Friday, September 26, 2008

Does Local News Coverage of Health and Science Do More Harm Than Good?.....

Tonight I stumbled across yet another unhelpful local news piece on the manufactroversy of the already thoroughly disproven link between childhood immunizations and autism. As expected, it followed beautifully the standard media outline for these types of reports, including the ubiquitous heart-wrenching anecdote of a healthy young child being robbed from his parents by autism caused by evil vaccines. This was followed by a meager discussion of the dangers of not vaccinating, and one very awkward quote from a local pediatrician and vaccine supporter, but the societal damage that I feel comes from these kinds of reports was already done.

The way I found this article was by clicking on the image of a dripping syringe next to the words "Do Childhood Vaccines Do More Harm Than Good?" prominently placed on the home page of the KSHB-TV website. Clearly this was a purposeful attempt at fear mongering to drum up readers. I guess a report titled "Vaccines: They Really Help People and Are Extremely Safe" wouldn't draw too many people in. If these reporters were worth their salt, they would include anecdotes from the parents who didn't lose their children to vaccine preventable illnesses like Haemophilus meningitis or Poliomyelitis, and who were satisfied with their children being vaccinated. There certainly are a heck of a lot more of them out there than the small minority of folks who have drunk the anti-vaccine kool-aid. But maybe just leaving anecdotes out of health and science reporting alltogether would be best.

After reading this report, all that many readers will take home is the sad story about a little boy damaged by vaccines and that vaccines might not be safe for their child. Some of them are the people that don't understand the useless nature of uncontrolled anecdotes or the fallacy of post hoc reasoning, or that are merely looking for powerful stories to support their already deeply held conviction. Some may not even read the entire article or even dismiss the discussion of the benefit of immunizations out of hand. All a conspiracy they'll mutter. It's clear to me that these bullshit pieces of pseudojournalism aren't helping anyone though. They are spreading the contagion of anti-vaccination belief, something which has already led to illness and death that was entirely preventable.

The most telling quote comes from the autistic child's mother. She explains that "The timing was too coincidental to ignore and I definitely believe in my heart the vaccinations triggered his autism,". There isn't anything someone like me, or even Paul Offit himself, could ever tell this woman that would convince her otherwise. At least it isn't very likely. And while I don't blame this poor grieving mother for being ill-equipped to critically wrap her brain around her child's diagnosis, I do blame the media for using her situation for the manipulation of readers via another's loss. Her story isn't news and we don't need to know about it. It serves no purpose other than to mislead and confuse.


Liz Ditz said...

Thanks, Zoo.

I've forwarded your article to a couple of skeptic friends, asking them to add the voice of reason to the comments section of Ryan Kath's gullible article.

It's kind of like whack-a-mole, but less fun.

ThePreemie Experiment said...

Well Zoo, be prepared to be even more disgusted. Awhile back there was a story about a child who was fine before the vaccination and then autistic afterwords. It was the story that brought a lot of attention to the issue and fueled the fear of vaccines. (forgive me for not having a link right now).

Well, later it was said that this child may have had an underlying mitochondrial disorder and that the mito was indeed the cause of the reaction to the vaccine.

Now can you only guess what is happening... parents are demanding their child be screened for mito before vaccines. ARGH! I know of one parent who is even demanding that their child have a muscle biopsy to rule out the mito. Give me a damn break people!!!!!!!!

Pittypat said...

This is basically the same thing that happened with the silicone breast implants brouhaha. Since a member of my family worked for Dow, I kept up with that debacle. Never any evidence, totally disproven scientifically, yet Dow Corning went bankrupt because of the judgments against it. And now? . . . . back to the silicone, babes. Arghhh!