The Sunday Magazine

We won an award for dishonesty, and we're very proud of it! - Michael's essay

The "Adding Insult to Injury Award" recognises deception, distortion and dishonesty in media. It comes from Vaccine Choice Canada, which says vaccinations cause autism in children. The award honours our interview about the so-called backfire effect — the inability of people to change their opinions even after being presented with the facts — in which the anti-vaccine movement was used to illustrate the intransigence of people holding views contradicted by evidence.
Michael proudly accepts an award for deception, distortion and dishonesty from Vaccine Choice Canada, an organization that believes vaccinations cause autism in children. The award honours our interview about the backfire effect — the inability of people to change their opinions even after being presented with the facts. (Tony Talbot/AP)

In December, 1962, Esquire magazine established what it called its Dubious Achievement Awards.

These were a series of fictional prizes given to celebrities, politicians, and business leaders who committed some egregious blunder that year, a gaffe worthy of a kind of Hall of Shame.

The annual event became so popular that readers and media hungered for it year after year.

Now there are dubious awards everywhere, across all genres — movies, television, commercials.

Every news organization hungers to win awards. They display them in glass cases in the lobby. They write stories about the individual winners.

Your public broadcaster is no different. We love getting awards. The award season is about to begin, with various programs submitting entries to award-conferring bodies. Over the years, the CBC — radio and television — has received hundreds of plaques, statuettes, proclamations recognizing significant achievements in reporting and broadcasting.

At the tail end of 2016, we received an official looking envelope containing an official, suitable-for-framing, award certificate. Because of its importance, I want to read the official proclamation word for word:

To wit - "The 2016 Adding Insult to Injury Award, recognizing deception, distortion and dishonesty in Media, awarded to CBC Radio — The Sunday Edition."

The award was presented by the Board of Directors of Vaccine Choice Canada.

For those unaware of Vaccine Choice Canada, it is an organization opposed to the compulsory vaccination of children.

Its argument is that ordinary vaccinations can neurologically wound children or kill them outright. It  blames vaccination for seeming increases in autism spectrum disorder.

It assiduously ignores the burden of evidence from the World Health Organization at the top of the health chain, down to your local family physician and pharmacist, that this is not the case.

This image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an electron microscope image of a measles virus particle. (The Associated Press)

Measles is one of the most contagious and deadly diseases on the planet. It kills about 100,000 children every year.

What Vaccine Choice Canada objects to is a story we broadcast on last June on the backfire effect.

I interviewed an American professor named Brendan Nyhan. He explained the backfire effect as the inability of many people to change their opinions, even after presented with irrefutable facts to the contrary.

It matters not how many facts are marshalled to contradict them. They are resolute, even reinforced, in their views.

The fact-checking site "PolitiFact" rates the majority of Donald Trump's statements as false. Yet even when the facts disprove his statements, his followers continue to believe him. It's an example of a phenomenon called the backfire effect.

During the interview, Professor Nyhan used the anti-vaccine movement as another example of the intransigence of people holding views which are contradicted by evidence.

With the anti-vaccine movement, it is especially difficult. As the New York Times pointed out in early January, the anti-vaccine group "is not a bastion of rationality."

Although study after study has demonstrated there is no link between vaccination and such diseases as autism, the anti-vaxxers continue their crusade.

You have to be an automaton not to feel sorry for parents dealing with autism, who search for some explanation for their child's disorder. In desperation they turn to garbage science and conspiracy theories.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a 21 page document listing all the studies showing that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

Nevertheless, the arguments put out by the anti-vaxxers seems to be gaining ground in the United State, especially in the south and especially in Texas.

Peter Hotez is a pediatrician with the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Dr. Hotez, writing in the New York Times, said that because the number of unvaccinated children is rising, there could be serious outbreaks of measles in his state.

It doesn't help things when the sitting president believes that vaccines cause autism.

In this photo illustration, vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are displayed on a counter at a Walgreens Pharmacy on January 26, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Dr. Hotez said: "I'm worried that our nation's health will soon be threatened because we have not stood up to the pseudoscience and fake conspiracy claims of this movement."

Incidentally, Dr. Hotez has a daughter with autism.

In 2000, the US Centres for Disease Control announced that measles had been eliminated in the United States, meaning it was no longer endemic to the US.

Now it appears to be coming back. Which means a renewed attention on the importance of vaccination and the skeptics who oppose it.

So on behalf of The Sunday Edition, I humbly accept the 2016 Adding Insult to Injury Award, and give it pride of place in our office.

Click the button above to hear Michael's essay.