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“Debate me” bros in the age of COVID-19 disinformation

Quacks, science deniers, and conspiracy theorists love to challenge doctors, scientists, and science communicators to “live public debates” over the science they deny. I just say no, and you should say no too if you are in a position to receive such a challenge.

On this blog, I like to think that I go beyond just refuting misinformation with facts and science. In addition to that, I try to inoculate our readers with critical thinking skills by discussing the tactics of disinformation and misinformation. One of the most common tactics is to challenge a scientist or science advocate to a “live public debate” about the topic in question, whether it be the claim that vaccines cause autism (they don’t), whether HIV causes AIDS (it does), regarding “integrative medicine” or “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), or antivaxxers trying to trap me. Regular readers no doubt can recount why quacks, cranks, pseudoscience-promoters, and conspiracy theorists have the advantage in these debates—”Gish gallop” anyone? —but there are other reasons why science deniers gravitate towards this particular tactic. Sometimes the motivations are dishonest, but more often they are not, being based instead on the false idea that such “debates” are a fair and democratic method to settle a question, whether there is a real scientific debate or not. (Almost always, there is not.) Given that I’ve been seeing a rash of challenges to a “debate” coming from COVID-19 contrarian and antivaccine social media personalities and doctors, I decided that now would be a good time to address this common tactic again.

AIER: Come on, debate me!
The difference between science deniers and Harry Potter is that Harry Potter is never dishonest in intent.

I realize that I did recently allude to a certain crank calling to “debate” provaccine doctors and scientists, but I thought that now would be a great time, even if a little late, to expand on the common strategy used by science denialists of the “debate challenge.”

"Debate me, bro!" anteater
What people like Steve Kirsch remind me of.

“Debate me, bro!” say Dr. Oz and Steve Kirsch

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of “live public debates” with antivaxxers and quacks, and regular readers of my personal not-so-secret other blog know it even more, because I’ve written about it so many times there relative to here. Although I’ve recounted my reasons a number of times in the past, I do think that it’s worth writing about this topic again every so often, for the simple reason that it’s such a classic tactic of science deniers to demand a “debate” and then to accuse science advocates of cowardice if they decline. Why this particular topic bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness again is simple. Steve Kirsch has been repeatedly invoking this tactic again, even going so far as to justify why he prefers “live public debates” so much more. Meanwhile, Dr. Mehmet Oz (remember him?) has turned his spurious challenge to “debate” Anthony Fauci—”doctor to doctor,” yet!—into a central theme of his carpetbagging Senate campaign in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Oz has been issuing his “challenge” on Twitter since December, now complete with a poster:

More recently, Dr. Oz has been less about the “debate” with Dr. Fauci and more like:

If only Dr. Oz were nearly as “silenced” or “canceled” as he in his false victimhood proclaims himself to be!

And:

Says America’s Quack.

Most of us who’ve followed Dr. Oz and his promotion of quackery going back to his days on The Oprah Winfrey Show as “America’s doctor”—or, as I coined the phrase, “America’s quack”—could only look on with a mix of amusement, contempt, and resignation (just look at the responses and quote Tweets if you don’t believe me) as Dr. Oz tried to milk this challenge to aid his fundraising campaign to win the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania Senator this year. Grifter that he is, Dr. Oz knows quite well that Dr. Fauci would never accept such a “challenge” and that he probably couldn’t accept such a challenge even if he wanted to given his high ranking position at the NIH. However, the marks from whom he’s trying to raise campaign cash don’t know that.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Steve Kirsch, whose specialty has been weaponizing the VAERS database, took to his Substack to portray COVID-19 vaccines as deadly, published this challenge, “An Open Debate Challenge to the 270 “experts” who signed the Spotify letter challenging Robert Malone“. It was in response to an open letter to Spotify signed by 270 scientists and healthcare professionals about Joe Rogan, whose podcast has routinely platformed COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, antivaxxers, and disinformation promoters:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Rogan has repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine. He has discouraged vaccination in young people and children, incorrectly claimed that mRNA vaccines are “gene therapy,” promoted off-label use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 (contrary to FDA warnings), and spread a number of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. In episode #1757, Rogan hosted Dr. Robert Malone, who was suspended from Twitter for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Dr. Malone used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have “hypnotized” the public. Many of these statements have already been discredited. Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust. These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.

