, 24 year old failed doomesday theory and media wetdream that is milked by the science industry, that you radicals are supposed to expose and ridicule and challenge, not bow to, endorse and obey like neocons. We deniers see how hard you try to believe despite climate gate and NO evidence, YET. We know that REAL Nature lovers and responsible environmentalists were happy and RELIEVED with climate gate’s revelations, not to mention 24 years of waiting through predictions. Climate change isn’t coming but system change is, because the voters are putting this cultural and media and political mass insanity to rest finally. Promising doom is not sustainable. But then again religions survived didn’t they? Get it now? So keep up your enviro-Utopian faith and have fun because it’s getting to be a big Yawn now, especially from the coming generation that won’t tolerate your cowardly CO2 death threats.

  3. #3 AL Bore
    June 28, 2010

    It was a CO2 mistake. Get over it. Pollution is NOT climate change. 24 wrong predictions in a row and climate gate proves it. Not to mention 5 billion years of comet hits, volcanoes and the powers of the cosmos.
    We are gods now? Sorry, you are still mortal Paul. You cannot be an immortal god just because you have the power to regulate the temperatures of planets in this particular galaxy.
    If anything, climate changers are the new right wing neocons of fear mongering and promising death to our children. Climate change is your Iraq war, full of WMD’s. History is cursing this era of environMENTALism already.
    I’m sure Rachel Carson almost a half century after defeating the smoggy 70′s when a river

  4. #4 JohnV
    June 28, 2010

    On the inaugural JohnV crank-o-meter, Meme Mine, you get 5/10 cranks. You left out two tried and true comments or I would have rated you higher :(

  5. #5 Orac
    June 28, 2010

    Well that didn’t take long. The AGW denialists have arrived and completely ignored the topic of the article in order to post their predictable rants.

    Sadly, they’re not even interesting rants. “Al Bore”? Geez, a junior high school kid could come up with a better insult! Pathetic.

  6. #6 JohnV
    June 28, 2010

    Orac is that 2 different people?

  7. #7 sirhcton
    June 28, 2010

    As if on demand, the evidence to support parts of Orac’s argument arrives in the comments.

  8. #8 Elipson
    June 28, 2010

    Promising doom is not sustainable

    Don’t know about that, Christianity has been promising that for 2000 years…

  9. #9 PJ Matzig
    June 28, 2010

    Insightful Scienceblogs comment of the day:

    Chris Mooney’s an idiot.

  10. #10 FreeSpeaker
    June 28, 2010

    I just love this “building bridges” hokum.

    We should build bridges to the anti-vax movement, just like they did in the movie, the Bridge over the River Kwai. When they all get on the bridge, we do to the bridge what was done in the movie. Figuratively speaking, of course.

    Another excellent example is “A Bridge Too Far”. One day someone will build a bridge to the anti-vax community, and it will be too late.

    These bridge builders just do not seem to get it. There is a fundamental scientific illiteracy in the US, and elsewhere, and this will not be cured overnight. Scientists did not cause it, as it is a direct result of our educational system’s efforts to pass everyone.

    Can scientists cure it? Maybe. We need more Carl Sagan’s Brian Greenes, Mr. Wizards, etc.

    But, we do not need no steeken bridge builders.

  11. #11 James Sweet
    June 28, 2010

    Maybe Mooney should put his money where his mouth is and, you know, do some engaging on this thread right now. If Mooney can make one inch of progress with Meme Mine and Al Bore (sockpuppets, perhaps?), then I will take back every single criticism I have ever made of him.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you are coming around more and more to the fact that modern-Mooney is just not making sense. It seems like he had a good, provocative point to make, and then it stirred up such a fun controversy that he decided to just start repeating the point over and over, without ever following up or going to the next step.

    Actually, come to think of it, Mooney’s problem reminds me of the disappointment I had in Bowling for Columbine. In that movie, Moore spends 2/3 of it painting this really fascinating picture of the complexity of the gun violence problem. By 2/3 through the movie, I was convinced that there were no easy solutions, and I was interested to see where Moore was going with it. And then — he ends it by saying, “Oh, it’s all the fault of those nasty bullet manufacturers after all. Also, Charlton Heston is a dick.” After spending an hour thoroughly convincing me that anyone who thinks the solution to gun violence will be a simple fix is hopelessly naive — and then he ends it with half an hour of saying how simple it will be to fix the problem. Grumble grumble…

    Mooney seems to have done something similar. He makes all these great points on how the problem of communicating science is actually quite difficult, that “increased education” or “outreach” or any of that will not be any sort of panacea… and then he always ends by saying, “Oh yeah, and if scientists would just stop being dicks, it would be an easy fix after all.”

    Perhaps, like Moore, he has realized that, as much as he might find the facts interesting, the public just wants a simple polemical soundbite at the end.

  12. #12 Denice Walter
    June 28, 2010

    As though the ideologies of anti-vaxers weren’t on a spectrum: we aren’t addressing and responding to Jenny & Co.*only* but their *audience* whose beliefs run the gamut from “true believer” to “fence sitter”(like my cousin and his wife who vaccinated albeit with great trepidation and are now heaving huge sighs of relief, post Wakefield affair). Some dudes in the bloggy trenches,combatting HIV/AIDS denialism daily,sincerely differentiate providers and consumers of “dissident” information.I know, I know, it’s not always a natural way to communicate, but it’s something to keep in mind.Presenting the results of studies, evaluating questionable studies,practices,and sales techniques,as well as addressing the concerns of the general public shouldn’t require a political speech writer.I like Barrett’s approach:what quackery is and *why* it sells.

  13. #13 Travis
    June 28, 2010

    I would be very curious what these 24 wrong predictions are and if they actually are predictions any climate scientists really made. And anyone who says climate gate proves climate change is wrong has not actually read those e-mails or understood them.

    And yes, they are boring trolls. I do not understand the obsession they have over Al Gore. I haven’t even seen his movie nor do I really care to. I know very little about him. He is not some climate change god.

  14. #14 Dizzy May
    June 28, 2010

    Orac,
    Yes, faith and belief in what IS going to happen, based on NO evidence and based on WHO is saying what(not what is being said) is the climate change faith.
    We deniers, all former believers like you, are not pollution loving evil neocons. We all want new energy to replace dirty oil, we all want more attention paid to population control and we all want the continued success of Rachel Carson’s half century old revolution that defeated the smoggy 70′s when a river caught fire in Ohio. We are living longer now than at any time in human history, despite grave concerns of access to quality healthcare. So it’s safe to say that pollution isn’t CO2, pollution isn’t killing us and obviously the planet is not dying. Remove the CO2 mistake and we agree on absolutely everything else. I suggest you get ahead of the curve.
    Where you fading climate changers and exploding number of deniers differ, is only on the point: that the planet dying, as in your mantra: SAVE THE PLANET.
    So since we all want a safe environment and new energy sources and better population control, let’s agree to back off of the dying planet CO2 mistake and work together for responsible environmentalism, not enviornMENTALism.
    Voters have the consensus that counts, not politicians and to deny that, would make you the new denier.
    Climate change: Yawn.

  15. #15 JustWondering
    June 28, 2010

    Denialists? Jeez, a kindergartener could have come up with a better insult than that! Pathetic!

  16. #16 Kyle
    June 28, 2010

    @2 & 3 you’re aware that the times of london retracted their “climategate” story, right? http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/06/25/climategate_retraction

  17. #17 FreeSpeaker
    June 28, 2010

    I just love this “building bridges” hokum.

    We should build bridges to the anti-vax movement, just like they did in the movie, the Bridge over the River Kwai. When they all get on the bridge, we do to the bridge what was done in the movie. Figuratively speaking, of course.

    Another excellent example is “A Bridge Too Far”. One day someone will build a bridge to the anti-vax community, and it will be too late.

    These bridge builders just do not seem to get it. There is a fundamental scientific illiteracy in the US, and elsewhere, and this will not be cured overnight. Scientists did not cause it, as it is a direct result of our educational system’s efforts to pass everyone.

    Can scientists cure it? Maybe. We need more Carl Sagan’s Brian Greenes, Mr. Wizards, etc.

    But, we do not need no steeken bridge builders.

  18. #18 Jack FrostBurrrrr!
    June 28, 2010

    Wasn’t it these highly paid consultants posing in lab coats you climate changers call saintly “scientists”, that polluted the poor little helpless 5 billion year old planet with their evil chemicals in the first place?
    When you have faith in things you don’t understand, superstition plays your hand.
    Preserve, Protect and Respect Nature, not delcare it dead and dying with needless panic from the CO2 mistake.
    THIS is environmentalism’s Iraq false war.
    Get up to date you flat earthers and witch burners scaring my kids with your CO2 death threats.A denier backlash is coming to the voting booths.

  19. #19 Mother Nature
    June 28, 2010

    Kyle, read the climate gate emails, then ask yourself this: “What has to happen to prove the deniers correct?”

  20. #20 JohnV
    June 28, 2010

    The similarity between #3 and #13 are causing me to have a few thoughts. Primarily, who the hell wants to build a bridge to these aholes?

  21. #21 Rachel Carson
    June 28, 2010

    Climate Change “Eco-utopianism” is dangerously misguided because none of it can be applied in a practical sense, leaving it a squandering of valuable recourses both human and otherwise , costly, wasteful and explains why the UN has allowed Carbon Trading to trump 3rd World Education, clean water and starvation rescue.

  22. #22 Orac
    June 28, 2010

    In case you hadn’t noticed, Meme Mine, Al Bore, Dizzy May, Mother Nature, Rachel Carson, and Jack FrostBurrr! are all sockpuppets.

    Sockpuppetry is one of the only bannable offenses here. Bye, bye, Meme Mine.

