Risky Business: Rolling the Dice

People are terrible at risk assessment. They commonly overestimate the risk based on factors that have nothing to do with the issue. Studies have shown people are more motivated by unreasonable fear or peer pressure to see risk in some activities than by rationality. https://www.cogencyteam.com/news/2018/02/why-are-humans-bad-at-calculating-risk/

This may explain the anti-vaxx phenomenon, particularly the resistance to getting the Covid-19 vaccine, despite overwhelming evidence of the efficacy and benefit of receiving vaccinations and their effect on staying healthy and preventing death.

The reality of the risk is in stark contrast to media outlets — on both sides of the political spectrum — crafting attention-drawing headlines distorting the actual risk.

Less than 0.004% of people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 experienced a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization, according to CDC’s latest data, and less than 0.001% have died from the disease.

Breakthrough cases occur when the virus infects fully vaccinated people, but the severity of the case is mitigated by the vaccine thus reducing the morbidity potential. Put simply, unvaccinated you can get very sick, require hospitalization, and have a higher risk of dying than if you are vaccinated and the risk of death is greatly diminished.

The CDC reported a total of 6,587 breakthrough cases, including 6,239 hospitalizations and 1,263 deaths as of July 26. At that time, more than 163 million people in the US were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

By comparison, if on the recommendation of a physician one were to take low dose aspirin, as millions of Americans do, studies found some startling information,

 For 50-year-old men, taking a full-sized, 325 mg aspirin every day to prevent heart disease and stroke carries a risk of 10.4 deaths per 100,000 men per year over and above their overall death risk.

This is comparable to the risk of driving a car or working as a firefighter.

Thus the risk associated with the commonly used aspirin, of which there is no cry of outrage over the recommendation for using such medication, is higher than the vaccine, which prevents Covid-19 in the majority of cases or mitigates the severity of the virus in virtually every case.

It calls into question the ability of Americans to have empathy for their fellow Americans. Instead, out of some warped sense of personal choice smoke-screened by unreasonable risk assessment, they demand “rights’ where they should feel a sense of responsibility.

I find it ironic that Americans are so willing to demand the right to bear arms to protect themselves against a potential but unlikely threat, yet when presented with a genuine and often deadly threat, they prefer to wallow in ignorance.

I need a gun to protect myself from something unlikely to happen but have the right to refuse to protect myself and others from something with a much higher probability.

It makes little sense.

If one were to accept the CDC data for the sake of argument—and no one has ever refuted the data with any level of scientific reliability—and if every American who could be vaccinated were, then we would expect 128,000 hospitalizations and 32000 deaths from breakthrough cases.

While any death is one too many, the unvaccinated are being hospitalized and dying at a much higher rate yet the solution to the problem is right in front of them.

But then again, in a country where a significant number believe the Q-Anon myth and that the election was stolen, I suppose we should expect no less. Maybe we should just defer to nature and natural selection.


JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

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?

Doubt CBS Promos - Television Promos

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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Vaccines and Conspiracy Theory: Science vs. Belief

It would seem in America people have misconstrued their First Amendment right to free speech—where the government cannot intervene, prevent, stifle, or censor the exercise thereof—to mean anything they say is of equal value to any other pronouncement and thus immune from criticism or challenge.

This “equality without evaluation” is a product of postmodernism, characterized by skepticism, subjectivism, and relativism., It is defined by a rejection of science and authority (in the expert sense) and general suspicion of reason.

In a post modernist world, anything you say, opinion you express, or contention you make is equal to any other and immune from challenge. This is about as far from reality as one can venture. In the real world, you may have the right to claim something but not the right to insist on its veracity merely because you believe it to be true.

Every man has the right to an opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts.

Bernard Baruch

This sheltering under Free Speech is disingenuous. One cannot prevent someone from making a point, just like one cannot deny others the opportunity to refute it.

In our fantasy-infused society—where many people believe the Bible to be factually accurate, the Earth is flat, angels routinely intervene in people’s lives, and people channel omnipotent beings to heal incurable diseases (but, curiously enough, never regrow limbs)—facts have become malleable to opinion. It presents a clear and present danger to our survival.

One must keep in mind the folly of biblical literalism: what some see as the obvious meaning—in a passage translated from ancient Hebrew to ancient Greek to Old Latin to New Latin to Middle English to Modern English—others will not.

Here’s an example, albeit a bit unscientific. Using Google Translate which has no vested interest in the purpose of the translation and I believe would be at least as reliable as monks with papyrus and a stylus in a cold, candle lit room.

I started with “In the beginning…

Greek “Στην αρχή” to Hebrew: בהתחלה to Latin: initio back to English: initially.

After two thousand years of translation by humans, is the Bible in its current iteration something to believe is inerrant fact? Or to rely on for medical advice?

