What Do We Want our Scientific Discourse to Look Like?

I was recently quoted in an article appearing in the Observer, a publication of Association for Psychological Science. In the article Alison Ledgerwood quotes from a diverse set of voices in psychology on the topic of scientific discourse in part in response to Susan Fiske’s piece in the Observer. Fiske takes issue with methodological critics of psychological science (who she referred to as “methodological terrorists” in an earlier draft circulated online). Her article promoted many responses (see here) and a call led by Ledgerwood to write a more diverse (and less status-driven) article for the Observer on the topic. True to form, Alison quoted my writing fairly, and elegantly brought together many other contributions.

Here, I provide my small contribution in its entirety.

We would serve each other, and science as a whole, better if we treated critique and communication of science as an open and humble process of discovery and improvement. To this end, I would like to see our scientific discourse focus more on methodology and evidence. This is easier said than done. Criticisms of the science are often construed as criticisms of the scientist. Even when we, as scientists, appreciate the criticism and recognize its scientific value, it still evokes concerns that others will lose trust in us and in our research. It is no wonder people are distressed by methodological criticism. However, focusing our discourse on methodology and evidence, with more awareness of how tone and context influence others’ perceptions of the scientist whose work is under the microscope, will help ensure healthy development of our science. Second, I would like to see an increase in open and humble scientific discourse. Openness may make our mistakes and shortcomings more apparent, and it may make it easier for others to critique our work, but it will surely improve our science. If we simultaneously place more value on humble communication, I expect criticisms will feel less personal and be easier to swallow as well. Finally, as a graduate student, I feel vulnerable publicly stating my thoughts on criticism and openness in science, which speaks to the climate of our discourse. It is essential that we have a communication environment in which graduate students, post-docs, and junior faculty from all backgrounds are rewarded for humbly and openly presenting methodologically sound ideas, research, and criticisms.

Is the HPV Vaccine Effective? Part 1

In 2010 I conducted an analysis of internet, popular, and scholarly sources with regard to the efficacy and effectiveness of the HPV Vaccine. This is the first post in a series that will share my finding and attempt to bring results up to date. 

In June of 2006 the United States licensed the use of a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and in 2007 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) outlined recommendations for implementation of Cervarix and Gardasil among 11 and 12 year old girls as well as catch-up measures to take among females 13-26 years of age. Since, the CDC has expanded their recommendations to include Gardasil for 11 and 12 year old boys (and catch-ups for males 13-26 years old). The CDC recommends use of these drugs between the ages of 9 and 26 years, however use outside of the aforementioned age range (11-12 years) should be under the close supervision of a doctor. As a quick aside, this blog series will focus on females but some information regarding male treatment will be include sporadically.

There are hundreds of strands of HPV, many of which are associated with infections in the genital tract and various types of cancer. HPV is responsible for 99.7% of cervical cancer and 5% of all cancers (Moscicki, 2008). Worldwide there are 500,000 new case of cervical cancer a year (approximately ten to eleven thousand in the United States), resulting in 276,00 deaths annually (four-thousand U.S.; Pichichero, 2006; Moscicki, 2008). In the U.S. an estimated 1.5 million women currently have an HPV-associated disease (Moscicki, 2008). HPV types 16/18 have been identified as the cause of 70% of all cervical cancer cases (Pichichero, 2006) and HPV 6/11 account for over 90% of genital warts (Kulasingam, 2007).

Since the commencement of widespread vaccination programs in the early 19th century there has been skepticism and resistance among the public, however, beginning in the 1990s a surge of anti-vaccination activity, particular against childhood vaccination, has garnered extensive media attention and affected rates of vaccination among the general population (Wolfe & Sharpe, 2002). Media, particularly Internet-based sources, are often the first and most frequently used sources (in the United States) for information on health. Sexual implications coupled with the involvement of young adolescents makes the HPV vaccine an inherently emotion-laden topic; as such the vaccine has received considerable media attention (Kahan, Braman, Cohen, Gastil, & Slovic, 2010). T

This blog series will analyze media and literary sources with regard to two questions:

  1. Is the HPV vaccination effective?
  2. Should it be administered or made mandatory among young adolescents in the United States?

The series will also examine research on public perception as it is relevant to the HPV vaccination. I hope it will be insightful for both you and me.


Kahan, D. M., Braman, D., Cohen, G. L., Gastil, J., & Slovic, P. (2010). Who fears the HPV vaccine, who doesn’t, and why? an experimental study of the mechanisms of cultural cognition. Law and Human Behavior, 34, 501-516.

Kulasingam, S.L. (2007). Implementation of an HPV-Vaccination Program. Disease Management and Health Outcomes, 15, 141-149.

Moscicki, A. (2008). HPV vaccines: Today and in the future. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43, S26-S40.

Pichichero, M. E. (2006). Prevention of cervical cancer through vaccination of adolescents. Clinical Pediatrics, 45, 393-398.

Wolfe, R.M., & Sharp, L.K. (2002). Anti-vaccinationists past and present. British Journal of Medicine, 325, 430-432.