How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement
A history of the anti-vaccination movement, from its nineteenth-century antecedents to today's anti-vax activism, offering strategies for refuting its claims.
Vaccines are a documented success story, one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Yet there is a vocal anti-vaccination movement, featuring celebrity activists (including actress Jenny McCarthy and British rapper M.I.A., who attracted attention for tweeting during the pandemic “If I have to choose the vaccine or chip I'm gonna choose death”) and the propagation of anti-vax claims through books, documentaries, and social media. In Anti-vaxxers, Jonathan Berman explores the phenomenon of the anti-vaccination movement, recounting its history from its nineteenth-century antecedents to today's activism, examining its claims, and suggesting a strategy for countering them.
After providing background information on vaccines and how they work, Berman describes resistance to Britain's Vaccination Act of 1853, showing that the arguments anticipate those made by today's anti-vaxxers. He discusses the development of new vaccines in the twentieth century, including those protecting against polio and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and the debunked paper that linked the MMR vaccine to autism; the CDC conspiracy theory promoted in the documentary Vaxxed; recommendations for an alternative vaccination schedule; Kennedy's misinformed campaign against thimerosal; and the much-abused religious exemption to vaccination.
Anti-vaxxers have changed their minds, but rarely because someone has given them a list of facts. Berman argues that anti-vaccination activism is tied closely to how people see themselves as parents and community members. Effective pro-vaccination efforts should emphasize these cultural aspects rather than battling social media posts.
Pre-Order Paperback$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262539326 304 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 4 b&w illus.
"Science professor Berman debuts with a useful guide for readers concerned about the opposition to vaccinations...The book's greatest value comes from its insights into how common cognitive errors can lead even the well-informed to see false correlations between vaccination and health problems. Berman also provides practical suggestions about how best to engage, and potentially convert, vaccine opponents, arguing that 'people change their own minds; we can't do it for them.' Given hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine, this accomplished exploration of a vexing topic couldn't be more timely."
"Berman dispels anti-vax fears and subterfuges with straight, scientific evidence."
“The book does not attack the movement, but rather provides readers with historical and cultural context to understanding the beliefs of those within the anti-vaccination movement…Recommended for those countering the anti-vaccination movement, as well as those with an interest in cultural and historical antecedents of the movement.”
Written by one of the founders of the 'March for Science' movement, Anti-vaxxers is a tour-de-force examination of anti-vax arguments that is destined to become a classic in the field. Before you get into another argument with an anti-vaxxer, simply pull this book off the shelf, hand it to them, and say 'here.'
Research Fellow, Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University; author of Post-Truth and The Scientific Attitude
In Anti-Vaxxers, Jonathan Berman reveals the strategies, influence, and psychology of a movement that the World Health Organization has called one of the top ten threats to global health. An urgent and engaging read.
Paul A. Offit
Professor of Pediatrics, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; author of Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes Too Far