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Monday
Jan272014

Who fears childhood vaccines and why? Research report & project

Just posted new report, Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Empirical Assessment. It presents the results of a  large (N = 2300) national study of the public's perception of the risks and benefits of childhood vaccines. The study also includes an experimental component that examines how those perceptions are influenced by "ad hoc" risk communication --  information from popular sources that feature empirically uninformed claims about the extent, nature, and consequences of public concern about vaccine risks (there's very little concern to speak of, and views do not vary meaningfully across political or cultural groups).

The Report is part of a new CCP project on "Protecting the Vaccine Science Communication Environment." The project has its own page, which explains the project mission and links to various content.

I'll likely be featuring bits & pieces of the Report in the blog over the next  couple weeks.  I'm eager not merely to alert potentially interested readers that it is available but also to solicit comments, questions, and proposals for additional analyses.  Indeed, I anticipate issuing "updates" to the Report based on such feedback.

Here is the Report "Executive Summary":

Executive Summary

This Report presents empirical evidence relevant to assessing the claim—reported widely in the media and other sources—that the public is growing increasingly anxious about the safety of childhood vaccinations. The Report presents two principal findings: first, that vaccine risks are neither a matter of concern for the vast majority of the public nor an issue of contention among recognizable subgroups; and second, that ad hoc forms of risk communication that assert there is mounting resistance to childhood immunizations themselves pose a risk of creating misimpressions and arousing sensibilities that could culturally polarize the public and diminish motivation to cooperate with universal vaccination programs.

The basis for these findings was a study of a demographically diverse sample of 2,300 U.S. adults. In a survey component administered to a nationally representative 800-person subsample, the study found a high degree of consensus that vaccine risks are low and their benefits high. These perceptions, the data suggest, reflect the influence of a pervasively positive and widely shared affective orientation toward vaccines. This same affective orientation is reflected in widespread support for universal immunization and expressions of trust in the judgment of public health officials and professionals.

There was a modest minority of respondents who held a negative orientation toward vaccines. These respondents, however, could not be characterized as belonging to any recognizable subgroup identified by demographic characteristics, religiosity, science comprehension, or political or cultural outlooks. Indeed, groups bitterly divided over other science issues, including climate change and human evolution, all saw vaccine risks as low and vaccine benefits as high. Even within those groups, in other words, individuals hostile to childhood vaccinations are outliers.

In an experimental component administered to the entire sample, the study examined the impact of media and other reports that warn of escalating public concern over vaccine safety. Such information induced study participants to substantially underestimate vaccination rates and to substantially overestimate the proportion of parents invoking “exemptions” to universal immunization policies. This result is troubling because existing research shows that the motivation to contribute to collective goods, such as the herd immunity conferred by mass vaccination, declines when members of the public perceive that others are refusing to contribute. In contrast, exposure to a communication patterned on a typical CDC press statement induced subjects to form estimates much closer to actual U.S. vaccine rates (90% or above for over a decade) and of the proportion of children receiving no vaccinations (1%).

The experiment also examined the effect of information patterned on popular sources that link the belief that vaccines cause autism to disbelief in evolution and climate change. Among study subjects exposed to this information, perceptions of vaccine risks showed signs of dividing along the same cultural lines that inform disputes over highly contested societal issues, including the dangers of climate change, the consequences of drug legalization, and the impact of educating high school students about birth control. This result is also troubling: group-based conflicts are known to create strong psychological pressures that interfere with the normally reliable capacity that members of the public use to recognize valid decision-relevant science. This very dynamic is thought to have affected acceptance of the HPV vaccine.

Based on these findings the Report offers a series of recommendations. The most important is that the public health establishment play a more active leadership role in risk communication. Governmental agencies and professional groups should (1) promote the use of valid and appropriately focused empirical methods for investigating vaccine-risk perceptions and formulating responsive risk communication strategies; (2) discourage ad hoc risk communication based on impressionistic or psychometrically invalid alternatives to these methods; (3) publicize the persistently high rates of childhood vaccination and high levels of public support for universal immunization in the U.S.; and (4) correct ad hoc communicators who misrepresent vaccination coverage and its relationship to the incidence of childhood diseases.

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Reader Comments (19)

Dan -

Pardon my slowness on the uptake, but just to clarify....

