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Sneering scientists won’t win over anti-vaxxers Public intellectuals risk alienating religious believers

The church is struggling to counter vaccine scepticism. Credit: Josep LAGO / AFP / Getty

The church is struggling to counter vaccine scepticism. Credit: Josep LAGO / AFP / Getty


January 28, 2021   5 mins

Last week, my bishop, the Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Revd Dr Karowei Dorgu, issued an unprecedented statement to the BAME community. He used to be a GP and hospital doctor, and is concerned by some fears that the Covid vaccine is secretly an attempt to wipe out the black race, or that it marks out patients with “666”, the sign of the beast. “Be wise, ignore the conspiracy theories, take the vaccine,” he pleaded.

He wasn’t alone. The Archdeacon of Croydon, the Ven Rosemary Mallett, then issued a similar statement: “I also hear that there are a number of people from black and minority ethnic communities who are finding themselves really worried about the vaccine
 Please, please, get yourselves vaccinated.” The Diocese of Southwark went one step further, bringing in an urban epidemiologist, Professor Tolullah Oni, to lead an online forum to try and disabuse churchgoers of their fears.

As a priest with a black majority church in the same diocese, I am also making every effort to reassure people that the vaccine is safe.

It seems, however, that the same cannot be said of the very people whose jobs it is to promote the “public understanding of science”. Take Professor Alice Roberts, the Professor of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, who is also the President of Humanists UK. At the same time as Bishop Karowei and others were pleading with their communities not to see science as a threat, she was doing her level best to ridicule people of faith.

Without any consideration for whether now is an appropriate time to go on the offensive, Professor Roberts, displaying that jocular, superior tone so beloved by professional religion haters, took to social media to sneer about the resurrection, the virgin birth and so on. It “all seems a bit 
 makey-uppy,” she proclaimed.

Here, of course, Roberts is following in a tradition well-established by another former Professor of the Public Understand of Science, Richard Dawkins. He famously denounced God as “a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, genocidal, phillicidal, pestilential, meglomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”. This too from the person paid to promote the public understanding of science: “Science is interesting and if you don’t agree you can fuck off.”

Such a callous attitude is symptomatic of the growing “facts don’t care about your feelings” school of thought. But those tasked with the public understanding of science surely need to do a lot better than “fuck off” if they are to win over the sorts of communities who see in science some sort of threat.

That was, after all, one of the chief concerns of the “public understanding of science” movement that took form following the Bodmer Report, commissioned by the Royal Society and published in 1985. On its opening page, it explained that “many personal decisions, for example about diet, vaccination, personal hygiene or safety at work or at home, would be helped by some understanding of the underlying science”. Concerns about vaccination scepticism were there on the very first page. That’s partly why it recommended that “scientists must learn to communicate with the public, be willing to do so, and indeed consider it their duty to do so”.

This is undoubtedly a noble aim. But in recent years, what began as considerate public engagement has become tainted by a new group of public intellectuals who, comfortable in their own echo chambers, understand their role as preaching to the choir.

Roberts and Dawkins are not the only ones who have taken it upon themselves alienate religious believers. Brian Cox, Professor for Public Engagement in Science at the University of Manchester, argued on the Joe Rogan podcast only last week that physics “ruled out” the existence of the soul. Likewise Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey and former President of the British Humanist Association, has said that “someone of a religious faith will just stick their fingers in the ears and say: ‘I’m not listening, there’s nothing you can say that will make me change my mind.’” So too Professor Richard Fortey, Collier Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at the University of Bristol, has suggested that proponents of Intelligent Design should be known as “IDiots”.

On and on it goes. Indeed, it was in this spirit that, back in 2019, the National Secular Society successfully lobbied Public Health England to remove a suggestion from their literature that some people, worried about vaccinations, might like to seek advice from “faith leaders”. Following his victory, Stephen Evans, the NSS’ Chief Executive, crowed: “Advising people to approach religious leaders on healthcare decisions is incompatible with the best interests of individual patients and the wider public.”

Certainly it is true that not all faith leaders are taking the sort of lead exemplified by the Bishop of Woolwich. But the scornful rhetoric used by the NSS is equally unhelpful. “Some of these fanatics are obstinate, some are deluded or exploitative,” was how one author on the their website described religious attitudes towards Covid-19.

It doesn’t matter how many mosques and cathedrals open themselves up as vaccination centres; there will always be those who want to turn the complex relationship between religion and vaccination into some sort of culture war — using the present situation to leverage more condemnation of religious belief. And that is profoundly unhelpful, not least because it ultimately undermines the efforts of religious bodies to explain to their communities that science is their friend.

Some people just can’t move on from those tired, old, 19th-century debates surrounding science and religion. In fact, we’ve almost come to expect it from anti-religious campaigning organisations like the NSS. But what we should not expect, let alone accept, is the fact that so many of those now tasked with increasing the public understanding of science regard it as part of their brief to attack religion — it can seriously undermine the communication of all the good that science can do to people who may not share the same world view.

The current pestilence has powerfully reminded us that we are all in this together, and that, unless vaccination is going to be imposed by law, people have to be persuaded about its importance. This is, after all, precisely what the entire public understanding of science movement was intended to achieve, as opposed to being used as a Trojan horse for the advancement of attacks upon religion.

Perhaps it’s high time we had someone in one of these roles who believes in God. This is not an argument about religious privilege — nor one about greater inclusivity. It is simply an argument about public health.

According to one estimate, more than 65% of Nobel Prize-winning physicists in the 20th century were Christians or had a Christian background – a figure which rises to more than 72% for chemists. Yes, a Christian background isn’t necessarily a sign of faith. After all, Professor Roberts went to a church school herself — and sends her children to one. But surely it is not beyond the wit of the scientific community to find someone who can communicate with religious people without resorting to condescension. And if it is, perhaps they should call upon Bishop Karawei.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Duncan Cleeve
Duncan Cleeve
3 years ago

Words such as ”pestilence”don’t help either, this is not the plague, 0.03 percent of the global poulation have died of, with, or where covid was mentioned.

If you want high vaccine take up you have to explain why with a 99.8 percent recovery rate, with an average age of death of 82, anyone under 70 need take it and why manfacturers have no liability clauses. Surely if the vulnerable take it they’ll be protected.

If people could see with their own eyes and through their own experience that this was on par with the Spanish flu. you wouldn’t need to coerce people, they’d be lining up.

The constant lies, exagerations, threats, fear mongering and profiteering also give a great rise to distrust. Go and look at the corporations that have made good profits out of all this, including big pharma who now have 7.8 billion potential repeat customers, new strains, more deadly, vaccine passports, and the destruction of the high street and small independent free marketers.

Lickya Lips
Lickya Lips
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

Answer this question, Hancock.

http://tapnewswire.com/2021

David Shaw
David Shaw
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

I agree with you absolutely Duncan. In short all trust has been lost because the Government and its mouthpieces in the BBC and Left wing Press have cried Wolf too many times. They have taken us for fools and we are not!

Barry Sharp
Barry Sharp
3 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

I agreed until you got to Left Wing press. I haven’t seen any sign of them for a long time, unless the Morning Star counts.

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
3 years ago
Reply to  Barry Sharp

Ah, the good old Morning Stalin! Does it still exist? My dad used to buy it occasionally to annoy my mum.

queensrycherule
queensrycherule
3 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

Not so much ‘wolf’ as rocket-propelled Tyrannosaurus Rex with laser cannons and machine guns.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

You’re right that it’s not a Spanish Flu ‘pestilence’ (not by a country mile), but:
There’s an awful lot of 60-69 years olds who are in hosptial at the moment because of Covid, 1000s. An awful lot of extra people died last year, most directly because of Covid, luckily only a small number were children.

The most difficult thing from day 1 has been to both note than Covid is very serious, but still adopt a balanced approach, to some degree we need to be realistic about what any intervention can achieve. Covid spreads with ease within Hospital and Care home settings, despite far more cautious measures than the lockdown.

We also take vaccines for a lot diseases that probably won’t kill us, but can.

Giving the vaccines to kids would for me be a step too far at the moment.

However I’d take heavy issue with the ‘ no liability clauses’. What do you want a cheap vaccine now or one that costs 10 times as much to cover any potential issues, even the legal costs would be huge?

AZ are providing the vaccine at cost, in effect the UK and other governments have partnered with them in order to ensure quick rollout – not just here but in poorer countries.

I’m not too worried about ‘Big Pharma’ here, the destruction of small business and the rise of tech censorship has been accelerated by Covid for sure, but the sort of ideas behind this have been gaining traction for decades. Government ‘hate speech’ and tax polices have seemingly long been aligned with these goals.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

I think you would be very, very worried about Spanish Flu which mainly attacked young people. This constant whingeing about old people is getting on my nerves – a bit like a Holocaust concept except Old instead of Jewish. It’s like you’re saying that once you are old you have no function so you might as well die and get out of the way. It would be interesting to see if you think the same when your time comes.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Spainish Flu had a weird death by age profile it looked like a W. It was historically not uncommon for a lot of under 5s to die – fixing this has been the biggest drivers of life expetency (clean water, sewage, vaccines and nutrition), old people also die, it’s sort of baked in I’m afraid. But Spanish Flu had a big spike in deaths in for 15-35 year olds too. No one knows why, it’s thought that their were probably 2 separate virus, but I don’t know if this fully explains it.

I don’t understand your point whinging about old people, I
pointed out that Covid wards have many 60-69 year olds – something
that doesn’t fit the “they’re all 93 and at deaths door anyway” idea.
Most 60-69 year olds could still be working and hope to have a decade or 3 of life ahead of them.

Saying ‘being grateful that children aren’t dying in high
numbers’ to ‘being a bit like the Holocaust’ doesn’t make any
sense. The Holocaust was one of the worst crimes committed in human history, too many old people dying of a disease is merely tragic.

What you’re talking about is called Senicide, essentially killing old people to save on resources. There is a huge difference between literally murdering someone and not destroying your entire economy and other people’s health in order to save them.

When my time comes I of course hope that I’m old, seemingly in excellent health – go to sleep and never wake up. I’d not wish to see my child’s or hopefully grandkid’s present and future wrecked for my sake. Many, many older people feel the same.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Easy to say..

