Do Skeptics Really Make That Much Of A Difference (NVIC Anti-Vaccine Ad On NYE)?

Infographic from – The Odds A Child Will…

I’m honestly not so sure that they do. Make that much of a difference, I mean.

I honestly don’t think skeptics make that much of a difference when things like the National Vaccine Information Center’s ad running on the ABC Full Circle Screen in Times Square are scheduled and paid for (apparently timed to happen during New Year’s Eve celebrations, when television broadcasting occurs?) Simply because I’m starting to doubt that we have that much of a chance to make a difference in these kinds of cases.

Why? I only have to look at the efforts regarding Woodford Folk Festival and Meryl Dorey. Was it that much of a win to have a lecture turned into “She will now be part of a panel, including an immunologist and a moderator” – and was it the efforts of skeptics that made this happen, despite the story featuring in the Brisbane Times? Or being “Pharyngulated“? Or the Daily Telegraph?

An NVIC PSA that was playing on Delta Airline flights was condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics as being harmful, unfounded, unscientific and misleading” – and yet still played, right?

I’m now thinking that there has to be more of an effort to connect with health professionals and find out what can be done about these campaigns and anti-vaccination efforts. I’m after more suggestions than just a petition – which, is all well and good and I’ve certainly signed plenty in the past – and right now, I’m honestly at a loss. There’s infographics, like the one I posted by There’s personal accounts that run in the New York Times, like For The Herd’s Sake: Vaccinate. I could point to a dozen great books, websites, news articles… As Matt Lowry writes on JREF – “…it seems we in the skeptical and pro-science community need media connections within the companies which rent out space for these high-profile ads”. Where does one start with that?

Times like these I end up contacting friends who work in the health and medical fields for an interview; since I spent a little time prior to the Christmas break talking to someone who worked specifically with vaccinations, I might try asking them and others: what to do? What to do effectively?

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • larianlequella

    I try to make a difference, which is why I put up this site along with Todd W.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      How do you know that it does make a difference?

      • Avicenna

        There are a lot of people on the borderline, there are a lot of people who don’t know about these diseases and there is a lot of fearmongering out there with little response from actual medical staff. Finding the fear mongering and providing proof against it and explanations of function (I have submitted articles to Larian’s website before) of things like immune systems have been received rather well.

        The problem is that they have a mission and they want to stop vaccination. Most doctors know very well that if sufficient amounts of vaccination doesn’t occur these diseases will come back and solve the problem for us.

        There is a major issue in the way we think about health. The problem being that doctors have so much knowledge that it is impossible to understand what they are talking about. In the old days doctors simply used to use that to bludgeon people over the head into doing what they wanted. We cannot anymore, we have put up our ideas online to increase transparency. The thing is… Once we did that then any damn fool with a PhD could put their ideas up online and take credit for being a doctor as long as they wrote somewhere in tiny print a disclaimer.

        The best example is Dr. Viera Schiebner who is a geologist…

        There is a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of it is very slickly produced since there is a lot of money to be made in succesfully suing a doctor and in the USA atleast doctors are unwilling to tangle with them for the same reason as Dawkins doesn’t want to argue with William Craig. Victory doesn’t change anything (the antivacciner often believes in a whole host of ludicrous things from conspiracy theory to natural medicine to religious beliefs regarding vaccination) but a loss tarnishes your argument.

        It does bring about a lot of border-line arguments. The problem is however that the average anti-vacciner just doesn’t understand really basic science, mathematics and often english. They selectively read what they want, show no grasp of statistics and don’t understand immunology.

        One of the ones I am in contact with the most doesn’t believe in Germ Theory. You try explaining vaccination to someone like that. It’s like arguing with a rock.

  • lordshipmayhem

    I like to point out to advertisers using ABC that I’m forced to assume that their ads are as full of outright lies and fraud as the NVIC ad that is also carried on ABC.

    Therefore, as long as they’re using ABC, I will be running, not walking, to any of their competitors who don’t.

  • Nigel

    I gave up on the typical skeptical direct action approach years ago and transferred my time into teaching primary school children creative and critical thinking as well as science. If we teach good thinking habits early the rest will take care of itself and IMHO this approach has more chance of working in the long run.
    The root cause of all skeptical issues like vaccinations, other alt-med and woo in general is poor thinking and from what I’ve seen once you get to the teenage years thinking habits, curiosity and creativity are pretty much set. Yes, there are exceptions, some people do change when they are older however that’s the minority and minorities are usually irrelevant in the world.
    I wish it wasn’t like this, that adults could change how well they think however I simply don’t see any evidence that the average person is going change.
    There’s room for all sorts of approaches however I’m still waiting to see good evidence that the skeptical activism of past few decades has made any difference.

  • carlbaker

    I think we do make a difference. If we weren’t complaining about all of the stupid out there, it would be all that much worse.