Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure. And once again, I’m seeing it.
The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, Reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 200 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see a claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.
Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute anti-vaccine claims take a lot more than 200 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to send that claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.
And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth™. Killing zombie anti-vaccine tropes and memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these anti-vaccine fake facts is a full-time job. Sadly, even after a thorough debunking, someone will call us a paid shill, ignore the evidence, and repeat the trope.
I need to create a bot that automatically refutes every repeated trope. In lieu of that, let’s just discuss the myth. And refute it once again.