These respondents, however, could not be characterized as belonging to any recognizable subgroup identified by demographic characteristics, religiosity, science comprehension, or political or cultural outlooks.

and

The experiment also examined the effect of information patterned on popular sources that link the belief that vaccines cause autism to disbelief in evolution and climate change. Among study subjects exposed to this information, perceptions of vaccine risks showed signs of dividing along the same cultural lines that inform disputes over highly contested societal issues...


So I guess the bottom line is that as of yet, the # of people who have been exposed to information linking views on vaccines to views on climate change and evolution is relatively limited, but that basically the problem of that kind of polarization could be a self-fulfilling outcome if such information were to become more widely apparent?

Is that right?

---------------------------

Along related lines.

Keith Kloor talks often and very emotionally about his concerns about the impact of polarization about GMOs. He also talks often and very emotionally about what he sees as ideological alignments in views on GMOs (i.e., that invalid concern about GMOs is associated with environmentalism and liberals). He is, of course, not alone in that regard. Reading his blog we can see that there are many people from both within and outside the scientific community that agree with him.

You have expressed support for Keith in a general sense, and I realize that it might be inappropriate to ask you to criticize Keith.

But it seems to me that what you describe with vaccines may have implications w/r/t how Keith (and others) write about the linkages between ideology and views on GMOs.

Now I don't doubt Keith's sincerity w/r/t concerns about the outcomes of polarization over GMOs - but unless I got something wrong here, the implications of your work is that the kind of writing Keith does about GMOs is actually likely to helpcreate polarization where it doesn't really exist, in a self-fulfilling sort of way. Please note that I said help create - as his input (of just one journalist in a very big world) is unlikely to change the overall trajectory in some significant way.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Would there be something about the differences between the issues of vaccines and GMOs that would differentiate the implications of "information patterned on popular sources that link the belief that vaccines cause autism to disbelief in evolution and climate change" from information patterned on popular sources that link the beliefs on GMOs to environmentalism or liberal ideology?

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

Take a look at the discussion of the experiment & you'll get a sense of what the hypothesis was about the "anti-science" trope.

But yes, I suspect most people haven't see information of that sort -- for the same reason most people don't know what fracking is, aren't sure what GM foods are, and are even money to know the length of a term of a U.S. Senator: ordinary people direct their attention to matters other than partisan politics & disputes over societal risks.

It's really weird for positions on decision-relevant science to become symbols of group identities in the way we see w/ climate change, nuclear, guns, and a limited number of other issues. Those sorts of symbolic associations are a form of pollution in the science communication environment that disable the faculties that reliably guide people to the best available evidence.

B/c it asserts that hostility to universal vaccination is part of the same "package" as climate skepticism and disbelief in evolution--two issues that are connected to the cultural identities of a large segment of the U.S. population--the "anti-science trope" furnishes ordinary people with a signal that vaccine risk concern is also an identity-defining position.

That sorts of signals -- that sort of pollution of the science communication environment -- accounts for how the HPV vaccine became a source of polarizing controversy.

The "anti-science" trope obviously -- thank goodness! -- hasn't yet generated an effect like the one observed in the study experiment.

But it is reckless and manifestly hostile to the public interest to create the risk that something so awful would happen.

By all means denounce and criticize the fringe element that is propogating the claim that that vaccines cause autism and related bull shit lies.

But if you heap scorn and contempt on large cultural communities by asserting that its members are the ones who are engaged in such noxious behavior, then you are not only getting your facts wrong, but also dragging vaccines into the toxic zone of cultural animosity.

I'm not sure what you are referring to about Kloor. I have told him & others that I don't think it is correct to describe GM food risk perceptions as a "liberal" or "left-wing" position. At least for now, positions on GM food risks aren't like positions on climate change; they are like positions on the risks of medical x-rays.

But I don't think he is wrong at all to criticize those who are obviously trying to make concern about GM food into a position that is symbolically linked to a cultural identity that is associated with egalitarian values.

On the contrary, I think he and the science journalits who oppose allowing their profession to be used by those particular science-communication enviroment polluters are doing something we should be very grateful to them for -- and should be holding up as a model for how patriots of the Liberal Republic of Science ought to be behave.

Be great if they'd now play the same science-communication enviornment protection role for childhood vaccines.

January 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

what is disbelief in climate change? I ask because you mention that,

"The experiment also examined the effect of information patterned on popular sources that link the belief that vaccines cause autism to disbelief in evolution and climate change."

