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Aust N Z J Public Health. 2010 Oct;34(5):521-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00601.x.

Fact or fallacy? Immunisation arguments in the New Zealand print media.

Author information

1
Department of General Practice & Primary Health Care, The University of Auckland, New Zealand. h.petousis-harris@auckland.ac.nz

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To explore New Zealand's four major daily newspapers' coverage of immunisation with regards to errors of fact and fallacy in construction of immunisation-related arguments.

METHODS:

All articles from 2002 to 2007 were assessed for errors of fact and logic. Fact was defined as that which was supported by the most current evidence-based medical literature. Errors of logic were assessed using a classical taxonomy broadly based in Aristotle's classifications.

RESULTS:

Numerous errors of both fact and logic were identified, predominantly used by anti-immunisation proponents, but occasionally by health authorities. The proportion of media articles reporting exclusively fact changes over time during the life of a vaccine where new vaccines incur little fallacious reporting and established vaccines generate inaccurate claims. Fallacious arguments can be deconstructed and classified into a classical taxonomy including non sequitur and argumentum ad Hominem.

CONCLUSION:

Most media 'balance' given to immunisation relies on 'he said, she said' arguments using quotes from opposing spokespersons with a failure to verify the scientific validity of both the material and the source.

IMPLICATIONS:

Health professionals and media need training so that recognising and critiquing public health arguments becomes accepted practice: stronger public relations strategies should challenge poor quality articles to journalists' code of ethics and the health sector needs to be proactive in predicting and pre-empting the expected responses to introduction of new public health initiatives such as a new vaccine.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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