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.