In these articles about Facebook and how it effects procrastination and grades of students, the main argument and question that I have is how can we accurately distinguish whether or not Facebook is actually effecting grades – there are so many other factors to take into consideration besides ones’ GPA. Do you think an experiment having users deactivate their Facebook Pages during one semester of their college career compared to the other semesters using it would be a good way to measure the effects?
Karpinski and Grahmeier both deal with the questionability surrounding the study on Facebook and GPA’s. My questions are: what is the best way to investigate the Facebook’s effect on GPA’s? And, which is the best method in surveying students, open ended questions or closed response?
It’s important to remember that, no matter how valid a statement may be, once it is in the media, the public will do with it what they want. Pesak et al., in “Facebook and academic performance: reconciling a media sensation with data,” attempt to “set the record straight” in terms of the potential relationship between facebook use and grade point averages. Although they claim that Karpinski’s results are highly unlikely and that, in actuality, the two variables have little if any association with one another, Karpinski argues that Pesak. et al.’s study is not without its own flaws. According to Karpinski, the media completely sensationalized a relationship that he was merely trying to share at a conference, and that given Pesak et al.’s bold claims, we should hold their study to far higher standards than we had his.
My question… Whose fault is it? Is Karpinski responsible for instilling the validity of this relationship in the minds of individuals or is the media responsible? And if the media is responsible, are there ways to display study without sensationalizing it?
Several of the readings regarding the Facebook study referred to the importance of being able to differentiate between correlation and causation in finding a link between the social media and GPA. There were also several flaws brought up in each of the studies regarding methodology and the subjects used in the study.
Do you think that there is a significant relationship between Facebook and lower GPA? What do you think would be an accurate way of determining if there is a link, or what factors could aid in lowering uncertainty of whether social media has an effect on GPA?
Both the Karpinski and Pasek et. al. responses note that more research into the potential link (or lack there of) between Facebook and academic performance is needed. Given that both studies examine GPA as a primary measure of success, are there other relevant measures of success that could be explored in future research in an attempt to set the record straight? Examples may include scores on national exams, such as ACT/SAT for high school students or GRE/LSAT/MCAT for college students. Would these measures be more beneficial? What other measures of success or Facebook use would help?
In “Study Finds Link Between Facebook Use, Lower Grades in College,” Grabmeier discusses that students who use Facebook have lower grade point averages than those who do not have accounts. This finding comes from a study done at Ohio State University. The piece states that these results don’t necessarily mean that Facebook leads to lower grades and that there could be other factors that influence this.
My question is: While logging onto Facebook does give students another venue of procrastination, it also can be a useful tool for them to connect with other students in their classes and across the university to learn about different academic events and forums. Overall, do you think that the use of Facebook aids or hurts the academic success of students?
In Holland’s 2009 article, “Facebook and Procrastination,” he discusses an inaccurate media response to a study regarding Facebook use and grades in school. The information published in the media did not reflect to results of the study whatsoever, and Karpinski attributes this misinformation to the media’s “frenzy to be first with the news.”
Do you think this misinformation on the media’s part is an example of expectation bias and/or confirmation bias? Do the publisher’s of the article have any reason to or benefits from claiming a causation in Facebook usage and student’s grades?
In “Facebook and Procrastination”, Holland discusses the huge media response that Karpinski’s pilot study on Facebook and student’s grades received. Holland blames the media for misrepresenting Karpinski’s results, and makes not so subtle digs about “rival researchers” who blamed Karpinski for releasing the study.
My question is who should be blamed when studies that may not be accurate become media sensations? Is it the media, like Holland claims? The scientists?
In their study “Facebook and Academic Performance: Reconciling a Media Sensation with Data,” Pasek et al. attempt to discredit and “set the record straight” for a draft manuscript that implied Facebook and lower grades are correlated. Karpinski, author of the draft manuscript, writes a response to Pasek et al.’s study in which she attempts to discredit it while defending her own. From both articles, educated scientists are in disagreement with each other and are using scientific processes, data, and arguments to combat each other. From this ensuing debate, it becomes clear that when science is in disagreement, the public, media, or even undergraduate educated people are going to fall short of understanding the conversation.
Therefore, my question is, what can we do in light of being educated about the disconnect between science and public opinion?
After reading Why Psychologists Must Change The Way They Analyze Their Data:The Case of Psi , it is evident that in order to convince the scientific community of a theory against scientific norms, a lot of effort is required.
Do you think that it is a good thing that scientists are so hesitant to believe in new theories or is this impeding science in a sense that important scientific discoveries are not receiving enough recognition?
While the science denies it, many people still hold true to the belief that vaccines can lead to the development of autism or autistic characteristics. The truth of the matter is that there are so many different ideas presented to the public about autism in general, that people are being thrown information that has no definite answer. This idea of uncertainty makes the matter of autism difficult to approach and understand.
All too often in situations of public policy, too much time is consumed with the little details that the overall big picture is sometimes neglected. John Pitney recognized this occurrence was happening when dealing with autism, and decided to write a paper sketching out all the facts we know, thus far, about autism, the questions that remain unanswered and ideas in regard to future research. His paper, entitled “Autism Politics: A Research Agenda,” was broken up into six sections, the six stages of the policy process. Stage one, Initiation, he looks into the reasons why autism has just become a national issue in the past decade, when the disorder has existed since at least the 1940s. Stage two, estimation, focuses on the various reasons why autism is so difficult to detect in people. Pitney attributes this uncertainty to the fact that there is still so much haziness in what, exactly, autism entails, and the fact that the disorder exists on a spectrum, rather than a particular and exact list of characteristics. Mobilization is stage three, and Pitney tries to analyze why groups form and how they interact with each other. For example, he discusses how mobilization is a challenge for parents of autistic children because they already spend so much time and money on their children that they have little of each left over for public activity. In stage four, selection, Pitney discusses possible reasons for the unanimous decision to pass the CAA (Combating Autism Act) despite the divide in society on autism opinions. This act led to increased federal support for screening, public education and research. Pitney refers to stage five as implementation, where he considers the level of government funding for autism compared to that for other diseases and disorders, and reviews the impact of the emergence of anti-vaccine groups, which he states caused conflicts when it came to monetary distribution. Evaluation, the final stage, reflects on how autistic people benefit from autism policies, and Pitney argues that they are not, in fact, benefiting. There has been minimal research on long-term benefits, and little literature published providing guidance for people with autism.
