Over on Vox, there’s an excellent piece about the difficulties of rebutting anti-vaccine scares:
I called Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth who specializes in the sometimes magical thinking people have in politics and health care. In a study on perceptions of flu shots, he found correcting myths had the opposite of the desired effect on the most vaccine-skeptical among us. In another study on the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, he found that myth-busting actually increased some parents’ wariness about the shot. In his political research, he has demonstrated that giving people corrective information can deepen their misperceptions — findings that dishearten any debunker.
The full piece is well worth a read, especially for the implications for political campaigning – simply assuming that you can win over doubters with rational arguments often makes matters worse (emotions need to be appealed to too, and sometimes you have to admit that a particular topic is not a good one to argue over), and also the importance of using trusted, independent voices.