Content Block


The science of vaccination means nothing without trust

The climate change complex

What’s comforting about this exchange is that the argument is all about which leader is more pro-vaccine, more in tune with the science. Four years ago, Michelle Bachmann was busy  linking HPV vaccinations to "mental retardation". With the GOP apparently even detoxifying its stance on climate change these days, it seems less likely we’ll see that kind of sentiment of that from any credible candidates this time around.

Meanwhile, how do we push back against parents opposed to vaccines? Simply providing more information rarely helps: parents who stop vaccinating their kids are often those who are better educated, and dedicate more time to researching medical matters on the internet. They know just enough to get themselves in trouble. Similarly, shouting at people on the internet and calling them idiots isn’t likely to help much, even if it is incredibly satisfying in the short term. Nope, the best answer is “gently".

It comes down to doctors gaining the trust of parents and speaking to them in a clear, patient way that anticipates the concerns they have. The best thing politicians and their supporters can do is support doctors, and stay the hell away from the argument.
That MMR causes autism is a seductive, Gladwellian idea. It tells curious parents that they’re ahead of the herd, heirs to a secret knowledge. It plays on our biases toward the natural and chemical. It speaks to our mistrust of big government. It takes an emotional experience for parents – putting a needle into their baby – and manipulates those feelings, hijacking them for the promotion of quacks and ideologues. Like many untruths, it’s a more compelling story than reality. Above all, it’s a reminder that all the powers of medical science mean nothing without simple human trust.



Martin Robbins is a writer and talker at the messy border of science and culture. He is a columnist at VICE, and blogs for The Guardian and the New Statesman.

Related Posts