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Biotech Medicine Science

Study Finds Vaccine Science Outreach Only Reinforced Myths (arstechnica.com) 465

Ars Technica reports on a study suggesting that "Striking at a myth with facts may only shore it up." Applehu Akbar writes: Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied public attitudes toward vaccination in a group whose opinions on the subject were polled before and after being shown three different kinds of explanatory material that used settled scientific facts about vaccines to explain the pro-vaccination side of the debate. Not only was the anti-vax cohort not convinced by any of the three campaigns, but their attitudes hardened when another poll was taken a week later.

What seems to have happened was that the pro-vax campaign was taken by anti-vaxers as just another attempt to lie to them, and as reinforcement for their already made-up minds on the subject. A previous study at Dartmouth College in 2014 used similar methodology and except for the 'hardening' effect elicited similar results. What's really scary about this is that while the Dartmouth subjects were taken from a large general population, the Edinburgh subjects were college students.

"The researchers speculate that the mere repetition of a myth during the process of debunking may be enough to entrench the myth in a believer's mind," writes Ars Technica, with one of the study's authors attributing this to the "illusory truth" effect.

"People tend to mistake repetition for truth."
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Study Finds Vaccine Science Outreach Only Reinforced Myths

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  • This is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @05:41PM (#55000059)

    Sad

    • Just outlaw the shit and be done with it. Simple as that. No need to be sad about it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Just outlaw the shit and be done with it. Simple as that. No need to be sad about it.

        Nah, too many are far too entrenched in the judeo-christian belief that human life is sacred and children especially so for outlawing the shit to be feasible. So we're stuck with vaccines for now.

    • Person sees outreach campaign. Thinks, "there's a controversy?" Goes to look it up online. Sees that 99 out of the first 100 links are about vaccines being evil. Thinks, "I did my research, so my position against vaccination is sound!"

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @05:42PM (#55000069)

    Repetition does play a key-role, obviously, in enforcing lies. Just look at the mechanism of "prayer". This has been known for a very long time to work.

    • Maybe, then, scientists should just repeat their findings continuously without bringing up, or trying to directly counter, the nonsense. That is: just repeat what they understand again and again, especially on pop media.

      The rational amongst us would then just have to read the actual papers to check assumptions and ask questions to refine the results.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Many Scientists have working ethics and that prevents manipulation of people. The competition usually does not. Just look at politics and religion.

        Also, most Scientist are not in this for power or "winning". They know they have won. The other side is just too stupid to realize that.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      The reality is tied to genetic brain structures, whether an individual is tied more to belief structures or more to understanding. Those tied strongly to beliefs, those thoughts structures that become locked in and are used to interact with their world, require quite the mental jolt to unlock that belief and replace it with a new better belief and in some cases given time, understanding. More mental effort is required to undo bad beliefs than was used to create them in the first place, just their genetic na

  • by Desprez ( 702166 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @05:50PM (#55000099)
    It's always important to ask, "What evidence would change your mind?"
    If the answer is, "Nothing." Then there is a big problem with the ideology.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      This, unfortunately, is the standard case with the average person: They love their own misconception more than they want to actually understand what is going on. Probably because thy are scared to death.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      It's always important to ask, "What evidence would change your mind?"
      If the answer is, "Nothing." Then there is a big problem with the ideology.

      That goes both ways.
      What evidence would change your mind that effective and safe vaccines are a good thing in the long run?
      What evidence would change your mind that children getting sick and dying is a bad thing?

  • ...repeated often enough becomes the truth - Joseph Goebbels. I could have saved them a bunch of time.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Interestingly, the texts by Goebbels are still in use as teaching materials. A true master of his game, if an utterly amoral one.

  • And I don't mean "I'll have another beer".

    50 years ago, these people would have gone to church every Sunday, and had their children vaccinated in a Church-sponsored public health drive.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      I think you're making the same mistake as these researchers did: Placing all your opponents in one box, painting the most popular perceived belief of your opponent on the box, and attacking it.
      That's a recipe for failure.

