Field of Science

What makes an expert in science? How about 15,000 hours?

From a Time Magazine story, "Why care about the euro," by Rana Foroohar: 
"The only way forward," said actress Jenny McCarthy, "is for Germany to support Italy and Spain, whatever it takes."
If you read the above in a story about the European economic crisis and saw Jenny McCarthy quoted as the go-to expert for commenting on sovereign-debt economics, would you do a bit of a double take?* Sure, you would (she wasn't really the one who said it). You probably just did. Yet news media outlets across the land, hand in hand with Larry King and Oprah, have gone to Jenny McCarthy as someone who has relevant insights into autism and vaccines. 

Jenny McCarthy is an actress. She dropped out of nursing school and graduated from a liberal arts high school. She has no training in infectious disease, developmental neurology, virology, physiology, or medicine. Her exposure to autism itself consists of her son Evan, who may not have autism at all. 

When we read stories in the news media about economics or history or English literature, we have an expectation that the sources in that story will be experts. No one goes to Viola Davis, as wonderful an actress as she is, for commentary on economic policy. Reporters don't turn to Ashton Kutcher for in-depth insights into whether or not Shakespeare really wrote those plays. I've yet to see Kim Kardashian selected to offer her perspective on the dynamics of 19th century European politics that set the stage for World War I. 

There's no cult of celebrity around history or economics or literature involving non-expert celebrities mouthing off with the shallowest of understanding. But vaccines? Autism? Science? Apparently, fame matters more than facts. 

But, you may say, people can turn to the interwebz for more information, to get beyond the cult of celebrity. Sure. Yet anyone searching for information about vaccines on a simple Google search turns up, on the first page, links that go straight to anti-vaccine propaganda sites. 



These sites take the typical approach of presenting half-truths--literally, they tell half of the information about vaccines--and leaving out the rest. It's as though I were telling you, "My grandmother has a lot of dead roses in her garden," but stopped at the word "dead." 

Imagine if you did a search on "economics" and turned up sites that didn't provide expert information about economics. Here's what you do get when you search "economics" in Google:



No "faux news" economics links there.

What about a search on autism and vaccines? Here's what Google kicks up for you:




You'll note that one of the top links on the page is to the anti-vaccination site Age of Autism, the most virulently anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-autism website in the world. A faux "news site" that, by the way, has no experts in infectious disease, vaccines, physiology, medicine, or developmental neurology as editors.

What about the news media? What do they tell us when we search "economics" in Google News? 


How about "autism and vaccines" in Google News?



You'll notice that two of the visible links on that page go to...the Age of Autism website. Did I mention that this site is the most virulently anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-autism website in the world and lacks editors with any expertise in any of the areas it "covers"?

Why do these hits matter? For two reasons. First of all, when people--students, for example--perform Web searches, they seem to be most likely to take the first links served up as the best ones, regardless of their provenance. That means that when an Age of Autism page is served up on a Google News search as "news" (and believe me, people have tried to tell Google that it's not a news site), searchers who aren't neck deep in the autism and vaccine controversy may not be aware of how egregiously anti-scientific the site is.

The second reason these hits matter, the reason it matters that the news media quotes with seeming impunity non-experts in stories about autism and vaccines, is that expertise makes a difference. Commenters on web posts about vaccines, mothers on Facebook spreading misinformation about chicken pox, the purposeful/grossly ignorant (it has to be one or the other) and cynical misinformation of "guess who profits" Mercola and Natural News? This is information not from experts in virology or infectious disease or vaccines or developmental neurology or physiology or medicine. And expertise matters. Or, at least, it should. Sometimes, even people who should know better sell out for celebrity, adoring audiences, and the more tangible payoff of benjamins by the bucket.

When it comes to science, though, the news media have even avoided going to actual scientists to determine how scientists earn their expertise. The case study here is a Fox article in which a woman with a bachelor's degree in a humanities field presumes to describe the role of graduate students in science. She dismisses graduate students as "not on the radar" and as appearing as authors on papers only because they help with the "laborious" task of writing. She clearly has no idea whatsoever about how scientists are trained. In fact, her lack of understanding about training of scientists and the relevance of that training is so profound, she ought to look into joining the editorial staff of the Age of Autism.

