If you’ve ever talked to a scientist, you know they usually have pretty strong opinions that they are not shy about expressing. Except, apparently, in the comments section of general science blogs. Here the silence is scary and, depending on whether these comment sections matter or not, potentially dangerous.
If the comments section is a sort of clearinghouse of ideas, then scientists need to be represented in a science blog. People should hear every part of a debate including a scientist's perspective. This is especially true if the blog hinges on some key scientific fact which has a huge amount of data to support it. A scientist needs to step up and let people know what the data shows. Unfortunately, this isn't happening right now as much as it should.
This situation has kind of bothered me for awhile but a red flag went up as I perused the comments section of Liza Gross’ recent blog on vaccines. There were a couple of comments that were flat out wrong and yet no one challenged these doozies directly. And what’s more, there seemed to mostly be support from the other commenters which may have made the comments seem more legitimate than they were.
The most egregious assertion in the comments was that “vaccines have never saved us from these diseases…” This is factually incorrect and it would be extremely difficult to find a scientist that agrees with this assertion. Not because they have all been bought off by pharmaceutical companies but because the facts completely disprove this assertion. There is no “controversy” in the scientific world about the fact that vaccines have saved millions of lives.
After reading this comment, I waited patiently for someone to refute it. There was eventually a comment that refuted a different part of this comment but it didn’t focus on the idea that vaccines have never prevented any diseases. In the meantime the comment got 23 little up arrows (equivalent I suppose to likes on Facebook) and only three down arrows (one of which was mine!). This made it look like most people agree with this assertion.