I just want to share one last response before retiring this blog…
The only substantive criticism to my open letter came from someone who otherwise would have deleted and ignored the message, had they not known me and cared about me. Unfortunately, this person explicitly didn’t want me publish the response, as doing so would be engaging in public debate, and public debate would only serve to legitimize my illegitimate arguments and viewpoints. They see doing so as irresponsible as debating someone trying to argue that drunk driving is safe.
Generally, my ethics would dictate that I respect their request. However, in this case I believe it is more important to share as fully as possible in pursuit of honest truth. If I edit things down too much, there’s always the question of whether I leave out the bits are valid criticisms of my arguments and viewpoints, in attempt to make myself look better. I want to make it clear that my goal is only to seek truth, not to be right or look good.
I will edit content out of the message only to protect this person’s anonymity.
I got your letter last week — as I guess 699 of my colleagues did as well 🙂 — and I can’t imagine that you’re getting too many positive responses. I’d guess that most ministers would ignore it, some would respond with “take me off your list”, and a few might try to report it as spam. I would probably do one of those as well, except that I know you and I care about you, and so I will try to write something back.
Honestly, though, I don’t know how much good it will do, because so much of what you say (and the language you use to say it) indicates a very different world-view than what I hold. I’m referring to your complete distrust of “mainstream media”, carried beyond the point of “you should be aware of the biases of the people delivering the information” all the way to saying that it is all propaganda and that our minds are being programmed.
Maybe I should give a couple of examples related to “The available vaccines are experimental, currently in active phase 3 safety trials.”
In regards to “experimental”: I think the things that you are reading that are leading you to say that there is a conspiracy of disinformation have a much simpler explanation.
I haven’t tried to track this down, but I think that for people involved with the FDA approval process, the word “experimental” has a very specific technical meaning, which is simply “not yet formally proved by the FDA”. So the sentence you quote — “Vaccines that receive EUA are considered experimental until the FDA formally approves it” — is simply repeating this technical definition that vaccine manufacturers dealing with the FDA process have to be aware of.
In everyday speech, of course, the word “experimental” is much less well-defined, and most people’s definition will have little to do with the FDA. Some people might say that something is experimental until it has been verified by a peer-reviewed study involving a large enough sample size. Some people might say that you need more than one study. Some people might say that you need consensus among researchers in the field.
Is this a word game, as you say? I don’t think it’s a game… it is a very common issue with science communication. Ordinary people use words in one way, and scientists (and regulatory agencies) have to have precise definitions that may not exactly match the everyday usage.
So, are the vaccines experimental? Well, if you use the FDA definition, then yes they are, because they haven’t received formal approval. But have their safety and efficacy been tested with large trials? Is there consensus among scientists that they work? Yes to both, and that’s a reason to say that they are not “experimental” in the informal sense that many people use.
What I wrote in that last paragraph leads us to the second example: the status of the phase 3 trials.
You refer to the Pfizer press release. That press release links to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. I am certainly not a virologist or immunologist, but from reading through that article I gather that several things are studied in a phase 3 trial:
* Safety — is the vaccine safe… meaning, does it have adverse effects in the time period being studied.
* Efficacy — does the vaccine work… meaning, does it reduce the likelihood of infection and/or of serious health consequences.
* Immunogenicity — *how* does the vaccine work… that is, by what pathways does it improve the body’s immune response.
* Durability — how long does the protection last.
From the NEJM article, it seems like the safety and efficacy portions of the study are complete. In fact, those results are what the article is reporting on. The immunogenicity and durability portions are *ongoing*. This is to be expected… it should take a while to figure out exactly how the vaccine is affecting the immune response (beyond the basic “it improves it” that is measured by efficacy), and it certainly requires time in order to determine how long the improved immune response lasts, because you have to wait and see.
So what does the Reuters fact check say? “All four vaccines given emergency authorization in the U.S. and UK have published results from the final phase three trials.”
That is true: there are published results, specifically on safety and efficacy, which are the things that people are most concerned with. It is also true that the phase 3 trials are ongoing, because they still need to learn about immunogenicity and durability.
So, when you were faced with this, your reaction was: “the intention of the Reuters fact check is not to elucidate truth, it is meant to deceive, to confuse, to paint a distorted picture of reality in the reader’s mind. This is propaganda, pure and simple.”
