Protecting the Science Communication Environment: The Case of Childhood Vaccines

The Cultural Cognition Project, Working Paper No. 244

32 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2016

See all articles by Dan M. Kahan

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: August 23, 2016


This paper examines childhood vaccines. It is animated by two reciprocal goals. One is to illustrate how the quality of the science communicating environment — the sum total of practices and cues that orient individuals in relation to what is known by science — affects the public’s recognition of one vital form of decision-relevant science. The other is to underscore the critical need for self-conscious management of the quality of the science communication environment to protect public health. The paper starts with the case of the wide-spread rejection of the requirement of universal immunization of adolescents against the human papilloma virus in the U.S.: that outcome, the paper argues, was attributable in full to reckless private and governmental decisionmaking that aggravated influences known to detract from the capacity of diverse citizens to recognize valid decision-relevant science. Next the paper examines the situation for other childhood vaccines: the same laissez faire stance has in that context left the science communication environment unprotected from a host of influences that threaten to corrode confidence in his critical public-health policy. The paper concludes, more optimistically, with a set of recommendations that parallel and amplify ones made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Advisory Council (2015) to systematize evidence-based science communication relating to childhood vaccination. The NVAC Report, the paper suggests, furnishes a blueprint for a much larger scale project to fashion a set of institutions and cultural practices suited for protecting the science communication environment.

Keywords: vaccination, science communication, cultural cognition, social norms

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., Protecting the Science Communication Environment: The Case of Childhood Vaccines (August 23, 2016). The Cultural Cognition Project, Working Paper No. 244. Available at SSRN: or

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


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