Margaret Kerr wrote an essay analyzing the relationship between vaccines and autism. In “Autism and Vaccines: A Health Social Movement,” she writes about how she conducted an experiment exploring, in particular, why autism activists and vaccine activists continue to believe in a connection that has been largely disproved. Kerr examines how and why, despite this, ASD/VL activists organized a movement to prove such a linkage. She found that while ASD/VL activists did use scientific evidence to build their arguments, they depended mostly on their own experiential knowledge and personal beliefs on the autism/vaccine relation. Kerr argues that this is largely due in part to the uncertainty that surrounds the issue of autism. We simply do not have enough knowledge on the relation between the two, or on the disorder of autism itself, for that matter. Kerr seems hopeful in the sense that one day, when we do gain more knowledge on the disorder and the relation it has to vaccines, there will be a cure for autism, yet the matter still needs to become more certain. Kerr explains the differences between activists and medical officials, the major one being that activists keep messages simple and direct while denying uncertainty, while medical professionals and government officials respect the uncertainty. She continues by arguing that the public is better at understanding and interpreting direct messages of the activists, and therefore is likely to agree with these messages, especially if they coincide with their own personal experiences. Kerr advises medical officials to provide a sense of hope to families affected by autism, and maybe then they will be more successful in portraying the message of uncertainty that Kerr presents as the largest issue in this case.
Both Pitney and Kerr express, in one way or another, that there is currently so much information that we still do not know and so many issues are up for debate when it comes to the matter of autism. Pitney attempts to lay out, section by section, the facts that we currently do know and those areas where we need to direct future research. In his final stage, evaluation, he claims that autistic people are not benefiting from autism policies, and that there should be more literature published that guides families afflicted by autism. Kerr, in her essay, argues that the reason for such a disconnect between the general public and medical professionals is the simple fact that there is so much uncertainty surrounding the general autism disorder that it is hard to separate the facts from theories and rumors. This has clearly been an issue in the two other issues we’ve studied thus far – climate change and evolution – and proves to be just as large of an issue with autism.
Is it possible to separate the facts from rumors and theories? If so, how? When people spread rumors or false theories, what harms are they causing themselves and the rest of the public?
Kerr and Offit
In, The Autism Spectrum Disorders/Vaccine Link Debate, Kerr begins his introduction by pointing out the fact that the hypothesis claiming vaccinations may cause ASD has been refuted by very highly regarded institutions including the US Federal Government, Institute of Medicine, and American Academy of Pediatrics. These groups repeatedly defend their stance despite efforts from Safeminds, Generation Rescue, Moms Against Mercury, who have taken this hypothesis in the political realm forcing many serious political discussions. Kerr’s research is done in an attempt to “answer the question of how and why activists continue to mobilize around the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines triggers and/or causes ASD. He refers to organizations such as these as HSM’s (health social movements) and says that “uncertainty alone can be sufficient to generate a HSM.” He revolves his concluding thoughts around “the influence of uncertainty” and claims this debate falls under five different types of uncertainty: diagnostic, etiological, dose-response relationship, synergistic effects, and past body exposure. He also claims these “HSM” movements have an advantage in that they can make bolder claims whereas the government in their refutation is forced to use language that sounds less powerful such as “evidence supports a rejection of the causal hypothesis.” Also, by using simple and direct messages, activists can get around the uncertainty while still being influential. Therefore, parents who are “hungry for answers” jump on board with the activists and since their claims are based on personal experience, they are given credibility. His final thoughts on the matter show an attempt to add a bit of sympathy and empathy for the affected families as he defends their rejection of research’s rejection of a causative link, saying this will help the families continue to hope for a cure. His epilogue further portrays an interesting viewpoint as he adds a thoughtful suggestion to mainstream medicine involved in this debate, stating, “…rather than framing the movement as fringe or radical, attempt to reach out and offer support and understanding and, most importantly, hope.”
Paul Offit, in chapter 8 of Autism’s False Prophets, presents an in-depth, though slightly biased, analysis of the “Omnibus Autism Proceeding” where parents of children with autism took their case to court in 2007. He starts by pointing out the setting of the case: “They were suing the federal government in a federal court.” Obviously, this was not a historical first, but Offit is right in pointing out this was not ideal for the plaintiffs. After discussing the terms of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, he points out that none of the three judges had a professional background in science or medicine, and that “although scientists had already rendered a verdict on whether MMR or thimerosal caused autism, these judges would be the final arbiters of scientific truth.” Offit then portrays the lawyers for the plaintiffs as some fat cat lawyers with an agenda make money off of the twelve year old, Michelle, who suffers from autism. Offit then presents the story provided by the parents of Michelle on how their daughter’s autism came about. Then the plaintiffs used experts to provide an explanation for her autism. However, after the defense questioned the expertise of Aposhian, Bryers, and Kinsbourne, and after all of the claims related to the study from Wakefield were thrown out of the window by an expert of the highest credentials, molecular biologist Stephen Bustin, the prosecution was very weakened. In short, the Court ruled that the combination of MMR and thimerosal didn’t cause autism. Offit claims they “sided with science”.
Although both Offit and Kerr both agree with the scientific conclusion that refutes the hypothesis made by the activists, Kerr seems to be more sympathetic to the parents of autistic children who pushed this issue onto the federal court. From the beginning of the discussion on whether autism could be caused by vaccines or mercury, Offit seemed to take a defensive, albeit convincing, approach to dealing with those under this belief. Much of his chapter reviewing the court hearings and final decision was filled with preconceived notions that those from the activist groups did not have the credentials to make such claims and that their arguments were weak and invalid. He also spent a good portion of this chapter questioning the motives of the lawyers involved in addition to the qualifications of the judges to make a important decision on a scientific matter. This leads me to question how it is possible to stay “objective” when discussing this matter since people clearly will have a preconceived viewpoint one way or the other.
