Monday, 8 February 2010

Chris Mooney: Science has to be more unscientific

Chris Mooney, after failing to lower the heat in other topics of science, has proposed his solution to all "controversies." Scientists should play nice and stop invoking facts and reason when confronted with the infectious disease promotion movement. Weird Things notes:
Previously, he’s done this with the evolution/creationism manufactroversy and scientific literacy. Now, after managing not to resolve either problem and missing the fact that blaming scientists for a culture which rejects science and expertise as a manifestation of elitist snobbery doesn’t actually accomplish anything, he’s off to make friends with the anti- vaxers and implore doctors and epidemiologists to build bridges with zealots who demonize their critics as baby-eating monsters.
He concludes:
His suggestions for all those involved in a big public dustup over science to sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, are born from a lack of consideration for the psychology of both sides and the environment from which they come, and if they really worked, he wouldn’t even have to write about militant anti-vaxers and creationists in the first place.
Regarding this way of thinking Orac points out that Mooney:
appears utterly unaware that scientists have been trying to reach out and build bridges to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement for years, if not decades. It hasn't worked. It doesn't work. As Mike Stanton pointed out in a comment, public health bodies courted Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (whom I've discussed recently here, here, and here). The only result is that it raised her profile. She hasn't budged an inch; she is still as anti-vaccine as ever. One recent example that stands out in my mind occurred in 2007, when Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds participated as a consultant in the design of a large study designed to ask whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism. Unfortunately for her, the study failed to find a link. All investigators found were a handful of correlations, both positive and negative, that occurred at a frequency consistent with random chance. In a case of sour grapes, Bernard disowned the study before it was published and then, after it was published, launched attacks against it, even going so far as to write a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine criticizing it.
So, countering a misinformatiion campaign by sitting round a campfire, and holding hands, is the last we need to do. "Every attempt to do so is viewed by them as a sign of weakness or vindication of their crank views, never as an opportunity for compromise." Therefore, science should simply continue to call out the factual errors, and well-known lies, the anti-science groups use to spread their cult. We don't debate the shape of the earth, the aetiology of AIDS, whether our neighbour is in league with Satan, et cetera, either.

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