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Not really, took me bloody ages to type.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Nice one.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Most people think this, everyone wants to die in their sleep. I had Covid and for the the first 6 days it was just a nasty virus. Then I did experience the breathing issues. I won’t bore you with how I coped but one night my family were on point of ringing for an ambulance. If a medic or paramedic is presented with a patient with breathing difficulties their professional and natural response is to alleviate those symptoms. They don’t know at this stage how it will progress. Some survive and others don’t. But there is no way they will turn their backs on someone who is gasping for air. So what do you suggest they do? fill in a form of lifestyle choices and co morbidity etc. No easy answer I know but if it is not the individual’s choice to not receive treatment then we are on a very slippery slope to selective euthanasia. If it is accepted now what constraints will be put in place to stop it for other ‘conditions’ ?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

You need to look at Spanish Flu – Covid is nothing like SF. Back in 1920 people of all ages suffered from malnutrition, TB or had been gassed in the war. The population did not have the lifespan we have today so there were very few (relatively) old people. Spanish Flu attacked mainly young people – there was, for example, a brigade of American soldiers in the same barracks who caught it and about 25% of them died.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I think you may have misinterpreted what DC said about Spanish Flu.
Irony perhaps?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

Don’t think so, sorry? We have enough problems with communications without having to read something and then sit and work out what is really meant. I had a try at irony the other day (probably badly) and most people didn’t understand. Luke Loze below speaks in irony and he even gave me a lesson once but I am sort of educated in a science sort or way – think of those who don’t have degrees in Arts subjects.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

More sarcastic than ironic.
A great example of irony is that government/big tech censorship of anti-vax conspiracies merely enhances their conspiracy/paranoia.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yes, I was endorsing DC’s heresy that this is NOT Spanish Flu, or in fact anything remotely like it, as you so correctly summarised.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

It wasn’t even irony.

“If people could see with their own eyes and through their own experience that this was on par with the Spanish flu. you wouldn’t need to coerce people, they’d be lining up.”

I’m sure this means: if people saw death similar to the Spainish Flu levels then we’d be all be literally queuing up to vaccinated – without needing government coercion.

The only irony is that most people are actually queuing up to vaccinated, but that wasn’t intended.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Yes, I thought CW might have got the wrong end of stick, but all is a clear a mud now!
Off for my PUL jab tomorrow.

Pauline Ivison
Pauline Ivison
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

What a brilliant, concise and sensible comment. You have expressed my feelings in a far more articulate way than I ever could. I shall use your comment when I next email my mp. He may learn something. Thank you.

queensrycherule
queensrycherule
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

Correct, sir.

The vaccine is irrelevant, it’s the witch doctor justifications for lockdown that have destroyed the concept of science.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Cleeve

The high street was on the way out long before this – been in decline for years due to cheap online shopping. The worry is the small businesses but thankfully, where I live , they at the moment (I hope it will continue) seem to be surviving relatively well due to continued local support – probably not the case everywhere sadly.

brettj357
brettj357
3 years ago

Dawkins and co. are just as bigoted and closed off in their thinking as fundamentalist Christians. A plague on both their houses! However, I don’t think that was what Giles was actually getting at. The point is that if you want reluctant people to be vaccinated then you have to engage with them on their own terms. Simply telling them that you know better because their beliefs are silly is not going to get the job done.

Kenneth Crook
Kenneth Crook
3 years ago
Reply to  brettj357

Dawkins and co base their world view on science, which is testable and falsifiable. Fundamentalist (and non-fundamendalist) religious believers have an important part (how large it is varies) of their world view that is neither of those things.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 years ago
Reply to  Kenneth Crook

Science has been a remarkable benefit but it still fails to explain most things and this will always be so. A blind acceptance of current scientific “truths” is as foolish as blindly accepting religion.

We have plenty of scepticism about religion, not enough about science.

John K
John K
3 years ago

it’s true, Science may not explain many things (and the best scientific statement is still “We don’t know”) but for me, religion doesn’t explain ANYTHING – except perhaps the credulity of homo sapiens and the willingness of people of power to exploit it.

Barry Sharp
Barry Sharp
3 years ago
Reply to  brettj357

Why would you want reluctant people to be vaccinated? What is wrong with providing facts and letting them make their own minds up,

Jane Hurley
Jane Hurley
3 years ago

Heavens above.
Where does open mindedness fit into this discussion?
The fact is that no one knows enough about the virus or the vaccine’s efficacy yet to make categorical statements about them.
Polarising people by religious faith, vaccine doubt, philosophical belief or any other definition is destructive. It sets individuals and communities up against each other.

I am not an anti vaxxer but I have profound doubts about the vaccines, especially the new mRNA ones.
I hold no religious belief but I respect all faiths.
I am not highly educated but I know the difference between constructive and destructive arguments.
Right now, in the absence of enough accurate information about the pandemic, I ask that we all keep open minds as we struggle to get through it as best as we can.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Hurley

Where does open mindedness fit into this discussion?
It doesn’t, hence the sneering. Why bother with talking to people when it’s so much easier to delegitimize them.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Hurley

“I hold no religious beliefs but I respect all faiths”

What on earth do you mean by that? Apart from a hollow claim to occupy the moral high ground, this is a totally spurious statement. Do you ‘respect’ the beliefs of the followers of the giant spaghetti monster? What about a faith that values the testimony of a woman at half that of a man? Or a faith which practises FGM? What about satanists?

Perhaps you should ‘respect’ a bit less, and exercise your critical faculties a bit more.

And not being highly educated is not something to boast about : it is something to rectify.

Zsuzsanna Snarey
Zsuzsanna Snarey
3 years ago

I agree with you Fred very much! It is similar to people boasting that they are no good at maths!

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

Spot on! Funny, though, that you rarely hear of people boasting of being unable to read…………..

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

When people say they respect all faiths they usually mean they respect everyone’s right to believe what they choose.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

No, I think they usually mean that other people should be impressed with how open-minded, non-judgemental and generally superior they are.

brenda7
brenda7
3 years ago

I don’t think Jane was ‘boasting’ about it!

Zsuzsanna Snarey
Zsuzsanna Snarey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Hurley

If you don’t understand mRNA vaccines you should try and find out about them. If you have no religious faith I feel sorry for you and pray that you should have faith. Respect goes some way towards it. Maybe you will meet someone who will change your mind. Maybe your mind will be changed by an event in your life.
But in any case if you are offered the vaccine please don’t refuse for your own sake and that of of fellow human beings. Only by vaccinating a very large proportion of the population can we overcome the danger. I speak as someone who was paralyzed by polio in 1949 at the age of 8 and could not walk for a year. I went to university and have a degree in Chemistry, had 3 daughters, became a researcher, then a teacher and now I am pleased to say that polio is almost eradicated due to vaccines. The few remaining cases are due to antivaxxers like you!

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

Was that polio vaccine, researched, developed, and funded. by a man who openly advocates a world depopulation agenda through vaccines? Forgive me if I say, “Go right ahead..be my guest, .you can have mine too”, then you will be doubly safe. OH, and BTW, I have exactly the same medical qualifications as that criminal.

Joni Lanz
Joni Lanz
3 years ago

Not everyone who expresses concern about the vaccine is religious or uneducated or… anti-science. The problem, as I see it, is that science isn’t something “to believe in.” because that actually makes it more like a faith.

Science is incredible! We have benefited greatly from her discoveries and still do. But to ignore and dismiss the history of manipulation, denial and mistakes that have also come with science is a fatal flaw. Big pharmaceutical companies have also harmed people – knowingly – and it’s very understandable why some people question the science and don’t trust the industry. Doubt should be welcomed, not shamed.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Joni Lanz

Where it is well founded and reasonable, yes.

Where it is based on fear and speculation, not so much.

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  Joni Lanz

Helps to get definitions straight. Beliefs are based upon ones understanding of facts. Faith is defined by beliefs NOT being based on facts. Here’s two examples: I believe the sun came up yesterday, Vs I have faith that Christ arose from the dead.

Joni Lanz
Joni Lanz
3 years ago

Try explaining this to the hoards of people misusing these definitions then. To blindly trust this vaccine with no long view is faith.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

AND where power and profit influence scientific outcomes, you still call it facts?

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

No, but where the science is published and subject to full peer review it’s as close to fact as we can get and a damm site better than the ‘beliefs’ of the non scientists and anti science brigade which are based on little or nothing

Peter Schulting
Peter Schulting
3 years ago

As someone who participated in scientific review I would suggest you put too much faith in it.

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago

As a scientist, I think it’s a whole ,lot better than hearsay and uninformed, unevidenced ignorant opinion ( ignorant as in ignorant of facts and evidence

Walter Brigham
Walter Brigham
3 years ago

Oxford and American Heritage dictionary show faith and belief as synonyms. Understanding of facts should be a result of the study of science but too many scientists believe their opinions should be accepted on faith.

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
3 years ago

You may “believe” the sun rose or came up yesterday, but that could be a subjective perception. Others may believe instead that the sun didn’t rise or set at all, but the earth rotated and so created that impression. Believing in something doesn’t make it a fact; and facts can change according to the viewpoint of the observer.

Your distinction between “faith” and “belief” is artificial – both words come from the same concept and from the same root meaning: to hold to something, and to be loyal to it, to trust it and to esteem it. Faith is ultimately from Latin, “fidem”, and Belief is from Anglo-Saxon, that’s all. The “lief” bit is connected to “love”.

Neither term is particularly objective. In fact (fact!) they’re both full of emotion. We’re emotional creatures after all.

Does that mean there’s no ultimate, objective truth then? Not at all, but the truth may not be as self-evident or easy to discern as you suppose. It can take a lot of time and enquiry to arrive at a truth, rather than just applying a ready-formed, emotional “belief” to it (such as “scientists are correct and tell the truth in all circumstances”) because it makes you feel more secure and safer to think that way.

David Sherman
David Sherman
3 years ago

The problem is that some highly-educated people believe their brains are the highest point of existence and therefore, if they can’t explain it or don’t experience it, it doesn’t exist. Maybe, that’s why Jesus chose practical working men as his first disciples, not Temple theologians.
If we ever revert to a free and open society, the heirs of Roberts et al may engage in intelligent debate with believers. Stranger things have happened.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

Tom Holland comes to mind! He is leading the way.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

The burden of evidence *is* on those who believe in something. Why should I believe in the Christian God and not Zeus? If I was born in born in Athens 2500 years ago I would have been taught he exists. So why were they wrong and you are right?