Here's why expertise matters and why Jenny McCarthy's stint at Google U does not. By the time a scientist-in-training enters graduate school, she has likely already (a) completed four years of studying the sciences. For a biology major, these courses start with several classes in introductory biology, physics, and chemistry plus labs and then move to upper division courses in genetics, neurobiology, developmental biology, molecular biology, cell biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry (for biology majors). 

The usual calculation for how much time one spends on a given course to do well is three hours of study for every hour of class attended each week. For the sciences alone, most undergraduate majors will take a total of about 80 hours in the sciences, or an average of 10 h/semester for a four-year degree. For a 15-week semester, that's a total of 600 hours of study and classes (10 h x 4 h for classes/studying x 15 weeks). For a four-year course of study and eight semesters (a conservative estimate), that is about 4800 hours of studying science.

Add to that the fact that many undergraduates applying to graduate school also put in time in labs as research assistants or technicians while completing their studies, and a graduate student in the first year of graduate school is already someone well trained in both the general sciences of their field of study (biology, physics, chemistry, biochemistry) and in the basics of laboratory research.

Graduate students intending to earn the PhD do not typically obtain a master's degree first (although some do, which would extend hours invested). Many instead move from the bachelor's to the PhD. At the institution I attended, in my field of study, the average time to the PhD was five years. We were in our laboratories every day--yes, also on weekends, but let's not count those--for eight hours a day or more.

We attended graduate-level courses in our field, studied, parsed, analyzed, and cited the literature in our field, designed and conducted research in our field, evaluated data in our field, wrote grants and papers of our own, assisted each other where our studies overlapped, attended weekly or more frequent seminars in our field, attended and presented at meetings in our field, and eventually defended dissertations typically consisting of about five or six chapters, most of which were already published in or submitted to peer-reviewed journals as first-author papers.


If we take the above as constituting only a 40-hour work week (a very conservative estimate), then the average graduate student at my university who earned the PhD in five years spent 10,400 hours immersed in their science. Ten thousand and four hundred hours. MDs who also earn their PhDs? I can't even calculate the investment.

The grand total then, on average, for someone who has earned the PhD in science is at least 15,200 hours of study. 

That, Dear Reader, is expertise. That kind of investment...one that often then extends another two or four or six years in postdoctoral appointments...that's an investment that qualifies someone to speak about science from the perspective of deep, years'-long knowledge earned in the trenches, earned by studying--and practicing--science for years. It's the kind of expertise that should lead to the news media's turning always and only to scientists for quotes, for information. 

But scientists, with few exceptions, aren't celebrities. They don't appear on the big screen, in magazines, on Larry King and Oprah. As varied a group as they are, apparently few are interesting enough--or maybe it's interested enough--to achieve the cult of celebrity required for people to trust what scientists say, to give their expertise the imprimatur of a high-definition image on national television. They can't even get word count in an article from a major news outlet that's focused on how they're trained.

The reality of modern culture is that your face in high-def on a big screen earns you attention and credibility, no matter how shrill or hysterical or misinformed you may be. The deeper reality, though, is that Jenny McCarthy--short of a major educational and career shift--will never have scientific expertise. Real harm to public health and scientific literacy is the outcome when the news media and Google search engines highlight the deeply misinformed...and when scientists prove incapable of effective counterpoint.

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The actual quote was from Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff, someone who also presumably has earned the label of "expert."

24 comments:

  1. Sort of, but the argument from authority is itself anti-scientific. The reason we should trust experts isn't because they're experts; it's because the evidence is on their side. IOW, it's not the status of the speaker; it's the evidence that matters.

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  2. I guess your argument would be sound if all these science majors had spent 15,000 hours studying vaccines, but the rate of new vaccines on the recommended list would make that difficult. The "truth" is that not all vaccines and their ingredients have been fully tested. How much time was spent on the Gardisil vaccine to ensure the safety and effectiveness before it was given to you girls? I'm sorry, but my experience tells me a different story, and there's not much you could say that would convince me otherwise. I guess "vaccine injuries" are minor, unless you're the injured one. I think what many people object to is the blanket claim that all vaccines are safe and there is NO link to anything. That simply is not true, and the insistence of that stance is what makes it challenging to believe any of it. There are some good and important vaccines, and there are some unnecessary and harmful vaccines, for some. I think most people just want to know the truth, and it probably lies somewhere between you and Jenny - although I've heard her state dozens of times that she is not "anti-vax" and believes in good/safe vaccines on a responsible schedule, that's not ever how she's portrayed, including here. It's easier to blame the playboy bunny than the thousands of people that have had the same experience who can't have their voices heard, and also just want the truth. Call them whatever you want, but that's the truth.