My reaction is: There are scientific results showing that the vaccines are safe (in the short term) and effective. That is the information that people will want to know about, and that is what Reuters communicated. This is not deception, this is not confusion, this is not distortion, and it is certainly not propaganda.
And this is why I think there is a distance between our world-views that will be hard to bridge.
Of course, would it be better to have more information about the vaccines? Would it be better to have multi-year studies? Is there still a possibility that all of us who have taken it will explode in five years? Yes, to all three questions, although the third seems rather unlikely, because *we’ve had experience with other vaccines.*
But this is not happening in a vacuum. The question is not “do you want to be injected with this substance for no reason.” No, the question is “do you want to be injected with this substance because it will give your immune system a head start in identifying and fighting this virus.”
(Note: This is not “it will prevent you from getting the virus.” This is not “it will prevent you from transmitting the virus.” It is exactly what I said: It will give your immune system a head start in identifying and fighting this virus. People who have been vaccinated are therefore less likely to come down with an infection (although it still can happen); they are less likely to get seriously ill (although it can still happen); and they are much less likely to die (although that can still happen too). It is not a magic bullet. It is a way to reduce the number of deaths, and to slow down the spread.)
Again, this is not happening in a vacuum. There is a pandemic that has already killed four million people worldwide. You are worrying about possible long term effects of a vaccine. But there are *definite* short term effects of the virus: a probability of hospitalization and death that is large enough to overwhelm our medical system if the spread is unchecked. And there are possible long-term effects of the *virus* as well.
I don’t have time or energy to respond to everything in a 5000-plus word email. But I do want to address something that I read elsewhere on your blog:
“What do the so-called anti-vaxxers have to gain with their agenda of convincing people that vaccines are dangerous? Is there a giant financial empire behind their agenda? How profitable and powerful is the anti-vaccine industry?”
First of all, some of the prominent anti-vaxxers *do* have a financial incentive. See for example:
But there are more incentives than money, some of them psychological. There is an attraction to being the David to a Goliath, to being the Cassandra who is predicting a future that everyone else is denying, to being one of the select few who sees the man behind the curtain. I’m not saying it is *fun* to be in these positions: in fact, it can be very uncomfortable and distressing. But there can also be a large element of satisfaction in seeing oneself as the truth-telling voice in the wilderness. Even just the fact that I could call up four different metaphors for being in this situation (without trying hard!) speaks to its attractiveness.
And once one has staked a claim to a position counter to that of most other people, there is a natural reluctance to be seen changing one’s mind.
Let me give you a personal example of this.
[RETRACTED PERSONAL STORY – describing personal experience of moral conflicts in past work experience, illustrating pressures of thinking differently from a community of which one is/was a member]
That difficulty is real. And that difficulty is something that can keep people mentally and emotionally invested in communities — like the anti-vax community — despite all the evidence they may see indicating that their position is wrong. It can even prevent them from admitting there *is* evidence indicating that their position is wrong. I know this difficulty, because I have felt it.
I don’t expect that you will find this email to be satisfying or convincing. But I hope that maybe you will see it as encouragement to think about your position, and to think about the many people — friends, family, church members, ministers — who see things very differently from you, and to wrestle with the possibility that perhaps we have not all been brainwashed by propaganda… the many people who care about you and your well-being, and who hope that you will stay well throughout this pandemic.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond.
I can understand why you think I went to the trouble that I did with all this research without thinking about my position. And I understand why you felt the need to tell me twice that you don’t expect to be able to convince me of anything.
There’s no need to mince words here. You believe I’m in a cult, or at least am victim to some sort of cult conditioning. The very thing I’m saying is happening on a large scale – mental programming – has happened to me, and I’ve inverted the delusion. The anti-vax community got their sticky mind-virus tentacles into my cognition and mucked everything up, blinding me to the mountains of evidence that prove my positions are wrong.