Joshua,

you keep misunderstanding my views on climate humor (to our mutual irritation—or at least mine) because you're not allowed to read half the comments I submit there. Ever. You're reading a fraction of my responses, and not even in the order I type them. Please stop trying to debate me there! It is a waste of my time to even hope to get an idea across to anybody but the 1 person who's reading and censoring my submissions. Capisce? Please ask Dan for my email address, either now or the next time you think I've written something wrong, so that we can have an actual exchange of views, not a catechism of incomprehension. The Marx-bros grade comedy of errors that results from all my naive attempts to "engage" at attp has never been funny, and becomes less so every god damned time. Look forward to hearing from you man-to-man. ;-D

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Dan -

"It's really weird for positions on decision-relevant science to become symbols of group identities in the way we see w/ climate change, nuclear, guns, and a limited number of other issues. "

I don't know why you think it is really weird. It seems to me that you are outlining a cause-and-effect dynamic that largely explains those outcomes. People respond to information that presents debates in polarized frames by integrating a polarized view on those issues in ways that align according to preexisting ideological identities.


----

"But I don't think he is wrong at all to criticize those who are obviously trying to make concern about GM food into a position that is symbolically linked to a cultural identity that is associated with egalitarian values."

IMO, Keith's work cannot be simply charactertized as "critici[zing] those who are obviously trying to make concern about GM food into a position that is symbolically linked to a cultural identity that is associated with egalitarian values," but in fact would be more accurately described as a mixture of that type of work (when he describes poor quality information being put out there) plus work that creates exactly outcomes that link concern about GM food, and even worse extremist concern about GM food, to cultural identity associated with egalitarian values.

Keith regularly links opposition on GMOs to environmentalism, which is then often linked by him to liberal ideology (when he doesn't link liberalism to GMO opposition directly w/o validating that link with scientifically gathered evidence).

In fact, IMO, Keith does furnish ordinary people with a signal that vaccine risk GMO concern [or a lack thereof] is also an identity-defining position.

Certainly, one can criticize rhetoric unsupported by science without reinforcing the kind of cultural cognition that polarizes these debates - but doing so requires keeping your eye on the ball. It requires that you don't focus on superficial associations in ways that can only reinforce existing lines of polarization. I think that this speaks very directly to what you describe as troubling potential outcomes w/r/t information on vaccines.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Brad:

Negative response to survey item that asks whether respondent believes in AGW. Take a look at Fig. 5 in report. Or look at this.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Brad -

Interesting. I didn't realize that. Maybe I'll give your suggestion a shot the next time I have some interest in exchanging views.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

"Weird" as in infrequent, not as in resisting explanation. It's important to look at the denominator -- or else one will never figure out the cause of "weird" things.

I read Kloor's stuff but I can't say that I've tried to measure how frequently *he* uses the "liberal anti-science" trope on GM foods.

I also don't have the impression that Kloor is purporting to charactereize public opinion or making claims about how a segment of the public defined by its cultural identity reasons. He's arguing with/criticizing particular people who are making particular arguments. If he sees their arguments as reflecting commitments to "environmentalism" or whathaveyou, that's more of a philosophical or analytical assessment of their position (or maybe psychoanalytical accont of their motivation-- I myself don't try to "explain" any particular individual's views w/ reference to unconscious influences; I think that's impossible as well as rude)

Do you think his criticism of people he thinks are trying to manipulate or decive people would be understood by some segment of the popoulation as an assault on their identity? I doubt it. People calling out manipulators didn't polarize people in California or Washington state.

But what I think on this or anything else is just my report of my best effort to weigh all the evidence I've seen to date -- so show me some evidnece, about how he talks, to whom, where etc. & I'll revise my views.

January 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan —

thanks—I hope you'll agree I wasn't just being pedantic though. "Disbelief in climate change" is such a strong negation that it is in almost every single case a strawman. Note, for example, the 3 credal groups into which respondents are (literally, I supposed) triaged in figure 5: AGW, natural-GW and no-GW. None of these persuasions, including the last one, entails rejecting the proposition of climate change.

Joshua —

I suppose that's the nature of climate deletionism. The censor knows about the censorship, the author knows about it, but the receiver is kept ignorant by design. Oh well—I don't really want to trespass on Dan's thread with this, so I'll just rapidly thank you for those climate humor videos—one more to watch.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Dan -

Although I opened with specific reference to Keith, my interest is more with the general question of how do these issues get discussed in ways that are positive as opposed to recreating or reinforcing existing polaraization.


