Annals of Bone-Headed Science Communication

By Keith Kloor | August 6, 2014 12:07 pm

A liberal publication (which I like and read) has a message for vaccine-hesitant parents.

Alas, this is an incredibly ignorant and counterproductive thing to say. Whoever is running MoJo’s social media operation needs to get familiar with the latest science communication research on vaccine messaging. A good place to start is this nice overview at DoubleXScience. Here’s an excerpt:

It may sound obvious, but the simplest ways to increase vaccination rates are to first make vaccinations more available and accessible, and second, give doctors better tools to “win over” parents who are undecided about vaccines.

I’m still feeling my way on how best to dialogue with people who I think have misguided concerns about vaccines and GMOs, among other issues. But I have figured out (the hard way) that calling someone an ignorant whack job has not been a very smart or persuasive way to communicate.

Additional reading: Please see a a related post I wrote earlier in the year entitled, “How to talk to Vaccine-Hesitant Parents.”

  • DrDenim

    I’m confused why we should waste energy in this? If they don’t want to vaccine their kids, fine. Darwinism will take care of it. What’s the problem? I’ll vaccine my kids and there will be fewer idiots to worry about. Seems like a win-win to me.

    • Patrick

      Because you can only vaccinate at a certain age. Until then, if many other kids are virus spreaders, your kids face a higher risk.

      • DrDenim

        Solution; daycares can refuse to accept kids that aren’t vaccinated. (maybe they do this already?)

        • Lisa_Belise

          “It is law in all US states that children be properly immunized before attending school. However, in addition to medical exemptions offered in each state, 48 states allow for religious exemptions and
          18 states allow personal belief exemptions for daycare and school.”

          • DrDenim

            That’s stupid. Science shows us the right way, there should be no “personal belief” exceptions. It’s not an opinion, it’s science! You can’t disbelieve fact. There’s no alternate view.

            Stupid PC rules

          • lilady R.N.

            Those are the laws/regulations and unfortunately if you want to change those exemptions to only permit valid medical contraindications which are listed in a number of sources, for each vaccine, you have to get politically active with your State’s elected officials and the office of the governor.

          • Martin

            Fact is very rarely actually truly fact; it’s almost always an interpretation of 2nd-hand (or more) interpreted data.

    • mem_somerville

      My nephew had leukemia. He was at the mercy of the herd. Luckily our local herd protected him, and now he’s in remission and back up to full vax status. But for several years he was at risk during chemo.

    • lilady R.N.

      Sorry, I cannot agree with your comment. The babies and children are the innocent victims of their parents’ anti-vaccine stance.

      • DrDenim

        Children are always the victims of their parents, that’s just the way it is. Tough luck.

        Some parents make their kids watch baseball, or listen to country music! Also objectionable but that’s just how it is. Or more seriously; some kids are victims of the parents being poor, through no fault of their own but we do nothing about that (not really).

        Choose your parents wisely.

        • Mike Stevens

          In this case it will be other parents kids who are the victims though.

          • lilady R.N.

            It’s the infants and children whose parents make those decisions and the infants and children who have valid medical contraindications or who are too young to have received the primary series of childhood vaccines.

            Dr. Denim, you should have carefully read Keith Kloor’s post…and the link to the Mother Jones article, before you post comments, which come across as callous and uninformed.

    • Wil Post

      Because they aren’t risking just their own kids – who are innocent and at the mercy of their parent’s idiotic decisions regarding their health care.

      They are also risking newborns too young to be vaccinated, they are risking the immune compromised, the elderly, and others.

      I have a baby due in 5 weeks or less – this issue has been in the forefront of my mind. And it makes me very angry.

      Being anti-vaccine is being anti-science and anti-history.

      Did I mention I live in Oregon?

  • Corey S. Powell

    This is the kind of communication that’s great for stroking the egos of the people who already vaccinate their kids, but is not in any serious way designed to reach those who are confused and concerned by the noise from the anti-vaccine crowd. We can, and must, do better.

  • realheadline

    Isn’t Mother Jones and Co. the same ignorant whack-jobs that mistakenly believe we can manipulate the climate/weather by limiting industrial CO2 discharge? They might as well recommend doing a rain dance, throwing some chicken bones, or sacrificing a goat, it would be every bit as effective.

