Health and Science News for Parents

Oh Katie Couric, let us count the ways you screwed up HPV vaccine coverage

written by Tara Haelle

I blogged about Katie Couric’s shoddy and shameful segment about the HPV vaccine over at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker so you can read my assessment there, focusing primarily on the segment’s false balance and media coverage of it.

"Controversy" implies two sides with somewhat equally valid arguments or evidence. Yet that definition does not describe any vaccines licensed in the US.

I did not spend any time at that piece correcting the misinformation in the show and about the HPV vaccine in general, but University of California law professor Dorit Reiss at Moms Who Vax and Skeptical Raptor both do a fantastic job of this. Definitely check out their work, which includes plenty of links to peer-reviewed research.

I also wanted to gather some of the best links I found about the show to post here. Ironically, I have been gathering research for an extensive myth-busting post about the HPV vaccine, but that’s a ways off still. I have my work cut out for me with formerly credible journalists like Couric helping to tear down any progress that’s been made in getting accurate information out about the HPV vaccine.

At Moms Who Vax, Karen Ernst, founder of Voices For Vaccines, called yesterday as a “bad day for vaccines” in the media: she discusses the cringe-inducing missteps in the Couric show while lamenting the media’s neglect of a court case finding the HPV vaccine was not responsible for one girl’s death.

At Forbes, Emily Willlingham described the false equivalence that Couric was setting up for the show on Twitter even before the show had aired.

Also at Forbes, Matthew Herper sums up Couric’s four biggest mistakes on the show:  “downplaying the effectiveness of the vaccine, “overplaying the power of Pap smears,” “underplaying the risk of cancer” and “pulling viewers’ heartstrings.”

Over at Respectful Insolence in a lengthy but thoroughly worthwhile post, Orac provides some background and context on Couric’s past reporting – including past tolerance of anti-vaccine crusaders – and summarizes in great depth how horribly the episode went.

Tara C. Smith at Aetiology explains why Dr. Harper’s enthusiastic trumpeting of Pap smears misses the point when it comes to preventing cervical cancer.

At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik also addresses the way Couric’s handling of the segment puts emotion ahead of fact, leaving science to flail helplessly while viewers are frightened and swayed by heartbreaking stories.

At PLOS Blogs The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin warned the day before of what was coming and concludes with a succinct list of links that make it clear what part of the story Couric is neglecting.

At Slate, Amanda Marcotte describes how audience guest Dr. Diane Harper (who might as well have been on stage) misconstrues the evidence and misleads the viewers. Harper is already well-known as the subject of an inaccurate zombie article online that just won’t die, though Skeptical Raptor does a fantastic job of debunking it.

Heck, even Yahoo News! has a reprinted story about Couric’s feeding the “controversy” beast.

Honestly, about the only heartening thing about this whole disaster of a show was that when I googled “Katie Couric HPV vaccine” to see if there were any good articles I missed, every single results on the first two pages was a critical take on just how many ways Couric screwed over science yesterday.

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5 Responses to “Oh Katie Couric, let us count the ways you screwed up HPV vaccine coverage”

  1. […] of the vaccine deniers, jumped all over her irresponsible story. Tara Haelle, in her article, Oh Katie Couric, let us count the ways you screwed up HPV vaccine coverage, reviews much of what was said on the interwebs about Couric, Gardasil, and the state of science […]

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