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What do polluted & nonpolluted science communication environments *look* like? & how about childhood vaccines?....

This is a common theme on this blog.  Maybe it's the only theme, in fact.

Risk perceptions that display the pathology of identity-protective cognition are pathological, both in being rare and in being inimical to public welfare.

We need to get that.

We  need to to learn how to distinguish risk perceptions that evince this pathology from ones that don't.

We need to use evidence-based methods to identify the dynamics that cause some risk issues, none of which is bound to become this way, to take on the characteristics of this pathology.

And we need to recognize our responsibility to use the knowlege we have of these dynamics to minimize the risk that any particular form of science will become infected with the pathology's reason-effacing characteristics.

Because if we don't do all these things, then we will experience many many avoidable instances of this pathology.  And for that, we'll have only ourselves to blame.


These data, btw, come from Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem.

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Reader Comments (1)

I think that you need to fine tune your scale to recognize that the pathology of identity protective cognition is at work here, it is just that it currently exists only in isolated pockets that don't map within your Democrat/Republican analysis.

It is important that we address the situation with the separate and very different identities of those pockets in mind, and do so in a manner that doesn't fan flames and cause it to spread. It also means that we need to let the general public know that the general public is supporting vaccination.

For example, a recent measles outbreak near me on the Washington State/BC border was centered on members in orthodox Dutch Reformed Church congregations. This group has a long history of vaccine opposition, both in North American and in Holland. Understanding that culture can help: Here, that involved methods that reassured concerned parents that they could quietly take their children to clinics for vaccination without fear of recrimination for not having done so sooner. And media strategies that involved not engaging the religious leadership in debate. This shut down media tendencies to "tell both sides" and give those religious leaders a platform .

Some Waldorf Schools have high anti-vaccine rates that may stem from anti-vaccine attitudes of school founder Rudolf Steiner and his philosophy of Athroposophy. Some of these schools have had immunizable disease outbreaks. Some Amish groups oppose vaccination, and these groups are significant in some areas of Pennsylvainia and Ohio.

Several factors may operate at once. This map of vaccine exemptions in California highlights areas of Northern California with a libertarian anti-government bent, but county to county differences may show ways that individual counties are better at addressing public health issues: This data also indicates that the much maligned Marin County has vaccine exemption rates which, while higher than their Bay Area neighbors, are not among the worst.

Breaking the data down to the level of individual elementary schools reveal concentrations that demonstrates why some people may see anti-vaxx sentiment as rampant, because in their micro-location, it in fact is: Techniques need to be devised to not only address the concerns of those not vaccinating, but also to re-enforce the understanding of other concerned parents that vaccination is, indeed mainstream.

I also think that we need to avoid going overboard in ways that shut down discussions in manners that could impede the advancement of the science and technology of vaccine development. While well intended, I think that the headlline in a recent Seattle Times editorial is concerning: "It's Time to Shut Down All Debate on Vaccines" "Vaccinations have eradicated diseases that used to be common. That such a good thing that there should be no debate about continuing the practice." Vaccines are good, but they could be improved.

Your previous analysis showed the steps taken by Merck to ensure that their HPV vaccine beat that of Glaxo to market. Similarly, we should not let the media clamor against anti-vaxxers shut down scientific debate on the need for upgrading current vaccines.
"While the current vaccine is acknowledged as a good vaccine, we and others have demonstrated that the immune response to measles vaccine varies substantially in actual field use.....Thus, measles outbreaks also occur even among highly vaccinated populations because of primary and secondary vaccine failure, which results in gradually larger pools of susceptible persons and outbreaks once measles is introduced [8]. This leads to a paradoxical situation whereby measles in highly immunized societies occurs primarily among those previously immunized [8]."

The above could have been a factor in the recent well publicized measles outbreak at Disneyland.

In the case of measles there is a complicated set of reasons why measles vaccine is not given to infants under 12 months. This is partly due to the likelihood of complications, and partly due to the idea that the mother conveys a natural passive immunity to her child, and that this not only partially protects the infant, but interferes with creating immunity from the vaccine. On the average, this effect fades at about 12 months. But with appropriate research, it ought to be possible to either develop new vaccines, or perhaps test individual infants, and mothers to be, to see what their immunity status is. Medically appropriate measures could then be taken. Research could also aid in identifying immune compromised individuals for whom immunizations (but also the disease) would be more dangerous. Vaccination protocols could become a lot more individualized in the future.

In my opinion, the absolutism and vilification being conducted in the name of combating anti-vaxxers does risk spreading the "pathogen" of cultural identity protective cognition. But it also helps in keeping pressure off of Big Pharma for coming up with new developments, or in improving our public research support in order to have innovations coming out of the public sector. It also provides a platform that can be exploited for personal fame, as IMHO, Andrew Wakefield and even as unlikely a spokesperson as Jenny McCarthy have demonstrated.

I think that people understand that medical science is a work in progress, with improved methods just over the horizon. And thus, they can understand the need to accept the best of what is available now. Vaccines come with some amount of risk, but a lot less risk than not vaccinating.

One of my favorite pieces on vaccine communication is this one by Dr. Zikmund = Fischer, of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center:

(Among his many failings, Christy=ie, of course, or at least IMHO, lacks humility)

February 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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