Agence Science-Presse (www.sciencepresse.qc.ca)
Scoop: Anti-vaccination websites spread disinformation. The researcher that came up with this scoop no doubt had to do a lot of work to come up with this conclusion.
These sites use a “considerable quantity” of disinformation – not to mention pseudoscience and anecdotes – said Meghan Moran of Johns Hopkins University and her colleagues at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago this past November.
In doing her analysis, her goal was not to demonstrate the existence of disinformation, but rather to try to understand the “tactics” that allow these groups to be so convincing to so many members of the general public.
For example, on the 480 sites analyzed (including Facebook pages) that attack vaccines for children, two-thirds maintain that vaccines cause autism. At least one-third present anecdotes as “scientific proof,” whereas another third waver between opinions and personal experiences.
And when they cite peer-reviewed studies, it’s to quote things that these studies never said, says Meghan Moran and her colleagues.
The true impact of these sites on the general public hasn’t been measured. Some researchers are very worried, especially since last summer’s measles outbreak in California, as we know that a growing number of parents are turning to the Internet to find their information on public health in general, and on vaccines in particular.
Another characteristic of these websites, says Moran and her colleagues, one that explains in part their success, is their ability to create communities – parents or users of “alternative” practices – who mutually reinforce their practices by inspiring fellow community members, and are at the same time inspired by the others. In this way they can challenge medical opinion without the slightest bit of proof.
To find out more:
Why are anti-vaccine messages so persuasive? The presentation.
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