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Sunday, August 7, 2016

How Vaccine-Autism Misperceptions Spread

At The International Journal of Communication, Jill A. Edy and Erin Risley-Baird have an article titled "Misperceptions as Political Conflict: Using Schattschneider’s Conflict Theory to Understand Rumor Dynamics." They examined online commentary about vaccines and autism. The abstract:
Publicly confronting political misperceptions enacts political conflict, generating communicative forms of public resistance as well as psychological resistance. Applying Schattschneider’s classic model of interest group political conflict to communication by those who publicly resisted messages debunking the misperception that vaccinations can cause autism offers insight into how misperceptions evolve and survive in public discourse. It also extends the model, establishing its relevance for contemporary forms of political conflict. Faced with debunking, believers socialize conflict, inviting audiences  o join the struggle on their side, and alter the debate’s terms such that discussion escapes  ontrol by authorities. The resulting political debate is a moving target with changing  tandards of evidence. Consequently, confronting political misperceptions may generate activism that encourages misperceptions to evolve and spread.
From the article:
The conflict over whether vaccines are linked to autism began as a scientific debate  mong medical professionals, but as misperception believers got involved, those professionals lost control of the fight. In seeking access to the conflict, the believer  ommunity redefined its logic. No longer could the debate be limited to the scientific merit of Wakefield’s study. Instead, personal experience competed with scientifically generated knowledge as the ultimate truth standard. Charges of spreading false or wrong  nformation were met with charges of denying personal freedom to question authority and speak out. The scientific community had lost control over the standards by which information was judged.
Understanding political misperceptions as cases of political conflict in which communication processes matter helps explain why misperceptions are so difficult to eradicate. Prior misperception research demonstrates debunking messages can produce substantial psychological resistance, but this analysis reveals the remarkable social dynamism of the rumoring process when confronted with authoritative debunking in the postmodern era. Communicative resistance to debunking messages is not a matter of stubbornly reiterating a misperception. It involves creative, persuasive discourse that modifies the misperception and shifts the relevant audience of potential believers. Viewed in this light, the search for a single message or type of message that would effectively debunk a misperception seems fruitless. Effective debunking, like rumoring itself, is likely a process that adapts to the changing social conditions in which discourse about the belief occurs. The problem is not simply the motivated reasoning of misperception believers. The discourse itself represents a moving target with no fixed standards of evidence or truth that might support factual debunking. When debunking messages are introduced into the discourse, the social dynamic of the conflict evolves to raise new questions and evoke different standards of evaluation (what Schattschneider would call altering the lines of cleavage) and to invite new participants (what he would call socializing).