Vaccine and Pandemic Mis-information
Whom do you trust?
There are common themes among the purveyors of vaccine and pandemic mis-information: “Don’t trust them, trust me. I have things interpreted correctly, they don’t. They are members of a cabal solely motivated by money, I’m not. They are badly misguided, I know the truth. It’s us versus them, folks, and in your gut you know that I, solely I, am the real deal.”
Last Tuesday a youtube video of one very fast-talking Dr. Dan Stock confronting members of a school board at a meeting in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, circulated rapidly in anti-vac circles as “proof” of their preconceptions. If you have the stomach for this sort of thing, watch some of the video, but be sure to check out a sampling of the comments to see what actual scientists are up against.
As this video flashed across people’s screens, an epidemiologist I follow on Substack, Katelyn Jetelina, wrote a rebuttal that pointed me to the writing of a young, extremely bright, Cornell-educated biochemist I had never heard of, Edward Nirenberg. Nirenberg had already written and posted to his blog, Deplatform Disease, a detailed debunking of Dr. Stock’s blather. It is a great read, but quite lengthy. Nirenberg introduced me to a new term that needs to become part of our vocabulary, a “gish gallop,” after the debate technique of Duane Gish, a Young-Earth creationist. (See When People Try to Win Debates by Using Overwhelming Nonsense):
The speech [Dr. Stock’s] is little more than a verbal gish gallop: a tactic used by science denialists wherein they post a bunch of links that they claim to support their points but in reality most of the citations are unsupportive or even unrelated to their claim- but this serves the appearance of evidence. He is doing this but with words- he is making a series of incorrect arguments (that are self-contradictory) and essentially seeking to overwhelm opposition with the volume of arguments he makes. The thing is, as I’ll discuss, he discredits himself very early on, so you don’t have to subject yourself to listening to his vile nonsense because I did it for you.
If you have any doubt of Nirenberg’s characterization of Dr. Stock’s blather as a gish gallop check out Nirenberg’s detailed point-by-point post. The trouble is that Dr. Stock glibly makes assertions that many in this audience have already encountered and believe—assertions that his audience has neither the desire to check or a clue of how to do so. Besides, Dr. Stock has Dr. in front of his name. Sadly, that should not necessarily inspire confidence.
The Mt. Vernon, Indiana, School Board isn’t alone. As Jim Allen recounts in a Spokesman article, the Spokane Public Schools school board meeting on Wednesday evening was attended by an obstreperous crowd of anti-maskers trying to push their anti-science, anti-government point. Among the agitated parents was a name that sounded familiar, but which Mr. Allen did not identify beyond the name:
Another parent, Marshall Casey, recalled his family’s decision to home-school their children.
“Fortunately, we have resources, but others don’t have the resources” to pull their students, said Casey, who closed with a rebuke of the current board.
“Over this last year, you have shown yourself not to be trustworthy,” Casey said.
Like other anti-mask speakers, Casey received applause. Two speakers weighed in with pro-mask comments, and were received with derisive words from the crowd.
Marshall Casey is the name of Matt Shea’s (disgraced LD-4 state representative) former law partner and recent unsuccessful candidate for a judgeship in the City of Spokane Court of Appeals. He received a “100%” rating with right wing litmus test of WeBelieveWeVote. His presence and speech at the meeting signals that many of the 200 attendees were summoned through the right wing modern version of a telephone tree. I feel sorry for the folks on the School Board who had to endure this torment. I encourage my readers to email a short note of support (and commiseration?) to the Board at Schoolboard@spokaneschools.org . I am certain that Casey and his followers are a politically motivated, studiously mis-informed, loud minority of the district’s parents. If I were a member of the School Board I would be happy to know that sensible people who did not attend the meeting “have my back.”
I have been reading scientific literature (specifically medical literature) all of my professional life. This literature is full of jargon and abbreviations that is often hard to decipher, but it is not impenetrable. Scientific truth is not established by one study, but by the weight and quality of the evidence presented in the reports of many investigations. Each study report must be read while keeping in mind whether it offers a statistically valid and significant result or simply an interesting scientific anecdote upon which to base further investigation. The gish gallops of Dr. Stock and the anti-maskers are assembled by cherry-picking only those studies that (at a stretch) might support their preconceived notions. That’s not how science works. Shame on the medical school and the state licensing board that graduated and licensed a Dr. Stock. His diatribe discredits his title.
Email the Spokane Public Schools School Board, and
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. This morning a physician friend sent me an article out of the science journal Nature that might serve to illustrate my point about the scientific literature. Here’s the link:
What’s the take-home? In a nutshell, the study looks at the defenses against a delta variant Covid-19 virus present in one man. It demonstrates that this particular virus sample, analyzed in vitro, that is, in a laboratory setting, is more susceptible to the antibodies the immune system makes in response to two doses of Pfizer vaccine than it is to the antibodies made after one dose of Pfizer vaccine or after a natural infection with a prior Covid-19 variant. Interesting, but put it in context: This is not in vivo, i.e. this is not a test of the immune system acting out in the complex setting of a human body. It is secondary evidence suggesting what might be happen in a human.
In other words, all this laboratory effort hints, but does not prove, that two doses of Pfizer vaccine might be more effective against the delta variant than one dose of Pfizer vaccine or natural immunity to an earlier strain.
Always, more studies are needed to confirm this result and its significance in the real world. Welcome to the accrual process of scientific truth—always subject to further study.