Scientific uncertainty and the quest for explanations

Recently there has been a spate of editorials discussing the incontrovertible eveidence that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. An example can be found in today’s Wall Street Journal:

In this blog and in other places I have written in one way or another about the negative resuts of public discussion and policy making running ahead of the science the discussions and policy making are supposedly based on. Cognitively, we do not deal with uncertainty very well – the anecdotes about our perceptions of risk and on human decision-making are legion. The most familiar example is the number of people who will not risk flying but drive thousands of miles on the highway.
So even thought the science supporting the link behind MMR vaccine and autism was weak right from the beginning – the findings preyed on the fears and the uncertainties of parents who had to make a decision. And it offered an fairly easy to understand explanation to parents suffering with trying to understand how a terrible disease could be afflicting a child. The MMR provided an external, readily identified enemy to blame. Perhaps the worst aspect of all of this is that good data AFTER THE FACT can rarely dislodge doubt. Energy, resources, and skill have been deflected from the real problem to a fake one. There is lots of balme to share. As private funders, and disease advocates – it is time for us to take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we could do differently next time.