  23. #23 JustWondering
    June 28, 2010

    One of the only? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  24. #24 Meme Mine
    June 28, 2010

    Sockpocket, never heard of it till now. You must be one to know one maybe?
    I’ll leave you now and I’m sorry for posting an opposing view.
    Oh, and stop scaring my kids, please?

  25. #25 MartinM
    June 28, 2010

    There is, of course, little point in changing your username with every comment while using the same incoherent posting style to make the same moronic ‘points.’

  26. #26 Rogue Medic
    June 28, 2010

    Curiously lacking from Chris’ article is a description of how the Canadian process turned out. Did it actually result in new storage facilities? How did the public near the sites end up accepting them? In other words, is there any data to support Chris’ vague claims?

    Even if he did include this information, this would still just an anecdote. There may be many other factors more relevant to acceptance of a nuclear waste site. Tax cuts, tax rebates (Alaska style), jobs in an area with high unemployment, relocating people and buying their property at a premium to what the property value might be next to a planned nuclear waste site, et cetera.

    What I’m wondering is whether Chris’ proposals are so vague as to represent little more than sitting down with opponents and singing Kumbaya.

    I occasionally threaten to sing to people if they do not behave. I have not had to resort to this nuclear option, yet.

    Kumbaya, Whatever Will Be, or Happy Birthday Mr. President. The song doesn’t matter, it’s the delivery. ;-)

    It’s a political issue, and Chris seems to be demanding that scientists become politicians and advertisers. He’s right about one thing. We’re not too good at that. But should we try to become as good at it as Chris thinks we should become?

    Do we need our own Ex-Dr. Wakefield? He is politically savvy, but he is also putting the politics way ahead of the science. Maybe he is a bad example, since he does not appear to begin to understand science.

    Do we need our own Huey Long? Robert Byrd?

    The problem is that we already have too much politics in science, which is supposed to be immune to politics.

    In two of the areas mentioned, the most prominent scientist seems to be the most hated by denialists. Richard Dawkins and Paul Offit. When you actually listen to what they say, or read what they write, they very respectful of the scientifically illiterate. They present their cases clearly and politely.

    They are treated as if a career change to kiddie porn would be an improvement. This isn’t about politics, except for the politics of hate promoted by the scientifically illiterate.

    Eventually, Jenny McCarthy may persuade enough parents to avoid vaccination, that we will end up with a large outbreak and a lot of permanently disabled children and a lot of dead children. Then the public will realize how they have been misled.

    The problem is that it takes a disaster to get people to realize that science and logic work. Then these people, who did not see the original problem, make rules to prevent only that one type of mistake from happening again.

    We don’t need to listen to the public. We need to educate them when they are in grade school. Creating a scientifically literate society will take a while, but we need to do it.

    Having a college degree in an unrelated field has nothing to do with scientific literacy. This just seems to be more evidence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect – Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.

  27. #27 Jojo
    June 28, 2010

    The thing that Chris seems to continually miss is the final step of the equation. He thinks that scientists don’t get were the deniers are coming from. Not true. It’s clear that it’s ideology and politics. Everyone gets that. The problem, as you said Orac, is that scientists can’t do what would be most effective to combat the misinformation without abandoning science and turning to ideology and politics.

    In a way, it’s a lose/lose situation. If scientists do use ideology and politics, they discredit themselves as scientists. If scientists stick with just trying to educate and present facts, they can’t win over the people who respond to politics and ideology.

    Unfortunately, with the extremely important topics being addressed, reality will eventually end the debate for all of us. When middle class, white, educated families start losing children to vaccine preventable diseases, people will start listening to scientists again. Until then, I’m afraid that the best that can be done is mitigate the damage as much as possible.

    It’s pretty depressing actually.

  28. #28 Ian
    June 28, 2010

    Jeez, the stupid is out in force today. RSS feeds?

  29. #29 njk
    June 28, 2010

    JohnV, you don’t need to build a bridge to trolls, they’re already under the bridge.

  30. #30 Scientizzle
    June 28, 2010

    Socky McGorefetishist @ 24

    I’ll leave you now and I’m sorry for posting an opposing view.

    Posting an “opposing view” is extremely common in these comment threads. What you should apologize for is repeatedly posting woefully vapid, incoherent garble that made no connection to the topic of the post. Trolls should at least try to be funny if they’re going to proudly display a tenous grasp of reality. And don’t act butthurt when obnoxious behavior leads to the banhammer. Don’t let the intarweb hit you in the ass on the way out.

    Cheers!

  31. #31 Todd W.
    June 28, 2010

    @James Sweet

    Maybe Mooney should put his money where his mouth is and, you know, do some engaging on this thread right now.

    Or better yet, let’s see him try to engage the folks over at AoA and see how far he gets. Chris, if you’re reading this, please let us know how that works for you. How long it takes trying to get them to understand the science until they ban you from posting or relegate your e-mails to the trash.

  32. #32 Lawrence
    June 28, 2010

    The biggest difference between “John Q. Scientist” and “John Q. Public” is that the scientist starts with an idea & then goes out and tries to see if the idea is valid or not (or changes based on evidence collected).

    John Q. Public starts with a “belief” and if you challenge that belief, you’re challenging them – and you get push-back, and they will refuse to listen to any evidence to the contrary.

    Besides continual education, I don’t know what else we can do to make this situation any better.

    Oh, and yes – the anti-AGW people must have this blog on speed-dial.

  33. #33 Science Mom
    June 28, 2010

    According to a 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, children who go unvaccinated by parental choice (rather than because of inadequate access to vaccines) tend to be white, from well-to-do families and with married, college-educated mothers. Parents in such families are more likely to go onto the Internet (what McCarthy calls the “university of Google”) to research the health risks of inoculation than are other groups of parents.

    Emphasis mine. It is important to note that this is used ad-nauseum by the anti-vax brigade but it should be highlighted that these parents are not educated in the hard sciences and that makes a difference when obtaining and parsing scientific/medical information. I have to agree that Chris missed the mark again.

    Parental concerns and agendised organisations have been influencing science, i.e. the scientists have listened but to no avail. For example, thimerosal, MMR and now vaccine schedules in general are being examined and the negative results simply won’t convince the critics. I’m all for trying to inform and educate, but when you have coteries of uneducables then it is simply time to marginalise and try to encapsulate their influence. Not continue to capitulate to ridiculous demands and give them a patina of legitimacy.

  34. #34 James Sweet
    June 28, 2010

    At the risk of feeding the trolls:

    Sockpocket, never heard of it till now. You must be one to know one maybe?

    Priceless.

  35. #35 clayton
    June 28, 2010

    Did sock puppet trolls start reading Poe and think that mid early 20th century speaking gives them an air of intelligence?

    I’ll extend a hand to these people, with my fingers speeding towards their eye sockets. They appreciate a good fight. They are smart enough to know they can’t debate a fact, just the emotional impact of it.

  36. #36 Chris Mooney
    June 28, 2010

    Well, thank you for stating the objections rather kindly.

    I really think we agree more than you say — and I’m not naive in the ways you claim. But I’ll have to write a response….I’ve already responded to other comments here, including to PalMD, and there are some common themes

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/06/28/responses-to-responses-to-my-washpo-piece-on-science-and-the-public/

    I want to emphasize that this Outlook piece is occasioned by a much broader American Academy of Arts and Sciences project on scientists’ understanding of the public, and a much more in depth paper releases tomorrow. So some of the objections with regard to depth need to be considered in that context.
    Chris

  37. #37 Ian
    June 28, 2010

    I will probably get slammed for this, but I think there is a point to be made in all of this. It’s a bad idea to capitulate to the demands of people with absolutely no reasonable foundation for their position, but it’s not enough to simply be right. The reason that the anti-X (where X is whatever the evidence supports) camps are able to appeal to the public is because the exploit the heuristic shortcuts that people who are not logic-based decision makers use. There is a great deal in the psychology literature on this – people are not inherently rational, but they think they are.

    It may be useful to observe what kinds of questions people are asking, what kinds of heuristics they rely on, and use those methods to disseminate information in addition to presenting the evidence as a logical argument. I see oftentimes when people use logic to fight heuristics, it is akin to pouring water on a grease fire – well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

    What I’ve suggested is emphatically not “building a bridge” to the other side, but using the tactics of the other side to help inform and – let’s face it, persuade – those people in the middle who may not be amenable to a logic-based approach.

    All of this may be simply a straw man, as I’m sure most of the people reading this will agree with the idea of reaching out to the middle, and the criticisms of Mooney are more about the attempt to reach out to people who are frank deniers, but denialism is also on a spectrum, and adjusting the approach slightly will help bring in those who are closer to the realm of rational argument, ultimately thinning the number of people we’re fighting against.

  38. #38 Lawrence
    June 28, 2010

    There is such a thing as building bridges & there is quite another to completely capitulate to the other side’s demands. At this point, on both climate change and the anti-vaccination sides, they will accept nothing less than the complete surrender of the side representing Evidence & Science.

    Based on the comments here, AoA & others – they aren’t interested in being educated. They have their position & they are not interested in any evidence that contradicts said position. And, unfortunately, any attempt to reach out to them is considered a sign of weakness & they trumpet that they were right all along.

    I don’t think there is a win-win situation here, besides sticking to the guns of real Science and continuing the process of education.

  39. #39 Vicki
    June 28, 2010

    I’d like to note that it’s very easy to conflate intelligent and thoughtful with formally educated, and also easy to assume that “white” and “well-to-do” mean smart, rather than (for example) lucky, or privileged in terms of where they started. (As the late Molly Ivins put it, born on third base and think they hit a triple.)

    There’s also a tendency to trust and believe people who we perceive as like ourselves, so (for example) middle-class white women with liberal arts degrees may be more likely to believe someone else who looks and sounds like them, rather than, say, a black man or someone with a degree in physics or accounting.

    [I should note here that I am a middle-class white woman with a liberal arts degree. But my “talks like me” buttons are more skewed to the math and science side than average for that group, I think.)