It is nothing to with levels of education, that’s just a strawman to hide a bad argument behind. It is about rationality and consistency. After all Giles Fraser is a poster boy for how being highly educated doesn’t correlate with either.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Barry Sharp
Barry Sharp
3 years ago

Your piece seems to start from an assumption that the vaccine is safe and effective and as such all right-minded people should get vaccinated and encourage others to do so. You seem particularly keen that religious leaders should be heavily involved in this process.
AstraZeneca (AZ) trials of their vaccine were outlined on clinicaltrials.gov and gave an estimated study completion date of October 5, 2022. The vaccine is now and has been distributed to certain categories of people for several weeks now – nearly two years in advance of AstraZenca’s study completion date.
The COVID-19 vaccine trials were only looking to see if these vaccines reduce symptoms that may be as mild as cough and headache. They were not requiring that the vaccines reduce the risk of infection, hospitalisation or death.
Given these facts I think it reasonable that people should be made aware of these facts and make their own minds up, rather than being pressurised by religious leaders.
Personally I am not anti-vaccination, although I have been labelled so because I have asked questions about this particular vaccine. I have received many vaccines over the course of my lifetime but only when the efficacy of the vaccine and its safety record has been known.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Barry Sharp

Then you’ll be pleased to know the safety profile of this one is pretty well established.

The vaccines have been tested to see if they reduce infection, which they do. That’s what the various percentage effectiveness figures are about.

Your concerns are unwarranted.

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Percentage effectiveness figures between vaccinated and placebo, were about symptom reduction and not infections reduction for the Pfizer vaccine. Barry Sharp is right in this respect.

I don’t know if the same indicators apply in the AZ/Oxford or Moderna research, though I suspect they are similar given the fast track the development of these vaccines had.

No claims can be made about reducing transmission of SARS Cov 2 or conferring enduring immunity to it. This is why we ate being warned now that the vaccines might not liberate us from lockdowns.

People ought to be informed about this because these vaccines aren’t like other vaccines are imagined to be.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Smith

Astra/Oxford monitored all people every week on the presence of Covid antibodies (unlike the Pfizer one), and their figures for protection or not were based on these and not if the person showed symptoms.

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
3 years ago

Two ideas come to mind.

1 – When three generations of the black community have been told repeatedly by every aspect of the culture from the academy to the media that western society is made up entirely of hate fuelled racists who only want to murder them, can you blame them for being doubtful of a vaccine that’s been developed out of nothing in less than a year?

2 – Is it just me, or is active sneering against the religious something that’s more prevalent among lower tier scientists?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

Who can we blame? Scientists. Big Pharma. There has to be somebody responsible for the fact that I’m not feeling happy today.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Klaus Schwab

Toby Josh
Toby Josh
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

2 had occurred to me, as well. According to Wikipedia, Prof. Roberts took a vocational undergraduate qualification at the University of Wales, before completing a PhD in a write-what-you-like subject.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago
Reply to  Toby Josh

What? You don’t think Roberts deserves her profile? I do.

Toby Josh
Toby Josh
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

I think she deserves to be referred to as Prof. Roberts.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago

There’s a slight air of self-congratulation to those who proclaim that they themselves follow only rational argument, as opposed to those awful religious types. Well, I’m not sure that they’re on quite. such a firm footing as they think. Let’s examine the argument in the context of vaccination. I’m going to talk about measles vaccination here, where I’m going to assume a few starting points. Firstly, that measles vaccination does indeed confer long-term immunity to the disease, to the extent that those protected can neither catch nor spread it. Secondly, that there is a small but non-zero risk of serious injury from the vaccination. Thirdly, that once about 80% of the population are immune then “herd immunity” kicks in and the disease is unable to spread in the population at large. Fourthly that the risks of injury from exposure to the disease are gerater then the risks from vaccination.

So what is a rational choice? Clearly it is for everyone else to vaccinate their children but for you not to do so. That way your children avoid the (very small) risk of injury, and also benefit from herd immunity protecting them from exposure to the disease. But now here’s the paradox. If everyone does what is rational for them, then no-one will get vaccinated, and there will be no herd immunity and everyone is running a higher risk of injury. So the aggregation of individual optimal decisions is collectively sub-optimal.

That’s already one issue for the proponents of rational thinking to address. But here’s another. Following through the argument, it’s rational to not vaccinate your own children, but to advocate strenuously for other people to do so. In other words, the rational course of conduct here is to be a liar and a hypocrite.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

This ‘rational’ thinking comes from a society which hasn’t had to deal with a serious threat for years. Everything is just too comfortable, everyone has to have an opinion. If you stifle this you go into dictatorship-mode. This is what you get from too much information and too much education.

janetimmins
janetimmins
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

My children were due vaccinations around the time of the Andrew Wakefield MMR story. I went to my family doctor and we discussed vaccinations – he basically said the same – as an individual don’t vaccinate, as a member of a community vaccinate.
And yes of course both the doctor and I agreed that as parents we would vaccinate.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Nicely put. On the other hand, I suspect quite a few people will claim it is unnecessary to “push” these Covid jabs on anyone under 70 since Covid is “nothing worse than the flu” for anyone else but will sneakily get vaccinated themselves. Indeed, the more people I can persuade not to bother, the more I move up the queue.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Last summer, on another Unherd discussion, I posted 25 mainstream scientific papers (some including the most famous names in vaccinology) grappling with the problem that vaccine immunity from measles is waning – I won’t try and do it again because they were removed as spam. But the fundamental problem with Richard Pinch’s assumption is that it is false. As the result of vaccination most adults are walking around with reduced or zero measles immunity (at least at any measurable level) and apparently it doesn’t make any difference if you add in more shots. I suppose this could be the next pandemic disaster.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

I seem to recall that discussion, and you will notice that I was careful to make explicit what those assumptions were and that they were assumptions for the sake of argument. At this point I’m not concerned to debate whether the immunity from measles vaccination diminishes over time, although that is indeed an important question, which can and should be addressed by impartial scientific investigation. Nor indeed is measles special to the argument: I chose it because of the widely-held assumption that the measles vaccine leads to long-term immunity, whereas we can currently make no such statement about the Covid vaccines.

My point was to expose what “rational thinking” leads to on those assumptions. The argument does have force in the real world whether or not those assumptions are true, so long as people believe them — if people believe those assumptions then on the rational thinking claim they should believe those conclusions, and act on them. In a strictly logical sense, the argument remains rational even if the assumptions happen not to be correct: it’s just that the conclusion then loses force as a statement about the real world.

But my criticism is of the conflation of rational thinking with moral rectitude.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Richard

I take the point but I wonder also whether we know enough about the Covid products to say either what is right or what is rational. In this case I don’t know whether someone else taking them would help me (all we know is that the products and their manufacturers are protected), but I also think the collective bullying is morally repellant and undermines the vital principle of informed consent. I am aware of many people being socially bullied into having these products against their better judgment, and this is a tragic collective loss of decent behaviour.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

I think we know a little bit more than that: we have good reason to believe that, in the short term at least, the various vaccines are reasonably safe and confer a reasonable degree of protection aginst the disease to the recipient. I agree that we don’t yet know whether they confer protection on others.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I don’t think we know that – I have cited in a comment (at the moment below) the articles of Peter Doshi in BMJ, and so far the target population has not been anything like the official trial population. Also, we should be cautious about having all the deaths following vaccination explained away by old age etc: this is not anything like proper transparency, we do not have any knowledge at all of long term consequences, and in legal terms the risk is entirely that of the patient. To give it a perspective there was an upbeat article co-authored by Anthony Fauci in Annals of Internal Medicine but underneath there is no certainty:

” Given that recent polling suggests that only 40% to 60% of people in the United States are currently planning to get vaccinated, it is conceivable that without some impact on transmission, the virus will continue to circulate, infect, and cause serious disease in certain segments of the unvaccinated population. Administration of parenterally administered vaccines alone typically does not result in potent mucosal immunity that might interrupt infection or transmission … For these reasons, additional data regarding protection from infection should be generated as soon as possible. If these vaccines do not provide durable, high levels of protection from infection, and do not drive the prevalence of virus in the community to near zero, a thorough analysis of shedding and transmission will need to be done through additional study…”

So, actually all the big talk by health officials is based on very little. One minute they are saying people must do this to the point of compulsion, and the next they are saying they haven’t a clue. This also is an unofficial experiment.

We will also certainly see rates decline in the immediate months because in the nick of time the WHO have changed the criteria for PCR testing. If measurements don’t take account of that it will be a scandalous fraud.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

I said “good reason to believe”, and I think that’s justified.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I am not sure you have cited any evidence beyond the measles analogy, which you agree has uncertain factual foundations.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

Quite right, I didn’t, because the evidence for Covid wasn’t germane to the measles thought-experiment. However, since you raise the issue, there have been published peer-reviewed articles, which I have read, on the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Pfiza-Moderna vaccines. Those reports are, I think, good reasons to believe that, in the short term at least, the various vaccines are reasonably safe and confer a reasonable degree of protection against the disease to the recipient.

The references are Lancet, 397 (09 Jan 2021) 99-111 and New England Journal of Medicine, 383 (2020) 2603-2615.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

But the first is not about safety and efficacy at all, while the second is an apologia by the Pfizer scientists but:

Peter Doshi: Pfizer and Moderna’s “95% effective” vaccines”we need more details and the raw data
January 4, 2021 BMJ Opinion

At the moment the data does not look remotely robust (particularly not for the Pfizer product). Combatting the epidemic like this just seems like the chaos of the battlefield – an impulsive attack with random consequences.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

the first is not about safety and efficacy at all

That’s an odd thing to say about a paper entitled Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: an interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK. It’s also incorrect: that is indeed exactly what the paper is about.

Both papers are reports of large-scale experiments. If you think they add nothing to the discussion, so be it. It’s not a topic I see any point in pursuing at the moment.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

With the first I got a different paper coming up altogether though Covid related, so my fault over that, I should have double checked but I did not say the other had nothing to offer, but nevertheless there are flaws (and big silences), However, Fauci admits they really have no idea – it is just an experiment – which is probably about it.

Chris
Chris
3 years ago

‘…I am also making every effort to reassure people that the vaccine is safe’

…which is challenging when it is an mRNA vaccine…

a) never before used on humans
b) which in animal trials in the past has failed at that hurdle
c) has been produced in record time
d) has no long-term (over 9 months) safety profile
e) whose manufacturers are totally immune themselves, but only from liability

I can understand why this might be a tough sell…

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

Sneering in general won’t get the left what it wants. Sneering has made everything worse.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Yes, but sneering in the other direction won’t work either. What will work? Not a few thinkers on this site.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

What’s this got to do with the left?

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Maybe anti-vaxxing is a right-wing thing now, like denying climate change? Flat-earth next?

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

Why on Earth are you comparing apples with oranges and then pears?
Let alone trying to attribute scepticism to either left or right.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Because of the comment at the head of this thread attributing sneering at anti-vaxxers to “the left”.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

Ah yes, OK. I might have too quick to criticise!