"If he sees their arguments as reflecting commitments to "environmentalism" or whathaveyou, that's more of a philosophical or analytical assessment of their position (or maybe psychoanalytical accont of their motivation-- I myself don't try to "explain" any particular individual's views w/ reference to unconscious influences; I think that's impossible as well as rude)"

So that's where I think the transition lies. Let's leave the psychoanalytic aspect behind - because I don't think it's particularly relevant - and look at the philosophical or analytical assessments.

Views that are polarizing, and that reflect biased filtering of scientific information, are not properly associated with philosophical orientation, IMO. They are associated with motivated reasoning that derives from cultural cognition. The point of focus is not the specific culture or philosophical orientation that locates the phenomenon, but how the phenomenon plays out in all cultures (at least Western cultures, I think there are some interesting questions about how it plays out cross-culturally) and philosophies.

All cultures (with the above caveat) engage in motivated reasoning, on all types of issues. It plays out in reasoning about taxes or how to interpret the Constitution.

When someone foregrounds something like a philosophical orientation (or ideology) on environmental protection, they are reinforcing identity-protection mechanisms no matter whether their intent might be to do exactly the opposite (in other words, show that it isn't only knuckle-dragging Republicans who are biased in how they reflect upon scientific evidence).

So the question becomes how does one communicate about these issues w/o producing unintended consequences. How does one communicate about environmentalists who engage in biased analysis of scientific evidence without strengthening the political polarization surrounding environmentalism?

IMO - the answer there is through focusing on cultural cognition/motivated reasoning as the operative mechanism, and specifically arguing against any forms of organizing the information about outcomes of cultural cognition (i.e., views on GMOs) in ways that might reinforce identity politics.

I think that the answer is, basically always, to foreground the phenomena of cultural cognition and motivated reasoning, to show how they are universal tendencies grounded in fundamental components of our cognition and our psychology, and that associating motivated reasoning, differentially, with one ideological persuasion to any degree more than any other is, in fact a manifestation of cultural cognition

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

brad - Actually, I linked the same one twice. :-) No matter, any Google of either Stewart or Colbert and "climate change" will net multiple options - all funny (from an objective perspective, of course :-) ) and I would argue all from a "concerned" orientation. I too don't want to clutter up this thread, but I will say that there's nothing for us to discuss there anyway. For better or worse, I consider your argument a non-stater from a logical perspective, for somewhat the same reasons as what I just argued in my comment above to Dan.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

"Do you think his criticism of people he thinks are trying to manipulate or decive people would be understood by some segment of the popoulation as an assault on their identity? I doubt it


I don't doubt it in the least. I think that is exactly the phenomenon you described w/r/t vaccines.

" People calling out manipulators didn't polarize people in California or Washington state. "

But as with vaccines, wouldn't that be a matter of scale? Calling out manipulators, in sufficient volume and prevalence, will fall into line with ideological polarization if it is organized in ways that easily orient along political or other identifications. If it didn't happen in Cali or WA, why is that the case? What happened in Cali and WA that didn't produce that outcome? In fact, as with fracking in Western PA, you would find ideological polarization on GMOs to a far greater extent than elsewhere in the country precisely because there was information put out there that framed the issue in ways that jibed with cultural/political/social identities.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I meant to say that "I would guess that as with fracking in PA......"

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

In Washington State, in the whooping cough epidemic of 2012, it was recognized that the major problem was that the young teen through adult population that had been immunized as infants needed booster shots. Thus, the state public health campaign, with advice from the Federal Center for Disease Control, explicitly focused on boosters and tried to de-emphasize anti-vaxxers as that diluted the message that essentially everyone needed to get in gear and get vaccinated. Not just point fingers at those bad other people.
"[CSC representative] Patti emphasized that pertussis isn't spreading because of an anti-vaccine movement. Among possible reasons for the recent spike are that diagnoses in teens and adults are getting better and doctors are doing a better job with reporting, she added"
http://seattletimes.com/html/health/2018180929_apuswhoopingcough.html
How does your data mesh with the timing of that campaign?

