Blog Post 6: Internet Source Reliability

For every reliable Routers source on the internet, there are ten Rainbow Conspiracy Ladies. People who have dial-up, but maybe not a high school degree – people who just plain don’t know what they’re talking about.

What’s nice about Rainbow Conspiracy Lady is that she’s laughable. She’s one clueless woman with a camera, a backyard and a sprinkler who accidentally exposed her ignorance to the world – and we get to sit back and giggle, knowing that only people as hopeless as she is will actually get concerned about ‘whatever’s in our water’.

If you like that sort of thing, also try out the Dihydrogen Monoxide awareness website, which almost looks credible if you squint – again, this site is pretty funny because it’s not actually out to get anyone. It’s kind of Stephen Colbert-styled in its use of verbal irony:
“Unfortunately, some have seen fit to fill many thousands of web pages with purposely slanted propaganda meant more to titillate and sensationalize than to inform. The following “information” about Dihydrogen Monoxide is what you’ll commonly find on the Internet. The Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division does not endorse the use of such scare tactics, particularly when telling people about the invisible killer, Dihydrogen Monoxide.”

Unfortunately for us, not all incorrect information is clueless or meant as a joke. There is a huge profit to be had from misinformation, and there are enough niches in the science world that the average person doesn’t understand that the right person with the right credentials can make a mint off of lying.

The first thing that pops up in google for Andrew Wakefield is "andrew wakefield fraud". Check it out.

Enter Andrew Wakefield, one of the most infamous names in the medical community. Wakefield is a UK doctor – that is, he was a doctor, until very recently – who made a living off of scaring mothers and expecting mothers about infant vaccines. While he got book deal profits and benefited from law suits against hospitals and governments, Great Britain suffered the consequences of families that were wrongly informed and not properly treating their newborns. Wakefield had claimed that the MMR vaccine (among others) could cause autism and other serious health risks in otherwise healthy children. Despite countries all over the world stating that the evidence for this was flawed at best, people love a conspiracy. Wakefield continued claiming that more papers would be published soon with more solid links between the thimerosal in vaccines and autism. The internet was swarmed with misinformation and online communities for expecting moms began supporting each other in talking to their doctors about skipping early-childhood vaccinations that would have saved their children from measles and worse. The above link to the Irish measles epidemic is from 2001, but that doesn’t mean this is old news. There are still plenty of families that plan on having children and not getting them their shots for this exact reason.

And why would Wakefield do this? For the money. Wakefield got over £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. And if you’re hoping that maybe those lawyers were also doctors, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

This year CNN reported on even further evidence disproving the autism/vaccination connection, but sadly the damage has already been done. By definition a conspiracy must be denied by those in charge. The misinformation is still being perpetuated by the under-informed, the wrongly-informed, and the just plain scared. And the worst part is that it’s the newborns that suffer the consequences. I hope Wakefield spent all that money on something really great.

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