      People are against vaccination for many different reasons, and by placing them with a group you hate, you're alienating them, and ensuring that they won't listen to you - you've already proven that you're not interested in facts, only in railroading.

      The way to fight ignorance is by making

      • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @07:34PM (#55000597)

        The problem with any complex science is that understanding the mechanism behind it is complex and requires a significant amount of time and learning. It's easier to dismiss the science in these cases, particularly where someone is protected by herd immunity or the global changes in climate are just beginning to be noticeable at a broad level.

        So the vaccine and climate science deniers take the easy path. Until the 10 years of record temperatures (each year sets the record for highest temperature) or a Measles outbreak kills someone they love.

        The problem becomes when that person's denial directly threatens the lives of others. Unlike climate science, Vaccines and herd immunity provide protection for that 3-4% of people who cannot be vaccinated due to severe allergies. When that parent doesn't get their kid vaccinated and their kid is part of a pandemic that takes lives they should be prosecuted for negligent homicide. And yes I absolutely mean it, the people who's family members died in the Disneyland outbreak should be suing every single person that got the virus and wasn't vaccinated. They should take them for every dime they've got. Only when there are real penalties for those who choose to risk everyone else's lives by failing to get vaccines will people take vaccines seriously as a public health initiative.

        You don't want to vaccinate? Go live somewhere where vaccines aren't given. Discover the panacea of living where you can die any time from completely preventable disease.

      • The way to fight ignorance is by making truth available. Not by telling people "you're brainwashed".

        The study shows otherwise. It's almost impossible to overcome paranoia, especially with facts.

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @05:58PM (#55000153)

    Yes, it's annoying when your kids question you all the time, and I feel for teachers who have to deal with everyone else's kids... but maybe we ought to stop with the Santa and Tooth Fairy and all the other 'cute and harmless' lies we tell kids.

    Instead, we ought to be asking them what they think, and why, and then show them where they've made errors... so when they come up against something new, they have a fighting chance of figuring it out without someone holding their hand the whole time.

    The best experience I ever had in school was a teacher mocking me for being afraid to be wrong, which is really the fork in the road where you either try to figure something out or just shut down and stick with your initial belief. We need more of that for our kids.

    • Anti-vac trend can also be considered a form of critical thinking. Not everyone have time or inclination to properly research everything so there is always a need in some sort of trust chains in research of such information. The issue here is that official trust chain associated with government and mainstream science is no longer widely accepted in the populace. People just turned to new trust chains due to official ones too often pushing poorly researched and self serving information. If you're spreading t
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Trusting a medical opinion because the person giving it is a celebrity is not critical thinking. Trusting someone because they're a celebrity is how you got Trump as president. And people continue to trust celebrities even after they've been caught in lie after lie after lie. Why? Because even if we did invent a vaccine against stupidity, they would be against it because they're stupid.
      • This is exactly right.

        You could lay some of the blame at people's credulity and some kind of willful desire to believe alternative opinions because they're alternatives, but the bottom line is that the volume of manipulation and misinformation aimed at the public is relentless. Advertisements, sales and marketing, public relations, politicians -- the list of people with agendas and no regard for anything like the truth is endless.

        And unfortunately this list includes traditional authority figures generally

    • Yes, it's annoying when your kids question you all the time, and I feel for teachers who have to deal with everyone else's kids... but maybe we ought to stop with the Santa and Tooth Fairy and all the other 'cute and harmless' lies we tell kids.

      Instead, we ought to be asking them what they think, and why, and then show them where they've made errors... so when they come up against something new, they have a fighting chance of figuring it out without someone holding their hand the whole time.

      The best experience I ever had in school was a teacher mocking me for being afraid to be wrong, which is really the fork in the road where you either try to figure something out or just shut down and stick with your initial belief. We need more of that for our kids.

      Damore's essay was a fascinating peek into the sociology of lies.

      The vast, vast majority of discussion about this(*) fell into two categories:

      1) He said *that* shocking thing! (Countered with "He didn't say that")
      2) He wrote prejudiced opinions not based in fact (Countered with "He cited references for each position he took")

      Note the pattern here: the vast majority of discussion can be described as "make something up, then complain about it".

