A nice empirical study of vaccine risk communication–and an unfortunate, empirically uninformed reaction to it

Dan Kahan at the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School:

BackfirePediatrics published (in “advance on-line” form)an important study yesterday on the effect of childhood-vaccine risk communication.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers including Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, both of whom have done excellent studies on public-health risk communication in the past.

NR et al. conducted an experiment in which they showed a large sample of U.S. parents with children age 17 or under communications on the risks and benefits of childhood vaccinations.

Exposure to the communications, they report, produced one or another perverse effect, including greater concern over vaccine risks and, among a segment of respondents with negative attitudes toward vaccines, a lower self-reported intent to vaccinate any “future child” for MMR (mumps, measles, rubella).

The media/internet reacted with considerable alarm: “Parents Less Likely to Vaccinate Kids After Hearing Government’s Safety Assurance”; “Trying To Convince Parents To Vaccinate Their Kids Just Makes The Problem Worse”; “Pro-vaccination efforts, debunking autism myths may be scaring wary parents from shots”. Etc.

Actually, I think this a serious misinterpretation of NR et al.

More here. [Thanks to Hugo Mercier.]