While Offit is clearly biased when judging the parents of those with ASD, Kerr, on the other hand, at the very least attempted to remain objective in presenting his piece regarding how and why such HSM movements form. By illustrating his thoughts as to why he believes these groups form, he appears to show empathy for the parents. He sees them as organizing around shared experiences in hopes of finding a solution, rather than organizing for the purposes of pure compensation like Offit frequently claims. He further believes that mainstream medicine attacks these people too much, and should instead provide support, understanding, and hope.
Is the formation of groups such as Safeminds, Generation Rescue, Moms Against Mercury helpful, harmful, or neutral in finding a solution to autism?
Is it possible to disagree with some of the beliefs of these groups while simultaneously providing “support, understanding, and hope”?
The introduction to the Kerr piece explained the concern that some people have with vaccines containing too much mercury, thus leading to Autism Spectrum Disorders in their children. Kerr performs a study to answer the question of “how and why activists continue to mobilize around the hypothesis that mercury vaccines triggers and/or causes ASD”, when there has not been enough scientific evidence to prove their case. The analysis of data and interviews are performed in this study to “a) outline the challenges to Western mainstream medicine’s cultural authority; b) describe and analyze ASD/VL activists’ organization and mobilization; and c) investigate how and why ASD/VL activists deploy personal experience to contest arguments that are scientific in nature.” Kerr concluded that the most consistent theme was uncertainty. He used Brown et. al’s five reasons “why uncertainty influences whether or not a particular illness or disease will be contested”: 1) uncertainty of the body’s past exposure – it is hard for them to determine the levels of mercury they have been exposed to, 2) uncertainty in knowledge of dose-response relationship – which we are unsure of with mercury and the body’s amount it can take, 3) uncertainty of synergistic effects – how does the body process mercury, 4) etiological uncertainty – what is the cause, and 5) diagnostic uncertainty – the problem of reliable and valid rates of diagnosis of ASD is contested because how do we know symptom x causes disease y? Kerr was also surprised with his finding that the influence of experimental knowledge was as prominent as it was.
Chapter 8 of the Offit book talks about how parents of children with autism took this matter to court, but they had to take it to federal court and convince three judges-which they would much rather have it brought to a state court with a jury. Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986. In this act was the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which if parent’s felt that their children were hurt by vaccines they would then sue the federal government. In this program are a list of vaccine injuries, and a child would be compensated if the studies showed that the vaccine did cause harm. There were so many claims about vaccines causing autism in 1999-2007 that they decided to try the claims together. There were three different theories claiming that vaccines cause autism: MMR caused autism, thimerosal caused autism, and the combination of the two caused autism. The rest of the chapter talks about specific cases that were on trial.
Even though these readings were quite different, both had a common underlying factor; the factor being these “activists/petitioners” have a strong belief that vaccines are in fact causing autism to happen in their children. We learned in Kerr’s study that uncertainty is apparent throughout his research, it is very hard for people to answer the five questions of uncertainty pertaining to vaccines causing autism. So if there is so much uncertainty and very limited scientific evidence that these vaccines are causing autism in children, why do you feel like over 5,000 cases were tried in vaccine courts between 1999-2007? Do you believe that government officials have that much effect in what they say about this issue? When Kerr mentions the fact that they can’t say things with such bold and direct claims as activists does that maybe cause others to be skeptical of the issue?
When it comes to today’s fast-paced society where information is transmitted and interpreted on an almost instant basis, people tend to seek the easiest and most direct approach to problem solving. Such is the case in the mobilization around vaccines having a causal role in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Despite the fact that scientific data refutes the hypothesis that vaccination has even a minimal relation to autism diagnosis, much of the public continues to believe that it does. Why? Because ASD/vaccine link activists provide the easiest and most accessible way for people to grab onto hope, while scientists provide confusing, complex, and often grim conclusions of potential causes and cures to the disorder.
In “Autism and Vaccines: A health Social Movement,” Kerr investigates “how and why activists continue to mobilize around the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines triggers and/or causes ASD.” Kerr evaluates survey data and conducts in-depth interviews in order to examine the effects of activist groups on the interpretations of mainstream medicine. In particular, her work addresses “challenges to Western mainstream medicine’s cultural authority,” looks at “ASD/VL activists organization and mobilization,” and, lastly “investigates how and why ASD/VL activists deploy personal experience to contest arguments that are scientific in nature.” What Kerr points out is the lack of scientific evidence rooted in activists’ arguments, but ease of accessibility and understanding to them. She exposes the difficulty that official have in explaining scientific data while still avoiding making sweeping conclusions. Officials, scientists, and doctors are forced to speak to the media, but must take care to stay true to the data. “For example”, she says “ rather than saying vaccines do not cause autism, the IOM stated ‘evidence supports a rejection of the causal hypothesis,’ a watered down, much less powerful declaration.” Activists on the other hand, to not adhere to scientific data, but also, do not have a responsibility to do so. They “are able to make very bold, and very direct claims.” The result is that the information they are transmitting is easy to understand and, therefore, easy to agree with. It is much easier to side with people one can identify with and easily comprehend than to side with officials who cloud their conclusions with complex scientific jargon and difficult concepts.
Due to the fact that scientists make their conclusions and evidence so hard to understand, people are often weary of trusting those scientists, officials, and doctors. Therefore, according to Offit in chapter 10 of his book, “If we don’t trust them, how can we believe what they are saying is certain?” In chapters 8 and 10, Offit discusses the autism- vaccine link in terms of federal court hearings and the way society interprets science. He says that, “Between 1999 and 2007, 5,000 parents filed claims that vaccines had caused children’s autism.” This was more than any other claim made and children were compensated if studies showed that they had been harmed by the vaccine. In the specific case of the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, 3 judges sided with science; they ruled that “the combination of MMR and thimerosal did not cause autism,” and their conclusions “left virtually no room for a successful appeal.” But, if that was the case, why do people still continue to believe that there is truth in the link between autism and MMR vaccination? Offit discusses society’s relationship with science as the reason many people still believe this. He says that science is influenced by society and that often people equate “common belief” with “common wisdom.” Offit describes today’s popular culture as one that is “dominated by cynicism and hungry for scandal.” He believes that many are motivated to disapprove of scientific data because they are insecure about the truth in it. Much of the public feel that doctors and pharmaceutical companies will do anything for profit. A lot of these beliefs, Offit explains, stem out of the media. Our society is impressionable and media plays a large, if not the largest role, if how people interpret and understand important information. In movies like The Fugitive, where a pharmaceutical company hires a hit man to kill a doctor who finds out that one of the company’s drugs causes fatal liver damage, people have a difficult time separating television from reality. Although they realize the fiction in stories like this, the idea is then in their heads and interpreted as a possibility. And on that note, even when it comes to real-life people expressing science in the media, the public will believe people’s direct and bold statements.
