Because vaccine hesitancy has been framed as a problem of public misunderstanding of science, vaccine outreach has focused on educating the misguided publics. Where efforts to change vaccine attitudes have failed, cynicism has bred the harsher view that the publics are anti-science and anti-expertise. Yet research into science and the publics lends strong support to the view that public attitudes regarding scientific claims turn crucially on epistemic trust rather than familiarity with science itself. It follows that it is poor trust in the expert sources that engender vaccine hesitancy. This consideration redraws the lines of responsibility, where vaccine hesitancy signals a problem with scientific governance rather than a problem with the wayward publics. In order to improve vaccine communications, we should focus on building that trust rather than educating the misinformed publics or puzzling over the moral and epistemic failings of the publics. Doing this does not discount that public health agencies have the science on their sides. It does mean recognizing that the best science is not enough to ensure public uptake of health recommendations.
About the speaker
Maya Goldenberg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph and a member of Graduate Faculty at the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto. Her research is in philosophy of medicine, philosophy of science, and bioethics. She is author of Vaccine Hesitancy: Public Trust, Expertise, and the War on Science (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021) and journal publications addressing philosophical issues in evidence-based medicine, vaccination, science and values, clinical care, and women’s health.
How to join
Hosted by the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life and the American University of Armenia, the PERITIA Lectures are open to all upon registration via Zoom and moderated by science communicator Shane Bergin. This online series runs in two parts every second Tuesday, from April to June and from September to November 2021. Participants are invited to join an interactive Q&A debate after each lecture. Reading materials are available for academic purposes on this page. Registration is free.