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

Here’s the problem for the sneering scientists. When you follow the money trail, you find that every single one of them have tossed their integrity out of the window, and have their seedy (nay, greedy) little fingers in the Bill Gates pie. We see a mad push by the MSM to scoff and ridicule the “anti-vaxxers” ( a derogatory term used to discredit those who threaten the narrative), but the problem is, that most of us were the geeky kids who paid attention in the science and biology class at school, and we have enough understanding to recognize the bulls41t being proferred by the so-called scientific experts for what it is, complete and utter garbage. They seem to find it uncomfortable that I want to know the full content and ingredients of the poisons they are trying to inject into my veins. They are frustrated when I point out that their 95% vaccine, (?) is not as efficient as my 98% effective immune system. They are angry that I have no fear of any virus, but shit scared of my government, and the medical mafia ruling them.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

My thoughts exactly. We have come to rely way too much on big pharma and too little on our own immune systems. There are lots of experts who are speaking out against this rushed injection but oh right, they must be anti-vaxxers too – nope they are not.

Pauline Ivison
Pauline Ivison
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

Well said, your last sentence describes my feelings exactly. Thank you.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

I’m amazed by this too. People close to me think I’m a conspiracy theorist for wanting to wait before I take a vaccine that has been created to fight a virus that just came out last year. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for social and mainstream media, I would be totally unaware that there was a virus going on. The fact that I feel I feel I am being coerced into taking a vaccine raises my suspicions even more.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

…and you are 100% correct Brian, so stick to your guns. In my view, 98% of the population require shearing every spring.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
3 years ago

Where does that leave those of us who do not want the vaccine and don’t belong to any religious group either!
Because some of us feel that this is hardly an existential threat, not deadly enough to be vaccinated against.
Some of us are young and healthy or older & healthy and can beat Covid anyway?
Who is Covid dangerous for? It’s a respiratory disease that only kills if you can’t breathe due to pressure on the lungs ! If you find a way of keeping that pressure off ( low BMI) why would you worry about Covid, heart problems, diabetes etc . Respecting your body through nourishment and exercise – should be the first method , the most non intrusive method , but no one is advocating that . If the same energy & money that was used to develop vaccines, was instead used to getting people healthier, we would have seen far fewer deaths .

Andrew Crisp
Andrew Crisp
3 years ago

Absolutely. The “vaccine” is in fact genetic modification of the body’s response to viruses. This might be fine and it might not. Why take the risk for something that 99% of the population can NATURALLY overcome. It’s actually irresponsible for the clergy to advocate the “vaccine” when it’s efficacy, longterm effects and safety are unknown to anyone including the scientists.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Crisp

Yes, only about a million dead so you don’t have to vaccinate. Totally fine.

Wow.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

But no proof Covid killed them. Claimed not proven. And millions die every year. not unusual.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Are you against all vaccines? I agree that modern science is a double-edged source but are you suggesting that modern medicine kills more than it cures. I find the topic fascinating. I agree we need to look after our own health better than we do (guilty as charged) and that it should be up to the individual how and if they are treated, but I struggle to see medicine as a new religion and an evil one at that. Better health education is obviously paramount but that won’t necessarily stop people from getting diseases that can be alleviated or even cured. Think it is a matter or balance. But I am interested in the Illich book – will look it up.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

Of balance.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
3 years ago

Modern medicine & vaccines are the cause of population explosion also. So on one side it saves lives , on the other, there is no control whatsoever over the birth rate . Before vaccines people survived and lived well too. Tomorrow if we have a have a new drug that can guarantee pain free , everlasting life , we will have to stop the birth rate completely! So who will give up the pleasure of having children ?

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

Agree completely but systems drive behaviour and modern medicine, while it has impressive skills where a mechanical approach can work is irrational in regard to human function and health.

Dennis Wheeler
Dennis Wheeler
3 years ago

Such a disservice to the real medical and scientific issues with highly experimental mRNA vaccines whose long term effects are unknown (and all for a virus that 99.9% of people survive contact with! – for which there are many treatment options that are cheaper and with already existing drugs proven safe over the long term, which treatments have often been suppressed for the past year in order to push for vaccines to enrich Big Pharma), to basically characterize it as coming down to needing a good PR push to help religious believers and what you Brits call “BAME” people to “get over” it and “just get the jab.” Overrated intellectual pipsqueaks like Dawkins and Cox aren’t worth listening to on any issue no matter what side they are on.

I happen to be Catholic, but my objection to this mania for basically forcing experimental vaccines on people for what is ultimately a banal and rather routine flu-ike virus that is not particularly deadly or dangerous at all for the vast majority of the population (with the threat of various social and economic sanctions, no travel, no banking, no health care, etc., if one refuses) is not a religious one as such.

I will not allow myself to be used as a human guinea pig for an experimental “vaccine” (mRNA “vaccines’ are not realty vaccines in any traditional sense, but are transfection agents) type that just barely a year ago was considered too dangerous to ever be fit for human use in any near future, and which most pharma companies had discontinued researching and investing in (Yet we’re supposed to believe that all of a sudden, in less than a year for a supposedly “novel” coronavirus – a type of virus for which there had never been a vaccine of any kind – two separate companies have developed totally safe and effective mRNA “vaccines” fit for immediate mass rollout? Yeah, right. Nothing fishy going on at all!), in order to help further enrich Big Pharma and its cronies like Gates and Fauci.

They can threaten whatever social and economic sanctions they want for refusing the vaccine. I will not submit. Even their own numbers indicate that the risk of adverse reaction (about 3%) to the vaccine is far greater than the IFR of the virus itself. 99.9% survival rate? Yeah, I’ll trust my immune system, take some vitamin C&D and Zinc (and BTW I’ve not once worn a freaking face diaper either), versus taking some experimental and potentially dangerous vaccine that has a 3% chance of adverse reactions (and that’s just the short term adverse reaction – long term effects and dangers are utterly unknown at this point).

George Wheeler
George Wheeler
3 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Wheeler

You say you are a Catholic, so why hyper-ventilate about the vaccine. You know the true solution – prayer.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  George Wheeler

Thus you exemplify what the author of this article was getting at ðƾ˜‰

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  George Wheeler

you clearly know zip about catholicism

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Wheeler

well said

conall boyle
conall boyle
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

100,000 deaths ‘with’, not ‘from’ as you falsely claim. Case dismissed.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Wheeler

a virus that 99.9% of people survive contact with!

That means, presumably, that 0.1% do not. So given that we have seen around 100,000 deaths from the virus in the UK, some 100 million of us have been in contact with the virus, out of a population of 66 million. You may wish to revisit that particular percentage.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago

I think the mainstream view of this pandemic is very much akin to religious beliefs.
The idea of original sin and it only being expiated by the experts ie priests etc vs illness that takes experts ie scientists to tell us, even if we have no symptoms, that we are ill and who are also the only ones to get us better.
The church in the past held all the power and money and knowledge and suppressed any criticism or alternative thinking. Today we have a similar setup where the powers that be are equally dogmatic and any dissent is heretical.
I wouldn’t rely on faith in these miracle vaccines any more than I would in any religion to look after my health.
We don’t need stories of miracles or of miracle cures.
The science of anatomy, physiology and health can be used to encourage natural health instead.
Science after all is just a tool and not the answer.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Science has become the religion of Scientism and vaccinology is a cult. this has an interesting description

http://blog.olivierclerc.co

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Thanks for these replies Athena, and indeed for all your comments – they have been a tonic (not in the medical sense of course) throughout this alleged pandemic.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

The call to believe in the science is the same as the call to believe in the church.

Quote:

Medicine, then, has become the new world religion. The specific myths, beliefs, and rites of Christianity have been unconsciously projected into medicine since Pasteur. As I explain in detail in the next chapters, we can establish very close parallels between Christianity and modern medicine.

In brief:
– physicians have taken the place of priests;
– vaccination plays the same initiatory role as baptism, and is accompanied by the same threats and fears;
– the search for health has replaced the quest for salvation;
– the fight against disease has replaced the fight against sin;
– eradication of viruses has taken the place of exorcising demons;
– the hope of physical immortality (cloning, genetic engineering) has been substituted for the hope of eternal life;
– pills have replaced hosts;
– donations to cancer research take precedence over donations to the Church;
– a hypothetical universal vaccine could save humanity from all its illnesses, as the Savior has saved the world from all its sins;
– the medical power has become the government’s ally, as was the Catholic Church in the past;
– “charlatans” are persecuted today as “heretics” were yesterday, and dogmatism rules out promising alternative medical theories;
– the same absence of individual responsibility is now found in medicine, as previously in the Christian religion;
– patients are alienated from their bodies, as sinners used to be from their souls.

Fears and childish hopes are still manipulating us. We are still told that the source of our problems is outside of us, and that the solution can only come from the outside, as well. We are not allowed to do anything by ourselves and we must have the mediation of physicians-priests, the administration of
drugs-hosts, and the protection of vaccines-baptism.

Just as the magnetic field of a magnet placed under a sheet of paper controls the way iron filings fall on its surface, revealing the invisible lines of force between the two poles of the magnet, a “religious field” likewise imperceptibly structures and organizes the development of modern medicine.

Invisible, impalpable, this “religious field” is made up of all the beliefs, myths, and values of the Christian ” and more specifically Catholic ” religion. In other words, the secularization of society happened only on the surface. We took away the “iron filings,” the specific religious forms, but we did not change the “current of thoughts,” the underlying “religious field” which continued to exert the same influence, but through medicine.

That is the reason why behind the different structures of medicine and the Church of Rome we find the same fundamental concepts, the same relationships, the same characteristics, the same fears, the same hopes and expectations.

This substitution of medicine for religion has had many unfortunate consequences. In medical research, it influences what should be looked for and what can be discovered. Any discovery or theory that is at odds with the over-arching orthodoxy is rejected, and its authors called heretics. Entire
areas of research, as well as promising new lines of approach, are thus disqualified.

Modern medicine the new world religion, by Olivier Clerc.

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Oh yes – Clerc who would have us all reject medicine and treat our selves with homeopathy ( and spiritualism,). Well, each to his own ‘beliefs’ and good luck to those who would treat Covid with homeopathy and spiritualism . Talk about blind faith

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago

Clerc doesn’t reject medicine, he only wants it disassociated from religion and spiritualism so it can be free from dogma and scapegoating.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago

Another problem is that if you take this attitude to people’s experiences it corrupts the science itself. If a scientist/doctor is hostile to rather than concerned about reports of adverse events what does it mean about his/her objectivity? OK we are terrified about the virus but we still have to be objective about the interventions: these are ultra new products in manifold ways – if people die after them and then proponents go round telling people there is nothing to it – without extensive and transparent investigations – it is bad politics and bad science. Trying to tell everyone to shut up scarcely smacks of integrity either.