The bottom line is that people will take in and remember what is easiest to understand; they will see the truth in ideas they have time to and ability to grasp. How can doctors, scientists, and officials effectively convince the public of the truth in their conclusions on the lack of evidence in the link between vaccines and autism? How can they make what they say easy to understand, while still being careful of sticking to the true data?
This week’s readings further emphasized how although scientists have ample evidence against a link between vaccines and autism, uncertainty still persists within media and the general public. With the many different organizations, reports, acts, etc. that have emerged with regard to the debate of autism, many different opinions have been generated by policymakers and the public on how to deal with different concerns in relation to vaccines causing ASD. On one hand, there are scientists/experts that have tried to persuade people that vaccines are not the cause of autism, but parents and media sources seem to be torn. After reading chapter 8 of Offit as well as Kerr’s study, it would seem as though the media and parents would be holding on to the claim that vaccines/thimerosal is linked to autism because there is no other strong claim being made as to its cause. Therefore, as long as a claim is being made as to the cause, then there is always a potential to at least attempt to find a preventative cure. If the link was completely taken off the table, then media would lose valuable stories and profit, and parent’s hope of finding a cure would severely diminish.
Chapter 8 in Autism’s False Prophets focuses on a lawsuit made to determine whether Michelle Cedillo’s autism was caused by the MMR vaccine. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act states that if parents think their children were harmed by vaccines then they could sue for compensation. In Michelle’s case, petitioners argued that prior to receiving the MMR vaccine Michelle’s development was normal and she was very social. However after the MMR vaccine, she developed a severe fever and there was a loss of acquired skills. However, the defense presented by Eric Fombonne (leading expert on autism) and Stephen Bustin (PCR expert) proved that Michelle had symptoms of autism months before the vaccine was given to her. Further, Bustin proved that the use of Wakefield’s study by the petitioners would be to no avail because Wakefield put results in his study that his colleagues had stated were false positives/all negative. In essence, this chapter provided knowledge of scientific experts in the field of autism to disprove the theory that vaccines/thimerosal are potential causes of the disorder, and how that knowledge is applied to court cases like Michelle’s.
In Kerr’s study, the question being asked was how/why activists continue to mobilize around the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines triggers or causes autism. Using surveys, interviews, and documents, Kerr focused on the changing boundaries of legitimacy of knowledge, credibility, and authority in mainstream medicine. The conclusion was that the most consistent theme is uncertainty that can be caused by many factors. For example, although scientists have evidence that prove there’s no link, they must use qualifiers in order to protect their reputation if others tried to prove them wrong. Activists on the other hand have no need to use qualifiers and have the ability to make bold direct claims. Also, the fact that each side must be presented in media sources is misleading and makes people think there is uncertainty when in fact there is not.
So comparing the scientific expert’s opinions presented in the Offit chapter and the prevalence of uncertainty found in Kerr’s study, why do you think that parents and activists are still debating whether vaccines cause autism? Do you think that people’s different experiences with autism as well as different messages projected by organizations heavily influence what is in the media, and what could be done to mitigate this uncertainty?
For the past 12 weeks, we have been examining three different issues that have made a splash in the media: intelligent design, climate change, and now vaccines and autism. We have seen that while scientists reach a consensus, the public does not necessarily follow their lead. Scientists have found no link between vaccines and autism, yet politicians and parents refuse to let their beliefs go. Kerr and Offitt examine the battle between science and parents, who have unwavering beliefs that while the science claims otherwise, vaccines caused their child’s autism. Both Kerr and Offitt found that even given scientific evidence, parents relied on the “evidence” of their children’s stories.
In chapter 8 “Science in Court”, Offitt looks at the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, a 2007 court case in which parents attempted to sue the federal government over vaccines. The petitioners had three different theories of how vaccines harmed their children: the MMR caused autism, thimerosol in the vaccines caused autism, and finally the combination of MRR and thimerosol caused autism. For each theory, the petitioners trotted out an autistic child, whose parents believed only regressed after given a vaccine. The defense (the federal government) had experts in the field of vaccines and autism, who discredited the petitioner’s scientists, and proved to the judges that there was no link between autism and vaccine. While the defense had science, the petitioners relied on anecdotal evidence (the autistic children) that showed the devastating effects of autism. While heartbreaking, the autistic children are not scientific evidence (nor evidence enough for the court) that vaccines were to blame.
Similarly, Kerr’s “The Autism Spectrum Disorders/Vaccine Link Debate: a Health Social Movement” found that activists of ASD/Vaccine Link rely on “their own experiential knowledge to inform their personal beliefs on ASD causation and treatment.” Parents of children with ASD formed groups that produced scientific research in order to gain credibility, but science is not the foundation of their movement, experience is. No matter what science says, these parents will continue to trust their own beliefs and observations about their children to color their views.
While science has a certain authority, parents and activists of ASD/VL consistently rely on their own brand of science, which often contradicts experts’ opinions. Parents are desperate to know what caused their children to regress, and have latched onto a hypothesis. My question is, is there a way that scientists, or the media, can frame their results to make parents understand that vaccines do not cause autism? Is it more important to find the cause of autism or the cure?
In the readings for this week, the overarching theme appears to be that the public is uncertain about the vaccine-autism issue and thus will be most likely to believe information that is direct and consistent with their personal beliefs on the matter. Offit and Kerr’s pieces both point out interesting ideas to support this thesis.
