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Friday, 3 September 2021

JAQing the Vax

Charles Darwin

Do you ever wonder how religions begin? 

In a recent offering, we began to look at how propaganda rabbit-holes work. The current situation is providing a road map of the process not seen since convicted huckster Joseph Smith and his famously unseen golden tablets, and not seen so obviously to all at any point in the past. There are many manifestations of this around at the moment, but the big one is one that's been with us for a very long time; antivaxxers.

We're well beyond people merely shouting. Those of us who've been engaged in debunking junk science for any non-trivial amount of time have known that antivaxxers have been responsible for deaths for a long time, and have been saying so but, until now, we couldn't even get close to putting numbers on it. At present, they're racking up a kill count that would shade a small dictatorship.

And this brings us to today's outing, an exposition of the confluence of ideological ignorance and a very common discursive practice; JAQing off, or 'just asking questions'. It's a trolling tactic designed to erode patience and frustrate a respondent, often likened to the 'Gish Gallop', the practice of raising so many arguments in a formal debate that any opponent has no chance of rebutting them all in the allotted time for response. 

It should be somewhat instructive that this is my go-to term for the practice, given that, since 2014 or so, this has come to be known by another term; sealioning. JAQing off has been in use as a term to describe this practice for decades on private discussion fora, as this practice is highly beloved of young Earth creationists, seemingly only exceeded by their love of Cesaré Borgia*.

So I encountered a couple of screencaps copied from a Facebook group in which some antivaxxers are offering instruction on how to deal with family and friends who are 'accepting the narrative', as they put it or, as I'd put it, being guided by the experts. The text in italics here is exactly as presented with no alterations.

So, without further ado, let us fisk.

When trying to chat with friends or family on the current situation we are all in.

No amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. The typical conditioned response you get back is your sources are not credible.

This is the set-up, redolent of the 'end of days' talk in the bible. I can only speak from my own experience, of course, but the primary research institute that gets cited in most of these arguments is the University of Youtube (or, worse, an unsourced assertion in the press about a 'study'), which should be telling us something. Of course, I have certain advantages in this arena, simply because most of the last few decades has been spent reading, discussing, dissecting, and learning to grasp the complexities of primary scientific literature. For most of those promoting the antivax mythos, a person presented as a 'Dr' on Youtube is compelling - which is precisely the point. Finding a putative 'expert' on any topic to voice your presuppositions is an extremely trivial matter. Finding and understanding the data from which scientific consensus is derived is considerably less so. 

And, in fact, that is precisely what drives the frustration of the McExpert; that maybe we know something about sources that they don't. 

Don't give sources use questions for example:

Don't play their science game, in other words. This is the corollary statement to the ages-old adage about arguing with a fool. Never argue against somebody who knows things; they'll drag you up to their level and beat you with facts.

The motivation is obvious here. Don't play the game, just ask these reasonable-sounding questions. Presented as gotcha questions, of course. Youtuber Potholer54, the gold standard for science journalism, in my opinion, used to run an annual award known as variously the 'Stoned Commander Defiance in Ignorance Prize' and the 'QQOQQ' award, an award for a question asked in complete confidence that there was no reasonable answer. As we'll see, all these questions are worthy of such an award.  

Ask them if they trust government and media with their life?

I'm happy to answer that question: No. Not even a little bit. Not with a cup of tea, let alone anybody's life. 

Ask them how they make their own choices, how they get the information needed to making those choices and if they trust the sources of those information with their life?

I trust peer-reviewed scientific literature, and with good reason. The peer-review process is far from flawless, but the major journals are well motivated to keep poor science out of their pages, because the research in these journals drives further research, so crappy research in the literature drives crappy research in the future. The major journals derive their income entirely from subscriptions by institutions, researchers and the science press, so they're motivated to ensure their subscribers are well served, which is why any paper submitted for publication goes through review by a panel of experts in the field whose sole motivation is to find flaws in reasoning, factual accuracy, source data, etc., precisely to keep shoddy papers from publication.

Medical research is slightly different, and is often published without review as a 'pre-print' edition, but the process is exactly the same in all other respects. Any paper on an important topic, such as, to pick an example at random, epidemiological research during a viral pandemic, will the be picked up by researchers in the field while undergoing internal review by an expert panel, so that any and all data are available to whoever needs it.  

Ask them if they trust the pharmaceutical companies making Huge amounts of money out of all of this. Would you trust those companies with your life?

