I was reading a blog I always enjoy, Skeptical Raptor, a recent post, " Debunking the vaccine denier myths of the Argument by Package Insert." While I stumbled over the title a few times before I did realize it was critiquing a standard anti-vaccine argument, the critique presents a good insight into a clever but flawed argument they use.
* The Raptor's 2009 blog is also a good read.
The thorough analysis shows how the anti-vaccine argument, like so many arguments do a lot of cherry picking of language from the drug inserts accompanying vaccine packaging.
Raptor rightly concludes the blog post with an appeal that consumers read the vaccine inserts very carefully.
"...However, package inserts must be read fully, without cherry picking data that supports your point of view. Taking information out of context, without spending the effort to understand it completely, just shows the level of denialism. The anti-vaccinationists are focused on finding any data, no matter the quality, that supports what they want to believe. But if you are truly on the fence about vaccinations, then the adverse events information in a package insert is not the place to start. There is so much information out there, but if you read that information with an open, critical mind, you will find that the scientific consensus strongly supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines."
For millions, a quote in "print" especially something like a medication label ( selective quoting used by anti-vacciners), or newspaper article still has verities. It's taken as gospel. The "dueling experts" that is stuck a staple of news coverage ( more newspaper then broadcast) has always presented serious problems to lay people. You have x argument and y argument about the common Z.
A Dose of Consumer Reality
And for all of you working in readability, health literacy, human factors/usability of health information, I don't have to restate how "high barrier" all of these inserts are and thus how hobbled are the millions who would try to read this packaging. The "readability" of this content is routinely 12th - 17th grade and higher.
For good measure here's 2 painfully tortured snippets of language acting badly.
With over half the adults having difficulty reading info at 8th grade level or higher, and more Americans struggling to work with basic math, combined with our poor to null understanding of basic research, drug trials and how the FDA and pharma work.... the appeal to consume this insert information is so much more magical thinking.
What really has always fascinated me about the anti-vaccine movement is how darn readable their arguments are!