Many articles and blog posts arguing for the vaccine-autism link have the trappings of genuine academic research: tables, graphs, citations, and scientific jargon. Some of the authors have credentials such as M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. None of these things is a guarantee of scientific value, as the history of science is full of crackpot theories (e.g., AIDS denialism) that are the heavily-footnoted products of people with letters after their names. But most people will not be able to spot the scientific weaknesses of such work. Outside of academia, few understand concepts such as peer review. Jordynn Jack describes one dubious article that appeared in a non-peer-reviewed publication: “Regardless of the scientific validity of the article, though, the writers perform the writing style quite effectively. It would be difficult for the layperson to distinguish this article from any other scientific research paper, especially if one did not investigate the nature of the journal … or of the scientific response to the article.”
Sahil Loomba, Alexandre de Figueiredo, Simon J. Piatek, Kristen de Graaf & Heidi J. Larson have an article in Nature Human Behavior titled "Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA."
[We] having the most impact on lowering their vaccination intent was made to have a scientific appeal, such as emphasizing on a direct link between a COVID-19 vaccine and adverse effects while using scientific imagery or links to strengthen their claims. However, our design does not allow causal inferences and we were limited in the type and volume of misinformation presented to respondents.
Larson has identified certain false narratives that are especially effective in eroding vaccine confidence. When participants were shown anti-vax material that seemed to be rooted in science, for example, they were more likely to be swayed. “The more scientific-looking pieces had more impact,” Larson said. One image, which had already been shared widely online, showed DNA and RNA spirals, and warned, baselessly, that mRNA vaccines will “literally alter your DNA.” (“It will wrap itself into your system,” the caption read. “You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.”) The image “looks like it’s straight out of a genomics textbook,” Larson said. It got more traction than one that hinted, not subtly, at a global conspiracy to reduce population numbers through the pandemic and the vaccine. It showed a shadowy Bill Gates in dark glasses, like an action star “in a Bollywood film or something,” Larson said.