At the point of rollout the data was somewhat thin as Peter Doshi pointed out several times in BMJ – when people here assume that the products are safe and effective, another triumph of western science, are they actually falling for somewhat threadbare propaganda?

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago

The author himself dances around the issues somewhat. One reality is that certain communities see themselves as viciously persecuted by the rest of society, a society they often refuse to engage with and feel vastly morally superior to.

This rhetoric has been pushed for years by the ‘caring’ left, who pick and choose statistics to prove their point, whilst at best ignoring but usually condemning anyone who points out negative aspects of that culture/community.

Many of these community leaders and ‘intellectuals’ would be classified as far right wing rabble rousers, conspiracy theorists, beyond the pale – if they were from the majority community.

As far as the God thing goes I’m very happy for people to have their beliefs, indeed it is a fundemental freedom. However there is the huge difference between tolerating their beliefs and ‘respecting’ them.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

I fully concur with your final point. I have a great problem when I am told that I should ‘respect’ those with religious beliefs. It often means I should accept that religious believers should be allowed the freedom to treat animals cruelly (halal) or, at the moment, have group meetings indoors when a Humanist or Rationalists meeting is against the rules. I respect their right to have maintain whatever irrational beliefs they like but strongly object when these impacts negatively on society as a whole. I also object most strongly to our legislature being infiltrated by members purely because of their irrational beliefs (Bishops in the House of Lords).

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
3 years ago

Forgive my ignorance but I thought the suggestion that religious leaders be encouraged to promote vaccination was eminently practical. If you are Muslim or Jewish, to be told that the vaccine is made using beef or pork constituents, raises quite a difficulty. To reassure vegans that it contains no animal products would also be good. Isn’t that part of the trouble, rumour-mongering and false facts? If a religious community can be reassured by its leaders, that is sensible. The fact that Israel has nearly finished vaccinating its population could also be pointed out. David Hume was right. It is emotion that rules the human being and then reason.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Yes you are right – with the caveat that Israel is not vaccinating its Palestinian people.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Someone wrote an article on this a couple of weeks ago. Israel is vaccinating the Arabs that live within Israel. The Palestinians have their own vaccination programme. Needless to say, it is hopeless.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Ok, Thanks.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

As the occupying regime surely Israel is responsible for those it imprisons under its military boot?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Oslo Accord Article VI (2)

It was agreed that the transfer of authority would be as follows: The Palestinians would inform the Israelis of the names of the authorized Palestinians who would assume the powers, authorities and responsibilities that would be transferred to the Palestinians according to the Declaration of Principles in the following fields: education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, tourism, and any other authorities agreed upon.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

LUCKY Palestinians. As non-jews they are considered to be sub-human but this time that may be a plus.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

Vaccines are made using animal, bird and human materials. That is a fact ignored. Religious leaders would be lying to deny it and pushing false facts.

The emotion is at work in the gullible who believe rushed, highly experimental, poorly tested vaccines could ever be deemed safe.

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

I wait for the doom and gloom to arrive as per your predictions and assurances and I wait for evidence that the vaccine is having no effect on infections and deaths as per your anti vaccine rhetoric

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

It would be a brave and foolish religious leader to preach that in some weird way ( yet to be defined by you) vaccines are not to be used because they use animal products – the only ones who can in any way preach such stuff are vegans and perhaps followers of Bhuddism . All other religions happily eat and use animal products with gay abandon

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
3 years ago

No Giles, it is your job as a ‘faith leader’ to tell your fellow religionists that sickness is not caused by evil spirits or demonic possession. Your job to tell them that their incorrect interpretations of religious scripts are ‘perverted’. Your job to tell them that ‘unbelievers’ aren’t sent by the devil to destroy them. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that what they hear from their own ‘faith leaders’ is their god’s truth, so they certainly won’t believe what the non-religious tell them. So instead of blaming the obligatory bogeymen like Dawkins, enlighten your fellow religionists yourself.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

“The study of the evolution of disease patterns provides evidence that
during the last century doctors have affected epidemics no more
profoundly than did priests during earlier times. Epidemics came and went,
imprecated by both but touched by neither. They are not modified any
more decisively by the rituals performed in medical clinics than by those
customary at religious shrines.”
” Ivan Illich, in Limits to Medicine

Limits to medicine. Medical nemesis: the expropriation of health
R Smith

The closest I ever came to a religious experience was listening to Ivan Illich.
A charismatic and passionate man surrounded by the fossils of the academic hierarchy in Edinburgh, he argued that “the major threat to health in the world is modern medicine.” This was 1974. He convinced me, not least because I felt that what I saw on the wards of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was more for the benefit of doctors than patients. I dropped out of medical school that day. Three days later I dropped back in again, unsure what else to do.

Now I’m the editor of the BMJ, which is ironic. Having deserted medicine, I’ve become a pillar of the British medical establishment (yes I am, like it or not).I devoured both Medical Nemesis and Limits to Medicine,”  and now I’ve reread the latter”for the first time in 25 years. The power of the book is undiminished, and its prescience seems remarkable.

What was a radical polemic in 1974 is in some sense mainstream in 2002. Medicine does seem to have over-reached itself and some reining in will benefit not only patients but also doctors.

Health, argues Illich, is the capacity to cope with the human reality of death, pain, and sickness. Technology can help, but modern medicine has gone too far”launching into a godlike battle to eradicate death, pain, and sickness. In doing so, it turns people into consumers or objects, destroying their capacity for health.
Illich sees three levels of iatrogenesis. Clinical iatrogenesis is the injury done to patients by ineffective, toxic, and unsafe treatments. The book has extensive footnotes that draw from a far wider range of sources than most medical books. Illich is equally at home with the New England Journal of Medicine and medieval German texts, making him a formidable opponent for the contemporary doctor who might dispute his conclusions.

Evidence based medicine is described in these pages, 20 years before the term was coined. Illich also points out that 7% of patients suffer injuries while hospitalised. Yet only in the past few years and in a few countries have doctors begun to take patient safety seriously.Social iatrogenesis results from the medicalisation of life.
More and more of life’s problems are seen as amenable to medical intervention. Pharmaceutical companies develop expensive treatments for non-diseases. Health care consumes an ever growing proportion of the budget. In 1975 the United States spent $95 billion on health care, 8.4% of its gross national product”up, Illich noted, from 4.5% in 1962. In 2001 it was $1424 billion, 14% of GNP. Predictions published this month suggest it will be $2815 billion, 17% of GNP by 2011. Can this be sensible?

Worse than all of this for Illich is cultural iatrogenesis, the destruction of traditional ways of dealing with and making sense of death, pain, and sickness.

“A society’s image of death,” argues Illich, “reveals the level of independence of its people, their personal relatedness, self reliance, and aliveness.” For Illich ours is a morbid society, where “through the medicalisation of death, health care has become a monolithic world religion”ŠSociety, acting through the medical system, decides when and after what indignities and mutilations he [the patient] shall die”ŠHealth, or the autonomous power to cope, has been expropriated down to the last breath.”
Dying has become the ultimate form of consumer resistance
.
Illich’s book is more polemic than analysis and should be read as such. The rhetoric is intoxicating, and I can see why Illich captured my soul all those years ago. Illich was a Catholic priest before he became a critic of industrial society, and the story he tells reeks of “the fall of man.”

Romantically, Illich seems to hanker after “the noble savage,” and most readers of his book will never have known such a person and may be sceptical that he has ever existed. Much of life before modern medicine looked nasty, brutish, and short, and have not most people offered the choice opted for the comforts of modern medicine?
It’s the ultimate book reviewer’s cliché to say that every doctor and medical student should read this book, but those who haven’t have missed something important. When sick I want to be cared for by doctors who every day doubt the value and wisdom of what they do”and this book will help make such doctors.

From The British Medical Journal 2002

Graham Thorpe
Graham Thorpe
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Inspiring and thought-provoking, certainly. Thank you.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

during the last century doctors have affected epidemics no more
profoundly than did priests during earlier times

Illich was writing, I believe, in 1975, the year in which the last person in the world caught smallpox variola major. During his lifetime smallpox had killed hundreds of millions of people and Illich had seen the global incidence of the disease fall to zero when he was writing his book.

It would be interesting to know what Illich meant by what he wrote, since the obvious reading is inconsistent with these facts.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Interesting book. Will look it up. Modern society does struggle with getting the balance right.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

The assumption is that smallpox was eradicated by vaccines but the data show that smallpox along with other infectious diseases (some of which died out without vaccines) were dying out already due to better hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.
A consistent story even today.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

I don’t think there’s much dispute that improved nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and public health have done much to reduce the incidence of infectious diseases. But the smallpox eradication programme wasn’t just a case of vaccinating a lot of people and watching the disease die out, then assuming that vaccination rather than sanitation caused its extinction. It was an active programme.

(Indeed, if eradication of smallpox had been entirely due to improved public health, then why did other infectious diseases such as measles and polio not disappear as well?)

In England, smallpox was largely eliminated by 1900, with the decline starting immediately after the introduction of vaccination in 1796, and well underway even during the rise of the industrial cities and the decline in public health of the first half of the 19th century. By the time various health measures were being enacted to improve conditions in the big cities (such as the London sewer system, 1870), smallpox was already well in decline.

The data thus shows the opposite of what is claimed. However, this isn’t the. point. My question was, what did Illich say about the contradiction between the elimination of smallpox at the time he was writing, and what he wrote?

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

There is only a contradiction from your point of view, not his.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Well, that’s really the point, isn’t it? If Illich believes that modern medicine made no contribution to the elimination of smallpox, which disappeared because of factors not related to vaccination and the eradication programme, then it would be interesting to hear, firstly whether Illich acknowledged explicitly in that book that there was at least the appearance of evidence against his assertion, and what hos reasons were for assigning the eradication of smallpox to those factors factors and not to those which many people think are the obvious ones.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Sometimes it’s not necessary to state the all pervading mainstream point of view, (it is constantly shoved down our throats – often literally), when one is proposing an alternative theory. And after all, they are all just theories – germ theory vs natural health, for instance.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Maybe. My question was, what did Illich say about it? It may not have necessary for him to restate the prevailing mainstream position, but given that he was consciously asserting something that he must have known was contrary to it, one might have expected him to acknowledge the discrepancy and explain why he felt that his assertion better reflected the data, especially when the data in this particular case was, to all appearances, against him.

after all, they are all just theories

We tend to accept the theories that explain the way the real world behaves in a way which is logical, parsimonious and effective: that is, which allows us to design interventions which have the effect we want. “Germ theory”, that is, the theory that many diseases are caused by small but detectable agents called bacteria, viruses, and so on, is such a theory. It allows us to design preventative and curative measures that demonstrably work. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, building on Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation allows us to launch space missions and build GPS systems that demonstrably work. And so on.