The pharmaceutical companies? No. But I trust the review process, because that same process has given you the ability to vent your spleen on a topic in which you have no expertise on the internet. It's worth noting here that the technology I'm employing here is predicated on science well beyond viruses, vaccines and evolution in terms of complexity and complicatedness. The conclusions of quantum mechanics, for example, were conclusions so alien to our everyday experience that they're not something we'd have guessed at in a gazillion years. They had to be derived from observations. 

What kind of experts do you trust those who are making money out of this or those who risk their job, reputation even their life speaking out against the current narrative?

The obvious implication here is that somebody who risks their career is more likely to be telling the truth. The obvious counter to that is Andrew Wakefield, who risked his career by drawing a non-existent link between the MMR vaccine and autism in a deeply flawed and tiny study which it was later revealed contained deliberately falsified data.

Interestingly, a quick google of 'Andrew Wakefield net worth' draws several sources citing his current net worth at $2 million, which was not the point I was aiming at, but still constitutes a damning counter. I don't know any practice nurses, or general medical practitioners with that kind of wallop.

As it happens, though, I don't trust experts. I do trust expert consensus, for all the reasons given above, and for the additional reason that consensus takes into account statistical factors like significance and regression to the mean; it means that statistical outliers are 'normalised', as we'd say in the jargon.

The vague allusion to risking life is not supported, and I reject it out of hand.  

Ask why we are not allowed to ask questions and why are those who have gathered information against all this being censored?

The irony here is delicious, and lost only on those with no sense of irony. Asking a question about not being able to ask questions. 

As for censorship, I see no evidence of that. In fact, I've spent most of the pandemic engaged in nothing but rebutting this allegedly censored information. Of course, to a dogmatist, fact-checking claims constitutes censorship. Ultimately, the very fact that this screed found its way to me is a fatal rebuttal to this (these) question(s).

What is the average life expectancy of the animals the vaccine was tested on surely it must have gone through animal trials before being used on humans?

This question isn't even contextually coherent. The average lifespan is entirely irrelevant to whether the virus killed them. Unless somebody wants to assert that all the animals used in testing were about to die anyway (the fatuous 'underlying conditions' trope). Even with a shockingly poor understanding of statistics, the holes in this could accommodate a fleet of trucks large enough to put a dent in the UK's 'supply problem'. The logical fallacy in play here is the red herring. 

Why would you fear a disease with a recovery rate of over 98%?

Who said anything about fear? This is a wonderful example of discursive hyperbole; deliberately exaggerating attitudes to make them appear unreasonable. I don't fear any virus, but I do recognise that one preventable death is one too many, and that proper caution is a good thing. Moreover, estimates for the infection fatality rate are evolving. There are, as of early August 13 distinct variants of the virus. This is a problem in and of itself, because of how evolution works, especially in terms of how evolution operates in the presence of fitness gradients. I won't relitigate that here, since I've covered it in considerable detail in other posts, notably Qualified Immunity. Suffice it to say that fitness gradients accelerate evolution in the direction of the gradient. This means that, in a partially partially vaccinated population (not a typo), viruses are continually evolving toward full vaccine escape. 

Finally, peak IFR was registered at 1.7%. That has been brought down considerably because of the vaccines. The current IFR (based on UK data, linked at the bottom), because of the vaccines, is down to 0.085%. So that's even better, right? But what would that mean in absolute numbers?

The current population of the planet is 7.424 billion people. In raw numbers discounting all variables for the sake of simplicity, if everybody on the planet got infected, A 1.7% IFR would result in a total death count of 126,208,000 people. Of course, that's a massively naïve number. What about with the current IFR? If the IFR had been 0.085% from the start, a naïve death toll would still be 6,310,400. This is not an insignificant difference. As it is, we're already considerably closer to that lower number than we'd like to be (4,551,690), but the real problem is that there's no way we're going to end up with that as our final tally even if everybody were vaccinated. 

When we move up through the age groups, that number climbs to around 3.5% in over 75s. There are approximately 270 million people over 75 in the world as of 2020. Raw numbers would equate that IFR to 9,450,000 deaths. Even the low end of those raw figures, on an appraisal as naïve as those of antivaxxers, is holocaust-scale, and the low end of those numbers is almost certainly beyond hope as things stand at the moment.

These numbers are not easy to grasp. Even to somebody entirely accustomed to dealing with the colossal numbers involved in physics and cosmology, it's difficult to intuit. I get it. Most of us know maybe 600-1000 people. Which 17 of those are you willing to sacrifice? On average, we might meet or interact personally with maybe 10,000 people throughout the course of our lives. Which 170 of them? Do you even want to see what those numbers would look like for those you love who are older than 75 years? Are there ANY in that demographic you're willing to sacrifice? And what about those with underlying conditions? It's difficult to put real numbers on that, because its a huge pool of variables, and unaccounted variables are statistical confounders. 

