Vilifying Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids Is Counterproductive

Vilifying Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids Is Counterproductive:

The ongoing measles outbreak in the U.S., which has spread to 14 states, has provoked a rising vilification of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. …

This piece does a good job of articulating something I’ve been thinking about lately in response to various vaccination-related news stories and opinion pieces. The thing it doesn’t do is to go into detail about the connection between pernicious identity-protection mechanisms and rejection of science.

Basically, there’s compelling data that shows that generally speaking, people from across the ideological spectrum do a good job of identifying what scientists actually think. It’s only when the holding of one position or another on a science-relevant question becomes tangled up in one’s group identity that scientific information gets rejected. And this has real negative consequences for society.

When public discussion on TV, in newspapers, and online in places like Tumblr portrays antivax sentiment as being ideologically linked, as being associated with particular core values and identities, it has a negative effect. Yeah, it feels good, or at least satisfyingly righteous, for me when I rag on someone like Jenny McCarthy, linking her views to a set of traits I reject. But to the extent my remarks actually reach people who hold views like that, all I’m accomplishing is reinforcing the connection in their minds between their identity and the holding of a view that contradicts what scientists actually say. And with that connection reinforced, they will subconsciously tend to misinterpret the actual position of scientists in ways that support their group identity.

It’s not limited to conservatives or liberals or tree-huggers or libertarians. It’s a basic element of how people relate to the world.

The answer is to resist the pollution of the information environment by these antagonistic linkages between peoples’ identities and their perception of public-policy-relevant science. I don’t expect that idea to resonate on Tumblr; this place is all about expressing outrage without concern for whether or not it does any good. The expression of the outrage is itself a good, in the minds of many.

In this particular case, though, it’s not. People from across the ideological spectrum generally know that vaccination is a good idea, and the number who are ignorant about that is small (though consequential). Keeping that number from growing requires actually understanding what sorts of messaging work in educating people, and what sorts have the opposite effect. When people start using it as a club to beat up on their ideological opponents, they do real harm to that effort.

More at the Cultural Cognition Project. Dan Kahan is awesome.

Reposted from

Tags: science communication, cultural cognition, vaccination.

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