All of this is undeniably correct, which is why the letter concluded:

Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications. As scientists, we face backlash and resistance as the public grows to distrust our research and expertise. As educators and science communicators, we are tasked with repairing the public’s damaged understanding of science and medicine. As physicians, we bear the arduous weight of a pandemic that has stretched our medical systems to their limits and only stands to be exacerbated by the anti-vaccination sentiment woven into this and other episodes of Rogan’s podcast.

This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform. We, the undersigned doctors, nurses, scientists, and educators thus call on Spotify to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.

I would have signed this letter myself, had I known about it in time or had anyone asked me to, although I have seen reports that Rogan’s fans harassed some of the doctors who had signed the open letter, as Rogan’s fans tried to claim that the scientists, healthcare professionals, and educators who had signed the letter were trying to “cancel” Rogan because he’s a “threat to their quest for power”, going on to claim that “if the experts shut Rogan up, there’s no one with a large enough platform to challenge them”. I do have to admit to seeing the fact that someone with an audience as large as Rogan’s would be so threatened by such a relatively mild open letter and that his fans would go so ballistic over it as evidence that Rogan knows what he’s doing. That being said, let’s look at Kirsch’s response:

To the 270 scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators who signed the letter to Spotify complaining about medical misinformation:

We challenge every Professor and medical doctor (MD) who signed the Open Letter to a live recorded Zoom debate at 10am PST on January 28, 2021 for 3 hours. The purpose is to identify and expose any misinformation on the Joe Rogan podcast cited in the letter (JRE #1757).

We are old fashioned. We think scientific agreements should be settled by open discussion between scientists and not assigned to unknown, unqualified, and unnamed censors who hide deep inside the bowels of high tech companies.

I hope you agree with that and will accept our offer to an old fashioned scientific debate.

He goes on:

We will supply 12 debaters from our team which includes people such as Robert Malone, Robert F. Kennedy, and others. We will also invite Joe Rogan to attend if he is available.

This response is obviously nonsensical on its surface. How would a “debate” involving even a small fraction of the 270 professionals who signed the letter against 12 of Kirsch’s hand-picked antivaxxers, much less a debate on Zoom, even work? It would be an incoherent free-for-all, and no doubt Kirsch knows that. In fact, he is likely counting on it, and that no one can “win” such a debate. I also note that the “team” in his link includes 30 members, all of whom are promoters of COVID-19 disinformation. The link also reveals that this has been Kirsch’s schtick for a long time, as he adds after his list:

We will debate any qualified experts with comparable credentials in an open public fair debate to defend any of our viewpoints on vaccine safety, whether vaccines are a good idea, the efficacy of early treatments, whether ivermectin really works, why fluvoxamine should be used, whether masks work, etc.

The only problem is that NOBODY will debate us. They will claim privately that everything we say is false, yet they REFUSE to debate us in an open public debate.

We’ve asked the CDC, FDA, NIH, mainstream media talking heads, members of Congress, members of the medical community, etc. No takers.

I wonder why, particularly given the proposed “rules” of the “debate,” which might seem reasonable on the surface but would be guaranteed to produce a free-for-all, particularly Rule #6:

Control is given to each side for 6 minutes at a time. That side “has the floor” and can ask the other side questions, interrupt the person, etc. This is how it works in a Congressional hearing where the Members ask questions of the witness and can interrupt the witness at any time. The side in control can assign the “floor” to a single team member to use or control may be shared among multiple team members. The important feature is the side in control has full control and can interrupt the opposing side if they feel the questions are not being answered and the other side is running down the clock and not answering the question. There is no limit to the topics covered in the 6 minutes. We suggest one questioner and one topic for each 6 minute slot, but that is just a recommendation.

How much would you like to bet that Kirsch’s side would constantly interrupt the pro-science side and wouldn’t let them complete an argument? Amusingly, Kirsch is becoming increasingly desperate to rope someone into his “debate” that he’s now offering $1 million (or even saying they can name their price) to members of FDA and CDC committees in charge, respectively, of approving vaccines and making recommendations for which ones should be incorporated into the recommended vaccination schedule, how many doses, and at what ages. In this, he reminds me of Jock Doubleday, whose “challenge” offered large sums of money to vaccine advocates to drink all the vaccines in the schedule at one sitting, or RFK Jr.’s similar “challenge,” in which he offered $100,000 to anyone who could refute all the studies that he had amassed to show that vaccines cause autism. More recently, Kirsch published an offer to give scientists an opportunity to “correct” any misinformation that he might have published, saying:

If you think that I or any of my colleagues (including Robert Malone and Peter McCullough) are spreading misinformation, instead of trying to censor us, here’s your opportunity to correct us.

