The latest scare is related to the relaively new swine-flu vaccine, Pandemrix. There are concerns that there may be a link between having the vaccination and developing narcolepsy, but this has been taken by some as further confirmation that all vaccines are inherently dangerous.
To put things into perspective, over 30.8 million of these vaccines have been administered within the EU. 167 people have been diagnosed with narcolepsy possibly associated with Pandemrix in these countries. This means that the side effect, while highly unpleasant, is very rare - only 0.00054% of people were affected, or just over one in 200,000. You have a higher chance of getting a chest infection from taking aspirin than you do of geting narcolepsy from this vaccine.
The Daily Mail, displaying its usual level-headedness and calm, has published another anecdotal article about Pandemrix. Here we see the key hallmark of the irrational: emotional blackmail. By putting the story in the context of a distressed mother and her child, any criticism or mention of scaremongering will be met with disapproval. Pseudoscientists and charlatans are very adept at this sort of manipulation.
I know a lot of us don't the Daily Mail as a reliable source of evidence but the comments on the page speak volumes. Many people believe that vaccines are toxic and unnecessary and they genuinely think they are doing the right thing for their children by avoiding them. The following two comments highlight a lack of understanding about the subject and illustrate the hysteria surrounding it:
"she couldn't have researched it that well because there were more than enough warnings going around the web about it including on the DM. What do parents expect to happen when we keep filling our childrens little bodies with jab after jab of toxins?"Normally I would find these kinds of comments and hyperbole amusing, but this kind of attitude can put people at serious risk and even kill them. A lot more needs to be done to educate people about the science behind vaccines and a measured view of the associated risks - these health scare stories shift papers but they do nothing to improve public health.
"This kind of thing has been happening for years in the US. The are many people who don't let the state give their kids vaccinations any more because of shit like this! They are drugging the population with crap in the vaccines!"
In light of scare stories like these I have decided to create a project for my own personal amusement. Benedict Price from Affpuddle, Lancashire will be stalking these articles posting huge straw men whenever he can - his latest contribution (still pending) on the vaccines article will compare the Pandemrix vaccine to being injected with dishwater and portray scientists as money-hungry boffins. I'm interested to see the reaction to these kinds of comments, it's surprising how some people can interpret (or misinterpret) basic data and scientific concepts. Rational argument has been known to work on the Guardian pages on occasion but it's worth measuring opinion in other sources as well.
Is it still trolling if you're claiming it's supposed to be research?