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  3. Reposting this to embed links:

    @tedra It's a comparative argument using evidence and data to support the conclusion, so it's scientific.

    @anonymous There sure are a lot of you. I didn't say that all science majors are science experts. I said that gaining expertise requires an investment that people who attend Google U simply don't have. I said that people in their own fields of study--e.g., virology, infectious disease, developmental neurology, etc.--have a level of expertise thanks to their thousands of hours of training that others do not have.

    I don't know of anyone who's seriously made the "blanket claim that all vaccines are safe," with the implication that experts assert that vaccines don't carry risk. That's nonsense. There isn't a medical intervention in existence that doesn't involve risk. Period. If you listened to an expert, you'd hear them say that. I think the only people asserting that anyone asserts that vaccines are simply "safe" are antivaxxers who want to build a straw man that they can knock down (see reference above to "half truths").

    That business about McCarthy or anyone else only being "concerned" about "good" or "safe" vaccines or the "vaccine schedule" is simply transparent concern troll bullshit and/or backpedaling from a position (see Jenny's many, many positions on vaccines in above link) that evidence has simply overwhelmed. There are no data to indicate problems with the vaccines or the schedule.

    It's not about "blaming" someone for anything. It's about the reality of our culture in which someone with zero training in science has a voice in the scientific arena because she's famous while the people with thousands of hours of training are treated like toxic waste and as though their every word were suspect simply because they are trained.

    You make a series of statements in the above comment and offer not one iota of scientific evidence to support them. The answers are available, from people who do have expertise and training. Good places to start for such answers are the CDC (e.g., here and the World Health Organization, among others). I don't provide these links for you but for others reading who might find that people with thousands of hours of training who provide data and research to support what they say might carry more weight than people who come to websites to leave anti-vax commentary and anecdotal assertions and to set up straw men without any data whatsoever.

    That "all the ingredients haven't been tested" is an anti-science, anti-vax trope that I see trotted out again and again, another straw many anti-science, anti-vax crusaders build up just so they have something to knock down. That's been addressed here.

    There is plenty of information about the effects of the ingredients in vaccines. Another place to review information from experts is here.

    And I'd ask you: If you use "biomed" or "natural therapies" from snake oil peddlers, have you ascertained that every ingredient in said "therapies" has been tested, singly and in combination, via the usual toxicological testing routes, beginning with in vitro (test tube/Petri dish) studies, moving into extensive testing with animal models (usually rodents), and then into clinical trials through three phases, and finally to FDA approval? Didn't think so because they aren't.

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  4. Finally, I have this as part of my comment policy, but I'll say it again here: I will not allow epic anti-vax, anti-science garbage be posted here repeatedly, nor will I allow the usual anti-vax cut-and-paste with NVIC and AoA links, et al., that antivaxxers like to use all over the Web.

    As I've said, you can go find anti-science screeds in other places. Google and the news media may give you a venue to disseminate half-truths, lies, misinformation, and anecdotes masquerading as data and a place to erect your straw men. Not here. Anyone who has something to address from the post that is actually on point and for which you might have some evidence, feel free to comment. Antivaxx, anti-science logorrhea will be deleted.

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  5. I never understood how Jenny McCarthy's son could have been mis-diagnosed until I saw this TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/aditi_shankardass_a_second_opinion_on_learning_disorders.html

    Dr. Shankardass is a neurologist. I did a little research on the amazing young man in the video who went from severe autism...to being treated for his Landau Kleffner Syndrome and withing months having a profound change of language and socialability. He had been misdiagnosed as autistic, and the change was unbelievable.

    Nothing Jenny did saved her son if he ended up being treated for L-K by a doctor. It is a form of epilepsy that can be debilitating if left untreated. She may have put him on a ketogenic diet,I don't know.

    Because my son had a pretty severe reaction to his DTP at age 2 months, that at the time might have been compensated if I had known that the NVICP existed, I tend not to judge. People of Science have been pretty cruel about it when I say it was not a good day for a brain swelling (Hypotonic-Hyporesponsive Episode). I used to swear if I heard "correlation does not equal causation" one more time, I'd be tempted to shove a correlation up where the sun doesn't shine. I'm not stupid. Finally, Ben's pediatrician got me over the vaccine jitters when he said it was probably the Pertussis part, that was changed the next year because of 3,000 complaints of complications to the NVICP or CDC, whoever handles it. It also could have been an indicator of a genetic disease, Tuberous Sclerosis. We can't afford the genetic testing, so we are on guard for symptoms.

