“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams said in 1770, delivering his defense of the British soldiers on trial for the murders of the Boston Massacre.
“As John Adams said, facts are stupid things,” Ronald Reagan said 218 years later, delivering his speech at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.
Transcripts of the proceedings show that Reagan caught and quickly corrected his slipup—“stubborn things, I should say,” he added, to audience laughter. But the misquote may have also been a sharp, if accidental, insight on the part of the former president. A new study published earlier this week in the journal Vaccine found that when it comes to vaccination, a subject rife with myths and misperceptions, knowing the facts may not really be all that effective in winning over anti-vaxxers—and, in some cases, may even do more harm than good.
Last year, only slightly more than 40 percent of U.S. adults got vaccinated against the flu—a number that could likely be explained, at least in part, by the persistent (and wrong) belief that the shot, which contains only inactivated viruses, can actually give people the flu. Despite efforts by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even CVS to debunk the idea, it remains stubbornly pervasive. But according to the Vaccine study, all that myth-busting may be for nothing, anyway: The study found that when people concerned about side effects of the flu shot learned that it couldn’t cause the flu, they actually became less willing to get it.