Brief thoughts on vaccination controversies

By this point, this article by Amy Wallace in the most recent issue of Wired magazine has been much-linked, much-read, and discussed to death. On the chance that a few of our readers haven’t seen it, I thought it wise to link to it and share a few thoughts.

I’m not qualified to conduct an in-depth discussion about scientific expertise, and how the splintering of information across the internet has afforded a fringe element the opportunity to cherry pick the facts – correct or not – that best support a conspiracy theory. But I am qualified to say that challenging ideas is critical to science; what we need more of right now is science.

I’m also eager to extend sympathy to those who have been adversely affected by rare side effects of vaccines. Rigorous research into the uncommon genetic triggers for these events will continue to move already-safe vaccines to be safer, rare conditions to be even rarer. I think this is something everybody can support.

The thing that bothers me is the slow-but-steady trickle of sensationalized “news” that stops just short of advocating an anti-vaccine platform. By publicizing extreme statistical outliers, these reports and the people behind them generate a certain amount of panic around routine seasonal flu shots. It’s refreshing to read a quality piece of science journalism like Wallace’s article, but I fear that in the face of such emotional, hysteria-promoting news, good science journalism might be hopelessly overmatched.

Have you read any engaging works of science journalism lately? Share them in the comments.

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Sam Jackson

Sam works as a Media Specialist at Promega Corporation. He enjoys riding his bike and having a good time.

One thoughtful comment

  1. Sam,
    Enjoyed your blog. As a former microbiologist, now science writer/editor, I agree with your concerns about how reports, whether online or (as in the ‘old days’) word of mouth can false grow into hysteria for topics like flu vaccination safety. Reminds me of a recent interview with Stewart Brand, author of the “Whole Earth Catalog” and recently, “Whole Earth Discipline: An Egopragmatist Manifesto” (

    If I may raise another mania/panic, how about the fact that McDonald’s was saving tons of pesticide use in potatoes raised in the early 1990s, by using potatoes, genetically modified (GM) to fight the potato beetle. This not only saved family farms thousands of dollars in pesticide costs, it prevent large quantities of pesticides from running off into lakes and stream.

    However, they did not positively advertise the use of GM potatoes. When word got out, all heck broke loose and to save their business, McD’s went back to using the pesticide-loaded spuds. Hard to believe that the pesticide-treated potatoes are served up preferrentially to potatoes engineered to fight off a beetle.

    I mentioned Stewart Brand, b/c in the recent interview (as well as his Wikipedia page linked above), he states that contrary to previous beliefs, perhaps raised by some of the 1960s counterculture movement spawned during Whole Earth Catalog’s popularity, he now is a proponent of genetically-modified foods, as a means to feed all the people that need feeding. Maybe also required to save the planet.
    For the record, I’ve not yet read the new Brand book. But suggest that his recent ideas deserve serious consideration.

    The revolution is all good and well, and full of bluster, but does it really consider all angles of the problem? Does it save lives?
    -Kari K.

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