Each day's news here in the U.S. becomes a bit more appalling.

Today, I wake to discover that our President-Elect has formed a new government commission on vaccine safety, appointing rabidly anti-vax know-nothing Robert Kennedy Jr. to be chairman of the commission.


The assault on science and reason is so broad and coming on so many fronts that it's becoming hard to know where to start to mount a reasonable defense.   Our university has been involved with the effort to copy all of NASA's climate data and get copies to major research centers out of the country just to make sure it's preserved.  We're working to reassure foreign grad students and post-docs, trying to figure out how we continue lines of research from climate science to education to energy in the face of potentially hostile or defunded agencies...

Now we have to try to re-teach the public about vaccines?  Vaccines??

Fighting this is rapidly becoming a major institutional (and personal) priority, even for many of us who by nature are politically neutral in our pursuit of scientific understanding.   The challenge is where to begin, when facing such a broad-based assault on every federal agency along with attacks on sound sources of information and the legitimizing of fake news.

What are the group's thoughts?   What should be our top priorities, our first actions?

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On the forums, the antivaxxers seem to overlap the chemtrail and other conspiracy groups, in that the same people post on all of them.

So, some one will make a silly claim that proves more people died of vaccinations than of diseases or whatever, and the next one will chime in that a gov that would spray their own people with chemtrails is capable of anything.

They seem to travel the net in packs.


I'm sure it depends on geography/demographics for it...but, from what I can glean from the stats...just being educated or new age or liberal or conservative, etc, is not enough.

Without adding the conspiracy angle, they don't go off the edge.

The GMO issue doesn't seem to need more than that for example...and is a big deal for even more people.

For ant-vax, they almost always need to combine the conspiracy angle with a religious angle...but its hard to tell if they are just USING that angle because the schools will sometimes let the kids show up w/o shots if its called a religious exception.

IE: ALL the kids must get the shots to be ALLOWED to go to school, UNLESS, they can claim a religious exception.

The parent's Plan B is homeschooling to avoid the issues.

So, the religious exemption is ground zero for the kids either getting, or, not getting, the shots.

I'm glad that your community is different than the people in my state, but the three of my siblings who are Catholic are wary of the vaccine schedule and don't believe that they should get all of them done and that's just my family. That doesn't even cover the Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and other protestants who are wary of anything not wholly conservative. It's not the poor areas either. I live in an affluent suburban area and these people still abound, because it's not the ignorant and the new-age-naturalists. It's part of a larger identity issue.

Can you describe what the "larger identity issue" is, @Sagacious?

I don't believe Catholics are immune from this nonsense, any more than Catholics are immune from being lying, cheating scoundrels or naive biblical literalists.  It's just not our position as a community, nor is it a norm within the broader Catholic community.

I'm trying to understand what drives the nonsense, so as to figure out how best to oppose it.  To me sitting in a lofty ivory tower, it looks like American anti-intellectualism run amok.

I agree this is a good question. Right now I'm wondering if in-group vs out-group thinking is partly driven just for it's own sake. I.e. just heating and stirring up our conflicts (whether based on real or imagined cultural differences) engages a form of social/cultural competition. (I'm saying this happens at a sub-conscious level, not just at the overtly bigoted level.)

Yes Pope Beanie, I think you're right, in-group vs out-group thinking is a definite thing, at both a subconscious and conscious level.  Ask a democrat what they think of a republican, and vice versa.  ("evil") 

It is almost impossible to sway those who have decided to believe vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent, that the gubbmint is spreading chemtrails to control their minds, that gays are not doing anything wrong, that the planet is not getting warmer, etc.

It becomes part of their identity, the way a sports fan identifies with his team...

and fans of different teams can get into fist fights over which guy in which jersey is better than which other guy in another jersey....etc.

Its about equivalent from what I can see for politicized issues.

So, for the anti-vaxxers specifically, they tend to either be the kind hooked on anecdotal examples, a nurse or doctor even who treated people for pertussis, and claimed the cases were mild and cleared up with some zithromax, no big deal...

..and when pinned down, they said the patients had been vaccinated but it "didn't work"...but, in reality, the known data for that vaccine indicates that it works fully on ~ 80% or so of the patients, (there's two versions) and the others have more resistance so they have only mild cases...which are the patients they used to anecdotally claim "the vaccine didn't work".

So, education of the kids themselves is going to make the MOST difference...as the parents will probably sacrifice their children to their ideology, but the survivors when THEY are parents, if they understand, will at least break the anti-vax cycle.

