Anti-vaxxers encourage people to do their own research on the vaccines. Doing research on anything is a good idea but you have to know how to do research. This is particularly important in the internet and social media age where one is flooded with information and most of it is of highly dubious quality. It is not simply a question of how many times a particular point of view one comes across or whether one personally knows the sender of the information. Those are irrelevant. One has to learn how to evaluate the credibility of sources and be aware of how risks should be evaluated.
From friends and relatives I get forwarded articles that have been circulating on the internet, asking for my opinion. If the article is unsigned or not from credible institutions or has no links to original sources, then I deeply discount what it says. The anti-vaxxers have been flooding the zone with misinformation and thus their urging people to ‘do your own research’ without telling them how best to do it is somewhat disingenuous since it will likely result in people arriving at faulty conclusions.
Phil Valentine is a conservative talk show host in Tennessee who did his own research and encouraged others to do the same while mocking vaccines.
In December, Valentine wrote on his blog that though former president Donald Trump should get more credit for supporting the swift development of Covid-19 vaccines, “the vaccine isn’t for everyone”.
He added: “If I decide not to get vaccinated, I’m not putting anyone else’s life in danger except perhaps people who have made the same decision. With this thing being 95% effective, there’s really no way I’m going to infect someone who’s had the shot. That’s if I even get the virus.”
Valentine also wrote that he was “not an anti-vaxxer. I’m just using common sense. What are my odds of getting Covid? They’re pretty low. What are my odds of dying from Covid if I do get it? Probably way less than 1%. I’m doing what everyone should do and that’s my own personal health risk assessment.
“If you have underlying health issues you probably need to get the vaccine. If you’re not at high risk of dying from Covid then you’re probably safer not getting it. That evokes shrieks of horror from many, but it’s true. I’m weighing the known versus the unknown.”
CNN reported that Valentine also “tried to draw comparisons between hospital workers who had to indicate their Covid-19 vaccination status on their work ID badges with Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany”.
He sounds like he knows what he is talking about. So you can guess what happened.
A conservative radio host in Tennessee who urged listeners not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has changed track and called on listeners to get the shot, after contracting the virus and ending up in hospital in “very serious condition”.
In a statement posted to social media, Phil Valentine’s family detailed his condition and said: “Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”
On Thursday, Valentine’s family said he was “suffering from Covid pneumonia and the attendant side effects. He is in the hospital in the critical care unit breathing with assistance but is NOT on a ventilator.”
And he is not alone. At least he is alive. There is an even worse story.
Stephen Harmon, a member of the Hillsong megachurch, had been a vocal opponent of vaccines, making a series of jokes about not having the vaccine.
“Got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” the 34-year-old tweeted to his 7,000 followers in June.
He was treated for pneumonia and Covid-19 in a hospital outside Los Angeles, where he died on Wednesday.
In the days leading up to his death, Mr Harmon documented his fight to stay alive, posting pictures of himself in his hospital bed.
“Please pray y’all, they really want to intubate me and put me on a ventilator,” he said.
In his final tweet on Wednesday, Mr Harmon said he had decided to go under intubation.
“Don’t know when I’ll wake up, please pray,” he wrote.
Despite his struggle with the virus, Mr Harmon still said he would reject being jabbed, saying his religious faith would protect him.
The sheer senselessness of it all is what I find most depressing. Harmon did not have to die.
For those still skeptical about expert opinion and determined to do their own research on issues on which they lack technical expertise, in his 1928 book Sceptical Essays, Bertrand Russell gave some advice on how to evaluate expert opinion and arrive at the proper level of skepticism
There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed; the dates of eclipses may serve as an illustration. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. Einstein’s view as to the magnitude of the deflection of light by gravitation would have been rejected by all experts twenty years ago, yet it proved to be right. Nevertheless the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment. [My italics-MS]
These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionise human life.
There is a clear consensus agreement among experts on the benefit of vaccines. Following Russell’s dictum, those who think otherwise should refrain from talking as if their position is certain, the way that Valentine did.
Matt G says
Certainly there are risk factors which predispose one to a serious case of COVID-19, but being young and healthy are not guarantees that you will emerge unscathed. Further, you may not be aware of the genetic factors that might make you more susceptible. Valentine doesn’t really make a case for not getting vaccinated other than playing a numbers game about himself. He doesn’t see the big picture which involves shrinking the opportunities for more variants to evolve, keeping others safe, etc. More rationalization of antisocial behavior by right wingers.
steve oberski says
I’m not putting anyone else’s life in danger except perhaps people who have made the same decision.
Assume for the sake of argument that this is true (this is not my assumption), then what he is saying is that he is not in danger as long as most people act responsibly and get the vaccine.
And he actually does not give a shit about anyone elses life.
Tabby Lavalamp says
“If I decide not to get vaccinated, I’m not putting anyone else’s life in danger except perhaps people who have made the same decision.”