I also think it should be acknowledged that out beyond the media circus, medical and public health professionals have organized a number of campaigns that address vaccine outreach isseus, again without involving anti-vaxxers. Cocoon of Safety, emphasizes the need to vaccinate family members and caregivers of too young to immunize infants. This segues with increasing awareness in some areas that there was a substantial population of medically undeserved adults. There also are targeted programs to address specific populations with specific issues as with adult populations with Hepatitis B where, ideally, treatment should be made before infants are born or at least begun immediately at birth. Medical professionals are also investigating mechanisms that promote a better transition between obstetricians and pediatricians, to build parental trust. Generally, for a healthy baby, immunizations are the first topic that comes up. Best not to do that with a new unfamiliar stranger.

Within the media circus, I agree that: "But it is reckless and manifestly hostile to the public interest to create the risk that something so awful would happen." But doesn't that preclude much of what fall into the category of "By all means denounce and criticize the fringe element that is propogating the claim that that vaccines cause autism and related bull shit lies."

What can be learned from the career trajectory of Andrew Wakefield, or Jenny McCarthy? Don't most charlatans get their 15 minutes of fame and then fade away? It seems to me that the talent which Andrew Wakefield and later Jenny McCarthy exhibited was the ability to draw attention to themselves. So the more they are called out and the louder that was done the better. This depended on inducing a flip side, bloggers, journalists, book authors, to directly attack them. All of these people depend on attention. I think this connects with what Joshua is trying to express above. All of these people depend on publicity for a living. In politics that is the process involved in activating your base. At which point, the media jumps in, dutifully reporting "both sides". Does that expand the idea that there are too sides? Or at the very least, cause those two sides to be self righteously blind to alternative messages that might better promote vaccinations, such as those that health professionals advocate above?

Isn't it true that your research would indicate that the general public was oblivious to all of that and continued to rely on the advice of their medical professionals? What does that say about the field of communication in general?

January 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Gaythia,

This sounds like a strategy worth experimenting with:

"Not just point fingers at those bad other people."

Probably wouldn't work for climate change, since the USP of being a believer is to be able to believe that, as a believer, one is better than a denier, and that deniers are bad other people.

But for non-imaginary problems, like vaccine-preventable diseases, yes, I like your lateral thinking.

If I have one quibble it's that IMHO you haven't quite put your finger on the nature of Jenny McCarthy's talent.

Brad

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Brad -

> since the USP of being a believer is to be able to believe that, as a believer, one is better than a denier, and that deniers are bad other people.


"USP?"

Not that I disagree, but it's also worth noting that I read, in practically every thread at WUWT or Climate Etc., the reverse phenomenon.

It's to be expected when these kinds of debates get intertwined with identity, and rub against the basic psychological nature of humans - whereby identifying an "other" becomes a key element of identity formation.

What is frustrating for me is that both sides recognize the tendency in the "other" side but steadfastly refuse to recognize it in their own side.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Gaythia:

Am interested to learn more about Washington state, but I do know that the source of the pertussis/whooping cough outbreaks in recent years was the ineffectiveness of the acelluar booster shot & not under-vaccination.

It's really really really really easy to criticize people who refuse to vaccinate their children without either implying that vaccination rates are falling or that one or another recognizable cultural group is the "culprit" for spreading diseases. Here is a great example.

January 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

Related to the discussion you and I had upstairs:

>"Others, such as the The Economist, have lately noted the hypocrisy of greens, in particular those who stand up for climate science but also aim to destroy a field of agricultural science. I realize that green-friendly progressives chafe when folks like me point out the similarities between climate skeptics and GMO skeptics. But there is no denying the commonalities, as British environmentalist Mark Lynas writes in the current issue of Cosmos magazine:"

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/02/03/greens-reject-science-gmos/#more-12618

Kloor smushes together "green-friendly" and "progressive," and I suppose in a sense might have some wiggle room, but I'm not sure that there's evidence to support the association he makes between "green-friendly" and views on GMOs, and further, I would say that even if there were some, his linking "green-friendly" to "progressives" largely translates to an argument associating progressives with being anti-GMO (as he has done more directly in the past). Couple that with is constantly highlighting the extreme end of anti-GMO sentiment, and I think that to the extent that his efforts have much of any impact, it would be to fan the flames of polarization along ideological identifications, and in ways that in the end are only counterproductive.

February 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

I read Kloor as addressing the stances of environmental advocacy groups that are both pro- climate-mitigation & anti-GMO. Kloor could be right or wrong on merits, but if I'm reading him correctly, then what he is doing is not an instance of what I'm talking about. Indeed, *if* he is right on the merits, then he's doing something valuable: ordinary citizens who identify themselves as "green" or "progressive" aren't likely to feel Kloor is assaulting them; they are likely to see him as trying to alert them to the possibility that they are being misserved by people they trust, and as a result will likely try to figure out whether this is so.