In his chapter 10 of his book, “Science and Society,” Offit takes a negative stance on the portrayal of the vaccine-autism situation. Offit notes that our culture is dominated by cynicism and scandal, so many people have negative attitudes toward doctors, scientists, and public health officials, thinking that they cater to the pharmaceutical companies that are primarily concerned with making a profit. The public is constantly swayed by movies and television that pharmaceutical companies are “evil.” Offit also brings to attention the negative force of the internet medium. In terms of the vaccine-autism controversy, parents decide they don’t want their children to get MMR or thimerosal-containing vaccines, because they think that the vaccines will cause autism. These parents claim to have done their research on this, but their research is coming from a variety of websites on the internet. Offit views this as problematic, since the internet is unfiltered and advice can be misleading. People do not take the time or have the ability to understand scientific studies on the vaccines and autism to realize the truth. Instead they are more likely to be swayed by a personal, emotional experience. Some people have brought faith into the issue to persuade people against thimerosal vaccines. Others have tried to scare the public. It doesn’t help matters that the public has a tendency towards alternative medicines, because they are constantly looking for other solutions, such as antibiotics or therapies to cure autism, though this can be harmful. Overall, in this chapter, Offit focuses on how the American public views the environment, world and medical companies in a negative way and thus, they have anti-vaccine perceptions convinced that these thimerosal vaccines lead to autism.
In his piece, “The Autism Spectrum Disorders/Vaccine Link Debate: A Health Social Movement,” Kerr also holds a somewhat negative view, but is also hopeful for change. Kerr presents that the most consistent theme across debates of the vaccine-autism controversy was uncertainty. While over the past 10 years, parents of children with autism and activist groups have hypothesized that mercury found in vaccines is partially or completely responsibly for their children developing autism, the U.S. government, Institute of Medicine (IOM), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) deny this hypothesis and say that there is no scientific evidence to support that there is a causal relationship between the two. Kerr also explains why activist messages may be accepted by the public than medical professionals. Kerr presents that activists are able to keep their messages simple and direct, denying the uncertainty of the issue, while medical officials and the government take a more restricted approach respecting scientific uncertainty. The public is able to understand the concise and direct message better and it is more likely to support their own personal experiences, which result in the public believing the message since it is what they want to hear. The ability of activists to portray a pleasant picture has been successful, while mainstream medicals too often present inconclusive research and no hope for a cure. In order to be more successful in reaching the public with their message, Kerr suggests that mainstream medicine needs to reach out and offer support to families, be more understanding, and most importantly offer hope.
While both Offit and Kerr present that people are being convinced to be anti-vaccine, they give different reasoning for this. Offit puts more of an emphasis the negativity in the world leading to people believing this. This includes the negative ways in which people view the environment, pharmaceutical companies, and their ability to find support for their personal views in religious leaders, and opinionated pieces on the internet. Kerr focuses more on the influence of activist groups and their ability to portray their message in a more direct and less uncertain way than scientists and medical professionals do. Offit presents his article with negativity of the public and their perception of the issue with no solution to the problem, while Kerr offers hope in that if mainstream medicals frame their message in a way more appealing to the public, it could become more effective and engage them more.
Based on the readings, I question: What solutions do you have in terms of how the medicals, doctors, and scientists can better frame their message so they appeal to the public, yet still present the scientific truth on vaccinations and autism?
Kerr and Offit discuss how easily autism can be turned into a movement against scientific evidence by the public. Kerr frames the movements around autism under the theme of uncertainty. Autism easily falls into five types of science-related uncertainty. Parents and the public appear uncertain as to what past exposure to thimerosal means, what the dose-response relationship is, the synergistic effects, etiological uncertainty, and diagnostic uncertainty. Despite the prevailing scientific research to suggest that autism and vaccines do not have a relationship, the uncertainty that individuals feel, and that is perpetuated by the media, often trumps scientific evidence. Additionally, the movement groups that surround autism have a clear advantage over government officials and scientist, who cannot make bold, dramatic claims, in an effort to present scientific fact, not conjecture.
Offit, in Chapter 10, delves into how science can be a limiting factor in the publics’ understanding of autism and vaccines. Science, a way of thinking about a problem, is frequently misunderstood by the public. People don’t understand the scientific method, coincidence vs. causality, have archaic beliefs, and are more swayed by religion. unfortunately, in the absence of the glamorous figures the movements surrounding autism have, scientists have a hard time presenting facts to an often unbelieving public. It is easy to scare people, and autism science does not fit the culture of today.
Both Kerr and Offit realize the disconnect between the public and the scientific evidence. Unfortunately, despite extensive research, the public appears to be interested in what celebrities and non-experts have to say about autism. Kerr focuses on uncertainty as a reason why parents and citizens at large are able to disregard science, whereas Offit focuses on the disconnect between science and the public. The media, clearly, filters much of the scientific content to the public and appears to play a role in both disconnect hypothesis. For example, the media lend credit to uncertainty themes when they give both sides equal weight to discuss an issue, when one side lacks scientific credibility. The media also does not do enough to ensure that the public is able to understand scientific findings on the topic. Overall, it appears that both hypothesis as to the disconnect are credible to some extent, and that the media seems to have a detrimental effect on the public’s knowledge about autism. To what extent is the public lack of information/belief based on uncertainty themes or lack of scientific understanding, or both? What role does the media play?
The battle over whether vaccines cause Autism becomes nastier each year with more and more people being persuaded by unsupported claims.. With the help from other non-scientific politicians in the United States claiming a need for concern and the media portraying the science of the issue in an uncertain way, citizens are focusing too much energy on promoting their claim on whether vaccines do or not cause Autism. Because of the high levels of uncertainty involving ASD science, it is important for people to trust the findings we have and accept that there may never be a for sure answer on whether vaccines cause Autism. It is the job of media workers to report on the scientific findings that have come about and encourage citizens to do more important things like encourage more research or fight for the rights of Autistic individuals.