    I think the woo is too much. I never tried ANYTHING on my son without medical guidance. I think it's crazy to demonize the medical profession, yet believe in witch doctors. BUT, it also pisses me off when people who should know better refer to the kids who are harmed as collateral damage.

    Now, I don't know if the vaccine had anything to do with my son's autism. You can't prove a negative and that's where the science is for now. I will continue to follow the advice of my doctor, though, before I follow a ditzy blond made more famous by her son's problems than she ever was by her skill in acting.

    I've said my piece.

    What was the question?

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  6. I am a grad school dropout, again. I've gotten in twice, but money and other issues have pulled me out.

    So I know how hard it is to get in, and how hard it is to do the work (and I'm only an engineer). It has also taught be to know my limitations and how much I don't know. I am willing to learn, and am willing to be corrected.

    But with a couple of caveats, I am more willing to be corrected by someone whose credentials I respect. Which is why I am more willing to believe Dr. Paul Offit who has studies and worked with vaccines for over twenty years, than someone like Dr. Bob Sears who only "researches" vaccines if he can sell more books.

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  7. @Usethebrainsgodgaveyou I can't recall having seen people who have vaccine reactions referred to as "collateral damage." Indeed, if there weren't this anti-science, anti-vax crusade going on, people who really do suffer severe reactions would probably not be questioned about it or eyed askance or otherwise feel challenged the way you did.

    That said, it's one thing to acknowledge that vaccine reactions do occur while still arguing that the huge benefit outweighs these risks. It's another thing entirely to just blow off millions of deaths and cases of lifetime disability resulting from the diseases against we vaccinate. I've often felt that the pediatric deaths in particular are treated like "collateral" damage by anti-vaxxers. It's as if they just don't matter.

    Thank you for saying your piece.

    @Chris There should always be caveats, as you point out. No one is infallible, regardless of their level of expertise. But experts got that way through investment of years of training and study, and I'll give weight to what they say about evidence-based data and their interpretations of it over the untrained.

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  8. Thanks for the explanation Emily.

    The truth is I do visit the CDC site regularly, which is where I obtained enough information to know that Gardasil might have been rushed to market and has directly resulted in the deaths of 68 girls and caused many other injuries as well. Of course I learned this information after it was too late. I won't cut/paste, as I'm sure you can find the CDC site.

    And we all know that once the FDA approves something, you can count on it being safe, right? (Vioxx) And I don't really think anyone should be concerned that the former head of the CDC Julie Gerberding cashed in big with Merck (maker of 14 vaccines)soon after putting her stamp of approval on Gardasil after 18 months of testing instead of the usual 4 years required to bring a drug to market.

    You can guard and defend your science community all you want Emily, and I would not expect anything else. But as more and more of us experience these inconvenient injuries, our voices will get louder. We're not going away because you spent a lot of hours in school.

    I'm not a troll, nor am I anti-vax. I didn't give a damn about this or Jenny McCarthy until I was hit personally. Isn't that typically the way it is? And you're using the same argument to discredit her that I see everywhere. I believed it until I saw a video of her with about 10 different hairstyles saying exactly, over and over, "I am not anti-vaccine! We need vaccines." But still she wears the anti-vax crown. Yes Emily, that's why we're anonymous. Most of us couldn't take what she gets.

    I'm a concerned and injured citizen, and I value the experience gained from real life as much as you do from science. I want the Pharmaceutical Industry to stop buying our government to get their way.. $1 Billion a year! I want the Scientists to open their minds and figure this out. So please, if you are not the kind of scientist that can handle the truth, feel free to delete any/all posts that don't agree with your very educated and closed mind.

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  9. One more thing Emily. I'm wondering if you know what the "greater good" is in giving newborn babies Hep B vaccines? If there is concern the mother might have it, why don't they just test the mother? I don't know anything about that particular vaccine, but if you've ever had a newborn baby... they're pretty delicate, and this seems odd.

    And I don't care at all if you don't post my last post.. It's not even good. I'm just exhausted from trying to be heard.
    Thanks.

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  10. "Concerned and injured citizens" have a medium for remediation that the U.S. government set up. They don't need to go around on websites and conjure up straw men so they can knock them down. What you've posted above is typical pharma-conspiracy garbage.