  • mem_somerville

    But I think they got a lot of traffic from their “ignorant hippies” piece Philpott did recently–apparently much of it from hippies. Maybe they think lightning will strike twice.

  • bobito

    Interesting how well the bible belt is doing.
    Does anyone know if Baptist priests (or any Jesus loving religion for that matter) support vaccinations? Like, if you went to your priest to ask advice do they have an answer based on the churches position or would it be opinion. (Other than the HPV vaccine for obvious reasons…)

    • bobito

      Another thought…
      Perhaps there are less “alternative” doctors in the bible belt. It may just be that bible belt doctors play it by the book. There would be nobody to give the parents bad advice even if they sought it out…

    • mem_somerville

      One of the recent measles outbreaks was traced to a Texas church was had been anti-vax. They changed their tune a bit after the outbreak.

      • bobito

        Jesus must have been too busy saving us from climate change… 😉

    • lilady R.N.

      Every mainstream religion supports infants and children being fully immunized according the CDC Childhood Vaccine Schedule.

  • JH

    It won’t convince any strident anti-vaxxers to change their positions. No doubt about that.

    It serves many other purposes that are equally beneficial.

    1) It communicates well to the largest share of the population – people that haven’t formed any opinion or considered the issue. It says this: “if you identify with this anti-vax group, you’re off the MoJo Team. You’re an outsider.”

    2) It tells readers that MoJo isn’t going outside the mainstream. it says forcefully: we’re not on the lunatic fringe.

    3) Most importantly: it shows that anti-vaxxers are now openly viewed as the lunatic fringe. Their issue is losing social credibility. It shows that the anti-vax movement is declining.

    • Martin

      it doesn’t though; the great undecided can just as easily see the points this way: 1) “The people who wrote this are fanatics who don’t understand the issues and are outsiders shouting at the Real Debaters” 2) “this publication is not mainstream” 3) “these people will blindly believe anything anyone in a lab coat tells them”.

      Beware “communicating” with abuse – it doesn’t make you look normal.and reasonable, and it makes anyone who replies calmly look so, even if what they say is rubbish.

  • lilady R.N.

    I think the Mother Jones article was very well written and informative about the “personal belief exemptions” and “religious beliefs exemptions” that exist in 48 States; West Virginia and Mississippi are the only two States, which only permit medical exemption, validated by a health care professional.

    I’ve been posting on multiple science blogs about childhood vaccines and the serious, sometimes deadly, diseases vaccines prevent. When I first started posting those comments, I noticed the same repetitive comments posted by anti-vaccine, anti-science posters; most of those same posters are generated by the readership of Age of Autism and its affiliated groups. In fact the “Media Editor” of that blog, posts multiple consecutive comments, from her vast repository of Spam, before she notifies her readership.

    These posters are hard core anti-vaccination, because they attribute their children’s diagnoses of an Autism Spectrum Disorder to a vaccine or to an ingredient in a vaccine. They are unreachable and irrational and no amount of discussions by their childrens’ health care providers and no educational materials that instruct a layperson/parent that you could provide will dissuade them. They are experts in “vaccine injuries”,(vaccine-induced autism).

    I post on science blogs to counteract the nonsensical carpet-bombing posts from these hard core anti-vaccine, anti-science posters, so that fence-sitting parents have accurate information about preventive vaccines.

    • Keith Kloor

      I agree with you about the article itself. I should have made that clear. But it’s likely that vaccine resisters who see the tweet first on social media will be negatively influenced by the tone of the tweet.

      • Christopher Hickie

        As a pediatrician who has seen more parents going anti-vaccine and becoming much more aggressive in their attitude, as well as unwilling to listen to any science on the issue, I do feel that most of them are ignorant whack jobs. Enough so that I won’t see them in my practice.

  • Twisted Muser

    It seems to me that Mother Jones calling someone “ignorant whack jobs” is sort of like the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Tom Scharf

    Wow, that’s weird. I’ve never been called an ignorant whack job for being a climate change skeptic. But I’m definitely thinking of changing my mind because they think I’m a denier.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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