A Contemplation of the Truth Divide Between Pro and Anti
Pro-vaxxers seem to be a shy bunch when invited by those with different opinions to have a discussion on divergent perspectives of the truth. Not shy when they have the stage to themselves but reticent and reluctant if there is debate in the air. Why is that?
Certainly, here at NZDSOS we have a multitude of members who wonder what our colleagues are thinking. How can they justify the lack of informed consent? What are the ethics of injecting pregnant women with a novel genetic agent? Where is their line in the sand when it comes to forced medical procedures? At what point, if any, would doctors say NO in the future? Does First Do No Harm no longer apply?
However, very few members have actually managed to have a meaningful conversation with colleagues. When such questions are posed, there is a turning away, a lack of reply, a change of topic, a glazed, disinterested look or occasionally an unexpected vitriolic attack. Next to no-one has reported a respectful conversation ending with a mutual understanding of the other side’s position.
It has been perplexing trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, from our perspective.
We stand ready and willing for the discussion, but the other side retreats, puts up the barriers, goes on the offensive, ignores, denigrates, belittles, censors…
Recently though, people have been crossing the divide, venturing into the opposite (pro-vax) echo chamber and reporting back. The following quote refers to what a person on the fence might observe.
That quote comes from Dr Madhava Setty, anaesthetist, who attended the World Vaccine Congress in Washington in early April 2023. He wanted to engage with those with a different view. He has posted a written report and has done a couple of post event interviews about what he learned here and here. His insights are fascinating.
In group discussions at the Vaccine Congress, Dr Setty suggested on more than one occasion that perhaps the best way to deal with anti-vaxxers would be to talk to them, to bring them into a discussion and then dissect and/or discredit their arguments and views in a public debate. Surely that would settle the matter once and for all.
A number of fellow attendees thought this sounded like a good idea but some academics e.g. Associate Professor Katie Atwell from Western Australia, were quick to say that such a thing would not be possible and the idea of considering another perspective of the truth should not be entertained.
“We cannot give any voice to the critic. Once the public sees them on equal footing with us they may believe what they are saying.”
So, it would not be right to give antivaxxers a platform equal to pro-vaxxers. The public might get confused and think anti-vaxxers had valid points. No, the only thing to be done is to keep them shut out of the discussion, in order to protect one version of truth.
When the questions got too uncomfortable or probing, the conference moderators tended to move the conversations on.
Dr Setty tried to assess the level of knowledge and understanding of those promoting vaccines, and he was disturbed by their ignorance. He found that a number of people had not engaged with the science and had not read the studies or looked at data from various countries.
He found himself sitting next to Dame Jennifer Margaret Harries, a British public health physician and chief executive of UKHSA (United Kingdom Health Security Agency). She was not interested in discussing the fact that UK agencies had repeatedly demonstrated negative efficacy (increasing infections with increasing vaccinations) from the covid vaccines with their data.
The article and videos with Dr Setty are very interesting and recommended for those who would like to understand how vaccine advocates are thinking.
Del Bigtree of The Highwire also recently managed to have a discussion with mainstream science communicator and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Del wanted to explore how to converse with pro-vaxxers and have a respectful conversation that might enable vaccine science to progress towards a mutual truth.
This was a lengthy and interesting exchange and hopefully leads to some reflection on the part of Neil deGrasse Tyson as to how correct his apparent view of medical science is. Perhaps he will be able to find a pro-vax medical professional willing to debate with Del, something that has not eventuated to date (and not for lack of trying). Neil did not seem to appreciate the influence of pharmaceutical funding on the outcomes of medical science.
Closer to home on Reality Check Radio Paul Brennan spoke with Kathryn Ennis-Carter, self-employed Public Management Consultant, on 13 April. She attended the Otago University Disinformation Workshop in Wellington in February this year and had some interesting insights which she shared from about the 26.30 minute mark.
Speakers at the event included Kate Hannah, Paula Penfold and Prof Michael Baker among others.
Kathryn described the incurious acceptance of the government narrative by the majority of attendees, and the lack of questioning, discussion or debate. It was ‘scary to be in a room with such a level of group-think’ she reported.
