Dave Noon links to a very detailed and thoughtful response from Mark Crislip at Science Based Medicine. As Crislip notes, in order to believe the Atlantic article, you basically have to accept a few outlier studies and ignore roughly 15,000 others showing flu vaccines to be both safe and effective. It's an interesting examination of the difficulties researchers face when dealing with the media. Researchers deal in correlations, imperfect relationships, hedged statements. It's frustrating and slow but it's honest.
Remember in complex diseases and their treatment, it is the preponderance of data that guides what we do. Medical knowledge is cumulative and changing and rarely has a simple binary, yes/no, black/white, answer. Almost always the answer starts with a “it depends on.”It's also a tough story to sell, especially when it's up against certitude.
Reading Crislip's post, I am filled with tremendous sympathy for medical researchers, particularly the ones whose job it is to design flu vaccines year after year based on very limited information. Political science research can affect lives -- poorly designed constitutions, for example, can lead to a great deal of human misery -- but the link is very remote. We have the luxury of arguing different theories and the use of different methodologies. The results matter, but they're not quite so urgent.