by UnHerd
Wednesday, 11
August 2021
Chart
07:00

The most vaccine-hesitant group of all? PhDs

A new study found that the most educated are the least likely to get jabbed
by UnHerd
The percentage of each education group that is somewhat vaccine hesitant. Source: Carnegie Mellon University

There has been much debate over how to get the unvaccinated to get their jabs — shame them, bribe them, persuade them, or treat them as victims of mis- and disinformation campaigns — but who, exactly, are these people?

Most of the coverage would have you believe that the surge in cases is primarily down to less educated, ‘brainwashed’ Trump supporters who don’t want to take the vaccine. This may be partially true: the areas in which the delta variant is surging coincide with the sections of red America in which vaccination rates are lowest.

But according to a new paper by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, this does not paint the full picture. The researchers analysed more than 5 million survey responses by a range of different demographic details, and classed those people who would “probably” or “definitely” not choose to get vaccinated as “vaccine hesitant.”

In some respects the findings are as predicted — for example the paper finds that there is a strong correlation between counties with higher Trump support in the 2020 presidential election and higher hesitancy in the period January 2021 — May 2021. 

But more surprising is the breakdown in vaccine hesitancy by level of education. It finds that the association between hesitancy and education level follows a U-shaped curve with the highest hesitancy among those least and most educated. People with a master’s degree had the least hesitancy, and the highest hesitancy was among those holding a Ph.D. 

What’s more, the paper found that in the first five months of 2021, the largest decrease in hesitancy was among the least educated — those with a high school education or less. Meanwhile, hesitancy held constant in the most educated group; by May, those with Ph.Ds were the most hesitant group. 

So not only are the most educated people most sceptical of taking the Covid vaccine, they are also the least likely the change their minds about it… 

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago

Whilst there are ignorant people on both sides of the fence, the most articulate and eloquent motivations for decisions come from the vaccine hesitant.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
9 months ago

I’ll be honest – I noticed a similar thing about Brexit in my experience. Be interesting to see what studies have been done into this.
People who self professed to know very little about the EU and international affairs etc, often seemed to be pro-Brexit.
People who knew a bit or had a more international (if somewhat) superficial) mindset seemed to overwhelmingly support remain.
Whereas a lot of those who knew a lot about the EU and had real life experience outside the UK and EU were likely to be pro-Brexit.

Matt B
Matt B
9 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

True in my experience too re Leave. As for vaccines: the sample may be statiistically weak and full of outliers. More generally, PhDs in the UK often keep quiet about their qualifications, due to resentment. Some are acutely aware of what we do NOT know. So, perhaps they are more risk averse?

Last edited 9 months ago by Matt B
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt B

Yeah agreed! Good points.
I suppose I would clarify my initial comment as just a general one about knowledge as opposed to education level.
People with PhDs are significantly from academia – whose inhabitants generally favour Remain

Last edited 9 months ago by A Spetzari
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Decades ago I used to argue with my London friend about the viability of the EU based mainly on the prospect of a common currency. What I battled to articulate then in smoky bars after gallons of wine, became crystal clear over the years. The EU was always going to fail if it had a monetary union of budgetary sovereign states.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

I listened to a very intelegent discussion on vaccine hesetency, the the guys said that across the refusers you find the people can discuss somethings intelligently about covid vaccines, in that they thought about it, and took in many facts and bits of info in their consideration.

The vaccine takers rarely could sayanything about covid but mindless ‘Fallow the Science’ and ‘not killing Granny’.

Dr T
Dr T
9 months ago

As a science PhD myself, this finding does not surprise me at all.
Getting a university degree these days is nothing more than an exercise in compliance. You do the work, you wag your tail when you’re offered a bone, you virtue signal about diversity, inclusion, equity and climate change when required, and Bob’s your uncle. Independent thinking is not required. Indeed, it is a hindrance. A master’s degree is no different from a bachelor’s degree, it often doesn’t even require writing a thesis, it’s just another year of taking courses. A degree is positively correlated with being compliant and it is negatively correlated with creativity, independent thinking and ability to get things done.
A PhD, on the other hand, requires you to get something done. You need to produce a piece of work which is original and new. It requires independent thought.
Now that’s mainly true of STEM PhDs. Humanities PhDs are a lot less like that and a lot more like a Master’s Degree. So I predict that if the PhDs were split into cohorts by subject, you would find a lot more vaccine “hesitancy” among the STEM PhDs, while most humanities PhDs would be compliant.
Also, that’s all true of PhDs of years past. The quality of PhD programmes has fallen just as all university standards have fallen with the drive for more “diversity, equity and inclusion”. So I further predict that the older PhDs will be more vaccine “hesitant” than the younger ones.
Similar considerations hold of those who – either by design or by necessity – have to build up their own businesses or their own clientele as self-employed tradesmen. Like the self-employed who never go to university. They have to create something of their own.
It is the midwits, the accountants of this world, those who are very ambitious and desperately want a bachelor’s or a master’s degree so that they can climb a corporate ladder, or achieve other positions of “leadership” (for which yet more compliance, tail wagging and virtue signalling is required), but whose ambition is not matched with ability, and thus they are unable to build their own business, to get a doctorate or otherwise to do something new and creative, that are universally the dumbest and the most likely to be compliant with the prevailing orthodoxy. It’s not just about vaccines, it’s true in every walk of life.

