With all the conflicting information, how can I figure out what's true about vaccines?
There is so much information available online today and one source may contradict another. This is particularly true with vaccine information. So, how do you figure out what is fact and what is fiction?
Here are a couple of helpful tips:
- Look for expertise. Everyone has an opinion but not everyone’s opinion is based on science and facts. So look for people who are actually vaccine experts. Just because someone is a doctor, doesn’t make them an expert in vaccines. While pediatricians are probably pretty well versed in vaccines, an emergency room doctor probably isn’t.
- Look for established institutions. A lot of folks opposed to vaccines will call established institutions “mainstream” which is their code for part being of what they consider to be a problem. But here’s the facts: the established institutions are established because they conduct rigorous research. They base their recommendations on what the science tells them rather than crafting the science to support what they want to recommend. So look for those established institutions and don’t be swayed by “independent research.” The reality is that if research is not supported by an established institution, it’s probably because it isn’t scientifically rigorous.
- Beware of commercial sites. If a site is selling something, it has a financial stake in you believing what they are telling you. So be skeptical of a website that is selling supplements and other alternatives to vaccines. Their profit is tied to convincing you that vaccines are not good for your family.
- Understand and identify bias. Bias is when our opinions influence what we believe. There are all sorts of biases but the one most common on the internet is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we interpret facts to confirm our existing beliefs. You see this all the time when someone will take a credible institution’s statement out of context to confirm what they want you to believe. Go back to the original content and make sure it’s really saying what the author wants you to believe.
- Consider the look and feel of a website. If it looks homegrown and amatuer, that’s not a good thing. When it comes to finding credible information, looks count because established institutions will create professional content. Google experts create homegrown sites.
- Check the links. Reputable websites will often link to each other and established institutions. But if the links are to a random website, beware.
- Check the date. With science, particularly with vaccine preventable outbreaks, the data evolves as scientists learn more. That’s a good thing because it means that experts are constantly striving to better understand things that can make us sick. So if the information you are looking at is old, it may be out of date and it’s also a signal that the website is not as credible as other websites because it is not providing the most current information.