"Anti" sites most likely to come up first during Internet searches on vaccination

Almost half of the first top 10 websites displayed by leading search engines on vaccination are emotive “anti” sites, finds a study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Many masquerade as official scientific sites, making it easier for users to be misinformed, say the authors.

The researchers keyed in the terms “vaccination” and “immunis(z)ation” into seven leading search engines: Google; Netscape; Altavista; GoTo; HotBot; Lycos; and Yahoo. They then used just the term “vaccination,” for the Google search engine until they found 100 “anti”sites, each of which was reviewed for content.

Among the first top 10 websites displayed by the seven search engines, 43 per cent were “anti” sites. In the case of Google, all 10 websites displayed were “anti” sites. The term immunisation displayed fewer such sites in the first top 10.

The extended review of the 100 further sites showed that they attempted to present themselves as legitimate, scientifically credible authorities, often using implied official status and extensively “referencing” their statements, to give the impression of a mass of data on the dangers of vaccination.

Over half of the sites mentioned the doctors who have spoken out against vaccination as evidence of a conspiracy because the authorities themselves cannot agree. A third of sites promoted themselves as impartial sources of information, but only 15 per cent contained any information at all in support of vaccination.

Almost all the sites took the “us versus them” stance, in terms of loving parents seeking to protect their children from harm, struggling against a faceless and greedy collusion of doctors, government officials, and the pharmaceutical industry. And nearly all referred to their protests as a search for truth against a background of cover-up and denial.

Many sites claimed that infectious disease was caused by lifestyle and that vaccines were poisonous, ineffective, and responsible for a range of behavioural problems and serious disease, including brain damage and cancer.

“Where medicine is impotent to provide a culprit for many idiopathic disorders, anti vaccinationists can fill the void, providing answers and solidarity for parents who feel abandoned by medical authorities,” comment the authors. For a generation with no first hand experience of vaccine preventable diseases, the risk of adverse reactions is far more immediate than the bigger picture of disease prevention, they say.

Refuting these claims with hard facts won’t counter the highly rhetorical appeals made by the “anti” sites, conclude the authors.

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