  40. #40 Francie Todd
    June 28, 2010

    I believe you need to distinguish between those who have a vested interest in ignoring science and those who do not. In the case of the anti-vaccine crowd, there are probably more people who would respond to “bridge building” in the public than you might think. In the case of climate change deniers, most do not want to believe the science because it would require that they change their carbon-gorging lifestyles. But many people – and I say this as the parent of a child with Aspergers Syndrome – will be eager to listen to science when a clear cause or set of causes for autism emerges. I don’t agree with the anti-vaccine crowd, but I understand how parents who do not have the same analytical skills as scientists would grasp for an explanation that converges with their experience of having a bright, happy toddler suddently begin withdrawing from emotional contact. I’m not sure that bridge building is key to understanding, but I believe that empathy is.

  41. #41 Todd W.
    June 28, 2010

    I should clarify my previous comment to Chris. I have tried to talk with the folks at AoA. I have approached them in a respectful manner, fully understanding where they are coming from and trying to explain what the science says in a manner that is easy for a layperson to understand (considering I am one and not a scientist). All I have accomplished for my troubles is getting banned from AoA, apparently for simply disagreeing with the ideology there, though I’ve never received an explanation.

    So, I really am curious, Chris, how far you will get in building a bridge to the folks at AoA.

  42. #42 Lindsay
    June 28, 2010

    The criticisms so far laid on Chris Mooney’s article miss the mark because, like a lot of other articles by Chris, I don’t think this article was written for scientist (particularly science bloggers).

    I think his audience was far more broad, hence it being published in the Washington Post. Orac is right that he expresses a lot of very obvious conclusions that anyone following this sort of thing will be familiar with already. However, most regular people reading the Post do not follow it and it really will be news to them.

    “Chris seems to buy into the denialist frame of the clueless, out of touch scientist who just doesn’t “get” Joe Average and pontificates condescendingly from on high. As PalMD points out, I don’t buy that frame, at least not as a generalization that covers the majority of scientists.”

    I completely buy this frame, not because I think it is true of scientists, but I think the public thinks it is true of scientists. And from what I’ve seen at the major research institutions I’ve studied at so far it may not be how the scientists think of themselves, but I could definitely understand where that stereotype comes from. The scientists I’ve encountered don’t seem to think much of attempting to meet the public, they do honestly feel they have the superior position because they are backed up by reason and science. It’s hard for me (as a scientist) to fight the urge to feel that way too, but there is really more to life than science and without talking to people, you’ll never really understand what those other issues are.

    Remember, this article is written for the public, not science bloggers who obviously go way out of their way to reach out to the public. Science bloggers should be highly commended, far more than they are, because they spend so much time doing public outreach and go far and beyond what I’ve seen an average scientist do. But do understand that people feel the way they do because of things other than what is scientifically true and to reach them you often have to not only be trained in science but also lend a sympathetic ear.

  43. #43 Ian
    June 28, 2010

    I think the reaction from the science bloggers is appropriate though. There is more to the story, and that needs to be told. Presenting an article like Mooney’s to laypeople is giving them only part of the story (which, in a way, is exacerbating the problem).

  44. #44 Chris Lamb
    June 28, 2010

    I don’t often post here but I’m going to go all out, in-your-face controversial and rock the boat with a pragmatic suggestion.

    THE MEDIA.

    It’s almost too obvious but why does Mooney elect to blame the scientists instead of say Fox news? (Or hell, even CNN!?) All of his suggestions are useless if the media doesn’t get on board and in my lay opinion that is where the majority of effort should be concentrated.

    Nothing sways public opinion more in the Western World than The News. In fact in the UK, “public opinion” is indistinguishable from the mean average of tabloid headline themes. I think organisations that engage journalists and producers can do far more good that whatever the hell Mooney was suggesting. We all seem to have the attitude that there’s nothing we can do about the media’s flawed portrayal of science and I don’t buy it for a second.

  45. #45 =^skeptic cat^=
    June 28, 2010

    Of course, the elephant in the room when discussing the proper methodology of communicating science to the general public is that science is actually quite difficult to understand. Denialist thrive on that fact and often appear to delude persons into believing that they can understand concepts which are not fully comprehensible even to experts. It is, of course, worthwhile to instill in as many people as possible a sense of what science is and how it can be distinguished from nonscience and/or nonsense. At a certain point you really do hit a wall. Ironically, someone who thinks themselves scientifically literate because they watched Cosmos or Steven Hawking on television is actually more vulnerable to denialist claims because of this inflated sense understanding.

  46. #46 Dangerous Bacon
    June 28, 2010

    Chris Mooney: “In particular, they often fail to realize that a more scientifically informed public is not necessarily a public that will more frequently side with scientists.”

    If the information is presented by the media as “one side says this, the other side says something else” then people may find it difficult to determine what to believe. What’s needed is 1) better education that teaches critical thinking skills and what the scientific method is (as opposed to anecdotes) and 2) more professional reporting that recognizes the differences between solid evidence and anecdotes.

    Chris Mooney: “Experts aren’t wrong in thinking that Americans don’t know much about science, but given how little they themselves often know about the public, they should be careful not to throw stones.”

    Gosh yes. As we all know, “experts” are not ordinary people in that “experts” never get cancer (or have family or friends that do), don’t face decisions about whether to vaccinate their kids and are immune to policy changes relating to global warming, being exempt in their ivory towers.
    Sarcasm aside, it does a great disservice to dialogue on key scientific issues to present scientists as arrogant creatures above the fray. That’s straight out of the altie playbook, and ludicrously false.

    As has been pointed out here frequently, it is largely a waste of time to “engage” with denialists. Pre-empting their target audience through reason and civil dialogue is however worthwhile.

  47. #47 Val
    June 28, 2010

    People who are thoughtful and intelligent tend to assume that if you present the facts to someone, the other person will analyze them objectively. The problem is that people who aren’t very bright tend to react emotionally, or, as Mr. Mooney pointed out, based on political belief.

    So, yes, on the one hand, it’s true that all the listening in the world won’t have much of an effect on people who either don’t want to listen to the response or aren’t capable of analyzing the facts they’re given.

    But that doesn’t mean that the scientists couldn’t do better.

    Intelligent people can be perceived as being arrogant or as trying to show off when they speak. This happens, I expect, because to the less-intelligent listener(s), what’s being said is obviously impossible to understand (even though the speaker thinks he’s speaking clearly). So, the listeners can conclude that the speaker is just out to make them feel bad/trick them/whatever, and shut down.

    I noticed this during the Frontline documentary. The scientists and MDs were using what could be described as “big words” and long sentences. People of average or below average intelligence can’t always understand this way of speaking.

    The anti-vaccine crowd…well, they don’t use big words. Charlatans also use simple, emotional language.

  48. #48 JohnV
    June 28, 2010

    Val are you suggesting that scientists can do better by not using big words?

  49. #49 Lee
    June 28, 2010

    “For someone who’s so into framing, he sure does fall for the denialist frame of scientists as being tin-eared, arrogant, and not listening:”

    Exactly. That’s been my beef with Mooney ever since the ‘Expelled from Expelled’ kerfuffle. The problem isn’t with ‘framing,’ which is simply a method of paying attention to how you say what you say, so that people have a better chance to hear the message.

    No, the problem with Mooney and framing is simply that he is so FREAKING BAD!!! at it. He manages nearly every time, on nearly every issue, to reinforce some set of the anti-science, anti-medicine frames.

    That is too bad, because attention to framing is useful – but Mooney by now has so damaged the concept, and so pissed off so many scientists, that he is discrediting the entire idea.

  50. #50 Val
    June 28, 2010

    John, it would probably help when scientists, MDs, or public health officials are being interviewed by the media. (I’m obviously not saying that we should dumb our papers down; forgive me if that message came across).

    Overall message: we need to be more aware of our audiences at times.

  51. #51 Val
    June 28, 2010

    As an addendum: there’s a reason for why consent forms are typically written at an 8th grade level at most. Applying the same approach might help when communicating with the media.

    At the same time, some people just don’t want to know, and no amount of carefully planned communication will change that.

  52. #52 Feyd-Rautha
    June 28, 2010

    Novella writes about the subject of accomodationism towards “believers” in the skeptical community over at Neurologica today. I think there are some important parrallels with this article, as far as how to criticize and engage unscientific opinions.

  53. #53 Eric
    June 28, 2010

    Who was it who said, “you can’t use reason to argue people out of a position they didn’t use reason to get into”.

    It’s certainly true that many working scientists aren’t great at delivering results in an understandable form to the average person. It’s also true the media is almost uniformly awful at interpreting science, partly because their lazy and partly because “we’ve learned a little more about how breast cancer works” doesn’t sell.

    But anybody who thinks that it’s about dialogue misunderstands what is driving the people on the other side. If you ask an vaccine-autism speaker what it would take to convince them that they were wrong, you won’t get an answer. That’s because they aren’t interested in what is right or wrong, just in what they believe.

  54. A couple of friends and I have tried to build bridges and have reasonable and respectful discussions with parents who reject vaccines. The result was that those of us who tried to bring credible scientific evidence to bear were labeled “militant” just for trying to have a discussion. Emotion gets in the way of reason on this issue in particular. In addition to science education, we need to change the political cultures that paint education and intelligence as liabilities.

    Here’s what I said on Chris Mooney’s blog:
    I am most familiar with the anti-vaccine movement. My opinions about this movement might be true of other denialist cultures.

    One thing I really think underlies the anti-vaccine stuff is jockeying for status within a certain type of affluent, educated parent clique. IMO, parents who work hard to achieve a degree and begin a career then opt out of that to stay home find themselves with little or no social status in the larger society. They must then seek status among their stay-home parent peers. Rejecting all kinds of mainstream methods, whether those methods are valid or not, is a marker of status among certain parents because it sets them apart from the unwashed masses.