      It's a complete surprise to me how *much* dishonesty arose over th

      • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @05:12AM (#55002061) Journal

        2) He wrote prejudiced opinions not based in fact (Countered with "He cited references for each position he took")

        I read the thing and no he didn't. He cited references for some of the positions he took, and make a bunch of rather large extrapolations on the remainder. Not that citations are magic indicators of truth mind you.

        He also had no references and didn't really make any reasonable attempt to actually support the central thesis, which was: "a. biological differences exist. b. differences exist in representation. c. a a causes b". Kind of a tricky one to argue since things have changes so much in the last 60 years or so, a far far faster timescale than could be explained by innate biological differences.

        There are many much more detailed takedowns that have been written in the comments on this very site. The TL;DR of them is that the arguments are pretty much all ones which have been hashed over many times before (here included). Even the supposed "4 supporting scientists" can be more or less categorised about "ignored the content, complained about the comments", "broadly disagreed", "broadly agreed" and "nothing relevant or support either way, probably did not read", which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

        Oh and what's the thing with the fetishisation of a partly[*] finished PhD in systems biology being taken as an almost magical talisman of credibility on an unrelated area of biology by many posters here?

        What we have had is that anyone pointing out that rather inconvenient fact is modded down, called a liar or accused of simply not reading it. So, rather than getting the "logical" discussion that the supporters claim to be so keen on, any dissent is met with a solid wall of screeching. I welcome downmods to prove me right on this one too!

        [*] Nothing wrong with bailing, more people ought to, frankly.

        • by theCoder ( 23772 )

          He also had no references and didn't really make any reasonable attempt to actually support the central thesis, which was: "a. biological differences exist. b. differences exist in representation. c. a a causes b".

          I'm not surprised he didn't have any references or make any attempt to support "a causes b" because that's not actually in Damore's document. Instead, he wrote (paraphrased) "a might be a contributing factor in b". And frankly, it's a stretch to assume that if a and b are both true (something yo

  • by Advocatus Diaboli ( 1627651 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @06:01PM (#55000169)
    The modern anti-vaccination movement is one manifestation of public loss of trust in institutions and credentialed "professionals". The thing is.. most anti-vaccination types do not doubt the existence of infectious diseases or that some vaccines are very useful and effective. It comes down to other issues such as their inability to trust obviously greedy "professionals" who recommend vaccines against 15-20 diseases (some of which are uncommon). At that stage, more than a few people start wondering if it is more about profit and domination of others than helping people. Also, a lot of the popular ideas pushed by medical profession for decades such as "fat makes you fat", "jogging is good exercise- regardless of age" etc plus promising to treat diseases with newer and expensive drugs which have little to no effect on most disease endpoints (mild to moderate Depression, Type 2 Diabetes etc) do not help their cause- to put it mildly. https://dissention.wordpress.c... [wordpress.com]
    • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @07:40PM (#55000631)

      No one makes money on Vaccines. They are subsidized by the government because drug companies can't produce them at a cost high enough to make a profit. Almost every vaccine sold is subsidized by the government. So your argument about profit kinds falls on it's face in such a scenario, after all the drug companies would much prefer to give you a pill to treat the symptoms of the disease than a shot that prevents it.

      Why wouldn't you want to get a vaccine for a disease that could kill you? Even if it is rare in your current age group? I've yet to encounter a vaccine for something that doesn't kill people, and even the ones that rarely kill can often do significant damage even if you survive it. And most of the ones that are rare in the US are rare because people are vaccinated.

  • Politics and religion are but two examples of deeply held belief sets that no amount of contrary new evidence can sway.

    It seems important to us as a species to have these settled world views, and I wonder why that's important.

    Maybe banding together intellectually is an important feature in our tendency towards tribalism.

  • But then there are those people who don't think we went to the moon or even the crazier the earth is flat group in colorado. I'm a skeptical guy myself, but really vaccines? I guess when we have a big polio outbreak again and have kids in iron lungs the no-vax group will have to live with what they did.

