Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media
99% of experts support the view that childhood vaccinations are safe and effective, whilst 1% do not. Why, then, would the mainstream media give any kind of air time to science deniers?
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 October 2013
Imagine this scenario: you’re covering a story on circumnavigating the globe so you interview a geographer to get their views, but for the sake of balance you also get a representative from the Flat Earth Society. Seems absurd right?
Sure. But as a scientist, I see this kind of ridiculous “balance” happening all the time in stories concerning science and medicine. And it's not just bad because it insults my delicate scientifical sensibilities, research now tells us that it can actually be harmful.
Let’s look at vaccination as an example. Assume that 99% of experts support the view that childhood vaccinations are overwhelmingly safe and effective, whilst 1% do not. Why then would the mainstream media run stories where a doctor or scientist offers a qualified, considered, researched, opinion and then turn to a wing nut who’s spent a couple of hours on Dr Google and has decided vaccines are bad, m’kay?
There’s a term to describe giving more time to opposing view points than the evidence actually supports – false balance.
So okay, my “feelpinions” might get hurt, but does it really matter otherwise? Well yes, it turns out it does.
A recent study reports that stories about vaccines that include false balance are actually more dangerous than those that are purely anti-vaccine. Yes, you read that correctly. Stories that offer both sides of the coin can have a greater negative influence on people’s decision to not vaccinate than those that are purely anti-vaccine.