    Rejecting vaccines is a relatively safe bet for many stay-home parents of a healthy, insured, well-fed, first-world child, although that is changing as herd immunity is increasingly compromised. It demonstrates that the vaccine denier is parenting much harder than those who “unthinkingly” consume science-based medicine. It also demonstrates a profound sense of entitlement.

  55. #55 Mark P
    June 28, 2010

    I don’t know about the vaccination denialism problem, but in the global warming problem, there are actually players who knowingly, willfully and intentionally produce bad information in the guise of scientific skepticism. No amount of honest bridge building will overcome the effect of the dishonest players.

  56. #56 Phoenix Woman
    June 28, 2010

    The media need to do a better job, but really, scientists need to do a better job of self-promotion and not see it as a horrific sin.

    Remember when Carl Sagan first hit the scene? Remember the intensely vicious backbiting he received from various other (intensely jealous) scientists? I sure do. (At one point a popular term for term among scientists, one meant to be denigrating, was “The Mister Rogers of Science”, which showed how little they understood both Carl Sagan or Fred Rogers, the latter of whom was unquestionably one of the most utterly decent and humane persons to walk the Earth.)

    Maybe if some scientists stopped slagging anyone who tried to be a science popularizer like Carl Sagan, then the idea of arrogant scientists would die of its own accord.

  57. #57 D. C. Sessions
    June 28, 2010

    I get the distinct impression that Chris is in denial.

    Sometimes there’s nothing you can do — your kid is going to die, the Governor is already proclaiming how tough on crime he is before they even march the prisoner off to execution, Congress only listens to the big boys who have a finger in the pie — whatever.

    Insisting that there must be something that the scientific community can do to Make It All Better is a lovely security blanket for when the Universe is reminding you that you’re not all that special. It doesn’t change anything, but just like chelation for “vaccine injury” it keeps us from confronting our powerlessness.

  58. #58 Jud
    June 28, 2010

    Rogue Medic writes:

    Eventually, Jenny McCarthy may persuade enough parents to avoid vaccination, that we will end up with a large outbreak and a lot of permanently disabled children and a lot of dead children. Then the public will realize how they have been misled.

    The problem is that it takes a disaster to get people to realize that science and logic work. Then these people, who did not see the original problem, make rules to prevent only that one type of mistake from happening again.

    We don’t need to listen to the public. We need to educate them when they are in grade school. Creating a scientifically literate society will take a while, but we need to do it.

    Having a college degree in an unrelated field has nothing to do with scientific literacy. This just seems to be more evidence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect – Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.

    Agree wholeheartedly with this, and appreciate the mention of Dunning-Kruger. Folks who consider themselves intelligent are all too ready to think the University of Google is sufficient to make their conclusions as valid as those who’ve spent lifetimes in careful study.

    I don’t think the problem lies in the inability of the public to grasp complex matters. Anyone who’s seen today’s kids work cell phones, or teenagers of earlier generations tear apart cars and put them back together again, knows that’s not the case. What’s lacking is motivation, and as Rogue Medic says, that may not be present for, e.g., vaccines until a deadly outbreak that affects middle- and upper-class kids.

    I also think the media share the blame, but perhaps not (only?) in the direct way some commenters have mentioned. ISTM that the way we are now accustomed to getting our news works against belief in anything that doesn’t include dramatic video and/or a heart-tugging anecdote. (It works for pro-science folks, too – I know when I watched the Frontline program on Cali anti-vaxxers, and the video of the baby with pertussis struggling to breathe appeared, I thought to myself, There! That’s the emotional clincher!)

  59. #59 Zoe237
    June 28, 2010

    Pretty much ita with Mooney, sorry. I think it’s telling after 57 comments of mostly talking about how stupid non-scientists are.

    (not that I haven’t bemoaned the lack of scientific process understanding of the general public myself).

    I have to echo the recommendation for neurologica’s blog post today. He hits the balance spot-on. And it is a balance.

  60. #60 Bob Calder
    June 28, 2010

    =^skeptic cat^= Makes a good point albeit with her/his ears. ;-)

    If poor Michael Chrichton were still alive, how easy would it be to take him back through the sequence of research on State of Fear to revisit the decisions he made to reject the reasonable professional climatologists and accept the word of a former tobacco industry shill and friends with ties to Exxon money?

    Sounds easy doesn’t it? But Chrichton had such an emotional investment that even after it became obvious, he kept up with his fruitless hand flapping like our friends Meme Mine and Al Bore.

    There are several problems with science communication as debate. Science writing itself is in pretty good shape. How people come to understand issues is the problem:

    1. The Create Your Own Opinion Here __________________ (Fox News style)
    2. Find Someone to Believe The Wrong Way (can’t tell diamonds from poop style)
    3. Evil sock puppet paid by Your Think Tank Goes Here ____________ (CEI style)
    4. Listen to several actual experts.

    Chrichton did the first three and didn’t bother with number four. We’ll never know why unless his wife tells us.

    With the noise online it’s difficult for a lot of the population to craft an effective learning strategy like #4. It’s not a surprise to people that teach Internet media literacy like Howard Rheingold or Henry Jenkins (or me for that matter.)

    If you *can* think your way to a reasonable conclusion, you’re in good shape. That’s most of the regular readers of good science writing. But you guys are a minority of the self-taught that made it successfully. There are tons of people that have no crap filter (a Howard-ism).

    Take global warming for instance. I would be surprised if the troll-like (Meme Mine and Al Bore) infantile behavior is that of a paid sock puppet. Those guys have quietly folded their tents and crept away. Those left on the field are the truly deluded that have emotional buy-in to the straw men created by professional PR people. Environmentalists as the “new-religious”. Al Gore as the “official representative of Big Global Warming Terror”.

    Will outreach help? It’s doubtful because they have come to a conclusion after following a trail of sorts. The problem is that along the trail they made some bad turns. Taking each of them backward through the sequence is very difficult.

  61. #61 John Kotcher
    June 28, 2010

    Orac,

    You’ve written a long critique. I agree with some of the things you have to say here, and disagree with others. For what it’s worth, I’ll speak specifically to two points you’ve made.

    1.) You argue that a public that better understands the scientific process will lead to less conflict over issues such as climate change, vaccination, etc. But take the GMO debate, for instance. If you talk to a molecular biologist who is developing the technology to create GMOs, by and large they will support the use of the technology. However, if you talk to ecologists, who I think it is safe to say also have a pretty solid understanding of the scientific process, they tend to have legitimate, scientifically informed reservations about the adoption and deployment of GMO technology. So unfortunately, the assertion that a better understanding of the scientific process can provide an antidote to science controversies doesn’t pan out either. Again, it is more about differences in disciplinary training, world view, values, and the social background of an individual–regardless of whether the are an expert or a layperson.

    For more on this phenomenon, see the following article from the journal Environmental Science & Policy:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/publications/special/sarewitz_how_science_makes_environmental_controversies_worse.pdf

    2.) I don’t know specifically about the Canadian case, but regarding whether there is any evidence of the effectiveness of activities that cultivate a dialog between experts and the public to improve environmental decision making, there was a 2008 National Research Council report that examined that exact issue.

    Their conclusion (from p. 2):

    “Conclusion 1: When done well, public participation improves the quality and legitimacy of a decision and builds the capacity of all involved to engage in the policy process. It can lead to better results in terms of environmental quality and other social objectives. It also can enhance trust and understanding among parties. Achieving these results depends on using practices that address difficulties that specific aspects of the context can present.”

    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12434

  62. #62 TB
    June 28, 2010

    Lindsay: Great post.
    In support of her points, I have to say that for every reasonable scienceblogger I read (and I don’t read that many), I’ve encountered as many or more commentators who support arrogantly support science with a tin ear. People get their information and their impressions from many different sources.

  63. #63 ebohlman
    June 28, 2010

    Anthropologist Underground: I think you’re right about antivaccinationism being in part a form of social competition in certain circles. A very common theme among antivaxers in such circles is that their kids are protected against child diseases by their “healthy lifestyles”, which mostly means observing dietary taboos, particularly against eating foods eaten by the “masses.” The whole notion is that if you live more righteously than most people, you don’t need vaccines. It’s definitely a sense of superiority, and it’s little different from the “why should the most productive people pay taxes to support the least productive people” meme.

  64. #64 TB
    June 28, 2010

    Lindsay: Great post.
    In support of her points, I have to say that for every reasonable scienceblogger I read (and I don’t read that many), I’ve encountered as many or more commentators who support arrogantly support science with a tin ear. People get their information and their impressions from many different sources.

  65. #65 Sid Offit
    June 28, 2010

    I agree with Vicki. As a white male, anytime that Neil deGrasse Tyson comes on TV talking astrophysics I cover my ears and close my eyes until I can shut off the TV

  66. #66 Sid Offit
    June 28, 2010

    Rejecting vaccines is a relatively safe bet for many stay-home parents of a healthy, insured, well-fed, first-world child,

    Glad to hear you agree with me
    ————————–

    although that is changing as herd immunity is increasingly compromised.

    How’s that? I thought vaccination rates were at all-time highs.
    ——————–

    It also demonstrates a profound sense of entitlement.

    Entitled to what? And from whom?

  67. #67 augustine
    June 28, 2010

    ORAC: “Personally, I tend to agree with PalMD that scientists and physicians should hew more closely to the science in public debates about policies that are primarily driven by science.”

    That is to insure that THEIR policies are the ones that are implemented. PAL has also said he has no tolerance for people people’s “right” to not vaccinate. That’s his personal opinion and belief system.

    Doctors who feel this way should wear a sign that says “I will vaccinate your ass, whether you like it or not.”

    The other ones can wear a sign that says “Vaccination. It’s your choice.”

    I don’t think many doctors would wear the former sign for very long. They like money too much.