  • We techie folks spend much of our lives hanging out with our peers. This tends to give us a rather warped sense of the average intelligence and rationality of the general population. The fact is that most folks just feel overwhelmed by facts and data and really don't want the responsibility of choosing their own path through life. They would rather have someone they trust tell them what to do and think. Hence the popularity of religion and autocrats. It is counterproductive to try engaging these folks in so
    • The word is "bright". "Brite" is not a word.
    • And that's the problem right there. People who are competent in one field seem to think they competent in ALL fields. Nothing but pure arrogance.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. Most people have no idea what Science can do and what it cannot do. Most people are unable to verify a fact more complicated than the existence of gravity (not talking actual numbers here, that most people cannot verify either, despite a stop-watch, a coin and some pretty basic math being all it takes). We tech-folks can do these things and the brighter ones of us have done them countless times and _know_ this approach works. But the average person is still using the old mechanisms of trust and beli

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @06:14PM (#55000227)

    Consider the long and body-strewn history of companies whose products have done enormous damage to large numbers of people.

    The cigarette companies were denying that their cute little puff-sticks could cause cancer after a decade in which the causality was as firmly established as 1+1=2. The company that brought out thalidomide was still denying their product maimed unborn babies quite some time after the evidence was rolling in like a tsunami. Monsanto is even now busy suppressing evidence that their roundup product causes cancer.

    I could cite a bunch of other instances, but it all comes down to the proven fact that corporations lie about the disasters they cause. They have every reason to: Cleaning up their mess or making amends to the victims will cost them money!

    "...once a man gets a reputation as a liar, he might as well be struck dumb, for people do not listen to the wind." -- Robert A. Heinlein Citizen of the Galaxy

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Yes. And now do the same for companies that produce food (and lump them all together as well, please, as you have done for your example). Should you stop to _eat_? Or should you start to find out what the actual details were, the players, the motivation, the Science?

  • Does this explain climate change denial and the election of Donald Trump?

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @06:20PM (#55000257)

    while the Dartmouth subjects were taken from a large general population, the Edinburgh subjects were college students.

    Half the population of school-leavers now go to university in the UK. That is despite the fact that there are only sufficient "graduate level" jobs for a small fraction of them.

    While the smartest graduates will get those jobs, the rest will be left with a crushingly large bill for their 3 more years of "education". You have to question just how clever those remaining graduates actually are.

    So it comes as no surprise to learn that in this topic, university students can act just as dim as "ordinary" people - since most of them are exactly that.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @06:31PM (#55000315)

    Not only was the anti-vax cohort not convinced by any of the three campaigns, but their attitudes hardened when another poll was taken a week later.

    I'm sure they'll perk up when they get their Darwin Awards [wikipedia.org].

  • ...stupid is forever.

  • by rickyslashdot ( 2870609 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @06:40PM (#55000355)

    IF a child - who is NOT inoculated spreads a disease throughout his/her peer group, then it's high time to start prosecuting their parents for criminal mischief, at the very least, for allowing their child to be a carrier and disease vector simply because they refused to get that child vaccinated. Prosecution levels should even be allowed to go as high as "involuntary manslaughter", although, to me, it's NOT involuntary, it's premeditated, and should be criminalized to the full extent of those statutes.
    Granted, this doesn't solve the problem resulting from that incident, but it WILL send a message to all the other parents that refuse to get their children vaccinated. Basically, if you allow your child to be a disease carrier, then YOU are responsible for all the harm caused to the other children who are harmed, disabled, crippled, or even killed - ALL THROUGH YOUR OWN NEGLIGENCE, or your BELIEF SYSTEM.
    It makes no difference whether the issue is religious, personal, or just plain obstinate hard-headedness - YOU are the reason another child (or children) contracted a disease that could have been prevented with current vaccination regimes.

    OK, so it's a sad and sometimes horrific (in case of permanent disability or death) situation, and there are many who would say that the parents (and child) have suffered enough - - - BUT the situation is SOLELY the responsibility of the child's parents / guardians to see that they are given the best medical care available - and that INCLUDES THE VACCINATIONS !