It would be interesting to see a clear description of what an alternative theory such as “natural health” predicts, where those predictions differ from those of “germ theory” and what interventions it allows us to design that are demonstrably effective which would not be predicted or suggested by “germ theory”.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

We should agree to disagree over whether the data supports or undermines Illich – or we’ll continue to go round in circles.

I agree that some theories build on and incorporate preceding theories – like Einstein’s did on Newton’s, but some don’t and are a denial of the preceding one – the realisation that the Earth is spherical does not incorporate the Flat Earth theory. The natural health view as theorised by Béchamp is one of those. It is also “logical, parsimonious and effective.” And “also allows us to design interventions which have the effect we want.”

The healthier we are the less severe the illness. Simple!

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

We should agree to disagree over whether the data supports or undermines Illich

Perhaps we could agree that the point at issue is what, if anything, Illich says about it?

The healthier we are the less severe the illness. Simple!

If that were the whole of natural heath theory, it would be a tautology, along the same lines as, say, Natural Weight Theory: the thinner we are, the less weight we have.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I don’t see it as a tautology but more as a spectrum.
The theory of natural health sees illness as coming from within. An imbalance within the body – not from an external bug. So it doesn’t matter what disease it is, ie what the symptoms are, the severity of illness is solely a result of how imbalanced the body is.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Ah, that’s a testable theory. I would be interested to hear how effective interventions based on this theory are for tackling, say, malaria, elephantiasis, filariasis: which conventional medical theory holds are caused by parasites; typhus, cholera, Q fever, gonorrhea: which conventional medical theory holds are caused by bacteria; ebola, smallpox, Lassa fever, rabies, AIDS: which conventional medical theory holds are caused by virus. Apparently natural health theory holds that all these illnesses “come from within” and “solely a result of how imbalanced the body is”. What would the interventions for these be under natural health theory, and what is the evidence for their effectiveness?

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

In general and assuming you are not at death’s door, any intervention would be similar for any disease. Actually being more of a non-intervention, as in trying to keep out of the body’s way to let it heal. Rest, diet and even fasting can be part of the process whereby the body is unburdened by most of its usual activity of moving and digesting and can devote itself to healing.
I am not a naturopath practitioner and only have my own experience of it working but I’m sure anyone who does practice professionally could help you out with more evidence of effectiveness.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

I have to say this goes beyond abstract debate. I do not think it would be humane to say anything in reply other than — if you do contract one of the very dangerous diseases that I mentioned, please do not confine yourself to rest and diet to treat it (valuable though those things can be). My strong advice, at a personal level, would be to get conventional medical treatment from a practitioner of the Germ Theory of medicine.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Cheers! Thanks for your time.

JohnW
JohnW
3 years ago

An easy way to shut people like Cox up is to relentlessly ask them questions about Islam.

Mark Barrett
Mark Barrett
3 years ago
Reply to  JohnW

Pls explain what you mean? Thanks 🙂

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Barrett

Because they will shy away from doing so.

George Wheeler
George Wheeler
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Barrett

Here, here. Were they just words John W, or do you have an example?

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  JohnW

Sorry, but would anyone other than a religious zealot want to ‘shut up people like Cox’?! And I imagine Cox would respond like most open minded people when ‘relentlessly asked questions about Islam’, to wit, how is it possible to come to a rational conclusion about a controlling cult begun by a delusional lunatic 1500 years ago?!

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

I don’t want to shut anyone up but I would warm to Cox more if he didn’t have a smug permasmile.

George Wheeler
George Wheeler
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

I agree ‘permasmile’ but not smug. This is from your prejudice.

Philip Munce
Philip Munce
3 years ago

This idea or concept that science has trounced religion seems to be a purely western notion. I note that my Muslim and Hindu friends have no problems in reconciling religious beliefs with scientific understanding and don’t seem to want to go on windmill charges to destroy the faith of their fathers.

Lickya Lips
Lickya Lips
3 years ago
Reply to  Philip Munce

This reconciling of which you speak is known as cognitive dissonance – a phenomenon where conflicting and contradictory ideas can dwell with equal value in the same mind.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Philip Munce

Going back a few years, the Muslims rescued our science and kept it alive.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

They certainly rescued a number of interesting Greek texts, copied them but then failed to capitalise on this bonanza.

The writings of one Al Ghazali of Tus (Iran) in particular his “Incoherence
of Philosophers” was decidedly unhelpful.

It reminds one of how the Chinese failed to exploit gunpowder, the magnetic compass, and the printing press, to their full advantage.

Thus did a bunch of unwashed, meat eating, wine swigging barbarians, conquer the Globe.
Vae Victis.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

Roberts,Dawkins and Cox are all examples of the arrogance and ignorance of unbelief. When these people are engaged in debate by people like John Lennox and Rowan Williams their vacuity and prejudice is laid bare.
Believers today are too scared or too polite to mention that Jesus spoke often about a final judgement on unbelief.
I’m reminded of a conversation between an unbeliever and believer in which the unbeliever declared there was no God and no after life and that we all disintegrated into nothingness and so ultimately we had nothing to worry about. The believer replied that if the unbeliever was right then yes we had nothing to worry about. But what if there was a God and an after life? What if each individual would have to stand before Him and give an account of their life and especially their response to His Son? What if our eternal destiny depended on the answer? Would there be anything to worry about then?

George Wheeler
George Wheeler
3 years ago

What about the true believers who follow Islam, or any of the myriad other religions? You seem to think that the true god had a son. Maybe you should be worried.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago
Reply to  George Wheeler

Yes I most certainly believe that the true God has a Son. I believe in God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one God ( not 3 gods ). But within this perfect Unity of God there is a family ( as it were) of three Persons each with His particular identity. Each of the the three Persons are fully God and at a particular time in history the Son came to earth as a man and died a sacrificial death for our sins so that all who believe in Him will be saved from the final Judgement. John’s Gospel chapter 3 verse 16.

conall boyle
conall boyle
3 years ago

God — Him? Her surely?

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago
Reply to  conall boyle

No HIM definitely and without a doubt.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
3 years ago

Roberts sends her kids to a church school ? Ha of course she does. The hypocrisy of such people can always be relied upon

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Shaw

Given that 35% of Primary and 20% of UK secondary schools are Church Schools it might be a case of convenience rather than hypocrisy.

Mark Bailey
Mark Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

No. She chose the church school because it was better, not more convenient. As revealed in the spat with her mother that blew up into the press.

pacific1waters9
pacific1waters9
3 years ago

Instead of winging about the lack of vaccinations take a hard look at the lack of acceptance by the “experts” of treatments that could have lowered the IFR substantially. The death of thousands lies at the feet of the “experts”.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

Which treatments?

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago

“Anti-vaxxer” is simply an abuse term for anyone critical of the vaccine industry – it isn’t a legal status. Perhaps people who use it ought to examine their motives, or even whether they themselves are being manipulated. Should we not want to scrutinise what is injected into our bodies? The industry don’t want us to ask any questions – of course they don’t. So we get into classification of types (the bad people who pose questions to orthodoxy), anything but the real discussion of science. I don’t think Giles Fraser is remotely in a position to assure us of the safety and efficacy of a class of products, or of the integrity of people he doesn’t know and hasn’t researched.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

“Anti-vaxxer” is simply an abuse term for anyone critical of the vaccine industry

It is such a term, but is it “simply” such a term? There is a group of people whose opposition to vaccination appears to based not in scientific criticism of the “vaccine industry” (whatever that is, another term without legal definition) but in a set of principles and beliefs which seem to me nothing to do with rational scientific enquiry as I know it. I’m not saying that everyone who questions vaccination is in that group, and it’s certainly rhetorical rather than rational to speak as if all those questioning vaccination were in that group: but that group exists, and to pretend that it doesn’t is also an abuse of language.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I think if people take the view that a class of products is safe and effective by dint of belonging to that class that might head towards superstition. Vaccines are rather a hit and miss craft (and a lot of propaganda).

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

Is there not a mirror image group though, that one might equally well call “anti-vaxxers”, who take the view that a class of products cannot be safe or effective by dint of belonging to that class: that might head towards superstition, too.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

No, I don’t think that would be comparable -if the science is any good people need to be persuaded about the merits of specific products. It is nonsensical to attribute lack of scientific understanding to people who question. At the moment if you have reasonable scepticism you are gaslighted – but it is particularly cruel because most “anti-vaxxers” are conscientious citizens who have had tragic experiences that no one wants to listen to. Also many scientists and doctors (but it isn’t an easy career move).

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

It is nonsensical to attribute lack of scientific understanding to people who question.

It is not “nonsensical”, although it may happen to be either true or false in any given case. But that was not the question. I’m referring to people who have already decided, on grounds that seem to me to have little to do with science, that they are opposed to vaccination either for themselves or indeed the public as a whole. Do you agree that such people exist, and in some numbers?

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

A priori it is patently nonsensical. I think people may reasonably mistrust state institutions as well as the science, particularly if they are not listened to when things go wrong. I cannot judge the motives and knowledge of people I don’t know, and I think would be very unwise and unfair. I don’t think it is humanly decent to make ad hominem judgments.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

A priori it is patently nonsensical.

We have different views about what constitutes nonsense, then. Some people who question vaccination may have a good understanding of the science, and some may not. Which is true in any given case is a matter of the facts in each case.

I cannot judge the motives and knowledge of people I don’t know, and I think would be very unwise and unfair.

Well, I think one can form at least a preliminary assessment based on evidence. However, it seems acceptable to certain vaccine critics to judge the motives and knowledge of scientists and people who work for state institutions — indeed, there are examples in this very comments page. I am sure that you would wish to say that you don’t think it is humanly decent on their part too to make such ad hominem judgments .

However, returning to the specific question, which seems in danger of being overlooked:

I’m referring to people who have already decided, on grounds that seem to me to have little to do with science, that they are opposed to vaccination either for themselves or indeed the public as a whole. Do you agree that such people exist, and in some numbers?

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Whatever. I don’t think people in public life should engage in hate campaigns against citizens and caricature their arguments in such a crude way.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

I don’t think people in public life should engage in hate campaigns against citizens and caricature their arguments in such a crude way.

I agree, although would extend the strictures to people in general, of course.

Now, about that question: referring to people who have already decided, on grounds that seem to me to have little to do with science, that they are opposed to vaccination either for themselves or indeed the public as a whole. Do you agree that such people exist, and in some numbers?

