IamA science communicator fighting covid vaccine misinformation, AMA!
I'm a neuroscience PhD working at a small company that does science communication. We recently got a grant to create a website on how to encourage vaccination based on behavioral science.
You can see the page I wrote here: Fighting misinformation
Proof: https://i.imgur.com/yJsbp4i.jpg https://www.worldview.studio/who-we-are
I personally feel that this sense of hopelessness and confusion has become weaponized.
Having spent years doing research to try to establish a tiny and obscure new fact, I can say with confidence that science is complicated and often contradicts itself. It has to - being wrong or incomplete is the other side of the same coin by which we gain new insights. There will always be loose ends and science is a game of increasing confidence which will never be absolute.
This is an entirely new situation in a lot of ways - new virus, new vaccine type, new modern world. However there are a lot of things we can say with very high levels of confidence. For example, wearing masks and social distancing reduce the spread of covid-19. The vaccines we've developed are very effective in preventing it.
Things are complicated, but they aren't hopeless. They're uncertain but not unknown. I think the most important thing is to avoid throwing up your hands. Read information from trusted sources like the CDC. Keep asking questions and consider the credentials of sources as you read them.
This is interesting, I wasn't aware of that. It looks like some other vaccines have historically impacted menstruation cycles, but the effects were always short-term. These effects may come from the interaction of the immune system with menstruation.
There's definitely an ongoing and historical trend where women's health issues are not acknowledged, so I'm sad to see that this may be a continuation of that. There should definitely be a warning of potential menstrual effects if they prove to exist. However there is no evidence to suggest a long-term impact on fertility or issues for pregnant women as far as I know.
- What other vaccine using mRNA has been deemed successful ?
- When the programed sequence of the vaccine agents finish killing the virus, what will make it stop Fighting other things on the organism?
- Is this a vaccine per se or it should be called different but by convention it is called a vaccine?
Great questions! Sorry this will be a bit long as I try to answer them all. Let me know if you'd like any clarification.
- The covid mRNA vaccines are the first mRNA vaccines to be used on a wide scale. We've experimented with mRNA vaccines before and there was ongoing research into using them against coronaviruses when the pandemic hit. Thanks to this, the Pfizer vaccine for example was actually on hand by April 2020! In theory we could have begun to innoculate people that early. We just had to wait for extensive safety trials before distributing them.
- The vaccine itself doesn't have any 'killing' parts. It's got a one-time, burn-after-reading instruction to create a small harmless piece of the novel coronavirus. This little piece works like a training dummy, and your own immune system learns to fight covid-19. The vaccine just speeds up the natural process your body uses to defend against diseases it has encountered.
- This is a vaccine! 'Traditional' vaccines involve putting dead/broken disease agents into your body. These serve as the training dummies for your immune system. The difference is that there are no parts of the virus in mRNA vaccines at all. Just mRNA instructions that your body can use to build a tiny part of the virus. It's kind of like giving instructions to draw a headshot that your immune system can distribute. The instructions (mRNA) are destroyed quickly and just the harmless headshots remain.
Thanks for the reply
You're welcome! A bonus fact as you seem concerned about the vaccine sticking around:
mRNA is pretty delicate and breaks down quickly. Research suggests they break down in the body within 2-20 minutes! This is why the vaccines have to be kept at super cold temperatures, to keep them intact until they get into people's arms.
Fun comic basically stating what he said, but with star wars:
This is amazing, Randall Munroe is one of my heroes.
How effective is providing accurate information in correcting bad behaviour? Presumably for a lot of people, ignorance is not the root cause of their bad behaviour but really more of a carefully constructed defence mechanism.
It's important to get people good information as early as possible, but you're right that information alone often won't change people's minds once they have an opinion.
I believe that basically everyone is trying to do their best based on their values and understanding of the world. Having someone tell you that you're actually doing harm can be painful, and so people do often become defensive. This is why it's so important to be empathetic and leave room to save face. Don't assume you know what someone believes or why - ask them, and listen, and then tell them about what you think.
What strategies have you found most and least effective?
It's difficult, maybe impossible in some cases, to change people's minds when they're really convinced about a conspiracy theory. Luckily most people aren't. I think the most important thing is to focus on the 'movable middle'.
My most and least effective strategies are both about the emotional experience, as having a belief challenged is an emotional process. The best thing you can do is be open-minded, really listen, and give the person room to save face. Acknowledge what they've heard and considered even if you don't endorse it.
The worst thing you can do is dehumanize or attack people. That may sound obvious but it's easy to do by accident. Don't call someone an 'anti-vaxxer'. Don't act like they're being ridiculous (even if you think they are!) Don't act like it's obvious that they're wrong (clearly it isn't, to them!)
I think the worst outcomes are when people feel ostracized, shamed and cut off. Then we end up with more polarization and less communication. Everyone loses.
This is a really ugly comment and I don't appreciate you insulting my coworkers like that. Please remove this.
I take it you don't believe that the vaccines are effective or important?
Would you do a thought experiment for my own curiosity? Imagine that the vaccines did work, or the virus was a problem - whatever it is you don't agree with right now. Imagine that getting people vaccinated was really important and would save lives. How would you convince someone like yourself that this was the case?
What's it feel like being a god damn hero?
You flatter me, u/DryEarPoop! Honestly it feels amazing to do something that has any hope of being useful to other people, especially after having done obscure psychophysics research for the past five years.
I am definitely not a hero but this pandemic has minted plenty. Especially those on the ground in science and medicine!
How do you determine what is and is not misinformation when so little is peer-reviewed and so much is politicized by both politicians and health authorities both of whom have been caught spreading and standing by their own misinformation?
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