    BTW science is a-moral, a-religious, and a-political. Science doesn’t take sides or have allegiances and it surely doesn’t “drive” policy.

  68. #68 augustine
    June 28, 2010

    Some advice:

    http://insidevaccines.com/wordpress/2008/12/15/vaccines-safe-parents-dangerous/#comments

    “Lately I’ve been noticing an increasing number of journal articles, blog articles and opinion pieces on a terrible problem: Parents have questions about vaccines.

    You would have to look far and wide to find anyone who thinks that these questions are valid and should be taken seriously. Common explanations are:
    1) It is all about the parents who think they are really smart.
    2) It is all about the parents who are very stupid and read stuff on the Internet.
    3) It is all about the bad stuff on the Internet which is deceiving the parents who aren’t very smart and who think they are smarter than doctors. And infinite variations on this theme, which is really one argument…and the real argument is (drum roll)…vaccines are perfect and parents are the problem.

    Being called stupid dupes hasn’t worked to shut up the parents with questions. Perhaps this is not a good strategy?

    I’m sure you’ve noticed that many articles and blogs offer comment options to the public. If you are following the vaccine related discussions you’ll have noticed that there is a coterie of passionate vaccine defenders who pop up in every such public discussion. These vaccine defenders are fighting for the good of the vaccine program with everything they’ve got.

    Oddly, however, the number of parents with questions seems to be increasing. Perhaps the vaccine defenders need to reconsider their approach.

    Here are some suggestions, kindly meant, from an admirer of their efforts. These guys have put a lot of sweat equity into defending vaccines and they ought to be getting better results.

    One argument which comes up over and over again is herd immunity. Any time a parent asks if they could perhaps delay or skip one vaccine or another, someone is sure to come out with this mantra: “If we stop vaccinating measles and polio will return and children will die!” But if a parent is wondering about the chickenpox vaccine, or the hepatitis B vaccine or Prevnar, or perhaps about the vaccine for hepatitis A, this isn’t actually a useful argument. They may start wondering, quite reasonably, why questions about an ever-expanding vaccine schedule are answered with rants about vaccines which were added to the schedule in the 1950s (polio) and the 1960s (measles). Does this mean that we don’t really need all of these new vaccines, they ask?

    So, my first suggestion to the vaccine defenders is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. Parents have specific questions. The vaccine defense needs to have specific answers, because every vaccine is different. Efficacy varies, safety varies and the risk of disease varies. To complicate the question even further, every child is unique and therefore the risk/benefit ratio is different for every child and every vaccine.

    In addition to the defenders acting as though all vaccines are identical in their efficacy, safety and relevance, they also tend to act as though all vaccine questioners are identical. Anyone who has a question, is, in the defenders view, anti-vaccine. And people who are anti-vaccine are bad people. As a result the defenders respond with sarcasm, rudeness and repetition.

    My second suggestion to the vaccine defenders…is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. (I know, I already said that!) Some parents who raise concerns are just raising concerns. They haven’t gone over to the dark side. But with enough rudeness and sarcasm from the vaccine defenders they will definitely be moving in that direction.

    Which leads me to the next problem. It is not, absolutely not, all about autism and vaccines. Parents who have questions about vaccines find all sorts of things to worry about in addition to or instead of autism.

    I’m afraid my third suggestion is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. It really isn’t just autism. Parents are also worried about allergies, asthma, learning disabilities and generalized poor health. You need to have the research at your fingertips to answer all of these different concerns. If the research exists at all…if the research that exists supports the mantra “it isn’t the vaccines”…well good luck, anyway.

    Honestly, at this point many people are concerned or on the fence about vaccines. The sarcasm and meanness pushes people away. It is not a convincing approach. Try being polite and sympathetic. I know this is tough and doesn’t come naturally, but it is absolutely essential if the vaccine defenders want to get anywhere in this battle. The articles on this blog provide good models for a sympathetic, thoughtful and scientifically oriented approach.

    A few more points:

    Vaccine defenders need to deal with the science. Saying that the science is all on the vaccine side, without actually presenting said science is a hollow argument. The defenders need to dig in, find the citations, seriously address the questions. And start tackling the increasing number of blogs and organizations which are tackling the science from the other side. Just calling them anti-vaccine and ignoring them isn’t working.

    A sub-point on science: the scandals about faked science in medical journals are undermining people’s faith in doctors and science in general. If Merck did some bad stuff with Vioxx, is it unreasonable to have questions about their trustworthiness when it comes to Gardasil? The defenders need to be able to explain why vaccines are an exception to dirty dealing from the pharmaceutical companies. I’m wondering about this one myself and look forward to seeing what the vaccine defenders come up with.

    Calling people anti-vaccine isn’t actually an argument. If someone says: “I didn’t vaccinate my child for chickenpox because I researched the illness and decided that the vaccine wasn’t worth it.” they aren’t necessarily anti-vaccine. They thought about a particular vaccine and decided against it. They probably thought about some other vaccines and decided those were okay. Looking at their position objectively, they are pro-vaccine but opposed to the CDC’s schedule recommendations. Defenders of vaccines have to figure out a way to respond to selective and delayed vaccinators which doesn’t include insulting them.

    Selective and delayed vaccinators are potential allies who will fight for vaccines, but currently the vaccine defenders want nothing to do with them. Some of these parents are quite knowledgeable and have done extensive research into vaccines. They know more of the science than the defenders, frankly. But vaccine defenders turn away from these potential allies, because in a black and white world you are either with us or against us and there is no middle ground.

    Now comes a truly tough one: The vaccine defenders should be strongly, passionately, in favor of a philosophical exemption to vaccines. Why? Because it would increase the vaccine rates and provide accurate statistics about who is getting which vaccines. It would also increase trust in vaccines. The current system, in states without a philosophical exemption, forces parents to do all the vaccines or none of the vaccines or else to lie about their choices. Obviously, for parents with a really serious concern about a particular vaccine, being forced to do all or nothing is not a good option. It makes them feel bullied, harassed and victimized. It makes them think that the current system is all about power and control and not about the well-being of children. It makes them think that the government wants to invade their parenting choices. If the real concern about vaccines is herd immunity against polio and measles, then a philosophical exemption would, without a doubt, increase the number of children visibly vaccinated for polio and measles.

    Favoring choice about vaccines is probably too much for the pro-vax team to stomach. It would require admitting that parents aren’t stupid, for one thing. And that they have a right to make decisions about their own children’s health care needs. No, I guess we’ll have to keep guessing about vaccine rates…

    You know that old saying about dissatisfied customers making a lot of noise and happy customers making very little noise? It is especially true when it comes to vaccine injuries. A baby who dies or is seriously injured or even just spends a couple of weeks being very sick after receiving a set of vaccines will be all too visible. Parents, family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances–every person around will hear about the problems. This phenomena is increasing as vaccine concerns rise. Parent’s are less and less willing to consider a problem which occurs following vaccination as just a coincidence.

    Now, listen carefully, because this is the most important point of all. Defenders should stop denying vaccine damage. When a parent testifies that their child was damaged by a vaccine they should fall all over themselves to acknowledge what happened, to agree that vaccines can, indeed cause injuries, to encourage the parent to report what happened to VAERS, to sympathize if they say the doctor denied the incident and refused to report it. I’ve only seen two responses to vaccine damage reports in these online debates from the pro-vaccine side: sometimes it is just ignored as though the parent hadn’t said anything, the rest of the time it is denied in one way or another. “Anecdotal evidence” is a popular response, for example.

    Comment pages are widely read, which is why this coterie posts on comment pages to defend vaccines. Many people read (lurk) without ever posting. Each time a vaccine defender denies the existence of vaccine damage there is a pretty good chance that someone with direct experience of such damage is lurking and reading the denial. And feeling angry and disgusted.

    But things get worse. Parents are concerned about the possibility of vaccine damage. They read stories about children who were damaged (true or not). They hear that the doctors denied that vaccines caused the problems. They see vaccine defenders either attacking or ignoring the parents of sick children. They even see, as I recently did, a vaccine defender proclaiming gleefully that the VAERS system is useless and cannot be used as a source of information about the risks of vaccines. What sort of message are vaccine defenders sending out to the public? Clear enough, unfortunately. If a parent is trusting enough to have their child vaccinated and something goes wrong they will have no recourse. The doctor will deny it. The system which is supposed to monitor vaccine injuries is useless and happily announced as useless. People who admire and support vaccines are so dedicated to their faith that they will attack the parents of chronically ill children. Ouch!

    The official pro-vaccine position is that vaccines are safe. If this is true, a good system for tracking vaccine damage would confirm that safety. If vaccine defenders really believe that vaccines are completely safe and effective they should be fighting passionately for a system that tries to collect every vaccine reaction, no matter how minor. The current system obviously allows many thousands of reactions to pass unrecorded, perhaps, as the anti-vaccine critics claim, many millions. The only way to sort this out is to replace an ineffective system with an effective one. To replace bad statistics with good statistics. If pro-vaccine folks really, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in the safety of vaccines they should be fighting, hard, for an effective system of monitoring vaccine damage. We all need to end the confusion.

    On the same note, a good study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations will obviously prove that vaccines are safe, right? So why don’t the vaccine defenders fight for such a study? Vaccines make children healthier and the evidence should be easy enough to find. Yes?

    I think vaccine defenders need some help because they are not convincing people and I think they know they are not convincing people.

    I’ve shared these thoughts in an attempt to save the vaccine defenders from wasting their time and energy. Think about it. Start persuading and stop ranting.

    Are they really fighting to defend vaccines or are they just out there to tell everyone how smart they are? Some of us are wondering.”