You might be right & I might be wrong, of course, about the impact of Kloor's writing. But do you agree there *is* a distinction between making an argument that a particular advocacy group is misrepresenting evidence & accusing member of an out-group of being the source of harms they are in fact not connected to?

I see the challenge you are making here & agree it is an important one for me to meet.

But help me out here if you think I'm not making the case as effectively as I should be. Articulate the distinction I'm trying to draw in as compelling a way as you think is possible. Then tell me whether you agree or disagree w/ that general point -- & if so we can figure out what sort of evidence we could use to assess what Kloor is doing in particular.

February 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Dan -

Indeed, *if* he is right on the merits, then he's doing something valuable: ordinary citizens who identify themselves as "green" or "progressive" aren't likely to feel Kloor is assaulting them; they are likely to see him as trying to alert them to the possibility that they are being misserved by people they trust, and as a result will likely try to figure out whether this is so.

I think that what you point to there is the key, and thus the answer as to what sort of evidence we could use to assess what Kloor is doing.

When I read the comments at his blog, I see relatively few greens or progressives indicating they've been alerted to have they've been misserved. And what I see instead, is (1), "greens and progressives" reflexively react with identity-protective and identity-progressive instincts and, (2) those from different identity groups piling on to say "See, I told you that greens are eco-facists intent in destroying the universe," and "See, progressives want to starve billions of poor people."

Limitations to my point:

(1) Ok - so, observer bias, right? Maybe I'm selected out only those comments that confirm my biases and "conveniently" ignore the rest.

(2) Even if my observations aren't biased - that doesn't mean that there isn't a counter effect over time, whereby "greens" and "progressive" react defensively in the short run but eventually let in some cognitively dissonant information that not only those they disagree with are affected by cultural cognition.

(3) Keith says that he writes differently for different markets. I've never quite understood that argument - but I think that maybe he says that to underline the fact that we can't just isolate blog comments as if they're somehow a representative sampling of the larger impact of his writing.

(4) Relatedly, there could be different effects from different aspects of Keith's writing. One of my criticisms is that he, fairly often, writes articles that do things like calling people "loons." It could be that the impact of that writing is different than the impact of other things that he writes.

But I see what happens with Keith's blog to be fairly representative of what we see not only w/r/t GMOs, but also with vaccines, or gun control, or taxes, or the social safety net, etc., whereby people identify the "positions" of those they disagree with, associate them with identity groups, and then work backwards in ways that reinforce polarized orientations. Accordingly, IMO, any reference to identity groups that overlay onto the vernacular of common polarizing identifications, will in balance just reinforce that polarization unless, explicitly, the point is made that what is most important is the mechanics of cultural cognition that affect everyone because they are basic properties of human cognition and psychology. Any communication that is likely to reinforce the "other" and "us" dichotomy will just fuel the fire.

But do you agree there *is* a distinction between making an argument that a particular advocacy group is misrepresenting evidence & accusing member of an out-group of being the source of harms they are in fact not connected to?

If I understand that (I had some trouble parsing it), I would say yes. But we are conditioned to first react to association of advocacy groups in ways that fit into preestablished patterns. You can't just strap on blinders and wade into the melee with some naive belief that the conceptual difference you are describing will play out in reality. You have to conform your strategy to the existing context.


. Articulate the distinction I'm trying to draw in as compelling a way as you think is possible.

I think that you are saying that you can't just ignore it if prominent members of identity groups promote "psuedoscience." In fact, it is important to make people aware of psudeoscience even when it is promoted by people from within their identity groups. That is distinct from directly promoting a message that those same identity groups are uniquely or uniformly characterized as dupes for or promoters of pseudoscience.

Then tell me whether you agree or disagree w/ that general point

I agree with that general point.

-- & if so we can figure out what sort of evidence we could use to assess what Kloor is doing in particular.

How about what I listed above?

Again, I want to point out that for me, this is less about Keith than about the patterns in problematic communicative that I see played out through a variety of fora. For example, there are some interesting overlaps here with the notion of "false balance" that is certainly an important part of the science communication scene, and the messaging of people like Pielke Jr., Revkin, etc. But even there the focus is too specific. I think that these questions speak more generally to fundamental patterns of communication across a large range of issues.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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