Of course, it's easy to dismiss those with underlying conditions if you don't understand variables and impact. In the last 20 months, I've seen the 'underlying conditions' trope erected as a means of dismissal, but there really is a serious point in there. Age is an underlying condition. COPD is an underlying condition. Asthma is an underlying condition. Very many underlying conditions - including undiagnosed and perfectly treatable and curable underlying conditions - can turn an otherwise perfectly survivable illness into a death sentence. Which of your loved ones are you willing to sacrifice?

Why would you fear a disease with mild-to-no symptoms?

I wouldn't, but we're not talking about such a disease. We're talking about a disease with a range of known and measured symptoms, including neurotropism (reduction in brain mass; especially important when talking about children) and associated cognitive impact, Lewy body production associated with various forms of dementia including Parkinson's, increased risk of myocarditis, increased risk of clotting (both of these were risk factors underlying the decision not to immediately vaccinate children, but the risk of these is 6 and 10 times higher with the virus than the vaccine respectively), corneal nerve fibre loss (potential future blindness), and a whole slew of long-term symptoms of long COVID which we're still trying to get to grips with. See Qualified Immunity for much, much more on this. 

Explain how the flu disappeared but has been replaced with something that has the exact same symptoms.


This never happened. It's a complete fabrication out of whole cloth.

Firstly, as the graph on the left shows clearly, influenza didn't disappear. Case numbers were certainly reduced by normal standards because... drum roll... mitigations against infection are as effective against transmission of influenza as they are against COVID! Because of course they bloody are. If you don't get this, you really shouldn't be asking questions with any expectation of being taken seriously. This is about as basic as it gets.

As for the 'exact same symptoms', this is also guff. Alongside the symptoms listed above, the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to run to autoimmune due to T-cell over-differentiation. Here's what we learned in Qualified Immunity:
Your immune system is made up of several components, among which are cells known T cells. These are white blood cells involved in some responses to foreign bodies. They can replicate really rapidly and differentiate for different purposes. This is good. What's not so good is when it goes wrong. In particular, there are some situations in which the T-cells can into very rapid replication and differentiation, and get a bit out of control. The result is premature apoptosis. Apoptosis is the normal death a cell undergoes when it's fulfilled its function (as an aside, most cancers are a failure of this process; your cells become immortal). The end result of this is a kind of toxic soup, and the T-cells start attacking everything, you included. This, where the immune system starts attacking you, is what we mean by autoimmune.  

Further, the neurotropism found in COVID patients can be found in some strains of influenza, notably H7N7, but this is not a feature of standard strains, and that's not all.

The notion that the symptoms are the same stems from the fact that some of the symptoms are very similar and, in early stages, can easily be mistaken for flu. We've since learned that even some of those symptoms are not what they look like. For example, what looks like viral pneumonia appears not actually to be pneumonia.

Contrary to popular belief, pneumonia isn't a disease, it's a symptom. In particular, it's an inflammation of the alveoli, small air sacs within the lungs. It's a symptom of many respiratory afflictions. Pneumonia is often accompanied by pleurisy, an inflammation of the sacs holding the lungs. I've seen only one report of pleurisy in a COVID patient, which can almost certainly be related to corollary symptoms or underlying conditions. Pleural effusion (excess fluid in the space between pleura and lungs) is not a general symptom of influenza, but appears in about 10 percent of COVID patients. 

Explain how all cause mortality is at an all-time low.

It isn't. In fact, one of the means by which we gauge the overall effects of any virus is by looking at the number of excess deaths over statistical norms, and it's crystal clear that all-cause mortality is significantly up, despite the deaths from other causes being significantly lower due to mitigations. 

This would be, if it weren't simply bollocks, another red herring. The simple fact is that the mitigations employed to flatten the transmission curve of COVID have had a huge impact on other causes. Road deaths are down because of lockdowns. Influenza, the 200+ viruses responsible for the common cold and other airborne or aerosolised viruses are massively cut by wearing masks,. social distancing, improved ventilation, screens, etc., exactly as you'd expect if you were paying attention. Even suicides, in an odd and unexpected twist, are down. Police-recorded domestic violence is up 7 percent, with DV referrals to victim support up 12 percent. The big shift in DV cases is in source, with an 8.1% increase in abuse from partners and a 17.1% increase in abuse from other family members, but a decrease in abuse from former partners of 11.4%. All entirely within statistical expectations.

Of course, I really didn't need to go here, but it's instructive in the nature of expertise.

Explain why whistleblowers are reporting that the hospitals are now filling up with vaccine adverse reactions but the MSM aren't reporting it.

