Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, he hangs around with terrorists, is a muslim, has a wife that refers to people as ‘whitey’ and was born on Krypton.
Ok, only some of those facts are true (his middle name is Hussein and he was born on Krypton) but the others are just some of scurrilous rumours currently doing the rounds on the Internet. This process has got so bad that his campaign team have setup a website to try and combat the misinformation. However, is this the best thing to do?
Several studies have shown that even after seeing a piece of information discredited or contradicted, people still form judgments based on the original information. In fact, by contradicting the claim, you may just be giving it a wider airing.
Here in the UK, we’ve seen exactly this effect occurring with the debate over the combined MMR inoculation. This is a combined injection designed to inoculate against measles, mumps and rubella in children.
In February 1998 a British doctor, Dr Andrew Wakefield, then a reader in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital, suggested that the MMR vaccine might be linked to an increased risk of autism and bowel disorders in a study in the Lancet. This led to many parents refusing to give their children the jab, resulting in an increased risk of a measles, mumps or rubella epidemic.
In the following month a panel of experts from the British Medical Council denied this claim, saying that there was no evidence of any link and the study was further denied by a Finnish study the following month. Numerous other studies followed which also found no evidence to back up parent’s fears, the Lancet regretted running the study and Doctor Wakefield was eventually investigated for professional misconduct.
However, inoculation levels have still yet to return to normal with only 49% of children in London having had the jab by their fifth birthday.
The dangers from outbreaks of these diseases is clearly higher than any potential autism risk, which has been fairly clearly rebuffed, but people are clearly not judging on the current evidence, sticking instead to the doubts placed by the original sensationalist claim.
Apparently 12% of voters still think Obama is a Muslim and a quarter don’t know because “they’ve heard different things about him”, so contradicting that claim isn’t working completely either, but I think we have at least established that he wasn’t born in a manger.