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Monday, September 14, 2020

The Antivax Mind

At Salon, Jonathan Berman writes of a composite anti-vaxxer:
When Jenny takes the baby to its checkup with the pediatrician, Dr. Smith brings up its vaccine schedule. Jenny refuses and has come armed with information she's pulled from her sources on the internet and in books. She insists that there's mercury in vaccines that causes autism. She lists chemicals with long names that are in vaccines. Dr. Smith is taken aback. She agrees to delay but will try to persuade Jenny again at the next office visit. At the next office visit, Dr. Smith has come prepared with responses to the anti-vaccine claims made by her patient. However, for every answer she can provide, Jenny has a rejoinder. The pediatrician is again delayed in vaccinating. Jenny feels ambushed by Dr. Smith. "I've done my research," she says. "As a mother, I know what's best for my own child, better than anyone else."

Jim and Jenny feel they've done their best for their child. They identified a potential danger, did research, and avoided that danger, which is the duty of good parents, after all. When Dr. Smith tried to convince them with facts and data alone, she failed because Jim and Jenny knew they shouldn't just trust whatever the pediatrician says. Long gone are the days of paternalism when the doctor knows best and a patient should simply listen and do what they're told. Jim and Jenny are active in their own health care and that of their children.

What could Dr. Smith have done to convince Jenny to go ahead with vaccination? What can municipalities, neighbors, and friends do to help Jim and Jenny make better choices? Dr. Smith was operating from an information-deficit model. She believed that Jim and Jenny simply didn't have enough information. However, Jim and Jenny have more than enough information. It's just bad information. The bad information came from people whom Jim and Jenny trusted, friends and family. The good information came from an authority figure.

Imagine how this scenario would have played out if someone on the Measlton Moms Facebook group had stepped forward after that initial post to say "I had all three vaccinated, and they're doing great." Or if there had been another post with a picture of a smiling child with the caption "She just got her 24-month booster shots!" Perhaps if the sources that presented themselves when Jim and Jenny set out to do research had been better, they might have stopped themselves. Jim may have been directed to New Scientist, Scientific American, or another mostly reliable source, rather than to InfoWars and Natural News. Amazon's algorithm may have directed Jenny to books by Paul Offit, rather than to books by vaccine denialists.