‘Popular Science’ vs. Jenny McCarthy, or, How Not To Engage In Cultural Dialogue

‘Popular Science’ vs. Jenny McCarthy, or, How Not To Engage In Cultural Dialogue July 18, 2013

It was recently announced that television personality and former model Jenny McCarthy would become one of the hosts of the daytime talkshow The View. Most of the time, this sort of announcement would probably fly under most people’s radars, but McCarthy’s hiring has prompted a not insignificant amount of criticism and backlash. And not, as you might expect, because of McCarthy’s past experience as a Playboy model. Rather, it’s because she is a well-known and popular critic of child vaccinations.

Critics of the anti-vaccine movement fear that giving McCarthy a higher profile will allow her to spread more disinformation and falsehoods about child vaccinations. To that end, Popular Science recently published an extensive article that rebuts some of the anti-vaccine movement’s claims (e.g., that vaccines are made with dangerous ingredients). Personally, I’m skeptical of anti-vaccine claims — especially in light of numerous studies showing no causal link between vaccinations and autism (among other things) — so I’m thankful for a resource like Popular Science‘s article. I just really wish they had given it a different title.

Simply put, the article’s title — “How To Argue With The Anti-Vaccine Crazies: A Guide” — is a terrible example of framing and positioning, especially when compared to the rest of the article’s tone, which is largely informative and free of snark or hyperbole.

How do you argue with people who take a different stance than you, be it on childhood vaccines, politics, religion, or any other (controversial) topic? I humbly submit that you begin by not referring to them as “crazies.” I know this seems strange, but immediately labeling those who disagree with you as crazy probably does little to win them to your side. For parents, their children’s health and well-being is already a highly charged issue, so immediately leading with something suggesting that their choices stem from mental instability is hardly winsome or endearing.

Of course, if your goal is to simply belittle, ostracize, and otherwise score cultural points on them, rather than inform and persuade, then by all means, resort to calling them names. Just don’t think they’re crazy when they tune you out.

Image via ABC News

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