Every now and then I come across someone online who is mistrustful. They don’t trust the government, or the World Health Organization, or the traditional media, or the Centres for Disease Control, or even fact checkers. I can understand why someone would have their doubts about some of the actions of these institutions, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Specifically, it is a bad idea to turn away from those established sources of information to instead trust people who denigrate all those professionals and experts.
When this happens I am really tempted to try to prove to the online antagonists that the medical experts offer us hope, but I stop myself. I know from past experience that it is impossible to break through that shield of denial. It’s a waste of time because they are just not a receptive audience. It must be exhausting to be so angry and skeptical all the time. I just would not want to live life that way.
I am talking, of course, about discussions around Covid-19 and the reliability of vaccines. These chats pop up sometimes when you least expect them, but they all seem to follow the same back-and-forth pattern with no flexibility on either side of the debate. I just feel sorry for all involved.
I’m sorry that it seems no-one taught the anti-vaxxers how to check their sources for qualifications and reputation. I’m sorry that it appears they don’t know how to check scientific evidence for peer reviews and the endorsements of experts. I’m sorry that, sometimes, they cannot distinguish opinion from fact.
I’m also sorry that I am not better at debate. I’m sorry that I cannot explain myself sufficiently well to persuade anyone. I’m sorry I don’t know more about science. I’m sorry that these discussions are even necessary. Mostly, though, I’m sorry that fear and/or rejection of vaccines is going to result in unnecessary illness and deaths.
I would never post an opinion online if there was a chance that I might encourage some behaviour that would risk someone else’s health, but that is what the anti-vaxxers are doing. It is bewildering to me that they think they are saving lives. It’s as though they are looking in a funhouse mirror and seeing everything upside down. I don’t know how to explain that what they are seeing is not an accurate reflection but is distorted.
Similarly, I can’t convince them that their ideas come from only a tiny proportion of scientific spokespeople and that the vast majority are emphatically supportive of vaccines. One of the reasons my ideas are dismissed is that there are far more anti-vaccination pages online than there are pro-vaccination pages. This makes it appear as though there are more people that agree with the anti-vaxxers than there really are. (Philip Ball, Nature.com) This relatively small group is now reaching out to a much larger number of people who are unsure what to think, and the sheer volume of messages becomes persuasive in itself.
You could argue that the majority of scientists could be wrong and that the minority are maverick dissenters who may ultimately be proven to be right. Well that could be so, but are you willing to risk someone’s health and life on such a shaky foundation? I hope not.
Here is a link to a short and simple guideline by Western Libraries for evaluating sources of information. It is the CRAAP Test, and the acronym stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. (https://researchguides.ben.edu/source-evaluation)