mooney tackles the anti-vaxers. well, sort of…

After failing to fix science education, Chris Mooney is taking his failed approach to the vaccine manufactroversy.
vector syringe

Say what you will about Chris Mooney, but where he excels is in consistency. He has the same solution to just about every problem between scientists and crackpots, and he’s not afraid to suggest it again and again with absolutely no details or regard for the nature of the conflict he wants to resolve. Previously, he’s done this with the evolution/creationism manufactroversy and scientific literacy.

Now, after managing not to resolve either problem and missing the fact that blaming scientists for a culture which rejects science and expertise as a manifestation of elitist snobbery doesn’t actually accomplish anything, he’s off to make friends with the anti- vaxers and implore doctors and epidemiologists to build bridges with zealots who demonize their critics as baby-eating monsters. Really, it seems that Chris is firmly committed not to learn from his past mistakes…

After profiling the anti-vaccination movement that blames vaccines for every pediatric evil in the world and their long record of conspiracy mongering, one would think that Mooney, of all people, would know full well that a negotiation with the likes of J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy and Lyn Redwood would be futile. I could argue that it would be like trying to explain the validity of evolutionary theory to someone like Ray Comfort, but Mooney has already proposed doing just that to combat creationist influence in schools. And it’s in this obliviousness that he suggests an exercise in building communicational bridges to nowhere

I believe we need some real attempts at bridge-building between medical institutions, which, let’s admit it, can often seem remote and haughty, and the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. We need to get people in a room and try to get them to agree about something — anything. We need to encourage moderation, and break down a polarized situation in which the anti-vaccine crowd essentially rejects modern medical research based on the equivalent of conspiracy theory thinking, even as mainstream doctors just shake their heads at [their] scientific cluelessness.

This is really classic Mooney. He proclaims that the scientific establishment seems distant and aloof and as soon as we get any kind of a consensus on anything going, there will be a huge cascade effect as those who throw temper tantrums the instant you tell them than we’re not vaccinating kids too soon or too much, or that autism may might have genetic causes, will suddenly see the light of science.

It’s not going to happen. They are far too invested in their worldview and there are too many quacks and cranks making millions off selling a whole range of snake oil concoctions and remedies to “cure autism” by exploiting their fears. Autism quackery is a big business and it fuels anti-vax hysteria. Try and remove the likes of Joe Mercola or Andy Wakefield and his woo crew in Texas off their perch, and they’ll fight back with even more disinformation because they have a mortgage to pay and families to feed. Likewise, we have to admit that sometimes science is complicated and just because scientific institutions seem remote, it’s not always the scientists’ fault.

Yes, there’s always jargon, science-speak or academese standing in the way of easy explanations in almost any field of scientific research. However, not everything lends itself to an easy ten to fifteen minute explanation because some of the concepts require years of study. In my own experience, anything that has to do with AI or intelligent agents in computer science is awfully hard to condense in simple terms just because of the scope that has to be covered for a truly comprehensive discussion and each subset of AI theory has to branch out in several different directions, affecting a wide range of disciplines.

That scope makes the topic exciting and very rewarding, but it can also lead to quite a bit of confusion. And topics in medicine and biology aren’t any easier to explain. Besides, if those of us either studying to be scientists or with fully fledged PhD’s could summarize everything we do and study in an afternoon or two, why would we spend so much time buried in books, tests and labs? Grad school would be over in a month instead of between two and seven years.

In any case of crankery, scientists and experts are dealing with people who formed very strong opinions on an impressive range of subject matter they know very little about. To explain to them that they have it wrong could only result in their rejection of the explanation. Instead of being used to endless critique and take it as a given that their conclusions will be debated, they take it as a deep personal insult that someone dares question a worldview they hold near and dear.

Rather than listen to the experts, they’re going to be advancing their own agendas and rebelling against any skeptical thought or inquiry into their actions. To suggest otherwise, is the kind of typical Mooney argument we’ve seen in the Unscientific America debacle. His suggestions for all those involved in a big public dustup over science to sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, are born from a lack of consideration for the psychology of both sides and the environment from which they come, and if they really worked, he wouldn’t even have to write about militant anti-vaxers and creationists in the first place.

# science // anti vaccination / anti vaxers / health / popular science


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