    There is a serious line of demarcation between religion and scientific medical processes - and if the 'BELIEF' faction is allowed to put the health and lives of the other children at risk, then I BELIEVE they should be removed from the general population - - - as in ISOLATION WARDS / CAMPS.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit fascist, or absolute socialistic, but there is just too much at stake to allow this type of behavior to endanger the health and well-being of the majority of the population - - - simply because someone says "My FAITH says I should NOT do this".
    Take your FAITH and use it to cure the harm caused to the other children endangered by your actions (or INactions).

    GET YOUR VACCINATIONS - REGULARLY and ON TIME - - - to protect the whole world.

    cheers . . .

  • That's a serious question. I can't tell you the number of times I've read some nonsense on /. that would be completely debunked by credible sources by highlighting the post, right clicking and choosing "Search Google for XYZ...". It's not just ignorance. It's wilful ignorance. I guess you could call it faith. Reminds me of this [youtube.com]
  • hardly surprising, despite all the information available to them they choose to believe conspiracy theories and lunies, why would you think presenting them with science and facts would change people with such fucked up logic and thought processes.
  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @07:14PM (#55000513) Journal
    1st thing people learn in clinical psychology is that you cannot reach the patient if you don't accept their world view. You can only navigate in their world view because any attempts to challenge it will sound very similar to what they have already heard multiple times when they were challenged on their world view. And by reminding them of how they reacted to it last time, the memory is reinforced. Anyone creating a marketing campaign should have known this.
  • Let's say the study worked like this... you identified anti-vaxxers with a poll. You then tell them they're part of a study (you have to) and you give them pro-vaxx documents and then you give them another similar poll to test their attitudes. Chances are they can figure out what's going on. The very idea that someone is trying to figure out the best rhetoric to use to change your mind is going to make you skeptical of what they're saying.
  • ...look like to be effective? Some carrot and stick approach? Or we just need to let Darwin do it's job over generations?
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday August 12, 2017 @10:25PM (#55001195) Homepage

    ...more evidence of evolution doesn't change the opinion of people who don't believe in evolution. More evidence of Holocaust doesn't change the opinion of Holocaust deniers. Some people refuse the axioms of the scientific method, they've decided what the truth is and will ignore or alter the facts to preserve their belief. To the paranoid, everybody is out to get you and only pretending otherwise. To the conspiracy theorists, if it contradicts the theory it's part of the conspiracy. Also if it's not working, you're not doing it right or it's not a proper implementation of your ideology or religion. And if nothing else works call it fake news and muddy the waters as best you can, if the signal doesn't support your case bury it in noise.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday August 13, 2017 @12:26AM (#55001583)
    I think we're going about this the wrong way. These are scientist (or scientist types) trying to convince regular people with science. That's a huge hurdle to jump because not only do you have to do a data dump on them of the scientific research on vaccines, you have to convince them (or teach them) about the scientific method and statistics so they can grok that data dump.

    Instead of trying to teach these people a new way to think, reach these people via the way they already think. They're into the anti-vaxx stuff because:
    • Anecdotal evidence. They hear a story about how McCarthy's kid was diagnosed with autism after getting a vaccine, and jump to the conclusion that one caused the other. Their primary motivation is fear. So rather than trying to fight fear with reason, use fear to sway them to the statistically correct decision. Deluge them with anecdotes of kids who didn't get vaccines and died or went blind because of measles. etc.
    • The allure of a conspiracy theory. These folks are the "government is trying to mind control the people" type. Their primary motivation is mistrust of authority. So simply cast the anti-vaxx movement as an alternate authority figure. Start a new conspiracy theory about how McCarthy is using this whole anti-vaxx thing to make money.

    Back before GPS navigation became ubiquitous, I read that men tend to navigate using road names, women tend to navigate using landmarks. So I started giving directions with both road names and landmarks. I got a lot of comments from people that they really liked my directions. There's no reason to limit ourselves to just one method of teaching people.

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