PerspectiveSocial Science

A Risky Science Communication Environment for Vaccines

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Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 53-54
DOI: 10.1126/science.1245724

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Controversy over childhood vaccinations is an instance of what might be styled the “science communication problem”—the failure of compelling scientific evidence to resolve public dispute over risks and similar facts (1). This problem itself has been the focus of scientific study since the 1970s, when psychologists began to investigate the divergence between expert and public opinion on nuclear power. Indeed, the science of science communication that this body of work comprises can now be used not just to explain controversy over risk but also to predict, manage, and in theory avoid conditions likely to trigger it. The example of childhood vaccinations illustrates these points—and teaches an important practical lesson.