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Vaccine skeptics can be convinced to change their positions, by showing them graphic images of children infected by preventable diseases.

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Even the most steadfast anti-vaxxers occasionally changed their minds when confronted with images and stories of just how devastating measles, mumps and rubella can be, according to a new study in PNAS. While it’s near impossible to debate an anti-vaxxer using facts and debunks of science, apparently a picture paints a thousand words. Loud arguments and thorough debunks don’t help convince skeptical parents to vaccinate their kids.

But a photo of a sick child might, according to a new study published in PNAS.

“It’s sort of appealing to directly confront people about their beliefs, but that sets up a context for an argument, and then they respond by arguing back,” says Derek Powell, a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles and coauthor on the study. “If you tell people that these are contagious diseases and that there are serious benefits to getting vaccines, you can get improvements in people with negative attitudes toward vaccines.”

For instance, smallpox was wiped out by vaccination. It’s harder to argue against vaccination when you see graphic images (and be warned, they are NOT for the squeamish) like these two of children infected with smallpox.

For the study, Powell and his team interviewed 315 parents about their positions on vaccination, and then broke them into two major groups. The first group read up on the ample scientific evidence proving that vaccines do not cause autism. The skeptics in that group were, predictably, not convinced. The second group read a heartbreaking testimonial from a mother who rushed her child to the emergency room when a vaccine-preventable case of the measles turned life-threatening. They then showed these parents photographs depicting the long-term damage that measles, mumps and rubella can cause, and read warnings about the harm caused by withholding vaccines from their children.

After this carefully-tailored intervention, even some of the most skeptical parents reported that their attitudes toward vaccines had changed.

See also: Junk Science: Let's End The Crazy Vaccine Debate

Most Americans today have never PERSONALLY known someone who suffered from a preventable disease -- in fact most antivaxxers today might not even be two degrees of separation from a measles or polio victim! -- but they almost certainly know people with autism. I like that the article basically admits that the photo technique is not "educating" parents so much as manipulating them.

Because people cannot be educated without an open mind. 

The strategy works even though what we really want is for people to understand why vaccination is important. 

Top Reddit comment:

After we graduate from school, we manually filter all information by choosing what media to consume. Any belief can be validated if you choose to only consume supporting information. Parents need to be models of reason for their children, to question and validate all arguments, instead of teaching them to choose what is most convenient.


Fascinating TED talk on this: Eli Pariser Beware Online Filter Bubbles.

Watch here:

Most people have no idea their google searches and internet experience is tailored to their pre-existing beliefs.

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