I came across an article today about a study that analyzed comments on a Facebook post. The comments were on a picture that Mark Zuckerberg posted of his baby before getting vaccines. (You can read the study here: A comparison of language use in pro- and anti-vaccination comments in response to a high profile Facebook post.)
But I want to focus on the article written about the study, which you can read here: Study Finds Surprising Results in Vaccine Debate on Zuckerberg’s Facebook Post.
The writer begins by explaining how ugly this "debate" is: both sides get heated, call each other names, and generally behave poorly. I agree - "quack" and "sheeple" seem to be the two derogatory terms thrown across the line at the opposing side regularly.
But when the researchers analyzed the comments they were surprised to learn the following:
Both sides expressed similar levels of anger, but the most significant finding was that the pro-vaccine comments were more emotional and fearful, while the anti-vax comments were more logically structured, and tended more toward ideas related to health, biology, research, and science.
For me this is validation of a gut feeling I have had after following this debate for years. Yes, both sides can get nasty; but, I have long felt that those on the "anti-vax" side (many prefer to be called "pro-choice", but I will stick with anti-vax since that is what is used in the article) are more likely to present their arguments respectfully and often more persuasively.
Here is what I hear from people who question vaccines:
Do research. Then do more research. Make an informed choice. Be sure and feel confident before you vaccinate because you can never undo it once you make that choice. (Watch Dr. Suzanne Humphries here - she says almost these exact words towards the end. She is one of the most intelligent "quacks" I have come across yet!)
From pro-vaccine people I hear:
Vaccinate! Or else! Or your baby will die! Or you will be responsible for someone else's baby dying! Vaccines are 'safe and effective' - ALL of the experts agree. So if you don't do as they say because you think your "Dr. Google" degree is better than them, then you deserve to be shunned, shamed, jailed, and even die!"
Leslie R. Martin, PhD., co-author of the study, makes sure to point out that the surprising outcome of the study doesn't mean that the anti-vax crowd is "right" though. The study was only analyzing the words commenters used, not the content and whether it is actually true. So anti-vaxxers are just calmer, more logical, and focused on science (but not necessarily "good science.") In addition, the study found that anti-vax commenters are more confident. This finding is explained away by the scientists with the Dunning Kruger effect in which "people overestimate their competence".
I guess it's not possible that their confidence comes from years of research, experience, and evidence they've seen with their own eyes. I have a scientific term that might explain their confidence too, it's called Occam's Razor which basically says, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." Explicitly: When parents see their children's health affected after vaccination which makes more sense - vaccines had something to do with it or it is a coincidence and there is some other unknown, elusive factor that caused the problem?
Later, under the heading "Influencing Public Opinion" Martin says:
“Providing information by itself is probably fairly futile because it leaves out the emotional component–the fear, anxiety, and suspicion–which seems to be a huge driver,” Martin said. “It’s not just a cost-benefit analysis, devoid of emotion and pre-existing biases.”
Wait, what?? I'm confused. We just got through going over how the anti-vax crowd is the logical group who are more concerned with health, science, and research. The pro-vaxxers are the fearful and emotional ones! Or wait, maybe the fear IS working. After all, the vast majority of our population DOES vaccinate. Perhaps providing only information is futile because the information is not strong enough to convince on it's own. Maybe, just maybe, fear and pro-vaccine arguments must go together to become a "huge driver" of vaccination.
The cognitive dissonance in this article is astounding.
People questioning vaccines, selectively vaccinating, spacing vaccines out, or refusing them altogether are intelligent and educated. This fact is not new. Now we have a study confirming that the comments coming from that "side" are more on topic and less fearful (I would venture to say less hateful, but that was not a word used in this article!) Once again, instead of really seeing the results for what they are, the researchers and readers are performing mental gymnastics to make them fit into their comfortable paradigm.
Or perhaps this study just isn't "good science" either. Hmmm.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.