What accounts for public conflict over the risks of childhood vaccines? The science of science communication, which examines public controversies over risk and policy-relevant facts generally, can be used to answer this troubling question. Indeed, this body of research can be used to forecast conditions that provoke such conflict—and thus in theory to equip public policymakers to avoid this pernicious impediment to reasoned public engagement with scientific evidence. The answer to “why conflict over vaccines?,” this work suggests, is “a variety of things.” But a single factor that connects them is democratic societies’ failure to use available scientific knowledge to manage the science communication environment in a manner protective of their citizens’ interests in being able to reliably recognize the contributions decision-relevant science can make to their well-being.
Published in Science.