Be empathetic. In January, I predicted a new year of online outrage, because the internet favors the phenomenon of scapegoating, in which a group of people picks a lone person to project their sins onto and destroy them to protect the strength of the community. Scapegoating is always an evil impulse, and we should be wary of it, especially if the victim “has it coming” as the anti-vaxxers do, since it only increases the impetus. As I’ve tried to show above, the anti-vax movement might not have even taken root if the medical establishment had been a little more careful with their credibility, if we took time to think about what science actually is, and if we weren’t in such a rush to always turn everything into a political football.
Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine you have a lively, outgoing, wonderful toddler, slowly becoming withdrawn, locked into their own world. As the parent of a 3-year-old, the thought turns my stomach into knots. And the simple fact of the matter is, we don’t understand what causes autism, at all (it might not even be a disease!). And in our culture, the one thing we won’t accept is that something doesn’t have a solution. The urge to try to come up with an alternative explanation, while seriously misguided, is also deeply human and, ultimately, understandable.
There is some evidence that beating people over the head with arguments only makes them dig in more. I see all the anti-anti-vax tweets, and I wonder: “You do realize that probably no anti-vaxxer reads you? Are you just tweeting to signal to your peers how science-y you are?”