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

So people who accept the vaccine but not on scientific grounds are good and people who refuse on non scientific grounds are bad?? I am sure there are plenty of both but I am appalled at people who are being socially and institutionally bullied into having the products against their better judgment and compromising informed consent.

Perhaps may be of interest is my letter to BMJ on-line in August:-

Dear Editor

Thank you Karyse Day… for drawing attention to the problem of the bias and intimidation inherent in the term “anti-vaxxer”. The term has been around perhaps since the 19th century but has evolved a new context. Three years ago I drew attention to the remarks of Seth Berkley, director of the vaccine lobby organisation GAVI, in the Spectator proposing that “anti-vaxxers” be excluded from social media, which meant in effect not only that certain people should not be allowed on social media but that criticism of vaccines should not be allowed on a generic basis – an extremely serious matter…

Unfortunately, this has also been a hobby-horse of the present Prime Minister. In August last year Reuter’s recorded Boris Johnson as saying..:

“I’m afraid people have just been listening to that superstitious mumbo-jumbo on the internet, all that anti-vax stuff…”

On 24 September 2020 he told the UN…:

“There are today people who are still actually anti-science, a whole movement called ‘the anti-vaxxers’ who refuse to acknowledge the evidence that vaccinations have eradicated smallpox and who by their prejudices are actually endangering the very children they want to protect.”

By February this year the Sunday Telegraph was reporting…:

“Posting anti-vaccine propaganda on social media could become criminal offence, Law Commissioner says

New Law Commissioner Penney Lewis is leading wide-ranging review into whether UK’s offence and abuse laws are fit for the Social Media age…”

And once again the Prime Minister was quoted last month…:

“There’s all these anti-vaxxers now,” Johnson told medical workers at a doctor’s surgery in London. “They are nuts, they are nuts.”

While there are a lot of very fed up people I am extremely dubious there is a movement called “the anti-vaxxers” or that they are posting propaganda: at the very best this is a simplistic claim… At a time when the government is supposedly trying to earn trust for a range of potential SAR-CoV-2 vaccines the continued disparagement and repression of people who raise questions about a class of products – which after all cannot be inherently safe – speaks for itself. It creates an atmosphere of prejudice and intimidation – such as described in the Cumberlege review…and should be seen and understood for what it is.

“”””

I submit that the people promoting scientific intolerance here are the director of GAVI and the Prime Minister, and there are financial conflicts as well. I would dearly love a more civilised and informed conversation.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

So people who accept the vaccine but not on scientific grounds are good and people who refuse on non scientific grounds are bad?

Not even remotely what I said and, as it happens, not what I think.

I suggested that there are people who have already decided, on grounds that seem to me to have little to do with science, that they are opposed to vaccination either for themselves or indeed the public as a whole. Do you agree that such people exist, and in some numbers?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

Brian Cox, Professor for Public Engagement in Science at the University of Manchester, argued on the Joe Rogan podcast only last week that physics “ruled out” the existence of the soul.

That was 2 years ago. And you have glossed over the point he was making. The point being that all matter is affected by 4 forces known and measurable in physics. If there was a soul or souls there would be a 5th measurable force that we would notice. So either the soul has no effect or is completely inconsequential (or non-existent). That point remains and the onus is on you to refute it. Not sneer at him because he’s a scientist and you don’t like what he’s saying.

It is somewhat ironic that you are sneering at scientists for being, well, scientists.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Well, the argument as presented here is certainly overly compressed.

Firstly, there’s an assumption that “soul”, whatever that is, is a purely physical phenomenon. We can refute this by looking at such things as “mind”, which is not in itself a purely physical phenomenon, although it has physical correlates. There are other things we believe to exist in the world which are even less easy to correlate with physical phenomena, such as “truth”, “beauty” and “justice”. Do we conclude that they do not exist?

Secondly, there’s an assumption that everything we know about the physical world is a manifestation of the operation of some force. There are important aspects of the behaviour of the real world which are in a different category, such as entropy and information.

Thirdly, there’s an assumption that observable physical phenomenon can only be directly caused by the operation of some physical force. A lot of people get out of bed at 7 o’clock in the morning, but that’s not because some physical force such as gravity suddenly pulls them into a standing position. It’s a physical phenomenon, though.

Fourthly, there’s an assumption that “soul” is not correlated with one of the known four forces. Where did that come from? If you choose to consider “mind” to be a purely physical phenomeonn, then it is instantiated by electromagnetic forces, acting in complex biochemical interactions.

Fifthly, there’s an assumption that there is no further force known to us. Well, if you can tell us all exactly how dark energy and dark matter interact with other better known things in the physical universe, please let the rest of us in on the secret. Currently we do not know that the four known forces explain all known physical phenomena.

Sixthly, there’s an assumption that there can be no fifth force. Well, that’s just an argument from ignorance, as far as I can tell. There’s no overarching principle to say that no other force can exist.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Thank you.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Firstly, there’s an assumption that “soul”, whatever that is, is a purely physical phenomenon. We can refute this by looking at such things as “mind”, which is not in itself a purely physical phenomenon, although it has physical correlates. There are other things we believe to exist in the world which are even less easy to correlate with physical phenomena, such as “truth”, “beauty” and “justice”. Do we conclude that they do not exist?

This is misunderstanding what he meant by physical. He is talking at molecular level (matter). The mind and all things we know of are made of up of matter. That is beyond question. All matter exists in various states and has various forces acting upon them, of which on earth, in our conditions they are entirely explicable through our current knowledge of physics. No need for any extraneous force.

Abstract concepts (such as beauty) are what they are, abstract concepts, but this is nothing to do with physics as they have no effect on the physical world.

Secondly, there’s an assumption that everything we know about the physical world

No this is not the assumption here- you have it the wrong way round. We know what we are and what we can observe, and this can be explained by our current understanding of matter. No need for any extraneous force. What the idea of a soul is trying to achieve is that it is a) a real thing and b) has some effect upon the world. To put it more flippantly – yes we do know what we know, and can explain most things through that. If there’s anything else, it’s up to those making the claim to support it. That’s how knowledge grows.

The third and fourth points make the same mistake as the first – as in what is meant by physical. It is molecular bodies existing and the forces acting upon them. Not movement at a macro level.

Fifth point is borderline facetious, as firstly no scientist or anyone of any repute has ever claimed to know everything, and secondly as it is taking the cutting edge of our current understanding of things and trying to use it as evidence of ignorance. Which is absurd as the only reason we know about it (or don’t) in the first place is that people far brighter than us have spent lifetimes working on it.

Religion doesn’t proffer anything such as dark matter or anything remotely that complex that has advanced our understanding and advancements. In the meantime we can stick with what we do know that has enabled cures for diseases, satellites, space travel, flight micro-processing etc. etc. Perhaps we will know everything one day, though unlikely. One method has advanced us exceptionally, the other barely.

Your six point disproves itself by its own logic- there is no argument to say there is either.

Again, nobody has claimed there isn’t a fifth force that we don’t know about, just that everything that we humans have claimed points to a soul or existence and its effect on the real world can be explained already. There may well be something that is outside of our current understanding, but it is also outside of our current awareness so that is a moot point.

TLDR – the soul has no observable effect on matter, therefore it is questionable to suggest its existence.

Lovely cat though!

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The mind and all things we know of are made of up of matter. That is beyond question.

What an extraordinary thing to say. The question of the relationship of mind to matter (more specifically brain) has been under active discussion for hundreds of years and is still not yet settled. If you think that the mind is made of matter, then it will be easy for you to answer such questions as “where is it”, and “how much does it weigh?”

Abstract concepts (such as beauty) are what they are, abstract concepts, but this is nothing to do with physics as they have no affect on the physical world.

Well, this is plainly wrong too. They have an effect on people, and people are part of the physical world. So there are two possibilities here.

Either people are entirely part of the physical world, including their minds, in which case things that have an effect on them must be physical too. Here’s a well-known though experiment. Just think to yourself about the most embarrassing incident from your life. Did you blush? Another version: imagine to yourself the most sexually attractive person you know in a state of undress. Did the blood supply to various parts of your body change? Yet another: think to yourself about the time in your life when you were treated most unfairly, or came under the greatest threat to your life. Did your pulse rate and breathing change? In any of these cases, then a purely mental phenomenon had a physical effect. So where was that mental phenomenon? Of what matter was it composed, and by what force did it interact with your body?

Or people are not entirely part of the physical world. In which case, arguments from the physical nature of the physical world have nothing to say about those parts of people that are not part of the physical world. Perhaps “soul” is one of those parts.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

What an extraordinary thing to say. The question of the relationship of mind to matter (more specifically brain) has been under active discussion for hundreds of years and is still not yet settled. If you think that the mind is made of matter, then it will be easy for you to answer such questions as “where is it”, and “how much does it weigh?”

The mind as in physical matter – brain. Which is highly complex in biological terms, and not 100% understood, but at a chemical and, below that, molecular level 100% understood. The act of thinking itself however does exist in a biological/chemical sense.

If you are talking about the mind as an abstract concept then fine – the abstraction has no physical existence or impact on the real world.

They have an effect on people, and people are part of the physical world. So there are two possibilities here.

precisely. And those physical and biological effects can be 100% measured and understood.

On a personal level, I do understand why people hate thinking of ourselves as a mass of chemicals, and that complex concepts such as love, hate and embarrassment are biologically and chemically measurable. It truly does suck a large sense of romance out of the world. But that doesn’t make it ay less true. As an adult I am sad that I can no longer bring myself to believe in ghosts – as it gave me so much wonderment and excitement as a child.

Or people are not entirely part of the physical world. In which case, arguments from the physical nature of the physical world have nothing to say about those parts of people that are not part of the physical world. Perhaps “soul” is one of those parts.

In which case it is an argument in the abstract. Perhaps it is in one of those parts, but in the absence of any requirement for one to explain anything that is real, there’s no need to believe in it.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

On a personal level, I do understand why people hate thinking of ourselves as a mass of chemicals, and that complex concepts such as love, hate and embarrassment are biologically and chemically measurable.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it. Your argument is that you’re right because you have a higher “adult” form of understanding, rather than because of anything you can bring forward to refute the arguments against.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Well, that didn’t take long, did it. Your argument is that you’re right because you have a higher “adult” form of understanding, rather than because of anything you can bring forward to refute the arguments against.

No need to get personal. I have stayed on topic throughout. I was pointing out why I understand your point of view, but why I don’t agree. Sorry if that seems to upset you. Lets stick to the argument in hand

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

No this is not the assumption here- you have it the wrong way round. We know what we are and what we can observe, and this can be explained by our current understanding of matter. No need for any extraneous force.