And the people who want to get the vaccine but can’t because of medical reasons, you selfish ass.
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says
The people like this I encounter are incapable of describing the research and why it supports them. At best they wave links or citations around like metaphorical clubs without ability to talk data. “Citation needed” isn’t enough. “Citation and demonstration of claims” should be a social standard. Everyone has a link to something but can they use it?
Reginald Selkirk says
Yes, it’s a numbers game, but he’s ignoring some of the numbers. In addition to the risk of dying*, on which he is reasonably accurate, there is also the risk of being hospitalized, which is much higher. There is also a risk of suffering long term symptoms, which is yet higher. And in the capitalistic USA. receiving medical care such as hospitalization carries the double blow of a substantial financial burden.
* The risk of dying unnecessarily, since it is largely preventable.
Um. Does he not know the difference between 100% and nearly 100%? A person with covid can definitely harm someone that has been vaccinated, specifically because covid vaccinations are never a 100% guarantee. And then the second guy:
He may have lived if he had been vaccinated obviously, but he also may have lived if he had not resisted the doctors advising him, urging him, to be intubated. Delaying a needed medical intervention only adds to the health burden.
The principle I use most is illustrated by a Twitter feud by Flexish virologue and Dutch dance teacher (and self declared corona sceptic) Willem Engel. The first about the latter:
“Willem je bent een mafkees. Je kan al je kennis van virologie, immunologie en epidemiologie op de achterkant van een postzegeltje schrijven en zelfs nog plaats over hebben”
“Willem, you’re a nutcase. You canr write down all your knowledge of virology, immunology and epdemiologie on the backside of a small postage stamp and there will even be space left.”
“Wanneer we ooit geconfronteerd worden met een salsapandemie, ga ik met veel plezier luisteren naar wat jij als dansleraar te zeggen hebt. Echter, op dit moment geef ik geen flying fuck om wat jij uitkraamt, en Nederland zou dat best ook niet doen.”
“As soon as we are confronted with a salsa pandemy, I’ll enjoy listening to what you, being a dance teacher, has to say. But right now I don’t give a flying fuck about your gibberisch and The Netherlands shouldn’t either.”
That neatly describes my attitude towards Valentine and Harmon.
The best bet is simply following the majority of experts (ironically Jaap van Dissel, the Dutch expert leading the corona crisis team, pretty often deviates).
Funny how quickly many atheists throw this out of the window when it comes to the historicity of some Galilean carpenter and start listening to eg Carrier (who doesn’t understand math) and non-historians like Aron Ra. Or worse still -- they “do their own research”.
“The sheer senselessness of it all is what I find most depressing. Harmon did not have to die.”
I disagree. Harmon’s death gave his anti-vax campaign perfect meaning, in exactly the opposite way he aspired.
From Adam Lee, The Revolt Against Reality:
@5 RegS: “Yes, it’s a numbers game””
And he sucks at it badly.
“Probably way less than 1%.”
Which means he’s OK with way less than 70 million people dying worldwide. Like 40 million, ie the entire population of California.
And of course the risk of dying from getting vaccinated is much lower.
It’s not a surprise that he lost his bet.
Harmon qualifies for a Darwin Award.
johnson catman says
re Jörg @10: I would say he only qualifies if he hasn’t already fathered children. Otherwise, he has successfully passed his idiot genes on to the next generation. (I do not know if Harmon has fathered children or not.)
johnson catman @#11:
From the rules: What if a Darwin Award nominee has reproduced?:
Marcus Ranum says
Otherwise, he has successfully passed his idiot genes on to the next generation.
Regression toward the mean, it’s our only hope.
The right question is: What are the odds you will be exposed to Covid?
Answer: About 100%
It’s not a question of whether you will be exposed, it’s a question of when you will be exposed. The disease is too widespread to assume that you won’t be exposed at some point, probably more than once. That was the reason for all the masks and social distancing; to slow down the transmission rate when you are exposed. Slowing down the transmission rate gave time to develop better treatment options and preventative measures (now including vaccines!). Slowing down the transmission rate also means less stress on a medical system ill-equipped to handle a pandemic. Getting vaccinated won’t stop you from being exposed, but it will stop most people from being hospitalized. As a side affect, vaccinations also appear to slow down the transmission rate, but we will all be exposed at some point.
Marcus wrote @13,
I think I need a T-shirt with that phrase on it.
John Morales says
Retcon. The original (a joke!) formulation was that the awardee removed their genes from the pool. If their genes are there (i.e. children) then they haven’t.
(Or: there are no actual rules, just as there is no actual award)
I think Russell’s (2) needs some refinement: the disagreement of one, or even a few experts when the great majority agree should not be taken as justification for adopting the minority view. For example, Peter Duesberg, a recognised expert on retroviruses, still denies that HIV causes AIDS. and Carl Heneghan, a professor of “evidence-based medicine”, denies that either masks or lockdowns reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections, as do a few other people with relevant expertise.