Sunday, July 18, 2021

Vaccine Skeptics

Pyrrho of Elis, founder of the Skeptical School, holds rigorously to principle. Existential Comics.

Predictably, it turns out that liberals are to blame for vaccine hesitancy—Murc's Law again—because we're "condescending" and that hurts the feelings of people who might otherwise go for it. We're treating them as mulish when they're in fact skeptical, Michael Brendan Dougherty opines at National Review:

Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all. Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it.

Skeptics! So we should be persuading them with sweet reason, not treating them as idiots, as, according to Michael Brendan Doughterty, we are all doing, as when Senator Cornyn says the doubts are "based on conspiracy theories" or Senator Romney calls it "moronic":

Admittedly, some of those skeptics may seem less than rational, or practicing motivated reasoning, just the way I was doing last fall:

many of the most prominent anti-vaxxers do indulge in conspiratorial thinking. Some of it is politically motivated; people may remember that while Trump was president, prominent Democrats expressed their fears about the corruption of the research process based on nothing more than their intuition.

But that doesn't apply to the movement as a whole

But a study done at MIT showed that a substantial portion of public-health skepticism was highly informed, scientifically literate, and sophisticated in the use of data. Skeptics used the same data sets as those with the orthodox views on public health. From a writeup of the study:

Combining computational and anthropological insights led the researchers to a more nuanced understanding of data literacy. Lee says their study reveals that, compared to public health orthodoxy, “antimaskers see the pandemic differently, using data that is quite similar. I still think data analysis is important. But it’s certainly not the salve that I thought it was in terms of convincing people who believe that the scientific establishment is not trustworthy.” Lee says their findings point to “a larger rift in how we think about science and expertise in the U.S.” That same rift runs through issues like climate change and vaccination, where similar dynamics often play out in social media discussions.

Actually, the study was on social media expressions, and the use of charts and graphs, like this

and what the MIT study found was that the anti-vaxxers didn't "use" the same data sets; they attacked them. They simply didn't accept that the data could be trusted:

Anti-maskers are acutely aware that mainstream political and news organizations use data to underscore the pandemic’s urgency; they believe that these data sources and visualizations are fundamentally flawed and seek to counteract these biases. Their discussions reflect a fundamental distrust in public institutions: anti-maskers believe that the inconsistency in the way that data is collected and the incessant fear mongering make it difficult to make rational, scientific decisions.

So they were engaging in conspiracy theories too. A thing that has constantly gotten in my way on the Twitter, when I show some "skeptic" the disconfirming data and they come back with "So you believe what you read in The New York Times?"

What I'm saying, in answer to Michael Brendan Dougherty, is that there is a variety of "skeptics" in the field, and you can't argue with any of them. There are the professional skeptics like these twitterati, whose skepticism consists of pure and unmixed confirmation bias against anything produced by a public institution, including of course the toilers in the wingnut welfare jobs ("issues like climate change and vaccination" means issues where a majority of scientists are begging governments for urgent action and a tiny but vocal number of think-tank contrarians are producing oppositional defiance on behalf of corporations that don't want to be regulated or taxed and the political parties they support); firehoses like Tucker Carlson eating that stuff up and regurgitating it on the air; and his audience, the people who are actually not getting vaccinated because they think the vaccine is evil.

Mr. Carlson, Ms. Ingraham and guests on their programs have said on the air that the vaccines could be dangerous; that people are justified in refusing them; and that public authorities have overstepped in their attempts to deliver them.

Mr. Carlson and Ms. Ingraham last week criticized a plan by the Biden administration to increase vaccinations by having health care workers and volunteers go door to door to try to persuade the reluctant to get shots....

“Going door-to-door?” Ms. Ingraham said. “This is creepy stuff.”

Mr. Carlson, the highest-rated Fox News host, with an average of 2.9 million viewers, said the Biden plan was an attempt to “force people to take medicine they don’t want or need.” He called the initiative “the greatest scandal in my lifetime, by far.”

And we know who the audience members are: Republicans, with a median age of 65 (the most likely to die of Covid-19). They aren't going to listen to you or me. If they think we hold them in contempt it's because Tucker and Laura (and Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and so on) told them, not because I did, and there's really nothing I can do about it. It's up to Tucker.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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