    Real life doesn't get you expertise in mechanisms, physiology, virology, developmental biology, neurology, infectious disease, or medicine. Sorry. Training does. Lots and lots of training. Scientists, I can assure you, are grabbing at whatever hypotheses are out there for them to test and research. If you were involved in science or ever talked to scientists, you'd understand that. They're not closed minded. They're open minded, always on the lookout for something new, novel, interesting. But their minds are open to data and evidence. That's how they're trained. If they weren't, they'd be sidetracked again and again by anecdotes and misdirected intuition that end up being meaningless.

    The human mind is notorious for its magical thinking. You're exhibiting it here. Jenny McCarthy's vaccine stance has shifted repeatedly over the years. You say that you don't care about her, but you seem sufficiently aware of her to watch videos of her and to sympathize with the terrible bombardment of evidence and data that she deserved for the shit she was dishing out and the lives she was endangering.

    Nowhere in this post did I ask people to go away simply because scientists are well trained and actually know what they're talking about when ignorant celebrities like Jenny McCarthy do not. Rather, this post was an argument for acknowledging that trained and specific expertise should carry more weight than ignorant celebrity. But I will say that your comment provides an excellent example of the huge struggle we have ahead of us to improve scientific literacy in this country and sharpen critical thinking skills. You say things like, "We're not going away because you spent a lot of hours in school." That's a response to something that doesn't exist, to something I never said or implied. Period.

    Did you know that HPV kills people? Lots of people? The HPV vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine. No, the testing for drug safety is not perfect because it's human driven, but as the Vioxx example demonstrates, scientists are capable of changing conclusions with new data. Are you? You refer to "directly responsible" for the deaths of 68 girls, but that's not a factual statement. Yet you exhort me at the end of your comment to "handle the truth." From the CDC, which you claim to have read: "As of September 15, 2011...there was no unusual pattern or clustering to deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination." And that referred to 34 deaths.

    By the way, you didn't respond to my question about how well tested the alt-med offerings from snake-oil peddlers are. How does the testing for these stand up to the federal process for drug and vaccine approval? Not at all. You can't complain about the extent of the FDA approval process on the one hand and then allow no process whatsoever for other interventions that haven't been tested for 4 hours, much less 4 years.

    I've yet to delete a comment that anyone's posted. But as I've said, I will if they simply continue to beat a dead horse (we're here! We're really loud! Big Pharma is a conspiracy with the government! Half Truths! Straw men!). Bring science. Stay on point. You accuse me of not being able to handle the truth. I am clear eyed and honest about the data and the facts. And I am so able to handle the truth and defend what I say that when I do so, I use my own name.

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  11. Regarding the question about the greater good from Hep B vaccination for newborns, I simply refer you here.

    Full-term newborns are some of the toughest people I know. I've had three of them, so I'm familiar.

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  12. So you dismiss all of us and our experiences (including Jenny's) because you and science know best. That's very typical, and a huge part of the frustration. What about the recent report that the CDC omitted important data about the link from the Pediatrics Journal? More conspiracy? Why has the government paid $Billions for injuries if too many children aren't being injured? It just goes on and on, doesn't it?

    I do not have the answers, but to ignore it while the number of vaccines continue to run amok, and the relationship between Pharma and Government are never satisfactorily explained, doesn't feel right. Not only did you not address that issue, but you point me to a very sad "anecdotal" story re: the Hep B. That baby's mama did have Hep B, so in that particular case, that would make sense, but hardly justifies blanket vaccination of even the "toughest" of them.

    Then you send me to Salon to condemn Jenny's view on vaccines? Really? How about watching her video and hearing it out of her own mouth.. over and over? Would seem more scientific.

    And to answer your question, I try to take care of myself as my fear/distrust of Alternative Medicine is equal to that of the Pharmaceutical Industry, for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

    As I said I don't have the answers, so I'll troll along and surrender your page to the more adept scientific discussions. Clearly I'm not smart enough to know my own story, and am quite exhausted by it all.

    I really do appreciate your time Emily. We didn't accomplish anything, but I always appreciate the attempt.

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  13. P.S. You know that any remediation from the U.S. government, if/when you receive anything, requires a non-disclosure agreement.. which may explain so much anonymity.

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  14. The Hep B link was was not only to an anecdote. The link regarding Jenny's vaccine commentary demonstrates her inexplicable inconsistency on the issue, in direct response to an assertion you made.