In The Autism Spectrum Disorders / Vaccine Link Debate: A Health Social Movement, researchers claim uncertainty is very prevalent in the science of Autism and its relationship to vaccines. While many studies have shown no correlation between vaccines and Autism, the viewpoint of those who stress the uncertainties in Autism science is often featured in journalist pieces. Because this uncertainty is often a key element of journalist pieces, Kerr claims this is fuel for the fire regarding the debate. It is important for debaters to be aware that a finding to completely prove or disprove causation may not be obtainable due to the uncertainties listed by Kerr including etiological uncertainty, diagnostic uncertainty, and media uncertainty. For example, studies on how mercury affects the body will most likely not ever be acceptable because humans cannot be test subjects for such dangerous experiments. While those uncertainties are crucial in understanding the debate, media outlets need to give coverage to studies that disprove a correlation more often than they currently do. While these studies do not prove causation, they are more valid then findings from the other side of the argument.
In Autism Politics: A Research Agenda, Pitney discusses different groups or opinions on the issue that are often hidden by journalists in the coverage of the debate. Groups with positive and unbiased beliefs such as the Autism Science Foundation encourage more scientific research and public education regarding the issue. If this perspective was highlighted more in the media, it is likely that citizens would react more rationally and channel their focus on finding more evidence for the debate. Also, Pitney also highlights an important group which is RARELY mentioned in news coverage, the opinions of people with autism. Groups such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network focus their energy on gaining a political voice so they can take action for themselves, rather than arguing a debate which may never be solved. If these types of actions were presented in the media more, audiences might better focus their time on aiding those already affected and let the research battle it out instead.
Overall, proving a relationship between Autism and vaccines is difficult. It is important to note how effective vaccines have been since their invention. If media uncertainty is constantly promoted by journalists, more parents may be convinced to not vaccinate their children. This jeopardizes not only the health of those children, but it impacts herd immunity. It is important for both the media and citizens to weigh the risks of both options based on scientific evidence. As of now, it is clear that vaccines do help prevent diseases while their responsibility for causing others is not proven.
The question I pose is, do you think that parents efforts to discredit vaccines are helpful for society or would a fight for more research be more helpful?
In line with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act of 1986, more than 5000 parents attempted to sue the federal government because they believed that vaccines had caused autism in their children. The courts ruled against these petitioners and declared that vaccines are not related to autism. This, along with the political policies of autism, have left parents feeling unsatisfied, afraid, and frustrated.
Paul Offit explains this court case, called the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, in chapter 8 of his book Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Between 1997 and 2007, more than 5000 cases were filed claiming that vaccines had caused autism. Due to the enormous number of filers, it was decided to have one hearing for them all, much like a class-action lawsuit. The proceeding centered on Michelle Cedillo, a girl who appeared to have developed autism after receiving a vaccination with Thimerosal in it. The petitioners’ lawyers presented their expert witnesses, trying to convince a panel of three judges that the Thimerosal in Michelle’s vaccine caused her autism. However, the defense discredited these expert witnesses, while presenting their own who argued that vaccines did not cause autism. In the end, the three judges ruled in favor of the defense. Looking deeper, this trial can be seen as the hope of thousands of parents seeking some sort of legal resolution for their children’s autism. These parents are looking for answers, and eager to latch onto any that present themselves, such as vaccines.
John Pitney takes a step back and encompasses autism policy entirely in his article “Autism Politics: A Research Agenda.” Autism policy and politics thus far can be laid out in the 6 stages of the policy process. These stages are Initiation, Estimation, Mobilization, Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation. In the initiation stage, autism was first described in 1943 and defined as a disability in a congressional act in 1975. The estimation stage includes the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, and reflects the uncertainty and disagreement over the definition, extent, causes, and costs of autism. Groups interested in autism, whether new or preexisting, form in order to influence policy. However, this mobilization stage suffers from conflicts within the groups. The selection stage involves the successful passing of the Combating Autism Act (CAA), which lead to increased federal support for autism screening, public education, and scientific research. In the implementation stage, more conflicts arose as anti-vaccine groups reemerged, the extraordinarily high funding for autism overshadowed funding for other diseases, and the actual money being distributed for special needs was not necessarily being used for that purpose. The evaluation stage reveals that autistic people are not benefiting greatly from the policy surrounding autism, and parents are afraid for their autistic children.
While autism policy overall has led to the passing of the Combating Autism Act, which provides very generous federal funding for autism, the internal conflicts, confusion, and disagreement amongst the public groups must leave parents feeling dissatisfied. The fact that policy has advanced far enough to where autism is receiving considerable funding should provide some hope for parents, but the ways in which that funding is being applied crushes that hope. In one sense, money has largely gone towards research and law cases surrounding a link between vaccines and autism. While this research is not bad, showing that thankfully autism is not linked with vaccines, the continued pursuit of this association has led to both monetary and scientific excess. The Omnibus Autism Proceeding was a prime example of this, and parents who have been investing their hopes at the outcome of that trial must return to square one. Meanwhile, funding being allocated for the purpose of autism is being reassigned to other needs as institutions see fit. Again, this must be the source of great frustration to parents of autistic children. Together, confusing and conflicting autism policy has left parents unfulfilled, still yearning for answers, and afraid.
My Question: If you were a parent, and your child had autism, what would you do after learning that vaccines are not related to autism?
As technology continues to develop, the human need for things to happen as quickly as possible grows too. This being said, people have a tendency to jump to conclusions and form ideas without evidence to back it up. The media adds to this effect, for it has the ability to adjust opinions and beliefs almost immediately. Many parents who have experienced changes in their children’s behaviors after getting vaccines automatically jump to the conclusion that one thing were somehow connected to the other, and the assumption that vaccines cause autism. However, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. In his article “Vaccines and the Changing Epidemiology of Autism,” Taylor argues that autism is not necessarily caused by vaccines, as he discusses prevalence versus incidence. Further discrediting the connection between vaccines and autism is Mnookin’s chapter, “Cognitive Biases and Availability Cascades.” In reading both these articles it becomes evident that the assumption that vaccines can lead to the development of autistic characteristics is not validated and needs to be further investigated before this relationship is proven true.