  69. #69 AnthonyK
    June 28, 2010

    I have to say that for every reasonable scienceblogger I read (and I don’t read that many), I’ve encountered as many or more commentators who support arrogantly support science with a tin ear

    I think that this isn’t really true. Most sciencebloggers talk about their own area of expertise and don’t get involved with other issues that are outside this: some do, and actively embrace scepticism or another part of science with which they’ve become familiar. Orac is one of these.
    What all science bloggers tend to do, though, is to accept the paradigms of science – the need for evidence and the necessity of avoiding self-delusion amongst others. And they don’t dismiss the collective views of other experts in a different discipline as fundamentally corrupt.

    But what is this “tin ear” of which you speak? Science is fundamentally a collective enterprise partly concerned with explanation and interpretation – we don’t choose what is true, and can’t be criticised for telling it as it is. I would refer you to Orac’s masthead “A statement of fact cannot be insolent.” Or do you include Orac in the category of metallic auricles?
    Scientists can also be wrong, personally and collectively; however unlike other “opinions”, science which is mistaken will be abandoned and corrected. Always.

  70. #70 Donna B.
    June 28, 2010

    Really too lazy today to thoughtfully compose a comment, so for the non-existent person who cares what I think, it’s been well-expressed above in comments #33, 37, 44, 55, and 64.

    I do have an anecdote portraying how a person can pick up part of a scientific fact and parlay it into total misunderstanding of something else:

    A young woman, 6 months into her first pregnancy, mentioned that she wasn’t sure whether they were going to vaccinate their child. I asked “Why?” She replied that over-using vaccines would make them ineffective, just like the over-use of antibiotics makes them ineffective.

    I was stunned. That was a new one to me and it was all I could to say “I don’t think you quite understand how vaccines or antibiotics work” before I headed to the bar for a strong drink or three.

    What I really wanted to say was “You are stunningly ignorant not only about science and the human body’s immune system, but also logic and the use of the English language.”

    And it is for that reason that I can’t quite excuse those with liberal arts degrees for not understanding science. The few universities I’m familiar with all offer logic courses within English or Philosophy departments. How does anyone get a liberal arts degree without being taught how to evaluate an argument somewhere along the line?

  71. #71 Mal Adapted
    June 28, 2010

    D.C. Sessions

    Insisting that there must be something that the scientific community can do to Make It All Better is a lovely security blanket for when the Universe is reminding you that you’re not all that special. It doesn’t change anything, but just like chelation for “vaccine injury” it keeps us from confronting our powerlessness.

    I think that’s an important insight, to keep us humble. Committed denialists will be impervious to all our efforts.

    However, there are unknown numbers of uncommitted lurkers in any public forum, who may learn something if they hear the “right” message; and some who may react negatively to the “wrong” message. Trouble is, the right message for some will be the wrong message for others. Is there a way to match the message to the audience? I’m pessimistic, but I’d love to find out I’m wrong.

  72. #72 D. C. Sessions
    June 28, 2010

    Trouble is, the right message for some will be the wrong message for others. Is there a way to match the message to the audience?

    Bearing in mind that I’ve been at this since before Orac showed up on MHA — so I may be jaded.

    Bearing that in mind, I don’t think so unless you know who your audience is. Which, online, is problematic.

  73. #73 paulmurray
    June 28, 2010

    Rather than simply crusading against ignorance, the defenders of science should also work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes.

    Kumbaya indeed.

    I see it differently. What needs to happen is that the humanities need to get behind the sciences, on account of the barbarians are trying to roll back the enlightenment and if they do then we’ll all get TB and die.

  74. #74 Skeptico
    June 28, 2010

    Mooney writes:

    With public health at stake, it’s no wonder medical experts get frustrated when they hear autism activists such as actress Jenny McCarthy attack vaccines. But once again, the skeptics aren’t simply ignorant people. If anything, they seem to be more voracious consumers of the relevant medical information than the nation as a whole.

    Actually they’re voracious consumers of medical mis-information. As Todd W. (@31 above) notes, try presenting any “relevant medical information” in the comments of the Age of Autism blog and your comments will never come out of moderation.

  75. #75 augustine
    June 29, 2010

    Ian: “What I’ve suggested is emphatically not “building a bridge” to the other side, but using the tactics of the other side to help inform and – let’s face it, persuade – those people in the middle who may not be amenable to a logic-based approach.”

    Exactly, Ian. In the end you can’t simply just use science and be the objective observer you claim to be. The impartial observer doesn’t exist.

    Like I said before. You fight propaganda with propaganda. And that makes the scientist not so much “the scientist” when he uses propaganda and politics. Now he is also a propagandist and politician.

    I’ve mirrored the posters on here. But when I use the EXACT some tactics and emotional ploys, I’ve been attacked because of my view, not necessarily because of my method. Yet the method is cited as erroneous. I’m only mirroring sciencebloggers tactics. It has become evident on here that science bloggers protect their ideologies regardless of the evidence.

  76. #76 Nick Smith
    June 29, 2010

    Chris Lamb: Yup, cos everyone knows how misleading Fox News loves to be.

  77. #77 TomFP
    June 29, 2010

    As someone who received both the Salk and the Saben vaccines as a child, but yet managed, at the age of 25, to catch polio, I keep an open mind on the vaccination issue.

    As someone receiving treatment for helicobacter pylori, I am the beneficiary of the persistence of a scientist whose theories were all but universally derided in his field. Barry Marshall won a Nobel Prize for his refusal to accept the authority of scientific “consensus”, a fact which should give CAGW enthusiasts pause for thought, but probably won’t.

    The distrust of the public is not of science in general, but of certain key fields where it informs policy decisions of great social and economic moment. Prominent among these is climate “science”, and not least as a result of the release of the CRU emails. The key offence they reveal is the subversion of the peer-review (“cheer”-review) process, and the habit this allowed the Hockey Team to acquire, of persistently and wilfully neglecting the null hypothesis.

    Here’s what Michael Kelly, of the Oxbrough Committee, wrote about the (carefully selected) papers he was given to read:

    “(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong* simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.”

    *cf Trenberth “…the data are surely wrong.”

    Kelly concludes with:

    “My overall sympathy is with Ernest Rutherford: “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.””

    I leave it to readers as best they can to reconcile the Oxburgh Report as published, with Kelly’s contribution to it.

  78. #78 TomFP
    June 29, 2010

    As someone who received both Salk and Saben vaccines as a child, yet managed to catch polio at the age of 25, I keep an open mind on the matter of vaccination.

    As someone receiving treatment for helicobacter pylori, I am the beneficiary of the tenacity of a scientist who was all but universally derided for his rejection of the prevailing consensus, but ended up with a Nobel Prize when he succeeded in doing so. As such, scientific “consensus” inspires at least as much suspicion in me as it does confidence.

    The distrust of the public is not of science in general, but of certain key fields where it informs policy decisions of great social and economic moment. Prominent among these is climate “science”, and not least as a result of the release of the CRU emails.
    The key offence they reveal is the subversion of the peer-review (or “cheer”-review, as we denialists would have it) process, and the habit this allowed the Hockey Team to acquire, of persistently and wilfully neglecting the null hypothesis. Here’s some of what Michael Kelly, of the Oxbrough Committee, wrote about the (carefully selected) papers he was given to read:
    “(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models!* That is turning centuries of science on its head.”
    * *cf Trenberth “…the data are surely wrong.”
    He has much else to say, but concludes with:

    “My overall sympathy is with Ernest Rutherford: “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.””

    I leave it to readers to reconcile as best they can the Oxburgh Report as published, with Kelly’s contribution to it.

    You can find his entire text, courtesy of Andrew Montford, (but with none of his denialist-cur droolings appended, so you won’t catch anything!) here:

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/storage/kelly%20paper.pdf

  79. #79 James
    June 29, 2010

    As an architect and bonobo phlebotomy expert, I find your comments to be particularly arousing.

  80. #80 DLC
    June 29, 2010

    A lot of probably deliberate point-missing here.
    When someone disagrees with me on some science issue they need to show me why — provide proof! show your work!
    Ideologues cannot do either of the above, they merely object because the science does not conform to their pre-conceived notions of how things should be.

  81. #81 Orac
    June 29, 2010

    As someone receiving treatment for helicobacter pylori, I am the beneficiary of the persistence of a scientist whose theories were all but universally derided in his field. Barry Marshall won a Nobel Prize for his refusal to accept the authority of scientific “consensus”, a fact which should give CAGW enthusiasts pause for thought, but probably won’t.

    That’s nice, except that you’ve bought into a bit of a myth about how “reviled” or “derided” Warren and Marshall were for their helicobacter findings:

    http://www.csicop.org/si/show/bacteria_ulcers_and_ostracism_h._pylori_and_the_making_of_a_myth

    In fact, the transition from the “old’ idea about ulcers to the new idea that Helicobacter causes them happened pretty fast. Sure, there was skepticism, but data and evidence won the day pretty fast–in less than ten years, which isn’t all that long for a new concept about disease to go from early publication to full-fledged acceptance.

    Try again.

    As for the Ernest Rutherford quote, that’s just blisteringly stupid if he really meant it. Seriously.

  82. #82 Jud
    June 29, 2010

    augustine writes:

    But when I use the EXACT same tactics and emotional ploys, I’ve been attacked because of my view, not necessarily because of my method.

    I’ll leave the way others have responded to your posts to those others.

    For myself, when I’ve criticized your comments, it has very definitely not been because of your view (see my favorable comment in another thread re passionlessDrone, whose views of childhood vaccination are very different than mine), but because of your “method[s].”

    Specifically, I’ve criticized your gratuitous belittling of others, and most recently I criticized your quote mining of two research articles favorable to vaccines in order to try to make it appear they were critical of vaccines.

  83. #83 Jud
    June 29, 2010

    Orac writes:

    As for the Ernest Rutherford quote, that’s just blisteringly stupid if he really meant it. Seriously.

