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What Happens when Activist Claims Contradict Science?

The internet is one of the most wonderful things ever invented by humanity. A global network that allows anyone, anywhere to access knowledge, and keep in touch with people of different cultures, often on different continents, can be an incredibly useful tool – in the right hands. Unfortunately, it’s often used to disseminate false information, claims that oppugn not only science but also common sense. Some of these might seem innocent – like the claims of the Earth being flat – but there are times when these claims can be truly dangerous, even threatening lives.

Here are two examples of online activists claiming things with no scientific background that are detrimental, or even dangerous.

The famous anti-vaxxer movement

British surgeon Andrew Wakefield published a study in the prestigious medical journal “The Lancet” in 1997, linking autism to some components in the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The study was, of course, picked up by the mainstream media, and discussed all over the world, until it was proven to be without any substance, and rebutted by the author himself. The study was dismissed but not forgotten: years later it has served as a basis for a series of claims linking vaccination to autism.

Today, millions of children worldwide grow up without the protection vaccines provide from preventable diseases. The result: diseases thought to be done, like the measles and polio, re-emerge in various territories. In the second half of 2016, a measles outbreak in Romania (a member state of the European Union) has emerged, infecting over 600 children, and killing three. These deaths and hundreds of others could have been prevented…

The case of gambling in USA

Canadian gamblers have access to a handful of Canadian casinos online. US gamblers also do but only in one of the US states – New Jersey. The small progress the US has made toward the regulation of this lucrative industry was endangered, though, by a major group of anti-online gambling activists (backed by a powerful land-based casino executive) last year. Among the claims the group sustained, there was one referring to how much the occurrence of gambling addiction has grown since the introduction of online casinos in 1994. Unfortunately for them, science was there to prove them wrong.

Problem gambling is, of course, a real issue, but its prevalence is often overacted by its opponents. In a 2011 study, Harvard researchers Howard Shaffer and Ryan Martin showed that the ” prevalence of PG [pathological gambling] has remained stable or been influenced by adaptation during the past 35 years despite an unprecedented increase in opportunities and access to gambling”. Another claim with possibly dangerous implications on policy-making debunked by science.

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