Anti-Vaxxers and The Best Popular Science Writing Ever

I suppose I should qualify that by adding “short form category” to the end, but really, this article at New Atlas is among the best I’ve ever seen from any popular magazine or website. It begins by explaining a finding reached over a decade ago by one researcher each from UMich and Georgia State University. Their conference paper took several years to make it into print in the academic journal, Political Behavior. For reasons that will become clear later, I’ve checked the Dartmouth website that houses the original conference paper and the journal Political Behavior. They appear to be on the up-and-up.

Quoting from the first version, the authors Nyhan and Reifler state:


there is an important distinction between being uninformed and being misinformed. Advocates of heuristics typically assume that voters know they are uninformed and respond accordingly. But many citizens may base their policy preferences on false, misleading, or unsubstantiated information that they believe to be true

So the New Atlas article is going to be about false, misleading, or unsubstantiated information, right? And indeed the article is titled, Pro-vaccine facts only strengthen doubter’s misconceptions. Unfortunately for the reader, Nyhan and Reifler’s work was not replicated by certain others. The Social Science Research Network (also, apparently, a real and relatively reputable organization) published work with a larger cohort size which seems to undermine evidence of any backfire effect resulting from attempts to counter misconceptions.

And then? Then the New Atlas article gets good. I happily encourage you to visit the site and read one of the best short bits of science and scientific thinking you’re ever likely to see from a popular website or magazine.



  1. Some Old Programmer says

    Wow. It is a remarkable article when I have to stop halfway through, think, only to say “I … just … don’t know.” A great, brutal confrontation of my own confirmation bias.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Yeah. That was exactly my experience as well.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Good article, bad headline: the study explains nothing of “how” the reported effect occurs.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    good point, Pierce R Butler.

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