At the Research Digest, a site sponsored by the British Psychological Society, there is an article titled: “Correcting False Beliefs about Vaccines Can Be Surprisingly Counterproductive.” The brief articles looks at the findings of a recent study examining how attempts to debunk myths about vaccines, namely that they can give you the flue, can be counterproductive among the most vehement vaccine skeptics. When presented with facts about vaccines that debunk popular myths, the quarter of the adults who questioned vaccine safety still did not intend to get vaccinated after being educated on the topic. They merely came up with other new concerns about vaccinations. It’s called the Backfire Effect.
The rest of the article discusses approaches one might use to get through to these intense skeptics and avoid the Backfire Effect. In my opinion, there are additional issues and concerns about myths and myth busting that go beyond those discussed in the article.
The author considers the facts about vaccines that were used in the research to be true, and I don’t doubt that they are based on solid science. A problem arises, however, when the “facts” used to debunk a belief are
- Scientifically questionable
- Only partially true
- Being used to cover up something or for political gain
- Actually beliefs themselves
In many instances, people disagree on the most fundamental facts in our lives; Christians and atheists, conservatives and liberals, socialists and capitalists, etc. What one person believes is a fact is seen by another person as a myth. Even in the scientific realm there is an ever shifting array of research and “facts” telling us, for instance, that wine is both good for us and bad for us, depending on the study. Many believe that what the government or the news media tells us is factual, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary.
We should always rely on provable facts over superstition and conventional wisdom, but we must also be careful in our assumptions about what the facts are.
*Arthur Conan Doyle