YANSS 189 – Why we must use social science to fight misinformation, partisanship, conspiratorial thinking, and general confusion when we finally have a vaccine for COVID-19

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we sit down with four experts on vaccines, epidemiology, psychology, and science communication to try and understand how we created so much confusion about COVID-19, and how we can avoid doing so again when a vaccine is ready for widespread, public distribution.

Also in the show, you will also hear from Dr. Paul Offit about exactly what it will take to make that vaccine and when it will likely arrive.

A recent poll showed that more than one-third of U.S. citizens would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it was offered right now, for free.

Since this is a show about the psychology of reasoning, decision making, sand judgment, at first, when I was gathering interviews for this episode, I thought this was another example of the tribal signaling, as detailed in our episode about anti-maskers.

In short, I thought, as with masks, vaccinating or refusing to vaccine was going to be another badge of loyalty, or a symbol of shame, depending on who you consider “us” and who you consider “them,” and unaware that this is what is motivating those attitudes, people would search for reasons, which they would communicate with justification and rationalizations, tailored so that they seem reasonable to the people who share their values.

But as I gathered interviews about what might lead to this particular vaccine hesitancy, it quickly became clear that this behavior was driven by something completely different. So that’s one thing we are going to talk about in this episode.

Another thing we are going to talk about is just how impactful the anti-maskers have been, but not in the way you might think. The widespread refusal to wear masks has lead those people who are now responsible for creating and distributing a vaccine to ask for help from science communicators and experts in persuasion and social science, when it comes time to encourage people to vaccinate. In this episode, you will hear from two such people who are consulting with those institutions, and you will hear what they told those institutions when they asked, “How do we avoid what happened with masks when it comes to the vaccine?”

And third, you will hear to from a social scientist who, years ago, discovered the most effective way to persuade people who are hesitant to vaccinate their children, including those people we might label as anti-vaxxers.

Dr. Paul Offit
Dr. Paul Offit

From his official bio, “Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology. He is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that has been credited with saving hundreds of lives every day.” Offit is a professor of vaccinology and pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit has published more than 160 papers in medical and scientific journals. He is the author of ten books on science and medicine.

TWITTER: @drpauloffit

Dr. Joe Hanson

Dr. Joe Hanson, is a science writer, biologist, and YouTube educator. He is the creator and host of It’s Okay To Be Smart, an award-winning science education show from PBS Digital Studios that celebrates curiosity and the pleasure of finding things out. His science writing has been published by WIRED, Nautilus, Scientific American and Texas Monthly.

TWITTER: @DrJoeHanson

Jay Van Bavel
Dr. Jay Van Bavel

From “neurons to social networks,” Jay Van Bavel studies how collective concerns like morals, group identity, and political beliefs affect human brains. His team at the Social Evaluation and Perception Lab studies these issues using social neuroscience, and approach that uses neuroimaging, lesion patients, and linguistic analysis of social media to examine how humans in groups affect the beliefs and perceptions of other humans in groups.

TWITTER: @jayvanbavel

Avnika Amin
Avnika Amin

Avnika Amin is an Epidemiology PHD candidate at Emory University and co-author of the paper “Association of Moral Values with Vaccine Hesitancy” which explored the connection between Moral Foundations Theory and how to best persuade anti-vaxxers to vaccinate.

TWITTER: @vivaciousvax

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with The Psychology of Human Behavior taught by David W. Martin. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world and what motivates us to think, feel, and behave differently from one another. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.


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Links and Sources

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Previous Episodes

Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response

The Bad News Game

The Vaccine Testing and Approval Process

Why face masks became political in the US

Crisis & Emergency Risk Communication (CERC)

9 Drugmakers Sign Safety Pledge In Rush To Develop Coronavirus Vaccine

Operation Warp Speed

Prepare to wear masks and socially distance even after getting COVID-19 vaccine

Trump contradicts CDC chief on when vaccine will be widely available

Jay Van Bavel

Paul Offit

Avnika Amin

Joe Hanson

YANSS 088 – How to bridge the political divide with better moral arguments


Jonathan Haidt’s TED Talk

Related Papers:

Music: Espanto, Espanto, and Caravan Palace