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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Danger of Trump's Vaccine-Autism Nonsense

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns.   In this campaign, a number of posts discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  He also has a bad record on science and disability issues more generally.

Trump's nonsense is dangerous.  When he says that vaccines cause autism, his followers believe him. If parents skip vaccinations, their kids could get vaccine-preventable diseases.

A release from MIT:
For all the fact-checking and objective reporting produced by major media outlets, U.S. voters are more likely to believe information when it comes from a candidate those voters support — and vice versa, according to a new study co-authored by MIT scholars.
The study, conducted during the U.S. presidential primaries for the 2016 election, uses a series of statements by President Donald J. Trump — then one of many candidates in the Republican field — to see how partisanship and prior beliefs interact with evaluations of objective fact.
The researchers presented study participants with both true and false statements Trump made, surveying voters from both parties about their responses. They found participants’ opinions of Trump influenced how plausible people assumed the information to be. For instance, when Trump falsely suggested vaccines cause autism, a claim rejected by scientists, Republicans who supported Trump were more likely to believe the claim when it was attributed to Trump than they were when the claim was presented without attribution.
On the other hand, when Trump correctly stated the financial cost of the Iraq War, Democrats (and Republicans who did not support Trump) were less likely to believe his claim than they were when the same claim was presented in unattributed form.
“It wasn’t just the case that misinformation attributed to Trump was less likely to be rejected by Republicans,” says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT and a co-author of the new paper. “The things Trump said that were true, if attributed to Trump, [made] Democrats less likely to believe [them]. … Trump really does polarize people’s views of reality.”

The paper, “Processing Political Information,” is being published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The co-authors are Swire; Berinsky; Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia and the University of Bristol, and Ullrich K.H. Ecker of the University of Western Australia. Swire helped develop the study as a researcher at MIT in 2015.