The adults on the fence might be swayed though...its theoretically possible.

Fighting the religious exceptions many of the anti-vaxxers go for...the ones used so the kid who has to get his shots to start the school year...don't get their shots with the exemption.

That helps to protect the OTHER kids too, etc...by helping to salvage herd immunity, etc.

If the kids need the shots to start school, its a line in the sand at least.

It MIGHT mean more of them do home schooling...the way creationists/young/flat earthers do to keep their kids "protected" from sinful ideas...

...but, the home schooled kids might play with school kids after school, etc...and spread their diseases then, and so forth...but, among the hopefully, vaxxed kids.

I'd start there if it were me.


I think there has been a culture of stupidity, starting in primary and/or secondary education, which has allowed the populace to

  1. Lower average education levels by failing to inspire students
  2. Reject real science in place of illogical argument and internet research.

At this point, the Dunning-Kruger effect is in full swing. The most uneducated people now seem to think they know better than real scientists who have actually studied something their whole life. We see this quite blatantly in debates around vaccines, climate change, evolution, and even the globe shape of the planet (Look it up on youtube, it's hilarious). The common theme on the non-scientific side is that they have little education in the subject that they are talking about, and typically even fewer published articles.

How do we fix this (long term)? Inspire as many children as we can to reject blatant stupidity and embrace their education. In the future, their brain might be the only part of them able to actually work for money, as robots can easily replace manual labour tasks.

How do we fix this (short term)? Try to persuade the populace (who have largely rejected science) that the scientific method is still the best way we have to figure things out, and that the people who perform this science have gone through many years of education to get to the point they are at now, and really do know what they are talking about.

This is a very interesting and informative discussion.  I am appalled that so many are not vaccinating their children.  My children were small long before vaccines were available, and they all suffered with measles, chicken pox, mumps, German measles, and scarlet fever.  They were quite sick and uncomfortable, and it was hard on me, their mother and caretaker.  I would have jumped at the chance to vaccinate them to save them from these illnesses, and to save myself from having to nurse them through them.  Now I have great-grandchildren, and thank goodness, they get every shot they should. 

Are we going backwards??

I've been wondering for years how to make it easier for people to find credible, trustworthy sources of information. Ironically, I've seen wikipedia change from "don't go there" to "good place to start for an overview, but it's still not citable", in the opinion of various instructors in school. Follow their most credible sources, as they're always cited at the end of each article.

I just skimmed over https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccine_controversies and it looked pretty reasonable to me. Meanwhile, .edu sources and prestigious research centers are at the top of my list.

But I still don't know how to teach people how to trust credible sources, when they're hooked on what seems to be the more emotionally-based sources of information, and more impressed by sensationalized types of news. I'm still looking for ways to interest those people in the possible (e.g. evolutionary) causes of our human prejudices against long-term thinking that's deeper and slower than the emotional quick-reaction form of day-to-day survival mode of daily life we were optimized for. Why is up-to-the-minute, dramatic news so much more addictive among the masses than (say) the weekly or monthly journals that focus on overview and analysis of what's happened and what's happening?

Trump played it against us all.

But I still don't know how to teach people how to trust credible sources, when they're hooked on what seems to be the more emotionally-based sources of information, and more impressed by sensationalized types of news. 

Perhaps we need our own version of sensationalized news?   While I do believe that education can be the cure that helps some people think rationally in the midst of the emotional storm, the psychologists tell us that by and large decision-making is emotional, not rational - especially when strong emotions like fear are engaged.

Stories of kids hurt by lack of vaccination, then blogosphere rants about how the government is trying to withhold vaccines from white people so that they become a smaller minority in the country.  Mainstream stories of people whose livelihoods are being destroyed by climate change (appeal to emotion!), and blogosphere rants about how oligarchs are pushing coal development to cause black lung and sterility in rural populations.

The problem is it's hard to fight fire with fire in that way without feeling filthy ourselves.

I think something like this is required but I'm not sure it has to be sensationalized. As you say, that actually cheapens the message. What I think it needs is a concerted effort from those who have the chance to get the message out there because they have a media presence. Anyone who holds the privileged position of being both on the side of science and well-known (e.g. Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye) should be the ones to fight the media side of things. Their message should not be sensationalized but consistent and clear - vaccines work.

"Perhaps we need our own version of sensationalized news?"

I suppose that it's an option, but what happens when my conservative neighbors find out that a liberally biased news source is actively trying to manipulate their perspective? More distrust and insularity of thought is what I think is most likely. It could work in the short term, but it runs counter to a long term goal.


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