Begging the question. If the soul exists and has an effect, then it does so in a way you have no explanation for.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Begging the question. If the soul exists and has an effect, then it does so in a way you have no explanation for.

It may beg that question – but then that question is immediately resolved by the conclusion. You are therefore arguing for something that is not existing within the current real world, and that we do not know about. Think on that for a while. It’s absurd.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

You are therefore arguing for something

No, I’m pointing out the deficiencies in the argument you’re promoting.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

No, I’m pointing out the deficiencies in the argument you’re promoting.

Not sufficiently well. Stick with the point made. Please explain how the soul can exist if it has no effect on the real world, is unknown and unexplainable? Except as an abstract concept of talking about a “soul” in a vague meaningless fashion?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Stick with the point made.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. The proposition put forward by Brian Cox has been summarised as “all matter is affected by 4 forces known and measurable in physics. If there was a soul or souls there would be a 5th measurable force that we would notice. So either the soul has no effect or is completely inconsequential (or non-existent).” and the challenge was to refute that argument.

So part of that argument is that the only things that exist are those that have an effect on the physical world via one of the four known forces. I’ve already described three classes of things that are generally agreed to exist, in some form. One is the class of mental phenomena. These certainly exist and have effects on the physical world. Some people adhere to the notion that they are therefore nothing but physical phenomena of a particular type. I think that’s too simple myself. Another class is things such as truth, beauty, justice: described here as “abstract conceptions”. These certainly have an effect on the physical world, in that they make people do things (such as get up in the mornings). It seems absurd to suggest that they are therefore nothing but physical phenomena. A third of course are the abstractions of pure mathematics. A fourth is a class of phyical things such as information and entropy (the latter actually appearing in the laws of physics). They certainly exist but are not reducible to interactions with one of the four known forces.

I think the existence of these things shows that the argument that nothing can exist that is not involved in one of the four known forces is an invalid argument, because if it were valid, it would also demonstrate that these things that we know to exist do not in fact exist: which is absurd. I don’t need to demonstrate the existence of the soul to invalidate this particular argument.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. The proposition put forward by Brian Cox has been summarised…[…] I don’t need to demonstrate the existence of the soul to invalidate this particular argument.

I get what you’re saying and don’t disagree with that definition of what might constitute a soul as such – but only insofar as it provides a catch-all explanation for the complex neurological and genetic makeup that gives us the ability to think in the abstract.

Whether an abstract concept is “real” or not is debateable* and has been argued by philosophers for centuries as I am sure you know too well. It’s real in so much as someone can think of it, but surely is it not just a complex collection of thoughts? It has constituent parts and will have been caused by various biological/genetical traits or experiences etc.

To reduce it to a facile example; Is “bleurgh” real? It’s real in so much as it’s a noise I can make and a word I can type? But what does that tell us? And surely it’s just a product of a knowledge of speech and sound etc. What do you think?

Genuine question – do animals have souls?

* by this I mean without burying too deep into the semantics of a definition of real.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Whether an abstract concept is “real” or not is debateable* and has been argued by philosophers for centuries as I am sure you know too well. It’s real in so much as someone can think of it, but surely is it not just a complex collection of thoughts? It has constituent parts and will have been caused by various biological/genetical traits or experiences etc.

This is certainly debatable, and has, as you say, been debated. But nothing like this is mentioned in the summary of Cox’s argment, which justifies my calling it overly compressed.

As to whether “truth”, “beauty”, “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, or “bleurgh” have been “caused by various biological/genetical traits or experiences” would take us quite far afield.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Anyone up for a chat about angels on pin heads?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Anyone up for a chat about angels on pin heads?

Four. No more, no less. My final answer

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The third and fourth points make the same mistake as the first – as in what is meant by physical. It is molecular bodies existing and the forces acting upon them. Not movement at a macro level.

But these movements are physical phenomena. You seem to be claiming that physical phenomena that aren’t directly caused by the simple operation of a single force at the molecular level.

Do you believe that something as simple as getting up in the morning is somehow outside the scope of scientific inquiry? If so, the claim that science has something to say about such complex things as religious belief and behaviour rather falls to the ground.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Do you believe that something as simple as getting up in the morning is somehow outside the scope of scientific inquiry?

Not at all. The opposite. Getting up in the morning can be perfectly explained from every level from molecular, through chemical to biological. The relationships between each are super super complex, but the basic principle is that we know. There is no part in that sequence that we have no clue whatsoever about to the extent that it leaves room for some random unidentified, unobservable and exceptionally vague force.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

So they are physical. That’s not what you wrote earlier. But “perfectly explained” entirely by physical forces? Why did you get up (or not) this morning? Does your answer have anything to do with words like “need”, “ought”, “want”, and so on? If so, what physical forces govern the interaction between your feeling that you ought to get up, and the physical processes whereby you did?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

it is taking the cutting edge of our current understanding of things and trying to use it as evidence of ignorance.

I think most working scientists agree that there are many things we and they do not know. If there were not, then what are they doing all day. Saying that we don’t know everything about how the physical world works is a pillar of science, but rather undercuts the claim that a certain thing cannot exist just because we don’t know how it would work.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

everything that we humans have claimed points to a soul or existence and its effect on the real world can be explained already

Again that’s begging the question.

John McCarthy
John McCarthy
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Good rebuttal.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

…but there is no law that says you cannot question a scientists own personal views and opinions. They use their credentials to squash any dissenting view, but they have no empirical evidence to back up their claim, because the standard model of science is incomplete.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Excellent comment. This is the classic point at which religious people retreat into the ‘It’s a matter of faith’ argument, which is exactly the point Jim Al-Khalili was making when he wrote: “Someone of a religious faith will just stick their fingers in the ears and say: ‘I’m not listening, there’s nothing you can say that will make me change my mind.'” This, to me, is the nub of the problem, viz. why more and more rationalists are losing patience with many in the religious community about trying to have any sort of sensible conversation .

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

If there was a soul or souls there would be a 5th measurable force that we would notice. So either the soul has no effect or is completely inconsequential (or non-existent). That point remains and the onus is on you to refute it

Gender-fluidity is the secular version of soul.

darren
darren
3 years ago

“Perhaps it’s high time we had someone in one of these roles who believes in God. This is not an argument about religious privilege ” nor one about greater inclusivity. It is simply an argument about public health.”

I wouldn’t ask a virologist for an informed commentary on the theology of Thomas Aquinas, so quite what you think this would achieve is questionable.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
3 years ago
Reply to  darren

Giles’s point is it’s easier to engage with people if you don’t dismiss or despise them. I can’t see why he’s suggesting someone in that role is there because of a belief in God, just suggesting that if we want people to understand science we could have a couple of people in these roles who can better engage with a wider range of ordinary people without despising them.

I don’t see why a virologist couldn’t, because of their job, have an interest in or knowledge of the theology of Thomas Aquinas. Are you suggesting virologists are so narrow they can only cope with one area of expertise?

I went to a Lent course designed by one of the chief scientists working on the Hadron Collider. What’s so odd about that?

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago

“Sneering scientists won’t win over anti-vaxxers”

Anti-vaxx conspiracy theories are akin to cults – they are a quasi-religious belief. People vulnerable to believing in one cult tend to be vulnerable to another. So getting the leaders of other cults to help spread sensible information about vaccines is probably a good idea. They are just mopping up a minority though. Most people are persuaded by the science, sneers or no.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

Anti-vaxx conspiracy theories are akin to cults – they are a quasi-religious belief.
Like the people who dismiss skeptics as heretical deniers? Maybe that’s why these two sides butt heads – they are identical in behavior, even if differing in belief.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I think one needs to distinguish genuine, thoughtful skeptics from head-banging nutters. However, I would not describe the practices of the latter as “heresy”. Anti-science maybe, in some cases. In others, downright lying, falsification, narcissism and old-fashioned grifting all play their parts.

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
3 years ago
Reply to  James Moss

“Anti-vaxx conspiracy theories are akin to cults” WRONG!

The vaccine fundamentalists are the real cult. They never debate critics, only shut them down.

Being called an “anti vaxxer” by vaccine propagandists is just like being called a “suppressive person” by scientologists.

Lady Marchmain
Lady Marchmain
3 years ago

Riddle me this and then try to sneer:
https://www.gov.uk/vaccine-

Campbell P
Campbell P
3 years ago

The more one listens to Roberts’ lectures and pronouncements – and Dawkins’ for that matter – the more one is left with the very strong feeling that they are desperately arguing against something they deep down suspect possibly to be true. Sadly, in both cases – and for all their sympathy-eliciting public faces – their pride in themselves and in their beliefs – for that is what they are – blind them to other understandings of what truth is and how it may be discovered. All so very sad when good brains are misled or misused.

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  Campbell P

Campbell, you are obviously a person of faith, not belief. As to your suspicion that they are secretly religious… you’re totally mistaken.

George Wheeler
George Wheeler
3 years ago
Reply to  Campbell P

I am afraid that that response is very child-like Campbell.
They only argue against religion and dismiss it because they know deep down that it is really true. Pleeeease!

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Campbell P

I have no religion but I AGREE.

pacific1waters9
pacific1waters9
3 years ago

There is no “the vaccine”. There are multiple with the most prominent developed by a poorly tested method. A recent survey of 7,883 vaccine recipients showed 181 deaths, a 2.3% CFR.

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago

Sure. Please inform the details of this survey.

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 years ago

Really? Scary if true.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

Almost certainly not really. I suspect this is. based on, or similar to, an article by Robert Kennedy Jr, a well-known anti-vaxxer, whose level of intellectual honesty I have commented on before. His website currently carries an article making a similar assertion based on CDC figures. If this is a similar assertion, then the claim would be something about 7883 adverse reactions and 181 deaths out of a total population vaccinated of something like 22 million, mainly over 75. It’s not 181 deaths out of 7883 recipients: that would be a death rate of about 2.5% and I think we would have noticed it by now. It’s a death rate more like 0.001%. Bear in mind this is not supposed to be the number of deaths caused by vaccination: it’s the number which might have been caused. The question is whether death rates among the vaccinated population have risen noticeably since vaccination started.

So, assuming that’s what’s being talked about here, is 181 deaths among 22 million over 75s in say two months disturbing? The numbers of deaths among over 75s in the UK in 2018 was about 3,000 a week, so the corresponding figures for the US would be around 10,000 a week. In other words, someone in the vaccination target group dies on average every minute. It is therefore to be expected that dozens of people will die within a few hours of vaccination, purely by chance. So there is little evidence that there is any causal relationship here.

Morgan Watkins
Morgan Watkins
3 years ago

Brian Cox knows lots about physics. And dodgy haircuts. God knows lots about everything.