Brendan Nyhan is going to drive me to drink

Last year, I was lucky enough to write an editorial about some research Brendan Nyhan had done, showing that trying to convince people that death panels weren’t real could backfire. Now he’s trying to make me totally depressed about vaccines:

OBJECTIVES: To test the effectiveness of messages designed to reduce vaccine misperceptions and increase vaccination rates for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR).

METHODS: A Web-based nationally representative 2-wave survey experiment was conducted with 1759 parents age 18 years and older residing in the United States who have children in their household age 17 years or younger (conducted June–July 2011). Parents were randomly assigned to receive 1 of 4 interventions: (1) information explaining the lack of evidence that MMR causes autism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (2) textual information about the dangers of the diseases prevented by MMR from the Vaccine Information Statement; (3) images of children who have diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine; (4) a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died of measles from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet; or to a control group.

So he and colleagues (one of whom I know very well) surveyed a random group of Americans. They sent them one of four interventions to convince them that the MMR vaccine is safe, and that it’s needed. Which of these interventions worked best?

None. Not one made it more likely that a parent might intend to give a future child a vaccine.

When they gave evidence that vaccines aren’t linked to autism, that actually made parents who were already skittish about vaccines less likely to get their child one in the future. When they showed images of sick children to parents it increased their belief that vaccines caused autism. When they told a dramatic story about an infant in danger because he wasn’t immunized, it increased parents’ beliefs that vaccines had serious side effects.

Basically, it was all depressing. Nothing was effective. That’s not going to prevent me from doing stuff like this, but I wish something was proven to work.


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