And yet, there is this from a 2017 Gallup poll…

Chart: data points are described in article

And from the same poll…

Still, while biblical literalism has waned, the vast majority of Americans — 71% — continue to view the Bible as a holy document, believing it is at least God-inspired if not God’s own words.


Coupling the perception that Free Speech means unchallengeable with the right to hold any faith without serious analysis or questioning of its basis or origin, imbues a perception of invincibility to any derived positions. Therein lies the danger. Yet, perhaps there is some advice we can embrace from the Bible, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Mark 12:17 could be interpreted keep religion and secular matters separate.

Why does this matter?

America is one of the most religious of developed nations. It may be a diverse spectrum of religions, predominantly Christian, with a smaller helping of Judaism and an even smaller portion of Islam, but we are no doubt a religious nation. Just imagine the outrage if a President didn’t end every speech with God bless America.

Although the number of adherents is decreasing in terms of traditional faiths, i.e., Catholicism or mainstream Protestants, others are growing. The Evangelicals (a kinder and gentler term for Fundamentalists) and Charismatics (a marketing term coined to put a kinder imprimatur on Biblical inerrancy, speaking in tongues, and direct messaging with God and Jesus) are increasing in numbers.

Prosperity Preachers (who knew there was such a thing, must have been a different version of the Bible than the one I read) draw tens of thousands to their full-blown production services, more Hollywood than Holy. One such preacher, Joel Osteen, is worth about fifty million dollars. Kenneth Copeland, the granddaddy of the phenomenon whose fortune is between 300 and 700 million dollars, has his own airport. Life is good when God is your business agent.

Apparently they never read Mark 10:21 (“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”)

This religiosity sets us apart from Europe, Australia, Japan, and other educated nations, putting us in line with theocracies and countries with state religions. We may have a restriction against government-sponsored religion, but we support it through forgoing taxes on church property and income. We do this, it would seem, willingly with the Judeo-Christian faith and more reluctantly with Islam, but it is a fact.

Why does this matter? Because when one blurs the line between beliefs and fact it fosters misinformation. Religion has its place as a guide to behavior. Still, when it crosses the line into the rational, secular decision-making process, it becomes indistinguishable from conspiracy theories, dark age mythology, and pseudoscience.

“The likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted,” they concluded, by two key pieces of our national character that derive from our particular Christian culture: “a propensity to attribute the source of unexplained or extraordinary events to unseen, intentional forces” and a weakness for “melodramatic narratives as explanations for prominent events, particularly those that interpret history relative to universal struggles between good and evil.” (from a study entitled “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion,”)

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen

No better example of the danger of making choices based on beliefs instead of medical science exists than the myths surrounding vaccines


The Great Vaccine Scare: How a Fabricated and Falsified “Study” Became “Fact”

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper linking thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative and stabilizer then used in vaccines) to autism in children. The implication was childhood vaccinations were more dangerous than the diseases they prevented.

It was a fraud, but every con has its willing victims. Celebrities such as the wife of the late shock jock Don Imus, Deirdre Imus, embraced it and portrayed Dr. Wakefield as a martyr sacrificed by the drug companies for the sake of profit. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02989-9

You may have the right to claim something but not the right to insist on its veracity merely because you believe it to be true.

Joe Broadmeadow

The British medical society investigated Dr. Wakefield and the circumstances and methodology of his “study.” The results were startling and largely ignored by the anti-vaxx community because it didn’t comport with their belief.

“In 2010, the General Medical Counsel declared that the paper was not only based on bad science but was deliberate fraud and falsifications by the head researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and revoked his medical license. Investigators learned that a lawyer looking for a link between the vaccine and autism had paid Wakefield more than £435,000 (equal to more than a half-million dollars). https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/do-vaccines-cause-autism

In 2004, two studies performed in the United Kingdom examined whether thimerosal in vaccines caused neurodevelopmental or psychological problems; neither found evidence that early exposure to thimerosal was harmful. The study by Thompson and coworkers in this issue of the Journal (pages 1281–1292), the third and most comprehensive to date, also found no evidence of neurologic problems in children exposed to mercury-containing vaccines or immune globulins.

Although the precautionary principle assumes no harm in exercising caution, the alarm caused by the removal of thimerosal from vaccines has been quite harmful. For instance, after the July 1999 announcement by the CDC and AAP, about 10 percent of hospitals suspended use of the hepatitis B vaccine for all newborns, regardless of their level of risk. One 3-month-old child born to a Michigan mother infected with hepatitis B virus died of overwhelming infection.” (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmp078187)

And now, amid the deadliest pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu, the specter of doubt about vaccines raises its ugly head once again, causing people to refuse vaccinations. Vaccines that no longer contain thimerosal or any other ingredient with even the most tenuous link to autism.