There was discussion about inoculating people against misinformation, (‘psychological inoculation’) and ‘psychological herd immunity’, ‘pre-bunking’, using stories and emotions to engage people rather than providing facts, and using messaging that recognises the desire of people to be part of a group.
She heard that ‘misinformation’ and the ‘misinformation community’ was like a contagion in society that must be addressed through social controls and various tactics were discussed, including the need for more censorship of social media. The ‘misinformation community’ was accused of using fear to influence people. The importance of the role of authority in ‘countering disinformation’ was emphasised, including making the public understand that information is only ‘reliable’ if it comes from an ‘authorised’ source.
Labelling and defaming those people with opposing views with the labels we are all too familiar with – antivaxxer, conspiracy theorist, far-right extremist – enables them to be dismissed and removed from the discussion.
Kathryn described the stunning level of ignorance she observed. Someone working in the health system or health bureaucracy did not understand the difference between mRNA and traditional vaccines. She also joined a conversation between a couple of people from NZ Blood Service who were talking about Baby Will. She asked what it was that the parents were actually concerned about with regards to vaccinated blood. They said they never really found out and that the parents had been manipulated by conspiracy theorists.
It even got a bit weird at one stage with Kate Hannah speaking about the “deification of blonde and redhaired women and children”. Kathryn was surprised by the lack of reaction to some of Kate’s bizarre comments. Do we need to start wondering about the mental stability of some of those in the halls of power and influence?
Guy Hatchard has written numerous articles attempting to engage with those pushing the vaccines, asking questions many New Zealanders have and providing his educated interpretation of information he is able to obtain. He recently wrote about damning health statistics from the Wellington region he had been provided with – large increases in a number of medical conditions (heart attack, kidney injury, myocarditis, miscarriage, stillbirth, stroke), correlated in time with covid vaccination.
A member of the public provided his local MP Dr Deborah Russell (PhD in political philosophy not medical doctor) with the article and asked for comment. This MP is Minister for Statistics and the Associate Minister for Justice, so you would expect her to be able to discuss statistical data and be interested in the wellbeing of her constituents.
Guy reports on her reply. (She has to be given credit for responding, something which other members of parliament have failed to do with any of our letters of concern.) However, instead of engaging with the serious questions that affect the lives of every New Zealander, Dr Russell questions Guy’s credentials. The Minister for Statistics should surely be able to engage in a debate if her view differs, and provide data and scientific references to back up her position. Ad hominem attacks seem to be the only way our politicians know how to respond to tricky questions about increased mortality and morbidity.
Covid 19, it seems, has exacerbated an epidemic of inability to answer questions.
Prior to these recent forays into the opposite camp, and just before covid 19 entered the world stage, researchers had been working on how to engage with the undecided. The numbers of ‘vaccine hesitant’ had reached such levels that this condition was deemed one of the 10 most pressing health issues to be addressed.
Heidi Larson of the Vaccine Confidence Project spoke at the Global Vaccine Safety Summit in Geneva in December 2019 on the topic of vaccine confidence and vaccine hesitancy. She made three interesting observations –
- Much of the ‘misinformation’ is NOT actually misinformation, it is people asking legitimate and valid questions.
- Much more safety science for vaccines is needed.
- There is a very wobbly health-professional front line which is beginning to ask questions.
So, the division between those promoting vaccines and those recommending caution and more science, has not just appeared with covid vaccines but it has widened, and the ability to have rational, calm, respectful conversations has diminished.
In summary, it seems the problem with anti-vaxxers is that they have too many pesky, uncomfortable questions. Or perhaps that could be reframed to: the problem with pro-vaxxers is that they have too few answers to the important questions.
The offer is out there. We’d love to have a public discussion or debate. We’d love to have a respectful conversation. We need to hear what the pro-vaxxers think and to understand how they are interpreting the science. Lives depend on this.
In the meantime we still wait, while aware of the following:
We will keep speaking the truth as we see it, more and more sure of the facts that support it, as the evidence continues to emerge.