I recently had a short twitter conversation with a pediatrician who said he had extremely anti-vaccine parents in the practice who would not trust anything "peer reviewed". Which sources do you trust? Are we at a stage where we basically just trust the research that corroborates our opinion? Would there be any ways to cross that boundary of mistrust? Discuss
First of all, everything is filtered (often subconsciously) through the common sense filter. It has to make at least some logical sense. For example: if you tell me that you should treat a fever by giving hot liquids (a prank by a coworker once), I will look with much doubt on other things that you say.
Second, I look at how the material is presented. If the material is completely in scientific jargon, I will most likely not even bother to wade through, since the writer obviously made no attempt to help me understand it. I understand that for accuracy some scientific terms must be used, and I am happy to look them up. But (as a good friend once said) the best way to know that a scientific person knows what they are talking about is to have them put the concept in "plain English".
As for scientific studies: Peer reviewed is good; it means that others that easily understand scientific jargon have said that there are no major flaws in the study. Reproduced is very good; it means that this was not a fluke occurance (and it's harder to "massage" the numbers in many studies). That being said, all scientific studies, by necessity, have limitations. A study of neural outcomes from a certain vax schedule means only that that particular schedule causes no brain/nervous system damage, not that every schedule causes no harm. So picking the right study for your point is a good idea. It is also good to look at how the study was performed, since some bias can show up in how the study was performed.
A couple of other things to mention: I am skeptical of any claim that a man-made or man-altered substance is better for you than the original (aspertaime vs sugar anyone?). I know that we need man-made substances for many reasons, but as food?
Also, I have a hard time trusting any "recomendations" from semi-scientific agencies. So often the "recomendations" are reversed or significantly altered 5, 10, or 20 years later. Think stomach vs back sleeping for infants; margarine vs butter, which "fat" is best for you, compact flourescent bulbs, etc.
So, I guess I would say that science has greatly improved our understanding of the human body, but we still don't know it all. The body is soooo complex that I doubt that we will ever fully understand how everything interacts. So we must be careful when dealing with human bodies (especially little ones) and make sure that the scientific community understands as much as possible.
I totally take your point about presentation. Writing something for a "lay" audience that has broad suitability is really really difficult - you don't want to simplify it to the point of being wrong or insulting (I just about threw the Vaccine book into the sea when I read "baby cow's blood" for "fetal bovine serum", because a) it is not really an age appropriate description, with the book addressing parents and b) if anything, it should be "unborn cow's blood).
I get your general skepticism regarding man-made things, but disease were not originally intended for us (or other hosts). In fact, measles and other bugs would claim we were intended for them.
I also agree to a certain degree to the careful approach, however, vaccine makers would claim that there was an urgent need to act (for example against polio, measles, rubella in the 50ies and 60ies) and looking at the disease, disability and death tolls, I don't think I disagree and waiting it out would have taken a higher toll than the various vaccine blunders (recommended reading Arthur Allen's "Vaccine") and regular side effects.