In one way, the anti-vax movement is like creationism: it’s built on preconceived notions, personal bias, and scientific ignorance. But it’s much worse than creationism, for while nobody ever died from rejecting evolution, misguided opposition to vaccination actually kills people.
Over at Science Progress, Chris Mooney has the solution: it’s partly the fault of a “remote and haughty” medical establishment that simply needs to be more conciliatory:
Instead, I believe we need some real attempts at bridge-building between medical institutions—which, let’s admit it, can often seem remote and haughty—and the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. We need to get people in a room and try to get them to agree about something—anything. We need to encourage moderation, and break down a polarized situation in which the anti-vaccine crowd essentially rejects modern medical research based on the equivalent of conspiracy theory thinking, even as mainstream doctors just shake their heads at these advocates’ scientific cluelessness. Vaccine skepticism is turning into one of the largest and most threatening anti-science movements of modern times. Watching it grow, we should be very, very worried—and should not assume for a moment that the voice of scientific reason, in the form of new studies or the debunking of old, misleading ones, will make it go away.
Sound familiar? Good luck with getting those people in a room and forcing them to agree!
Over at Respectful Insolence (and also in comment #3 after Mooney’s piece), Orac dismantles this why-can’t-we-all-love-each-other attitude:
Chris is profoundly misguided in his apparent belief that any amount of “bridge building” will bring anti-vaccine activists around. Their beliefs are as ingrained as those of any fundamentalist religion and just as resistant to bridge-building over the core belief around which they revolve. Indeed, trying to reach out to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement is pointless. It is, as AutismNewsBeat so pithily characterizes it, akin to “bridge-building efforts by evolutionary biologists toward creationists. Or by B’nai Brith to mend fences with the Nazis. I’m sure those meetings went well.” I agree fully. Thinking that “building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement will achieve anything except giving them more opportunity to sabotage public health by giving them an unearned feeling of power and legitimacy is likely to be as productive as evolutionary biologists engaging with Ken Ham, Casey Luskin, or Dr. Michael Egnor or for Deborah Lipstadt to engage with David Irving. As they say, you can’t use reason to lead someone away from views that they didn’t reach using reason.
All this warm and fuzzy sentiment about making nice to the benighted may sound good, and may appeal to middle-of-the-roaders who think that there can be a compromise between scientific fact and willful ignorance, but it won’t solve the problem of anti-vaxers, just as it hasn’t solved the problem of creationism.
Extremism in the defense of vaccination is no vice.