    Rutherford did say some quite stupid things (including that trying to derive energy from nuclear reactions was a worthless pursuit). Many of his famous quotes, though, can be better characterized as tart or intemperate, while having at their core some measure of wisdom.

    For example, there is his quote that other than physics, science is “stamp collecting,” an overstatement of the case that physics can be seen as the foundation of other sciences (chemistry, thus biochemistry, thus biology and medicine, etc.). Or his quote to the effect that if you are short of money and time, you actually have to think, an overstatement of the case that limited resources can force one to be more clever.

    The statistics quote has of course been used by denialists to bolster the “argument” that any science not immediately demonstrable and obvious is bad science. This would have us throw out any conclusions that are based on long, careful, painstaking work, which is obvious nonsense and is generally taken not to be what Rutherford meant. Rather, the general view is that he was (characteristically) overstating the case that one ought to try to design experiments to come to the clearest possible conclusions.

  84. #84 TB
    June 29, 2010

    Anthonyk: “I think that this isn’t really true”

    You’re assuming that “commentators” refers to “sciencebloggers.” No, if I meant bloggers I would have said bloggers. Commentators are people who post in the comment sections of blogs.
    But you assumed the worst and rushed to defend. Bit of a tin ear there.

  85. #85 Andrew Dodds
    June 29, 2010

    TomFP -

    You seem convinced that the stolen emails from the CRU indicate that peer review has been subverted. Could you perhaps show us the full text of the emails involved (or a link, I suspect they are still online) that demonstrate this, or retract the statement?

    Every time I ask this I either get a link to some very selective quotations, an instruction to ‘look it up yourself’ or some other such bluster. Can’t imagine why.

  86. #86 Mark P
    June 29, 2010

    Michael Crichton was a lost cause for a long time. He believed in mental spoon bending.

    Yes, really. He said so in his blog.

  87. #87 amit
    June 29, 2010

    @TB

    But you assumed the worst and rushed to defend. Bit of a tin ear there.

    I usually take tin ear to idiomatically mean someone who says/writes something insensitive unintentionally. I’m not sure anthonyk jumping to the wrong conclusion would count. Unless of course you were somehow offended by the conclusion he reached.

    I will however admit that english is not my first lingo and idioms sometimes give me problems.

  88. #88 TB
    June 29, 2010

    Hi Amit

    No, I wasn’t offended by the comment. I actually appreciated that he helped make my point. I’m thinking of tin ear as insensitively listening – for instance filtering what you’re hearing through prejudgements that may not be applicable – but I don’t necessarily have to take offense at that.

  89. #89 TB
    June 29, 2010

    Hi Amit

    No, I wasn’t offended by the comment. I actually appreciated that he helped make my point. I’m thinking of tin ear as insensitively listening – for instance filtering what you’re hearing through prejudgements that may not be applicable – but I don’t necessarily have to take offense at that.

  90. #90 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 29, 2010

    Doctors who feel this way should wear a sign that says “I will vaccinate your ass, whether you like it or not.”

    The other ones can wear a sign that says “Vaccination. It’s your choice.”

    I don’t think many doctors would wear the former sign for very long. They like money too much.

    Of course. This is why those money-grubbing doctors recommend following the CDC schedule, since:

    – the kids can get vaccinated at the public health clinic or at school, rather than at Dr. Choice’s office

    – the kids will have fewer visits to the clinic or doctors office if the vaccines are batched, as per the schedule

    – there will be no doctor’s visits or treatments required for vaccine-preventable illnesses

    Greedy bastards!

  91. #91 TB
    June 29, 2010

    For some reason my mobile device is not playing well with the comment software – I’m only hitting post once but it’s showing up twice. Sorry for the double posts.

  92. #92 Andrew Dodds
    June 29, 2010

    T. Bruce McNeely -

    Yes.. if we assume a hospitalization rate of 1 in 1000 for measles (extremely low, IIRC), it would be interesting to see what the costs and hence profits involved would be.

    I suspect it would pay a lot more than 1000 vaccinations..

  93. #93 darwinsdog
    June 29, 2010

    What would you say to parents who decide not to have their children vaccinated, not because they feel that vaccination is ineffective or very dangerous or that it causes autism, but because they feel that so long as virtually all other children are vaccinated their own run little risk of contracting infectious communicable diseases? These parents would readily concede that if other parents started following their example in significant numbers, then it would be time to have their own children vaccinated. Such parents can’t be characterized as “denialists” or as being particularly uninformed; selfish, perhaps, but perhaps they don’t mind being considered selfish by others. Perhaps they just tend to think independently and don’t buy into group selectionist programs that expose their own children to even slight risk for the sake of some greater group good.

  94. #94 Composer99
    June 29, 2010

    darwinsdog @93:

    That would be true except that the risks of adverse reactions are generally 1 or more orders of magnitude below the corresponding risks from the disease, even at the present rates of vaccination. The Science-Based Medicine blog and the CDC website can give more information.

    Vaccination is, first and foremost, an act of self-protection. However, it also provides network externalities: the benefits of vaccination increase as more people get vaccinated.

  95. #95 Dave
    June 29, 2010

    As he clearly points out, denialists, be they anti-vaccine, creationist, deniers of anthropogenic global warming, or whatever, are indeed highly motivated “consumers of science.” That’s part of the problem. They are consumers of science, but do not understand (or necessarily accept) the scientific method or how science works.

    Because I agree with your second sentence, I would suggest that they are not “consumers of science,” but “consumers of scientific results.” Its a subtle difference in phrasing, but I think, and important one.

    Yes, to the average joe, and most especially to the denialists, those are the same thing, but I think it is that confusion of the results for the process that goes to the heart of problems with the popular understanding of science.

  96. #96 SLC
    June 29, 2010

    Re Michael Crichton

    Dr. Crichton was a nutcase who believed in all manner of pseudo-scientific rubbish, in addition to being a global warming denier. From wikipedia:

    At Harvard he developed the belief that all diseases, including heart attacks, are direct effects of a patient’s state of mind. He later wrote: “We cause our diseases. We are directly responsible for any illness that happens to us.”[11] Eventually he came to believe in auras, spoon bending, and clairvoyance

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton

  97. #97 Clare
    June 29, 2010

    So, does a liberal arts degree particularly predispose someone to believe silly things, as several posters seem to think? I would have thought that this simply reflects the fact that more people have liberal arts degrees than other kinds, not that they are more gullible than the other graduates out there. In my experience, partial as it is, engineers fall for all kinds of howlers, “intelligent design” being the most common.

  98. #98 MRW
    June 29, 2010

    Did it actually result in new storage facilities?

    No. The selection process just finally started a month ago, and as far as I can see, there aren’t even any possibilities announced yet.

  99. #99 Science Mom
    June 29, 2010

    So, does a liberal arts degree particularly predispose someone to believe silly things, as several posters seem to think? I would have thought that this simply reflects the fact that more people have liberal arts degrees than other kinds, not that they are more gullible than the other graduates out there. In my experience, partial as it is, engineers fall for all kinds of howlers, “intelligent design” being the most common.

    In a way it does, but let me elaborate before you take offence. Anti-vax parents like to tout they are more highly-educated on average and this ‘factoid’ has become an internet meme. It has its origins in a NYT article from a few years back. The problem is, is that ‘highly-educated’ isn’t tacit for scientifically-educated and this coterie of people are in possession of non-science degrees. I’m not slamming the arts and humanities here but let’s face it, there are limitations to what their expertise is.

  100. #100 ebohlman
    June 29, 2010

    Clare: It’s not something particular about liberal arts degrees; it’s really more about being educated in any field other than the physical/biological sciences. As you point out, engineers often fall for woo; so do doctors and so, most assuredly, do business graduates (see Handley, JB).

    The problem is that, having pursued an intensive course of study in some field, it becomes very easy to think of oneself as competent in other fields. If that course of study wasn’t in the sciences, then the perception of “transferred competence” in scientific matters is going to be wrong.

  101. #101 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 29, 2010

    Even a top-notch education and career in science isn’t going to make you invulnerable to woo. Just check this article out:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/06/pumping_autistic_children_full_of_an_ind_1.php

  102. #102 David Ropeik
    June 29, 2010

    If I may, the discussion here misses a mountain of social science evidence that explains why people’s perceptions of fact are not always ‘factual’. This is not about science literacy. As Antonio D’Amasio’s work in “Descartes Error” showed, and much other evidence supports, the human animal uses an affective system to perceive the world…a combination of fact and feeling, cognition and intuition, reason and gut reaction, cortex and limbic system.
    Many of the strongest of these debates about whether the public “gets it” center around risk-related issues, and for good reason. Risk perception taps survival systems, which are sensitive and powerful and more emotion-based than reason-based. Forgive the self-promotion, but I have tried to bring the evidence on risk perception from various fields together in “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”. With examples including vaccines, nukes climate change, and lots of other risk issues, it explains why our fears don’t match the facts, and WHY THEY NEVER WILL, at least at this point in human evolution

  103. #103 a-non
    June 30, 2010

    David,

    I fundamentally agree that risk perception (or people’s inability to adequately understand relative risk) is a problem when it comes to the anti-vax wackos.

    But anti-vaxers are anti-vaxers because they’ve subscribed to a sort of groupthink that gives them comfort that their selfish choice is the right choice, and they use all sort of twisted, perverted logic to justify their choice.

    Now part of the reason a parent might choose to join these loons might be because they have woefully overstated the risk of vaccination (as opposed to not) but I cannot believe it is the only factor. People who elect not to vaccine quite often have worldviews that are far outside the mainstream. Many have distorted political views and are willing to believe conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes. Even those that pretend to be normal citizens show their true colors when provoked.

  104. #104 Sid Offit
    June 30, 2010

    @Darwin’s Dog

    What would you say to parents who decide not to have their children vaccinated, … because they feel that so long as virtually all other children are vaccinated their own run little risk of contracting infectious communicable diseases?

