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How to cut through when talking to anti-vaxxers and anti-fluoriders

Dismissing people’s worries as baseless, whether that’s about the safety of mobile phones or fluoridated drinking water, is one of the least effective ways of communicating public health risks.

Yet it is common for people to “reassure” like this, both at home and in professional roles as experts, officials or corporate managers. Another poor but common strategy is to try to debunk “alt-facts” (lies or misleading statements claimed as fact) like those circulating among anti-vaccination or anti-fluoridation groups.

If your role is to communicate public health risks, it is particularly hard to resist trying harder to help people understand the evidence. This is especially the case when a risk is low, and hence public fears are not only out of proportion but also costly to redress.