Over 500,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 100,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about what we do, start here.

The Vaccine-Autism Debate

On Tuesday, the medical journal Lancet formally and fully retracted the study that started the controversy. However, as exhibited below, some will continue to believe that vaccines cause autism for emotional reasons. One not mentioned is our need to assign blame ….

It's not just irrationality, he insists…. “Blaming vaccines,” he points out, “can promise benefits. Victory in a lawsuit is an obvious one, especially for middle-class parents struggling to care for and educate their unruly and unresponsive kids.” But it's not merely a matter of profit. There are strong parental instincts at work. Many parents believe that “if vaccines are the cause, the damage can be repaired, the child made whole.” Allen quotes Jim Laidler, scientist and parent of an autistic child, who observes that “hope is a powerful drug.”

Moreover, Allen argues, anti-vaccine parents are no more irrational than some religious believers, or adherents of “even scientific paradigms.” Confirmation biases, where anecdotes are seized upon as evidence, are ubiquitous no matter the cause. Here, events have conspired to make a confirmation bias almost unavoidable. The contrarian anti-vaccine angle is irresistible to journalists and environmentalists alike. There's also an even trickier trend…

Continue Reading

Filed Under: