I Don’t Believe In…

Recently, as I sometimes do on the now rare occasions when I drive somewhere, I listened to a radio talk show on Sirius XM.   The show is of no consequence, they all follow the same pattern, but I often find them amusing.  What caught my interest was a statement made by an older gentleman about his feelings about COVID-19, social restrictions, and the vaccine.

This caller said he was seventy-two years old, lived in Florida, took minerals and vitamins to supplement his fitness routine, and said he was healthy with no serious issues. He said he never wore a mask, did not practice social distancing, and would not get vaccinated. He claimed to have been in contact with some family members who tested positive from COVID-19, yet he remained free of any symptoms. He had no plans to be tested or change habits.

When the host pressed him on why he would not get vaccinated he hemmed and hawed then said this, “Well, I don’t believe in it.”

Think about this for a moment. “I don’t believe in it.”

On what rational basis is this decision made?

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None I can see.

This politicizing of the pandemic—where masks became some denial of constitutional rights—coupled with America’s growing anti-intellectualism and disregard for experts, creates the perfect storm of irrationalism masquerading as science (albeit junk science) and offering people an “excuse” to avoid their civic responsibilities.

Even if one wants to argue people should be allowed to choose whether or not to be vaccinated, the discussion should be based on actual science, risk assessment, and cost-benefit analysis. “I believe” falls woefully short and undercuts any substantive examination.

All this is the culmination of the anti-vaccine zealots who promulgate unreliable, untestable, yet authoritative (which they selectively embrace) sounding “evidence” that vaccines are inherently dangerous.

Much of this results from the failing level of basic science and math comprehension in America. Where we once led the world in technology, math, and science we now languish near the middle or bottom when compared to other modern industrialized nations.

We are a nation of conspiracy theorists paralyzed by fear of a boogie man constructed from irrational fears.  And no one can actually point to one shred of evidence or reason the government, or Bill Gates, or China, or any other lightning rod of the day would create such a pandemic for their own benefit.

And yet, it persists and festers.

“An important element in much of junk thought is innumeracy—a lack of understanding of basic mathematical and statistical concepts. Innumeracy is deeply implicated in the media’s and the public’s overreaction to many studies involving medical risks. News stories frequently report that a particular drug or consumption of a particular type of food increases or decreases the risk of one disease or another by a large percentage. The critical issue, though, is not the magnitude of the increase but the incidence of risk in the first place. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that a drug doubles the chance of contracting a fatal disease at age twenty. If there was only one chance in a million of developing the disease in the first place, an increase to two in a million is meaningless from a public health standpoint. But if two people in ten were already at risk for the hypothetical condition, an increase to four in ten would justify immediate removal of the drug from the market.”

Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason (p. 277). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The other, more sinister, reality is those who choose not to be vaccinated still benefit from the majority of those who will get vaccinated. Those anti-vaxxer get the benefit of the proliferation of those who develop anti-bodies and reach the threshold of herd immunity. 

The irony is if those opposed to being vaccinated were to succeed with their junk science and thought, they would place themselves in greater jeopardy.

To say one does not “believe” in vaccines is as irrational as saying one does not “believe” the earth is round. All the evidence points to the contrary.  Science works, not because anyone “believes” in it but because it is not based on faith or belief. It often dispels common beliefs. Science thrives on errors and corrections, pseudoscience does everything to avoid such scrutiny.

“Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science. Science thrives on errors, cutting them away one by one. False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved. A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers toward improved understanding. Proprietary feelings are of course offended when a scientific hypothesis is disproved, but such disproofs are recognized as central to the scientific enterprise. Pseudoscience is just the opposite. Hypotheses are often framed precisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproof, so even in principle they cannot be invalidated. Practitioners are defensive and wary. Skeptical scrutiny is opposed. When the pseudoscientific hypothesis fails to catch fire with scientists, conspiracies to suppress it are deduced.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. 

I may not believe in many things, but basing health decisions on beliefs or lack thereof, I am certain, is a dangerous path fraught with serious, and sometimes fatal, risks.

Don’t believe it? Time will tell.


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