    I’d say those parents were rational. For the parents you described, vaccines are only needed to protect their children from an illness. Since, regardless of the cause, the disease is unlikely to affect them, there’s no reason to vaccinate

  105. #105 Chris
    June 30, 2010

    a-non, Sid Troll being a case in point. He does not seem to realize that the reason the chances of catching certain diseases is due to herd immunity, that a set number of people have vaccinated their children and themselves.

    Unfortunately his little fairy tale world falls apart when these parents bring their children together in private schools and other gathering venues of like minded parents. That is why outbreaks of these diseases often occur in schools, churches and areas where there are many vaccine dissenters.

    The really bad thing is when they enter into other areas where there are vulnerable populations. Like a medical clinic where there are babies too young to get the MMR vaccine.

  106. #106 TB
    June 30, 2010

    Wow. David talked about actual science and a-non basically crapped on him because a-non didn’t think that science matched up with his personal, unscientific observations.
    I’m assuming a-non is an educated person, so why would someone choose to stick with their personal paradigm and not seek to learn if the science truly is applicable?
    I wonder if anyone has noticed this behavior before and studies it to improve science communication? Oh, wait…

  107. #107 augustine
    June 30, 2010

    Chris: “The really bad thing is when they enter into other areas where there are vulnerable populations. Like a medical clinic where there are babies too young to get the MMR vaccine.”

    Since you know the science, evidence, and facts and believe in a quantifiable universe, quantify this to clear up your misleading statements. If it’s so bad, how bad is it?

    What is the statistical likeliness in a given year that said unvaccinated individual(not group but individual in question) would become infected? You pick the disease. Just for kickers also include the vaccinated absolute risk.

    For how many hours out of that year will that person be infectious?

    What is the statistical likelihood that person will “expose” this “vulnerable” person(s) during those hours of infectious susceptibility? Out of that number, how many “exposees” will come down with an infection? Hint: it’s not 100%. In this hypothetical medical clinic how many of those so called vulnerable are breast fed which would make them not so vulnerable?

    How many of these “vulnerable” will theoretically become permanently harmed by this unvaccinated individual.

    I would love to see your evidence, Chris. You must have it to make such bold claims in the name of science based medicine.

    Chris: “That is why outbreaks of these diseases often occur in schools, churches and areas where there are many vaccine dissenters.”

    This is also where the vaccinated mainly gather. I hope you’re aware that many of these outbreaks are occurring in the vaccinated. That doesn’t speak very well of the efficacy of the vaccine.

  108. #108 squirrelelite
    June 30, 2010

    @augustine,

    There is a major outbreak of pertussis in California this year. Five children have died, all infants under 3 years old.

    I think that is bad enough to be worth acting to prevent (by vaccinating infants at the recommended times for DTaP of 2, 4, and 6 months with follow-ups at 15-18 months and 4-6 years.

    Do you agree?

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/InfectiousDisease/GeneralInfectiousDisease/20861

  109. #109 Chris
    June 30, 2010

    squirrelelite, I see no reason to engage in Little Augie. One cannot have an honest discussion with someone who cherry picks, lies and has disgusting attitudes towards certain populations. Those populations that include autistic adults, parents of babies who have died, parents of disabled children, minority parents and engineers who are female.

    Do not feed the troll.

    TB: the problem I have with David’s comment is that he cut and pasted it in multiple places. But that is just me. I also am not fond of the pseudo-psychological excuses for accommodating fear mongering.

  110. #110 squirrelelite
    June 30, 2010

    Of course, this is pertussis which is protected against by the DTaP vaccination for infants and children or the TDaP for adults.

    Here is the link to the CDC’s pink book report about 3 years ago (it quotes totals for 2006).

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/pert.pdf

    A couple of quotes seem pertinent:

    “In the 20th century, pertussis was one of the most common childhood diseases and a major cause of childhood mortality in the United States. Before the availability of pertussis vaccine in the 1940s, more than 200,000 cases of pertussis were reported annually. Since widespread use of the vaccine began, incidence has decreased more than 80% compared with the prevaccine era. Pertussis remains a major health problem among children in developing countries, with 294,000 deaths resulting from the disease in 2002 (World Health Organization estimate).”

    Sorry, Sid, the disease is still likely to affect a LOT of people.

    “Pertussis is highly communicable, as evidenced by secondary attack rates of 80% among susceptible household contacts. Persons with pertussis are most infectious during the catarrhal period and the first 2 weeks after cough onset (i.e., approximately 21 days).”

    And, for how many “exposees” will come down with an infection:

  111. #111 squirrelelite
    June 30, 2010

    Yes, Chris, you are probably right.

    I have mostly been doing that of late. I have also been busy with some other activities.

    However, since this was just in the news a few days ago, I thought I would offer it as a counter-example for the benefit of our “silent readers”.

  112. #112 augustine
    June 30, 2010

    Chris: “squirrelelite, I see no reason to engage in Little Augie. One cannot have an honest discussion with someone who cherry picks, lies and has disgusting attitudes towards certain populations. Those populations that include autistic adults, parents of babies who have died, parents of disabled children, minority parents and engineers who are female.”

    I didn’t think you’d want to answer that one.

  113. #113 augustine
    July 1, 2010

    squirrelette: “I think that is bad enough to be worth acting to prevent (by vaccinating infants at the recommended times for DTaP of 2, 4, and 6 months with follow-ups at 15-18 months and 4-6 years.
    Do you agree?”

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=acellular+pertussis+vaccine+phagocytosis&hl=en&lr=&btnG=Search

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/G/cases&deaths.pdf

    What one seriously needs to ask is why is have cases of pertussis been rising since the late 70′s, 80′s in spite of increased vaccination?

    Sciencebloggers need to deal with those facts before they just simplistically say “vaccinate without question”.

    There’s more.

  114. #114 fred edison
    July 1, 2010

    Some of you may find this of interest. If we could only make those human scientists more human, people might view them as human?

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100630/full/466024a.html

    Let’s see, politicians seem pretty human. And the public doesn’t trust them all that much, either. Politics and climate science mix best for the right wingers, though. They are generally eager to call global warming a scam, as they add additional fossil fuels to the fire for the consensus of climate change deniers. The big oil companies must love those guys as much as a new-found 20 billion gallon oil deposit. This is an unfortunate dilemma for the advancement of a supposedly intelligent society, but the future never stopped the right wingers from continuing to live in the past. Keep them comfortable and rich, and whatever happens happens. Live for today and to hell with tomorrow.

    Wired has a short piece on the ignorance of statistics/probability and how it relates to the big picture, which so many in anti-vax (“it’s my choice alone”) and climate change denier (“look at all that snow!”) lands seem not to understand. I actually think this is a huge piece of the incompetence puzzle. People either don’t want to or are unable to expand their minds past a certain point. They can’t grasp the huge numbers of people who use vaccines safely in comparison with the tiny number who suffer some complications. Which you’d expect statistically given the diverse biology and incredible number of people. It’s a ‘we’re all the same but different’ kind of thing. But ironically, some random cheerleader gets a shot, suffers some mysterious and unusual “complication,” and without knowing the full facts or even the important fact that it absolutely was traced to the vaccine shot (which it wasn’t!) , the YouTube world damns and disses those “evil vaccines.” Go figure, but be so kind as to leave your common sense and logic at the door. Those things would get in the way of a decent anti-vax rant.

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/04/st_thompson_statistics/

    Many of the climate change deniers will need to have the glacial fed ocean waves lapping at their heels before they start to take this stuff seriously. At the rapid rate the glaciers are melting, it shouldn’t be too long before they can tickle their toes in it. At the same time, the anti-vaxers will need to see larger numbers of kids and people die (from diseases that vaccinations could have helped to prevent) before they will finally see what they were blindly missing all along. I’m not alone with this depressing thought. But you must admit, there are some people you just can’t reach.

  115. #115 Science Mom
    July 1, 2010

    What one seriously needs to ask is why is have cases of pertussis been rising since the late 70′s, 80′s in spite of increased vaccination?

    They haven’t been rising per se, they have been misdiagnosed cases as a result of the overestimation of the vaccine’s efficacy and duration.

  116. #116 augustine
    July 1, 2010

    SM: “They haven’t been rising per se, they have been misdiagnosed cases as a result of the overestimation of the vaccine’s efficacy and duration.”

    Oh, I see. So the CDC numbers are wrong/not an accurate representation? HMMM.

    Squirrelette: “I think that is bad enough to be worth acting to prevent (by vaccinating infants at the recommended times for DTaP of 2, 4, and 6 months with follow-ups at 15-18 months and 4-6 years.”
    Do you agree?”

    All of the children were under 3 mos old.

  117. #117 PJ Matzig
    July 7, 2010

    @PJ (#9):

    Spot on comment, fella! And now, from the looks of things, you can add liar and piss poor “journalist” as well.

  118. #118 Chris
    July 7, 2010

    PJ Matzig, are you often in the habit of having conversations with yourself in public?

  119. #119 Science Mom
    July 7, 2010

    Oh, I see. So the CDC numbers are wrong/not an accurate representation? HMMM.

    The CDC’s numbers are only as good as the states’ reporting goes and I explained what the increase is attributable to. J.D. Cherry is one of the foremost pertussis experts in the world and has written numerous studies about pertussis epidemiology. Avail yourself of them.

  120. #120 PJ Matzig
    July 7, 2010

    @119

    I thought about writing something like:

    Addenum to #9:

    Yada yada.

    But then I thought that I’d turn it into a subtle jibe/refrence at the whole sock puppetry mess engulfing Mr. Mooney at the current time.

    See http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/07/07/appalling-revelations-about-tom-johnson/

  121. #121 Chris
    July 7, 2010

    Ah. I see. An attempt at humor.

  122. #122 PJ Matzig
    July 8, 2010

    @122

    Too subtle for ya?

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