Today’s Daily Read relates to the post I wrote a few days ago about how difficult it can be to convince people to accept ideas that go against their already strongly-held beliefs. I actually have two articles to share today. The first, from the Washington Post, made my eyeballs pulse with rage when I read it: it talks about a medical doctor in Arizona who has catapulted into the media spotlight because he supports anti-vaxxers. Jack Wolfson is a cardiologist who now practices holistic medicine. He supports his anti-vaccination stance with thoroughly unscientific and debunked ideas about “chemicals” in vaccines being harmful (forgetting or ignoring the fact that there are chemicals in everything); arguing that people should get viruses because they are natural (clearly he has never heard of the naturalistic fallacy – just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you); and proposing that following a paleolithic diet provides enough immune protection to make vaccines unnecessary (not considering that paleolithic humans had infant mortality rates of over 50 percent, life spans of around 40 years, and suffered from boom and bust food cycles that could leave them malnourished, vitamin and mineral deficient, and prone to disease; not to mention that he hasn’t considered the fact that “paleo” diets were incredibly diverse depending on which population of ancient humans you are following. I, for one, wonder how many modern followers of paleo would go the Inuit route and eat almost nothing but raw fish and seal blubber). Of course, Wolfson has been embraced by anti-vaxxers as a champion, especially in light of the ongoing measles outbreak.
The second article is from last year and comes from Chris Mooney of Mother Jones. I linked to it in my post from a few days ago too, but I want to bring it up again here because it discusses a study that shows how presenting anti-vaxxers with information that refutes their views causes them to embrace those views even more fervently. I include it because even though people like Wolfson make me want to pelt them with facts and studies, I have to remind myself that the backfire effect, as detailed in Mooney’s article, makes this approach futile. Fortunately there is some new research that is looking into how to approach these issues in a way that makes people receptive to new information, but so far, it seems that most people are still yelling past each other and not changing any minds at all.