A vaccination site at Dodger Stadium in LA had to be temporarily closed because of a protest by anti-vaxxers. A bizarre and dangerous example of pitting beliefs and faith-based myths against medical science. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-30/dodger-stadiums-covid-19-vaccination-site-shutdown-after-dozens-of-protesters-gather-at-entrance

Photo LA Times

Not sure how receiving a vaccine places one’s soul at risk. Still, there you have it—religion blurring the lines between rationality and doctrine.

They base this vaccination fear on a lie. The conspiratorial proclivities of a significant number of Americans (and it is predominantly an American phenomenon) crashing against rationality spawning a dangerous situation.

Nothing in this world is 100% effective. Not one vaccine, not one medical procedure, not one medication comes without some side-effects or risk. But focusing on the minimal risk blinds people to the overwhelming benefit. These risks are amplified by lies, manipulations, conspiracy nonsense, and outright fraud.

If you want a risk free life, you’re living on the wrong planet, at the wrong time, as the wrong species. Life has risks. Yet, with proper medical procedures, dying is deferrable if not avoidable. There was a time when heart disease always carried a prognosis of a shortened life. Now, open heart patients are walking out of the hospital within days. Some incur complications and die, the overwhelming majority survive.

If one wants certainties, you’re unlikely to find them.

In this case, faith isn’t solely to blame. People may choose to rely on prayer—which has no evidence of efficacy—over vaccines or other treatments—which have mountains of evidence of effectiveness—because they doubt the word of scientists or the government. These beliefs lack any meaningful evidence but are proliferated by conspiratorial nonsense like Q-Anon or anecdotal examples of isolated incidents of government incompetence.

Somehow, they overlook the proof of fraud because it contradicts their beliefs or mistrust of authority.

The duplicitousness of this stance eludes them. With thimerosal, the only study that linked it to autism was fraudulent. Yet, the lie persists. The consequences are frightening. Cases of measles, rubella, whooping cough, and polio are again rising—conditions which, sometimes, can be fatal.

Now, with the increasing numbers of vaccines available to bring the COVID pandemic under control, irrational fear of vaccines based on fraud, lies, misrepresentations, and unadulterated hogwash infects society.

Here’s a great example of the nonsense circulating on social media. This from a Facebook post, but similar idiocy proliferates across multiple platforms.

Does a vaccine give you immunity…. no

Does the vaccine illuminate the virus…. no

Does the vaccine prevent death….no

Does the vaccine guarantee you won’t get it …..no

Does the vaccine prevent you from spreading it….. no

Ignoring for the moment the misused words—the least of the problems with these pronouncements—some accept this is as a rational reason to forego the COVID vaccination. The limits of our own self-inflicted stupidity know no bounds.

Yet, social media is not the problem. Once, many perceived the invention of the printing press as a danger to society. The printing of the Bible in the vernacular rather than traditional Latin opened the words to millions outside the clergy’s once exclusive confines. Both religious and secular powers feared the unleashing of knowledge would be a death knell to society.

It wasn’t, but it may have been the beginning of the end for the religious hegemony over government and society.

The same concerns hover over social media. But the newness of the phenomenon ignores people’s ability to learn how to embrace new technology. It is a new aspect to free speech, but the same strictures apply; fact trumps fiction given the proper intellectual tools.

If we focus on education—giving people the analytical skills to differentiate fact from myth—people will learn to be discerning in the material they embrace online. There will always be a tendency toward confirmation bias, but truth and rationality will rule given an opportunity.

But we need to confront those who use Free Speech as a shield for spreading lies and myths. We need to subject those who offer opinions masquerading as facts to answer the challenge, prove it. Conspiracy theories based on lies, innuendo, false logic, and ignorance led to an insurrection. If we let similar actions derail our efforts to control this and any future pandemics—something we know is inevitable—we face a bleak future.

Religion and faith have their place. They can be useful guides in our daily interaction with our fellow man. But they can also be dangerous wedges used to segregate and divide. No rational person would just pray for their child’s broken arm to heal and not treat it medically. Why would we tolerate those who spread false information about vaccines that put society at risk without challenging them?

If we don’t, our dearth of basic understanding of science and our declining ability to segregate opinion and nonsense from facts and reality will kill us all. Rationality and reason are the sine qua non to our survival.

If you choose not to receive a vaccination, it is your right. But society has the right to make decisions which are for the overall good. If you find yourself banned from travel, or your children banned from school, or your job at risk, it is not a violation of your rights, it is a consequence of your choice. The exercise of rights is not a guarantee of a lack of repercussions when those individual rights cause harm to others,

Or, at the risk of being a bit crass and flippant, you could refuse to be vaccinated and, in the words of Ebenezer Scrooge, “die and decrease the surplus population.” You have the right to choose but remember, Choices: You Make ’em You Own ’em…(the title of a good book by the way click here)


JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

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