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
9 months ago

George Orwell’s comment springs to mind” Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them”
I too would be intrigued to see the numbers and the subjects of the PhD s.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Hall

‘Women and gender Studies’ PhD’s vs ‘Bio-Chemestry’ PhD’s….

This is something we need to know, what side do they fall on, how are our intellectual elite positioned on this vital issue.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
9 months ago

Being as universities are nowadays educationally worthless, I wonder how significant this is. Whatever, it’s classic “everybody’s stupid except me”.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
9 months ago

The piece is, obviously, specifically about vaccine hesitancy among people with PhDs.

But it would be interesting to consider more broadly the typical characteristics (if indeed there are any typical characteristics) of people with PhDs in relation to other issues.

For example: are PhDs more independent in their attitudes generally, or more sceptical (in the sense of requiring more evidence for a proposition before accepting it), or do they become more fixed in their views once formed, or do they regard themselves as somehow ‘above’ the concerns of the general population?

And if any of the above might be true, would it be the result of obtaining a PhD, or would it be that people with those characteristics to start with have a greater tendency to be come PhDs?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
9 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I’m currently following a doctorate program. As you climb higher up the academic food chain you realize that experts are no different than most other people – susceptible to hyperbole, self-aggrandizement, opportunism, flattery and fame. I’m vaccine-hesitant and will do all I can to avoid taking it unless I’m absolutely forced to. I’m young and healthy, and would much rather take my chances catching a virus I’m very likely to survive than to be injected with a vaccine that has the potential to wreak irreversible damage to my bodily functions.
The mainstream media has done little to ease my concerns of the vaccines. In fact, by telling me what to do and what to think, it has done the exact opposite. I’m also very independent (according to a personality test given to me by my employers). The moment I feel coerced into something, even if it’s for my own good, I start to dig my heels in.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
9 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Very much agree with you, Julian. I was always a bit of an independent thinker (my primary school teachers used to complain about it in my early school reports!), and my PhD (science and stats-based) taught me to require evidence rather than propaganda. I’m not swayed by badly-presented graphs or flawed statistical analyses, which have sadly been the recourse of both pro and anti-vaccine groups. During my somewhat varied career, I’ve encountered plenty of academics who are blinded by dogma or their own biases. I’ve also worked for big pharma and seen how the motivation for profit can lead to ‘bad’ results being buried, if only by researchers who are eager to ‘clean up’ data to ensure their contract is renewed. When you see how much research is influenced by funding, or the requirement to publish, publish, publish, you become cynical about the reliability of results. Then, of course, you have those with vested interests who promote particular results, viewpoints or policies for their own benefit.
When it comes to the vaccines, I’d advise anyone who is vulnerable to covid to be vaccinated, because the risk of covid outweighs the potential risks of the vaccines, but I’m very much pro-choice and the relentless propaganda/coercion/vilification of sceptics makes me extremely uneasy. I’ll make up my own mind, thanks, when I’m good and ready, and I’ve seen more long-term data. We were told that Pandemrix was safe, but the people who suffered from long-term side-effects were initially treated with derision – I saw that personally, with a family member, which has, I admit, influenced my views.

Bill W
Bill W
9 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Nice one.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
9 months ago

Perhaps, but you should show a curve that gives absolute numbers too. Then you would see that PhDs are very few indeed. I wonder how statistically significant that data can be, unless they were specifically targeted.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Also it would be interesting to see the difference between PhDs in intellectually bankrupt subjects like social sciences vs. physical sciences.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
9 months ago

Nice idea!
It would be fun to be surprised. But, my own prejudice would be that my fellow social science PhD’s would rank among the less skeptical.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

That would be equivalent to a home economics GCSE?

douglas0
douglas0
9 months ago

mmm…who do you think wrote this paper?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Quite – this comment deserves more recognition.
5 million surveyed is really decent and large sample, but those with PhDs must be a small % of the total.

douglas0
douglas0
9 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

No

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
9 months ago
Reply to  douglas0

Do you think 2% is a large percentage? Not being facetious, genuine question
(Ignore – seen comment below – thanks!)

Last edited 9 months ago by A Spetzari
douglas0
douglas0
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

2% have doctorates, so sample size > 100000, populuation iro 328m….= a very high accuracy/confidence level.

Bill W
Bill W
9 months ago
Reply to  douglas0

Thank you for that. I didn’t know the stats but given with that sample size and the overblown size of some parts of academia, I am surprised we haven’t got PhDs coming out of our ears.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
9 months ago

What this tells me is that ‘clever’ people are useless at anything remotely useful.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
9 months ago

Demonstrating once again how the real problem is the ‘mid-wits’.