I know people willing to listen to anti-vaxxers. I support vaccination. How should I argue? Well, whom do you trust?
I trust us spiritual types, people who are on a spiritual journey, or who take our personal growth seriously, to understand what it means to be human. We’re in touch with the Ineffable. We’re the guys! But, generally I trust people to mean well. We’re all doing our best under difficult circumstances, which can mean doing some pretty shoddy things if we don’t know better or are in trouble, but generally we do our best. So I trust people unless shown I should not.
I trust the scientific method. People imagine what might be going on, then test their hypotheses. With new information they understand better. Sometimes they get things badly wrong, but generally knowledge improves. Generally, I trust scientists attached to universities to seek the truth because they are competitive, and it is a huge risk for someone to say something provably wrong.
These researchers are human. They proclaim their successes as loudly as they can and minimise their mistakes. But there are others around who will point it out when they are too full of themselves.
There is misinformation about. On climate change, all the misinformation is by “climate sceptics”. There is no-one spreading myths that climate change is worse than it actually is. On 29 June, Lytton in British Columbia, a village of 250 people, reached 49.6 °C. On 30 June most of it was destroyed by wildfire. Now, British Columbia is suffering catastrophic floods. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, just people know they can make money by casting doubt on global warming, or by minimising it, or saying it is too costly to do anything about it. So they lie and twist.
There is misinformation about vaccines generally. There is the claim that vaccines cause autism. Autism is a gift. I have autistic friends. Any disability they suffer is because of society not meeting their needs properly. Like most people, if their needs are met they will flourish and contribute to society.
There is misinformation about covid. The idea that 5G phone masts cause covid, for example, leading people to attack masts. Well, viruses and bacteria cause illnesses. I knew that in primary school. It comes back to trust. Generally I trust primary school teachers to mean well. It’s a job you go into to improve children’s lives. Now it’s personal for me, as my father was a primary schoolteacher.
Some of the false information about covid is unintentional. People who mean well get things wrong. Part of the problem is politicians and journalists wanting immediate answers because this disease is serious. It killed a thousand people a day in England in January. But often there are no answers, because it is a new disease. So scientists give their best guesses.
Vaccines are not a perfect solution. They might only have a 60% efficacy against symptomatic infection. Variants come along, and the vaccine becomes less effective. But I understand how they are supposed to work- by injecting bits of the virus, which cannot infect you, but which the immune system will recognise. I am glad of my TB jab because my grandfather died of TB, and I have spent time with a TB sufferer. I understand vaccines make infecting others, or needing hospital treatment, less likely, and I trust the sources that tell me that.
There is wrongdoing around vaccines. The CIA used a vaccine campaign in Pakistan to try and find Osama bin Laden, setting back the fight against polio. But I know that Bill Gates is not injecting trackers into people, because a tracker would have to be much larger.
I don’t trust Big Pharma to act in the interests of all of humanity. It may charge too much when it has a monopoly on a drug. It ignores medical problems where it can’t make a profit. But I do trust it to try to reduce suffering and prolong life, because that is where it makes its money. It is not wholly trustworthy. Vioxx was introduced in 1999 as a painkiller for arthritis, but increased the risk of heart disease. Eventually the risks were found, the drug was withdrawn, thanks to researchers independent of the drug companies. Victims are suing.
But that doesn’t mean that I take on trust the word of every independent researcher who proclaims covid a hoax. In my view the preponderance of the evidence I can assess is in favour of vaccination generally, including against covid. I don’t trust social media because I know it amplifies climate sceptics, Donald Trump’s big election lie, anti-trans campaigners, and all sorts of falsehood. I know the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times get things wrong. Whenever you know about a subject and a journalist introduces it you hear all they get wrong. But I trust them generally to mean well.
The question is the balance of trust, when people can make mistakes (including us, oh wise ones. You’ve made mistakes, haven’t you?) On balance, I trust universities and their researchers. I do reiki, I trust my immune system, and I trust the vaccine improves my chances against covid.
We are human beings. We see in a riddle, dimly: sole judge of truth in endless error hurled. We aren’t capable of full knowledge. But we are social animals who generally mean well, because that is the way to get on in societies that prosper. I trust my primary schoolteachers who told me viruses cause disease. I trust those clever [people] at Oxford. I trust vaccines to give me and my society some protection from covid.