LOS ANGELES—At the start of National Infant Immunization Week, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) announced they are joining together for a new research project aimed at understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children.
“Misinformation about vaccines isn’t just a concern for scientific skeptics, it’s now a public health concern.” said WTFF President Elyse Anders. “There are millions of parents right now who are making decisions about immunization for their children, who are trying to make sense of the conflicting information they’re getting from the media. The research we’re conducting with the JREF will help us understand how parents make those decisions, and what information will help them give their kids the best start in life.”
The joint project is an opinion survey, already underway, that will include data from hundreds of parents of young children by the time survey gathering is complete. The surveys are being collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to anti-vaccine messages. When the research is completed next spring, the JREF will be make the results freely available to public health advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.
“Our goal is to help save lives,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, we don’t really know what information is getting through to the parents who need it. We want to help parents get the unbiased information they need to know that they’re making the healthiest choice when they give their child immunity from dangerous diseases.”
The JREF-WTFF project aims to fill gaps in the skeptical movement’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asks specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. The survey should identify the ideas and information parents have heard both for and against immunization, and which they found most important in making their decisions.
Background on the Vaccine Panic
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a paper describing his research—secretly funded by lawyers planning to sue vaccine manufacturers—which purported to find evidence linking one childhood vaccine with autism. Even though the British General Medical Council found that Wakefield had falsified his data, the British medical journal BMJ exposed his work as an “elaborate fraud,” and other research has shown no correlation between vaccines and autism, an unfounded fear of vaccines still persists. Media personalities like Jenny McCarthy have used their celebrity to urge parents to avoid immunizations for their children, and authors and publishers are still profiting by selling anti-vaccine books to parents. Immunization rates have dropped, and there have been new deadly outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and haemophilus influenzae type b, which were all but eradicated 15 years ago. Although most parents are still immunizing their children, a significant minority are delaying immunizations or skipping all immunizations except those required by law for children to attend public school.
The Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) brings science, skepticism and critical thinking to the women of the Midwest, with events, campaigns, and outreach programs designed to help provide women with the tools to fight pseudoscience. The WTFF’s Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated project works to educate new and expecting parents, and the population in general, about the benefits and importance of having themselves and their children vaccinated by countering the misinformation & pseudoscience being promoted against vaccines.
About the JREF
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) was founded in 1996 to expose charlatans and help people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. The JREF’s Science Based Medicine project works to provide the public with reliable information about unproven alternative medical practices and dangerous health medical myths. The JREF offers a still-unclaimed million-dollar reward for anyone who can produce evidence of paranormal abilities or certain pseudoscientific phenomena under controlled conditions. Through scholarships, workshops, and innovative resources for educators, the JREF works to inspire this investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers.
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