What whistleblowers would these be? I can't speak intelligently about the mainstream media, because the only time I give them any attention at all is to debunk the kind of scientifically illiterate nonsense I'm debunking here. What I can say for certain is that adverse reactions are tracked. In fact, even reports of what might be adverse reactions are registered, whether they are in fact adverse reactions to a vaccine or not. This is the purpose of the VAERS database, which we discussed in The Cost of Liberty

If there are data being hidden about adverse reactions, bring them on! I'm happy to look at anything anybody's got on this, because it's important knowledge. I do know that adverse reactions and even slight humps in risk are carefully collated. It is, in fact, such diligence with the data that has made everybody somewhat circumspect in administering the vaccine to children. We looked at those minor humps in the testing data (clotting, myocarditis) and held back. The data now show that these risks are massively exceeded by the virus.
 

Explain how this is the only crisis that needs an advertising campaign paired with a constant barrage of repetitive brainwashing propaganda on the TV and in the streets.

This is easily the most interesting question in the presentation, and there are two extremely simple answers.

The first is that this is bollocks. It simply isn't the case that this is the only crisis with such a response. Here are some examples from my younger days:



A much broader point is that, even since the time of those campaigns, global communications have exploded. there was no internet, the global communications network was next to non-existent (I remember getting reamed for calling my family in London when I lived in the American Midwest for 18 months, a call that ran to upwards of $150, a huge sum at the time). The fact is that we live in a different world now, and it brings with it a whole slew of new problems, not least the easy contact between scientifically illiterate fuckwits who want their fear-driven ignorance to hold sway.

The simple fact is that this pandemic is unique in our experience. Sure, we've had large outbreaks, and even polydemics (affecting many populations) such as the several waves of the bubonic plague in the early to mid second millennium CE. What we haven't ever had is a large scale outbreak in an age of rapid global travel and even more rapid communication. This is a new danger.

What also sets this situation apart is the rise of disinformation. This has been with us for a very long time, but the rise of global communications has made Twain's famous admonition even more stark in its inference. It's no longer the case that lie is halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on; the lie is global and is being spread in Facebook groups before the truth has even given its toes a cursory early-morning wiggle.

And that's the real truth, of course. We live in a world now in which the truth is a commodity with diminishing value; where a well-formed and comfortable lie is preferable to a distressing fact; where ill-informed opinion holds sway.

Here are the hard facts:

Everything a hospital does is determined by ICU capacity. Even the safest of procedures cannot be carried out if there's insufficient capacity in the ICU to accommodate problems. While ICUs are full, all non-elective procedures have to be put on hold, precisely because NO medical intervention is without risk. Many patients are kept from their normal appointments for infection control and because ICUs can't accommodate them if something goes wrong with their treatment. This obviously most impacts the most vulnerable of patients who routinely require the highest levels of care. 

Under normal circumstances, a patient will remain in ICU for a couple of days (often less; only until they're stable). There's a predictable cyclicality to capacity, which means that there's always capacity, barring a crisis. 

Currently, ICUs in many countries, but especially the hardest hit, are occupied, to a first approximation, entirely by unvaccinated patients. Worse, unvaccinated patients are staying in ICU on full support for up to 30 days, decimating capacity. Vaccinated people are still getting sick, but few require ICU level care, and fewer still are dying.

This isn't merely about unvaccinated people getting sick, it's also about the impact unvaccinated people are having on the capacity for hospitals to care for them and for other patients.

I get it. I really do. It's difficult to find good information, and it's hard to separate the codswallop from the critical, but there's a reason we rely on experts and their expertise. it's important, though, to pay attention to what expert consensus says. The opinion of one expert, even with studies, is worthless. 

There is only one valid authority in science; the data. We rely on the consensus of experts to tell us what the data are telling them.

Please. Get vaccinated. Wear a mask in enclosed public spaces (even if the law doesn't require you to). Remember that this isn't just about you, it's about the millions who've died, and the many more who will die entirely preventable deaths, simply because they chose a source that didn't reflect the best of what we know. Be safe. Look after yourselves and each other. 

There is no Plandemic B.

Further reading:

Qualified Immunity -  viruses, vaccines and evolution. 
The Cost of Liberty - Immunity and freedom
Testing Times - PCR myths debunked
Where do you Draw the Line? - a thought experiment in expertise
Very Able - expertise and understanding variables
Trail of the White Rabbit - propaganda and algorithms

* All the most common modern depictions of Jesus are in fact renditions of Cesaré Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, and widely thought to be the template for Machiavelli's famous Il Principe (The Prince).

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