Vaccines, Viruses and More

Time for another cross-post with Meerkat Musings. Over on that site I once got into a lengthy debate with David of Theology Archaeology on the subject of faith healing. I also took a long look at some flat earth arguments by one Hesedyahu. It’s Hesedyahu’s site that interests me this time around, and specifically his arguments against ‘germ theory’.

Let’s begin with this – for reference, Hesedyahu’s comments will be in purple, as and when I feel it’s worth quoting them.

My concern with Hesedyahu’s post, broadly speaking, is that it undermines the concept of vaccines, by undermining the existence of germs and viruses. In the current climate, that’s not only foolish, it’s dangerous. As I alluded to in my examination of his flat earth material, it’s good to ask questions but it’s also important to listen to the answers. If Hesedyahu is going to cast doubt upon conventional explanations for how diseases spread, what alternative explanations can they produce?

Hesedyahu quotes a source that suggests diseases don’t spread in the way we’ve been taught – this article makes reference to an experiment with the flu, where people were exposed to the disease through various methods but didn’t get sick. There is a certain element of irony here – on the one hand, Hesedyahu has repeatedly made the case (in both their flat earth posts and this one) that he prefers to trust the sum of his own experiences, yet they are willing to put faith in one part of one article that was written nearly a hundred years ago – and he omits large sections of the article that speak at length of bacterial infections.

This kind of ‘selective’ approach to evidence and contradictory application of one’s stance on trusting evidence is annoying to me. It can be used to justify almost anything. To summarise, Hesedyahu repeatedly says we should trust our own experiences, and for that reason will not accept the evidence for the existence of germs. On the other hand, they’ll accept part of one article written a century ago (that obviously can’t be something they’ve experienced), just because it jars with the common narrative.

I’ve seen this kind of argument before. People used similar notions in sci-fi debates. The idea was that one piece of sketchy evidence would mean the rest of the evidence was invalid. I hope I don’t have to explain why this approach is painfully flawed. Next, let’s look at a quote from Hesedyahu.

Look, first prove that the thing exists before we start talking about consequences. And if you already believe it exists without necessary evidence, then you’re just part of a cult. No apologies.

If Hesedyahu wants evidence, let’s start with this. Louis Pasteur’s discoveries and the subsequent work by Robert Koch saw vast improvements in the understanding of how diseases were transmitted and as a result, how to curb that transmission. In 1896 Almroth Wright developed the typhoid vaccine, which had a hugely measurable impact on the death rate of soldiers. It may be Hesedyahu’s wish to cast doubt on these sources, but if he willing to put stock in evidence from a century ago, he ought to be willing to consider what other researchers were doing at the time.

To me, there isn’t much difference between the anti-vaxxer crowd and the anti-mask brigade. Controlling the spread of Covid-19 depends upon people paying attention to hygiene, people wearing masks and people getting vaccinated. Each time the UK has entered into a lockdown where masks and social distancing measures have been in place, cases of the virus have dropped. Maintaining lockdown measures has brought the spread of the virus to a near-halt. Premature relaxation of these measures has led to surges in cases. Alongside the impact of lockdowns, masks and other measures on Covid-19, we’ve seen an impact on the spread of other illnesses. These are tangible, measurable outcomes that show these illnesses exist and that undertaking efforts to deal with them actually works. We have prior examples of the success of vaccination campaigns (see the effect of such campaigns on smallpox), so we know vaccines work. I wish people would stop being so quick to doubt, and be more willing to acknowledge the evidence.

EDIT: Hesedyahu issued a response of sorts, one that didn’t really address anything about his selective use of sources, or his willingness to completely ignore sources. There was also a rather deliberate re-write of something I’d written, carefully wrapped in a similar idea, but still fundamentally dishonest. The claim is that I was saying the evidence of something should be accepted – whereas, what I actually wrote (and I repeat for emphasis), ‘ it’s good to ask questions but it’s also important to listen to the answers.‘ I didn’t insist the answers should be accepted, but knee-jerk rejections of the answers don’t make a lot of sense. Questioning everything, for the sake of questioning everything, and rejecting the facts for the sake of rejecting them, is not enlightened. I find it telling that I am quite prepared to showcase his arguments and directly quote them (as well as link to his site), yet they are not prepared to address what I actually wrote, but rather, they will only address one small fragment that they incorrectly ‘quoted’. What do they have to fear from honesty?

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