    When people start talking about conspiracies, I'm pretty much done. Here's one reason why. Here's another. And here.

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  15. The misinformation available on Google has long bothered me. As a high school science teacher part of my job is to teach students how to separate sense from nonsense including from the web. Currently, with more people using Google and other search engines as their source of information, many of them are taking the results they find with the confidence that people years ago had in information found in Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    Do the people at Google consider this to be a problem that they can work on? I don't know. I did pose that question to them on the WebHelp section along with a link to this blog. I will wait to see if there is any response.

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  16. @Cbullock Thanks for getting in touch with Google. One of the first things I did with my general science classes at the beginning of the semester was to assign them two projects: Find a pseudoscience, using a checklist I gave them, and also determine among Web hits which sources would be the most credible and best to use for information. I think it made our semester much easier to establish these insights for them.

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  17. I have not got much to add, but would like to take a moment to thank you for trying to explain to those who unwittingly endanger children how science works, and why somebody who has gotten some training in a complex field and done their research and know what they are #&%@##@ talking about might be a better source of information than somebody who is just famous.

    This is not by any means a problem limited to vaccine misinformation by the way. I recall raging at the television when Meryl Streep was testifying to Congress about Alar and apples -- regardless of what one thinks about the case against Alar, what in the world does Meryl Streep know about it? Other than enticing a few more people to watch the congressmen posturing on television, not much.

    Having in the past been roundly vilified by friends after speaking out against woo and pseudo-science in the vaccine "debate," I am sympathetic to the abuse you must endure, and grateful for your willingness to endure it. Hopefully, somebody out there will see the light, and some lives will be saved.

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  18. A truly masterful article. It blows my mind how people are willing to ignore scientific evidence because they think Big Pharma are on the take.

    News flash. They are. That is the whole point of a Pharmaceutical company. To make money. That said, that doesn't mean that they are selling bogus harmful stuff. My grocery store wants to make money but they don't sell me poison apples.

    Anti-vax people act like there are no checks and balances. The FDA, and the ENTIRETY OF ACADEMIC SCIENCE look into that. I know, I am an immunologist. If something doesn't work, we don't say, "oh well". Every scientist would love to publish data showing a vaccine is bad for you... that'd be a career making paper. Turns out the only people who have are academically dishonest.

    The thing that really gets my goat though is that people are more concerned with autism over things like measles. In a world where a definitive link between vaccines and autism were shown (a complete fantasy world, of course), I'd still have my kids vaccinated. Because measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, polio, HBV, HPV, etc. can all kill you. Or give you a high fever and cause brain damage. It used to happen all the time. Until vaccines came, that is. Stop vaccinating, and its gonna happen again.

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  19. Is why Google sux. It's based on user preferences of course. But in the economy, people's ability to express their preferences is constrained by their resources (money), proxies for their ability and their priorities. Web clicking like voting is unconstrained, and is why neither should be allowed anywhere near anything that matters.

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  20. Please excuse me; after reading this, I have a couple of nits to pick, although I really don't have much to criticize in the content.

    It is just that your screenshot of the Google search on vaccines shows a couple of CDC and one ScienceDirect hit, as well as some news/medical site hits that look like they may contain legitimate information. Only a couple of the hits appear to be from anti-vaccine sites. Pretty much the same is true of the "vaccines and autism" search result screenshot. But your commentary surrounding the screenshots seems to imply that all of the hits led to anti-vaccine zealots. That is not true.

    I use Google all the time for scientific searches, sometimes even before jumping into PubMed. It helps to be able to judge the scientific quality of sites.

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  21. The screenshots speak for themselves, which is why I included them. The point isn't that there are no reliable sources turning up as hits on the first page. The point is that there are garbage sources like NVIC that do, and that people, as I point out, aren't particularly good at discerning the difference; as an article to which I link describes, students are more likely to take links offered up on the first page or at the top as being valid, regardless of the source.

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  22. So, should reporters stop doing in-depth stories because they haven't logged the hours in a specific subject?
    What good is a newspaper in reporting news if they don't know enough about their subjects to ask the right questions?

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  23. No, that's not what this post is about. And reporters writing science have a specialized beat, often a subspecialty. They build up a certain expertise and, as important, a roster of expert contacts.

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  24. Good blog. Well done! Thank you!
    Scientific illiteracy is getting epidemic in Sweden too! :((

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