PERITIA Lecture 7: A War on Science? The Death of Expertise? Rethinking Vaccine Hesitancy

Because vaccine hesitancy has been framed as a problem of public misunderstanding of science, vaccine outreach has focused on educating the misguided public. Where efforts to change vaccine attitudes have failed, cynicism has bred the harsher view that the publics are anti-science and anti-expertise. Yet research into science and the public lends strong support to the view that public attitude regarding scientific claims turn crucially on epistemic trust rather than familiarity with science itself. It follows that it is poor trust in the expert sources that engender vaccine hesitancy.

This consideration redraws the lines of responsibility, where vaccine hesitancy signals a problem with scientific governance rather than a problem with the wayward public. In order to improve vaccine communication, we should focus on building that trust rather than educating the misinformed public or puzzling over the moral and epistemic failings of the public. Doing this does not discount that public health agencies have the science on their sides. It does mean recognizing that the best science is not enough to ensure public uptake of health recommendations.


Maya Goldenberg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph and a member of Graduate Faculty at the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto. Her research is in philosophy of medicine, philosophy of science, and bioethics. She is author of Vaccine Hesitancy: Public Trust, Expertise, and the War on Science (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021) and journal publications addressing philosophical issues in evidence-based medicine, vaccination, science and values, clinical care, and women’s health.


Dubé, Ève. Ward, Jeremy K., Verger, Pierre, and Noni E. MacDonald. “Vaccine Hesitancy, Acceptance, and Anti-Vaccination: Trends and Future Prospects for Public Health.” Annu. RevPublic Health 2021. 42:175–91.


PERITIA launched a series of public lectures  around the topic of ‘[Un]Truths: Trust in an Age of Disinformation’. Read more about the upcoming lectures here.


5 October 2021

4 PM Dublin
5 PM Berlin
7 PM Yerevan

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