Mnookin, in this chapter, explains that humans have a tendency to let emotions get in the way of decision-making. Expectation bias occurs when people conduct an experiment, yet already hold the hypothesis to be true. Confirmation bias takes place when we assume we are right and find evidence that supports are already-existent beliefs, yet what we should be doing is looking for reasons that we may be wrong. Mnookin also discusses the “availability cascade,” which is the principle that says that the perception that a belief is widely held, is enough to make it be believed by many. Basically it states that by increasing the availability of an idea in the public sphere, it also increases the amount of people who hold such a belief to be true, and allows for more extreme opinions. For example, as beliefs that vaccines cause autism grow in proportion to the number of people talking about it, more and more people will hold such beliefs to be true. However, Mnookin argues that this happening of the blind leading the blind is dangerous, for it leads to polarization – people will increasingly surround themselves with like-minded people. In doing so, people will be more inclined to believe that their beliefs are correct, and fail to seek out counter-arguments that discredit these beliefs. He also discusses the media and Internet’s role in this process. “Consumers abandon the presumed neutrality of the networks in favor of cable news telecasts that gratify viewers by feeding them exaggerated versions of the opinions they already hold.” Similarly, the Internet makes it easy to avoid seeing things we don’t want to, and only see those things that we already agree with. Through this chapter, readers see Mnookin’s argument that emotions interfere with the ability to make unbiased decisions, and therefore, people who believe that vaccines lead to autism need to put their biases and emotions aside in order to hold rational and truthful opinions.
Taylor’s article further contends that the relation between vaccines and autism is unjustified. He contrasts the two concepts of prevalence and incidence and shows that although they are commonly used interchangeably, they are two very different concepts. He defines prevalence as the numbers of people in a given population who have a “defined” disorder, while incidence is the number of new cases of a condition occurring in a population over a defined period of time. He argues that simply because there has been an increase of reported autism cases, it does not mean that autism cases are necessarily increasing in number. He discusses possibilities as to why the number of autism cases seems to be increasing. He states that while there has been an increase in people diagnosed with autism, simultaneously there has been a decrease in the number of people diagnosed with mental retardation. This brings up the idea that the diagnoses have changed over the years, or that there were under diagnoses in the past. In describing the evidence for vaccines causing autism, the claims are somewhat illegitimate, such as the testimonies of parents. As of now, there is no proof that vaccines lead to autism, and Taylor makes clear in his article that until we get direct evidence that supports such claims, it is wrong to assume that this is the case.
The fact that people are too quick to reach conclusions and will believe just about anything they hear on TV or read on the Internet has proven to be a larger issue than it would seem. It is leading people to jump to false presumptions and neglect to find evidence that proofs them to be wrong. Some of the diseases that vaccines are given for haven’t been around in a while and, therefore the seriousness of such illnesses are being slowly forgotten. Mnookin says that people need to have the ability to put their emotions aside when making decisions, for biases lead to misinformation and misinterpretations. Taylor states that we cannot jump to such conclusions about the relationship between vaccines and autism, for we need to look at the other side of the argument. In neglecting to vaccinate children against serious diseases based upon claims that have not been proven, it puts the larger society at risk in the sense that such sicknesses may someday return in abundance.
From a parents’ perspective, is it safer to vaccinate your child and raise the slim possibility of developing autism, or to choose to not vaccinate your child and raise the possibility of contracting diseases such as chicken pox and measles? While the majority of people contract the chicken pox virus and survive, is a vaccination for it, and illnesses of the same sort, really necessary?
The first article that I read over was the Evan’s piece and in this piece a focus group study was performed to gauge parents’ perspectives on the MMR immunization. Six focus groups were split, half consisted of parents who had accepted MMR and the other half consisted of parents who had refused MMR. They found that there was four key factors that influenced parents’ decisions about MMR: “a) beliefs about the risks and benefits of MMR compared with contracting the diseases, b) information from the media and other sources about the safety of MMR, c) confidence and trust in the advice of health professionals and attitudes towards compliance with this advice, and d) views on the importance of individual choice within Government policy on immunization.”
Chapter 3 of the Offit book talked about the repercussions of Andrew Wakefield’s paper and adverse impact that the paper had on the MMR and link to autism. It goes into detail of four of five things that he states that are incorrect. As well as how the decline of vaccinations occurred because of this paper. Studies were done to counteract his argument and no evidence was found that MMR increases the risk of autism, simply just the fact the the amount of autistic children has increased.
These articles all go back to the underlying question of consensus. If everyone agreed that MMR is linked to autism, then there wouldn’t be a problem. But if there is a thought from parents that there is any link, no matter how strong, long, thick, or thin the link is, of MMR to autism then of course the job of receiving MMR is going to decline. And if it is the job of healthcare professionals to meet a certain quota of vaccinations, then this is going to cause parents not to trust them. It’s a vicious cycle. So what can be done to help parents trust their healthcare professionals more? What can be done to get healthcare professionals and parents on the same page?
In Taylor’s “Vaccines and the Changing Epidemiology of Autism,” it is asserted that the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism has been overdramatized and essentially proven unlikely due to various population studies. Taylor states that there has been a broadened diagnostic criteria, which makes autism a “spectrum” disease with a wide range of severity of symptoms. He also states that there has been a wider acceptance of the disorder by parents and doctors which makes the disease appear to be occurring more often than in the past (a.k.a. there is a greater prevalence). So the proposed link between MMR vaccines and Autism is exacerbated by the appearance of a greater prevalence, when in reality a variety of other factors such as population and lack of scientific evidence argue against this theory. Taylor also brings up that it is a biological disorder associated with various medical conditions, and that genetics are an important factor in the emergence of autism.
Mnookin’s chapter “Cognitive Biases and Availability Cascades” also discredit the relationship between vaccines and autism. In this chapter it is explained how we allow emotions to help us make important decisions even if our predictions of threat are wrong, thus causing more false positive errors than false negative ones. Biases such as pattern recognition, clustering illusions, and confirmation bias cause us to manipulate the scientific process and observe certain things as having more weight than they should if it means that it would prove our hypothesis. In relation to autism, a large bias that has occurred is called “Availability Cascade,” and is described as the, “Self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through rising availability in public discourse.” So the increasing availability of an idea in public discourse causes people to have more extreme opinions even if there is no evidence behind what people are saying. The news media is being credited as the common denominator if information in the world, and if certain people are acting as strong advocates for anti-vaccination, then other people’s beliefs will be validated. This will result in convergence of views and broad support for the anti-vaccination movement, thus causing increased availability.
