Cultural anthropologist opens Pandora's box

The Internet has been labeled a modern day Pandora’s box. It can let loose on the Internet viewing public any and all knowledge and opinions. Anna Kata, a graduate student in anthropology at McMaster University, mined several Internet sites for the “social discourse” they establish concerning the dangers of vaccination.

As context, she reports that around 74 percent of Americans and 72 percent of Canadians are online. Of them, between 75-80 percent of users search for health information. Of them, 70 percent say that the information they access influences their medical treatment decisions.

Using Google as her search engine, Kata used inclusion criteria to label a particular website as “anti-vaccination.” Of these, she examined eight American and Canadian sites for content analysis.

Some of the prominent themes that emerged are:

•safety and effectiveness (vaccines are poisons; vaccines are not effective)
•alternative medicine endorsed in place of vaccines (“back to nature”)
•civil liberties (parental rights); conspiracy theories (accusations of cover-up)
•morality, religion, and ideology (go with god-given immune system)
•misinformation about vaccine studies
•emotive appeals (personal testimonies)

In conclusion, she returns to the metaphor of Pandora’s box in pointing out that the Internet releases a wide array of misinformation that is difficult to combat. Combating vaccine misinformation, she argues, with education is necessary but not sufficient. Analysis of the social discourse on the Internet can help pinpoint areas that need countering.

Image: “Vacuna influenza,” from flickr user alvi2407, Creative Commons.

One thought on “Cultural anthropologist opens Pandora's box

  1. Pingback: Wednesday Round Up #109 « Neuroanthropology

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