Skepticalscience and John Cook’s vaccine misinformation
The Cook co-authored presentation includes a slide about a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) flyer on flu vaccines. It claims that attempting to correct a ‘myth’ can familiarize readers to the myth.
To illustrate, Cook and co-authors show the flyer which lists ‘myths’ about influenza vaccines and provides correct information beneath each item. Item #3 is “The side effects are worse than the flu”, which is countered by “The worst side effect you’re likely to get with injectable vaccine is a sore arm”
Cook and authors believe this approach is wrong. Instead, they insist that only correct information (‘facts’) be provided. The authors advocate saying: “–The vaccine is safe! The worst side effect would be a sore arm.”
This is outright false information. There are several adverse effects associated with an injectable flu vaccine, the least harmful of which is a sore arm. Far worse adverse events are possible, ranging from fever to severe allergic reactions. Fortunately, these are rare. What vaccinees need is to be informed in an appropriate manner about the probabilities of these events.
Cook gets rid of key phrases, adds new words and an exclamation point to the CDC’s careful language. An optimistic statement about probabilities has been mutated into a false categorical declaration about absolute risk from a vaccine. What one hears now sounds like a burger sales pitch by a marketing team. It is the Susan Joy Hassol brand of ‘science communication’.
The live-attenuated vaccine administered as a nasal spray can result in a mild flu-like illness. In a given season, it is quite possible and likely that individuals note their mild symptoms following the vaccine and contrast them with unvaccinated members who show no visible illness. The origin of the misconception likely lies in this specific context. The CDC text addresses these points.
Cook’s approach, instead, is to label the whole thing as just a ‘myth’.
Yeah. That should clear up all confusion.
Postscript: Cook and Lewandowsky’s conclusion that repeating a so-called myth will reinforce it, comes from their colleague Nobert Schwarz’s presumptuous “Skurnik, I., Yoon, C., & Schwarz, N. (2007). Education about flu can reduce intentions to get a vaccination”. We learn, from a Schwarz review article in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, that Skurnik et al showed subjects two leaflets one being the CDC flyer and the other a simple ‘facts’ sheet. Those who saw the CDC flyer misremembered more myths as facts on a true/false questionnaire, after a time delay. How such a study design can reflect either the intentions or the true state of knowledge of potential vaccine recipients than rather the test-taking strategies of experimental subjects is beyond me.
Incidentally, ‘Skurnik, Yoon and Schwarz (2007)’ is…unpublished.
Consider what Cook does on his website. He takes a purported ‘myth’ which is usually a caricatural simplification of an original question and start off confidently pretending that there is a clear-cut refutation. The refutation is constituted by an answer that is often over-simplified to the point of falseness. When all messy questions that arise from reality are ‘myths’, all answers are simple.
Cook should keep his shenanigans to climate and stop spreading false information on vaccines and matters of public health and safety.