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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Politicization of Health and Science

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing disease to spread Trump has helped spread misinformation.

 S Mo Jones-Jang and Chris Noland have an article at Health Communication titled "The Politicization of Health and Science: Role of Political Cues in Shaping the Beliefs of the Vaccine-Autism Link."  The abstract:

One critical lesson learned from public opinion research about climate change is that the cost of politicization is disastrous. Although the literature has shown the dire consequences of politicized science issues, few have examined how such politicization is possibly triggered by political leaders in a seemingly nonpartisan science topic. Using two experiments (total n = 1,249), this article demonstrates how political cues over scientific expertise shape individuals’ beliefs in the vaccine and autism debate. The results indicate that Republicans tend to follow President Trump compared to scientists in the subject matter. On the other hand, Democrats follow scientists but are not influenced by Trump. The implications of political encroachment into health and science are discussed.

From the article:

Although it was not hypothesized, the findings support the view that conflicting science frames would yield negative public outcomes. We found that participants who were presented with a story in which Trump claimed a vaccine-autism link and scientists said otherwise displayed a decreased behavioral intention for vaccination compared to the control group. This pattern was observed across all partisans. The results for Republicans may not be so surprising because we already found that Republicans chose their political leader over scientists in Study1. However, it is surprising that Democrats decreased their vaccine intention when both scientists and political cues suggest the same thing. The only possible reason would be that exposure to contradicting claims elevated Democrats’ perceived issue uncertainty, leading them to decrease behavioral vaccine intention. Numerous prior studies showed that emphasis on conflicts and false balance in media representations of science issues heightens issue uncertainty and deepens the gap between the public and scientists (Dixon & Clarke, 2013).


 The implications of these results presented herein are important. The findings of this study indicate that political cues have transcending effects in nonpartisan science issues, such as the vaccine-autism debate. The results indicate that mere exposure to political cues can trigger science politicization among partisans. The observed influence of political cues is concerning to science and public health communities. The current media environment characterized by partisan outlets and social media make political cues widely available. A growing body of literature also suggests that it is challenging to correct unverified myths and misperceptions once the public cognitively acknowledges their existence (Bernhard & Dohle, 2015; Southwell et al., 2018). Considering that politicization may produce irreversible, devastating consequences in science communication, extra caution should be exercised in the case of politicians’ involvement in science or health issues.