Do you think pharmaceutical companies are creating problems that don't exist in order to keep selling drugs to an increasingly over-medicated population? Do you think scientists are unethical if they work at a corporation like DuPont or in nuclear science, rather than being funded by the government?

Such beliefs have become so increasingly mainstream among a particular political and cultural demographic that we can quite easily make lots of accurate determinations about them, the same way we can infer things about someone if they don't buy into global warming.

Yet kids are the ones most likely to be harmed by the anti-vaccination fad and, in the the U.S., parents who live in places where anti-vaccination beliefs are rampant skew far to the left yet are ironically most likely to invoke libertarianism and personal freedom when it comes to their cherubs from mainstream medicine. But fellow progressives give them a wink-wink "you are just anti-corporation" blanket rationalization, something they don't do for anti-science beliefs held by the right wing.

And that's bad. Really bad. We need to stop making excuses and start calling corrosive anti-science thinking what it is, no matter how often they vote on the same side as us.

Some children have always not gotten vaccines, of course, but it used to be that such personal exemptions were due to fringe religious beliefs. Today they are instead latched onto by people with a feel-good fallacy about nature - they won't pray to cure disease, they will use herbs. Instead of being poor, uneducated Bible thumpers motivated by fear, anti-vaccine believers are rich, well-educated elites motivated by fear. And they carry with them a whole host of other odd beliefs - if you want to find an anti-vaccine hot spot, take a protractor and draw a circle around a Whole Foods store. And Whole Foods knows its customers, so they keep plenty of non-GMO rock salt and books on homeopathy in stock also.

But rich, educated progressives only care about kids to a certain point  - they care about their own but not yours. Because they are educated, they understand herd immunity and that not all kids need to be vaccinated for all kids to benefit - so they want Republican kids to get vaccines, and lots of poor Democratic ones too, in order to insure that their special snowflakes benefit from herd immunity without having to be put 'at risk' by vaccines that have saved tens of millions of children and wiped out polio. As a result, a more religious, less educated Republican state like Alabama will have a tiny 0.5% exemption rate, while liberal, educated Washington state is below the herd immunity threshold at over 6% exemption and a group of schools in far-left Seattle have a 20% exemption rate. That's not the worst, though - at least one school in Marin Country, California has a 74% exemption rate. It won't surprise anyone to find out those parents are on the coast and vote 86% for the political party that caters to such goofy mentalities and rationalizes that they are "anti-corporation" rather than anti-science.

By not calling out the anti-science fifth columnists among their own voting bloc, the way they specifically name and shame Republicans about global warming, journalists and scientists are doing the public a real disservice. Because Scare Journalism and False Balance work.

University of Kent psychologists Daniel Jolley and Dr. Karen Douglas used survey results from 89 British parents (80 women, 9 men), solicited using social media, about their disillusionment regarding vaccines and found, unsurprisingly, that anti-vaccine sentiment was linked with lower intention to vaccinate even a fictional child.

What was more surprising was that those beliefs were easy to manufacture. In a second experiment, 188 U.S. participants (112 women and 76 men), found using  Amazon's Mechanical Turk, who read about anti-vaccine beliefs were then less likely to have a fictional child vaccinated, compared to the control group and a similar-sized group of people who were given information debunking anti-vaccine beliefs.

Multiple bootstrapping mediation test of the relationship between anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs and vaccination intentions. Dashed lines highlight non-significant relationships and solid lines highlight significant relationships. Boldface type highlights a significant effect as determined by the Monte Carlo 90% confidence interval (CI) which does not contain a zero. 

The UK invented the vaccine-autism scare, just like they invented the anti-science GMO movement, so now they have a problem just like Californa does - declining vaccination rates and recent outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles. Like in California, British people have a higher level of distrust in scientists so having more scientists and doctors saying vaccines are good is not the answer. Instead, the pressure has to come from the overall culture that, to-date, has refused to hold this demographic responsible the way we have those who deny climate change and evolution.

In their statement, Douglas said, "It is easy to treat belief in conspiracy theories lightly, but our studies show that wariness about conspiracy theories may be warranted. Ongoing investigations are needed to further identify the social consequences of conspiracism and to identify potential ways to combat the effects of an ever-increasing culture of conspiracism."

Conspiracy theories abound across all groups, of course. Some right wing people insist that global warming studies are being perpetuated by liberals who are protecting their funding and not hiring anyone who disagrees with the group think. Yet we don't dismiss those beliefs as "anti-government", we call them anti-science. Because they are, just like anti-vaccine, anti-GMO and anti-energy beliefs.

It's time to stop coddling the anti-science beliefs of the left and treat them the same way we do those of the right. That way we can effect change and protect all kids, and not just the ones lucky enough to be born into rich liberal families.

Citation: Jolley D, Douglas KM (2014) The Effects of Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Theories on Vaccination Intentions. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89177. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089177