I get it, and in order to be intellectually honest, I need to consider that possibility. The best I can do is follow the evidence with logic and an open mind. And fearlessness. (I often think about something Wallace Shawn said in an interview with Chris Hedges – he was able to achieve deeper insight when he allowed himself to hate himself… not that I find myself hating myself a lot, but it’s a reminder to always keep an eye out for blockages to honest self reflection)
I totally get what you are saying about the difficulty of going against a group of which you are a member. I think back to the time I worked for SAIC on a Department of Defense contract. I was there for five years or so, and my beliefs in the morality of the work I was doing had to be consistent. I was a little conflicted, but when it came down to it i decided “we need a military” and that justified my continued work. The great salary and benefits, well, maybe those had an influence on my beliefs in some small way??? (obviously, 100%, to believe otherwise is dishonest)
Only after I moved on from that job was I able to be honest with myself and realize that I was devoting my energies to something morally objectionable. Had I stayed and lived out my career with them, I have no doubt that there would have been a constant cognitive corrosion that would have eaten away at my person. I’m talking about not only my sense of morality being corroded, but also my very capacity to reason. I believe that a constant strain of prolonged rationalization or suppression of cognitive dissonance is actually is corrosive to that capacity. (it just kind of makes sense to me that that would be the case)
These days I try to have a somewhat adversarial relationship with the ego… my general feeling is that the ego likes to fuck you over on your spiritual journey. I think about things, try to analyze my feelings and motivations and frequently find “aha, ego, you’re trying to fuck me here.” Part of its power is in getting you to invest the self’s identity into labels and groups… stuff “out there”.
For example, seeking out a contrary position to just be different. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been kind of an outsider and kind of adopted it as part of my identity. That sticks with me, but I have some awareness of it. I have to be careful that when I’m trying to figure out core beliefs to hold, how to evaluate information, what actions to take on those beliefs and information… how might the ego be trying to fuck me here?
So here I go through with this crazy heretical broadcast to the UU leadership… you think my “identity” as an outsider might have played a part in that? I’d have to be naive to think it didn’t, but I’m sure enough that wasn’t the primary motivator. The facts and the reasoning stand on their own, and I’m confident of that now more than ever. You are right that the response was overwhelmingly negative, but the negativity was almost entirely irrational. As far as I can gauge, the negative reactions were primarily based on this unquestionable assumption that any discouragement of vaccine uptake is “harmful”. You’ve presented the only thing that even comes close to rational criticism…
Which i want to respond to… to clarify a couple things. Like you made clear to me, I also don’t anticipate this will convince you of my position, but regardless, it seems like the conversation is worthwhile.
You characterize my mistrust of mainstream media (MSM) as this blanket dismissal: “its all propaganda and our minds are being programmed.” While in all honesty, that is a pretty decent summary, my view is a little more nuanced than that.
I don’t have a complete distrust in MSM. In fact I have a complete trust that MSM will do the bidding of those who own, control, and fund it. That their primary motive is not to convey truth, or maintain journalistic integrity. To me that’s not paranoia or irrational distrust; it’s just common sense. It is something Noam Chomsky talks about in Manufacturing Consent… This short video about the filters of mass media sums it up beautifully.
What do I mean when I say “do the bidding”? That includes spinning and distorting stories and information that need spinning and distorting, ignoring stories and information and experts that need ignoring, and even reporting truthfully on stories and information that suit the owners’ agendas.
An excellent example I see for that last point is with Fox News allowing Tucker Carlson to report on Fauci’s lies about funding gain-of-funciton research at wuhan. The despicable propaganda outlet Fox News is able to present actual journalism because it suits their agenda. That agenda: having conservatives hate Fauci while liberals love him. Half the country: “Tony Fauci Hero, Rand Paul Evil”, other half: “Tony Fauci Evil, Rand Paul Hero”.
It serves a very straightforward Divide-and-Rule agenda.
Head over to one of the “lefty” propaganda outlets, and you’ll find a short clip pulled out of context, and you’ll read the quotes of Fauci saying his authoritative “You have no idea what youre talking about”, so all of Team Fauci can read the headline, shake their head in disgust about how awful that conservative Rand Paul is, and move on with their lives and accept their “truth” unquestioningly. They’re happy with Facui’s ridiculous appeal-to-authority “experts up and down the line said this isn’t gain of function research”. (he may as well have been saying “experts up and down the line say 2+2=5”)
Propaganda can be true, it can be false, it can be designed to confuse, can be designed to get us to believe absurdities with religious conviction.
And it isn’t as if all members of a propaganda outlet be “in on the disinformation conspiracy”… people who work in the hierarchical institutions know where the bread is buttered, internalized the orthodoxies, know which questions are unaskable, and of course are probably incentivized to see the world in the way that results in them receiving their salary and benefits.
I believe that media that is most trustworthy is (a) transparent and open-source, providing links to all sources and data justifying the story, (b) reader/viewer funded, with a broadly decentralized “pay masters”, rather than centralized wealthy/corporate/government ones, and (c) don’t take a side on the left-vs-right con job. Of course these criteria don’t automatically mean they have journalistic integrity, as there’s money to be made selling people what they want to hear. Mindless acceptance of legitimacy based on source doesn’t work well. But my view is that there are genuine truth-seekers out there, and you can build trust over time.
The second thing I want to respond to is your defense of the Reuters article against my take on it.
To sum up your point to the descriptor of “experimental”:
- it is a technical term with a specific definition with FDA approval process
- when we use the term colloquially, it has a much more general meaning, that doesn’t properly describe the status of the vaccines, given the presence of large trials, and scientific consensus.
I understand your reasoning here; i think an example of the worldview divergence you mentioned in how much weight we give to the “consensus” part. (how trustworthy is a consensus handed down from on-high, reported to us by media with all of the issues I described earlier?) And possibly the “large trials” part. (i mean, we’re talking about a push to get all humans injected, how large is “large” in that context?)
But pushing that divergence aside:
Your conclusion is that the Reuters was providing truthful, valid journalism in flat-out stating in no uncertain terms, these vaccines are not experimental. Even though they *technically* are experimental, colloquially they’re not, so Reuters is providing truth.
But that very same article had to be corrected for incorrectly using the term “approved”. Colloquially, the fda “approved” the vaccines to be allowed to be used in humans, but *technically* they’re not approved, they’re just authorized. That was a big enough correction for them to change the title.
Technically they’re experimental, colloquially they’re not, so they’re not. Colloquially they’re approved, but technically they are not approved, so they’re not.
And then there’s the technical truth of this sentence:
Pfizer/BioNTech’s phase three trial began in late July 2020 and the results were published in December 2020.
Yep, those two points are *technically* accurate. But reading that sentence in the section talking about completion status of research trials would lead the reader to reasonably interpret that “results were published” equals “phase 3 trials were completed”.
But I look at the press release that explicitly describes phase 3 as “ongoing”, and I look at the status on clinicaltrials.gov as “active and recruiting”, and I see that technically true statement as misleading.
Your defense of that I think takes us back to the worldview divergence… you are much more generous and trusting than I am, and are willing to bend over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt. If the “safety part” is really done, why not be explicit about it and say it outright instead of leaving the reader to have to dig for the clarity?
(And, as kind of a side note going back to the technical-vs-colloquial stuff: it seems to me that “durability” and “efficacy” could be “effectiveness”, and “Immunogenicity” would be a component of “safety”. So, even if the “safety part” is technically completed, safety and effectiveness in the colloquial sense continues to be evaluated.)
Anyway, after all that, I think the best I can concede is that I overstated the “plainness” and “simpleness” of the articles status as propaganda. Apparently it isn’t so “plain and simple” to the generous reader. But I do stand by my assertion that the article is not intended to enlighten the reader.
“Is there still a possibility that all of us who have taken it will explode in 5 years?” you ask… Instead of a silly nonsense joke about exploding, how about asking about something *actual* that scientists are trying to warn us about. Something *actual* that was seen in prior attempts at coronavirus vaccines in the past: antibody dependent enhancement.
Dr. Robert Malone co-inventor of mRNA vaccine technology was concerned about it and was watching for the signs of ADE, and once enough time had passed that it looked like it wasn’t happening, he actually got the Moderna shot himself.
(that’s the full podcast episode that was censored on youtube – that’s a good link because they indexed it and it is on a censorship-resistant platform; it’s quite long and i still need to dig into it a little more. But that link takes you to the time index where they talk about ADE. )
But guess what… time has gone by and he’s changed his tune a bit:
Yes, in that last one he’s talking to steve bannon on some alt media outlet. If you’re of the opinion that the testimony of a credentialed scientist should be thrown in the trash because he chose to talk to steve bannon, well, there’s not much I can do for you.
Regarding your response to my “questions for reflection” about anti-vaxxer profit motive: Yes, I’m aware of the narratives surrounding the attempts to demonize “anti-vaxxers”, including the idea that they are slimebags out to make a buck. In fact, that’s partly what prompted me to pose those question… i had read those very articles and was a little mystified how people could seriously buy such ridiculous bullshit.
Compare two business models:
(A) Hey everyone, vaccines are bogus, here’s some cherry-picked and misrepresented studies about vaccine safety, and some anecdotal stories from people who claim to be injured, or claim that their children were injured. Come to my website and buy my snake oil instead. It’s better and safer than vaccines.
(B) Hey everyone, here is a product that science has proven to be so safe and effective that you have to be mentally ill to even wonder about their safety, and it is career suicide for any doctor to question the safety. We make dozens of billions of dollars every year selling these things, we (the pharmaceutical industry) have the largest lobbying budget of all industries who lobby federal government, and have legal immunity if our product ever injures anyone. Also, we fund the academic research and literally write textbooks for people studying to become doctors.
So, on one hand we’ve got a few dinguses trying to scam some money with their vaccine-alternative snake oil stores, and on the other a cabal of global corporate behemoths, embedded in governments, literally mandating their product for all children who attend public schools.
I’m sorry, if you want to talk about the relative power of these two groups, the comparison is LAUGHABLE. It is patently ridiculous. That was the point of my posing the questions side-by-side like that.
You present me with a false dilemma: long term vaccine effects vs. clear and present virus effects. Like you have to pick one team.
Virus effects are treatable, as any number of doctors have been trying to tell us.
Also they’re telling us that a strong healthy immune system is key to a mild case of covid – vitamin D, C, zinc, exercise and a healthy diet.
What kind of situation would we be in if Fauci and company elevated the voices of these doctors and funded treatment research? If part of operation warp speed included treatment funding and, heck, even some positive propaganda about the importance of a healthy lifestyle?
Nope, we get top-down authoritarian dictates of “wait for a vaccine”. (i’m sure it’s just coincidence that liability-free vaccines are vastly more profitable than all this prevention and treatment stuff) Beyond that, we even get incentives of donuts and hamburgurs and gambling for getting vaccinated. (did you see mayor deblasio publicizing the Shake Shack promo eating his burger and fries? utterly disgusting.)
And let’s not even mention the role of covid recovered people in the goal of acheiving herd immunity. It is well-established they have high-quality robust immunity. No one in authority or MSM cares to mention that there’s only down-side for such people. Namely the immediate side-effects, unknown long-term health effects, and get this: vaccinated covid-recovered people can’t even donate convalescent plasma to help treatment for others.
Anyway, I just saw you sent me another message; I’ll give you a response to that, but will wrap this up with a couple notes:
The “anti-vaxxer community” you speak of is a made-up propaganda construct. So many of the doctors expressing contrarian viewpoints to the official narratives are always giving the disclaimer “i’m not anti-vax”. Obviously the aforementioned Robert Malone Isn’t anti-vax. The two guys whose interviews I linked at the end of my original letter are anything but anti-vax. Yeadon was a VP for pfizer. McCullough – while his message is primarily about treatment – in the interview explicitly stated that high-risk people should be vaccined, assuming safety is established. (here’s a shorter clip)
And there’s the curious case of “anti-vaxxer” Dr. Paul Thomas, who had his medical license suspended by the Oregon medical board for not treating vaccines as one-size-fits-all for his patients. He gives parents information needed to practice informed consent, rather than mindless compliance. And you know what? Some of the parents choose vaccination, others do not.
You mentioned that you don’t expect to change my mind; I think you’re right. I wonder if I have been subjected to “ideological subversion”. It’s a super interesting if not unsettling concept described by ex-KBG Yuri Bezmenov who defected from the USSR in 1970. The first phase is demoralization, which:
“to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community and their country…. exposure to true information does not matter any more. a person who is demoralized is unable to assess true information; the facts tell nothing to him. even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures. Even if I take him by force to the soviet union and show him concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it until he’s going to receive a kick in his fat bottom. When a military boot crushes his balls, then he will understand, but not before that. That’s the tragic of the situation of demoralization.”