Although I think it is good that people going through autism/raising autistic children have a strong support system, it seems like a dangerous possibility that media will be infiltrated with opinion-based information rather than fact-based information. This would lead to an increased prevalence of the issues discussed in both articles such as giving false hope to parents, or potentially putting other children at risk if less and less people are being vaccinated. It is important that the media keeps the public informed on the various opinions that people have on this issue, but it is important to present factual evidence as well. What do you think is the best way to keep the public informed? What do you think the effect of cognitive biases has on what is presented in the media?
We live in a world where media has the power to alter our values, perceptions, and beliefs. Often, just the mention of a certain issue in a news article or even an editorial piece causes us to question our feelings and what we believe about that issue. For many, this is evident in the recent upheaval involving the relationship between vaccines and the development of autism. The proposed link between the two, no matter how legitimate the source, has forced people to take a closer look at the risks in immunization. Taylor, in “Vaccines and the changing epidemiology of autism,” discusses possible reasons for increases in the recent prevalence of autism and the lack of evidence involving the link between vaccinations and autism. Evans, Stoddart, and Condon talk about the effect that the proposed link has on parents and reasons that they believe or discount the link. When looking at the readings together, it is clear that media plays an enormous role in how people feel about the link between immunization and autism and that their perceptions can lead to potential dangers in society.
In a study on the epidemiology of autism, Taylor discuses how the prevalence and incidence of autism has changed overtime as well as potential reasons for the change. When it comes to a disorder such as autism, the causes are largely unclear. While there is a large genetic component involved, it seems that genetics is not everything. In the article, Taylor talks contrasts prevalence and incidence. According to Taylor, “prevalence reflects the number of individuals in a given population who have a defined disorder,” while, “incidence is the number of new cases of the condition occurring in a population over a defined period of time.” Despite popular belief, an increase in prevalence does not equal an increase in incidence. Therefore, while there has been an increase of autism cases reported in the current population, it does not mean that there has been an increase in new cases overall. It is likely that the expansion of definitions of autism as a spectrum disorder coupled with the fact that more people are accepting of the label of autism have contributed to the increase in the prevalence of autism in recent years. Taylor discusses the illegitimacy of Wakefield’s article in the Lancet and that, in actuality, “There is no necessary correspondence between the MMR injection and the onset of autism, which could occur anytime after.”
Despite the evidence examined and presented in Taylor’s article, people still continue to believe that there is a causal link between the MMR injection and autism; parents often feel that the risks involved in vaccinating their children outweigh the potential benefits that could come from it. Evans et al. looked at parents perspectives on MMR vaccination and what influenced parents’ ultimate decisions to vaccinate their children or not. By conducting focus groups of parents, they found that both immunisers and non-immunisers held similar anxieties about immunizing their children despite their ultimate decisions regarding the issue. The study discussed four main factors that tended to play a role on whether or not these parents vaccinated their children: “beliefs about the risks and benefits of MMR compared to contrasting diseases, information from the media and other sources about safety of MMR, confidence and trust in the advice of health professionals and attitudes towards compliance with this advice”, and finally, “views on the importance of individual choice within government policy on immunization.” In discussion of media’s effects on parent perspectives, it was evident that the publicity of the potential link between vaccines and autism raised “doubt in people who had not previously questioned the safety of immunization.” As a result of media, parents began to question the science behind vaccines that have been contributing to public health for so long.
The problem is that, because diseases such as measles and mumps have been practically eradicated for so long, people have forgotten how dangerous they really are. As a result, many believe that contracting those diseases is worth the risk in comparison to the possible link between immunization and autism. If more and more parents begin to hold these beliefs, then we face the possibility of seeing diseases arise that have not been present in decades. Parents tend to focus on their own child, which is understandable. However, in doing so, they fail to recognize the detrimental effects that not immunizing their child could have on the larger society.
How can we fix this? Once an issue has been so much as mentioned in the media, it is then a constant thought in people’s minds. How can we get people to understand the importance of immunization and the lack of science that actually exists behind the link presented in the media?
In chapter 3 “The Implosion”, Offitt explores the backlash that came after the discovery of Wakefield’s fraudulent research. In 2004, six years after Wakefield first published his paper in the Lancet, an investigative reporter (Brian Deer) discovered problems with Wakefield’s research. After Wakefield’s paper claiming an association between autism and the MMR vaccine, the rates of immunization with MMR in the UK declined. As a result of this, a measles outbreak occurred in the UK and Ireland, putting hundreds of kids in the hospital and killing 4 children.
While there is risk of not receiving the MMR vaccine, as stated above, parents remain hesitant about a possible link between autism and MMR. In “Parents’ Perspective on MMR Immunisation”, Evans et al conducted focus groups to unravel parents’ thoughts and feelings on the MMR vaccine and whether or not to immunize their children. 3 of the 6 focus groups performed contained parents who had given MMR vaccine to their youngest child, whereas the other 3 groups comprised of parents who refused the MMR vaccine. Results of the focus groups showed that while parents who immunized their child stressed benefits of vaccines and the perils of disease more than the “non-immunizers”, they still were unhappy about MMR and its possible association with autism. Overall, the “non-immunizers” were less fearful of possible diseases compared to “immunizers”. Evans et al concluded that there were four factors that strongly influence parents’ decisions :
1. Beliefs about risks and benefits of the MMR compared with contracting the diseases
2. information from media and other sources about the safety of MMR
3. confidence and trust in advice from the media and other sources about safety of MMR
4. Views on importance of individual choice within government policy on immunization “
It is clear that Wakefield’s fraudulent study has had major consequences on the public’s perception of the MMR vaccine. The immediate media fanfare about autism and MMR created doubt in parents minds about the safety of vaccines. Despite the retraction of Wakefield’s paper, the public remains skeptical. My question is after a scientific study has been retracted, is there a way to convince the public to abandon a hypothesis?