How? Predictably, this was how:

I believe that open scientific discussion of any differences of opinion is a better path forward.

To that end, here’s a link where you can register for an opportunity to debunk articles and/or statements from me and/or my colleagues in a recorded video call.

If anyone responds, we’ll choose the most qualified person(s) from the list and we’ll set up a mutually convenient time to have a discussion.

Somehow, I doubt that this would be likely to go well.

A week ago, Kirsch was echoing Dr. Oz’s bogus “challenge” to debate Dr. Fauci, just not with Dr. Oz. Rather, he shared a Change.org petition demanding that Dr. Fauci do a live TV debate with “opposing doctors,” because a Change.org petition is so likely to change Dr. Fauci’s mind. The panel of doctors from which Dr. Fauci could choose include a list of doctors, most of whom been featured on this blog at one time or another for promoting COVID-19 disinformation, including Drs. Peter McCullough, Ryan ColeHarvey Risch, George Fareed, Pierre KoryRichard UrsoPaul MarikAaron KheriatyRobert Malone, and David Wiseman.

Jarringly, the Change.org petition concludes:

Whether you are a fan of Dr. Fauci or not, everyone should sign. We should all want to make this happen in an effort to lay to rest all the divisive rhetoric invading our every day conversations. Please sign this petition and pass it along using the hashtag #MakeFauciDebate

I somehow suspect that, even if such a debate occurred, it would not even come close to laying to rest all the divisive rhetoric invading our everyday conversations.

There’s another example of a call for a “live public debate” in which the purpose of the “debate” is to let the COVID-19 minimizer and antivaxxer to start “just asking questions,” a.k.a. JAQing off with questions like, “Why would you not have procured sufficient quantities of HCQ, ivermectin, vitamin D and Zinc and mandate people take a proactive approach to prevent illness and to treat the ill?” and “Why have you completely disregarded the view of the 55,000 infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists that signed on to the Great Barrington Declaration”? The rest of the questions are of a similar sort, in which cranks ask questions based on refuted science in a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” manner.

Debate me, bro!
This is more like what science deniers really mean when they challenge experts to debates.

Does all truth come from live public debate?

I can’t resist spoiling the answer to this question by saying right away that the answer is no, all truth does not come from “live public debate”. I won’t say that it’s always a bad idea for a science advocate to agree to a debate like the sort in the “challenges” by Dr. Oz and Steve Kirsch. After all, Steve Novella showed me how it’s done back in 2012 when he accepted a challenge of convenience to debate Dr. Julian Whitaker about vaccines at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in 2012. (The Amazing Meeting was being held the same weekend in Las Vegas so Steve and I were there already.) However, it turns out that Dr. Whitaker was very bad at the deceptive debate techniques that cranks use, but also Dr. Novella was very, very good at anticipating and responding to common antivaccine arguments. Even though Dr. Novella basically mopped the floor with Dr. Whitaker, I still had misgivings. These were the same misgivings that I had when Bill Nye appeared to have wiped the floor with creationist Ken Ham in a debate of science versus pseudoscience with respect to evolution, given that it has been credibly argued that the debate was, in actuality, a disaster for science and a huge win for Ham and creationism. Basically, at best, I view these examples as possible exceptions that prove the rule that scientists really shouldn’t debate cranks (and arguably not even that), and here’s why.

The main reasons that debating cranks is pointless at best, and counterproductive at worst, are well-known to most regular readers here. Common “live public debate” formats favor science deniers because they are not bound by science or even the truth. They are free to Gish gallop to their heart’s content; that is, to “baffle them with a torrent of BS” that includes obscure studies, bad studies, studies that don’t support their points, and even irrelevant information that superficially to nonexperts appears to support their arguments. Unless a scientist or science communicator is not only very skilled at dealing with this technique but also very familiar with the deep well of studies ranging from the highly dubious to the good studies misrepresented by the science denier, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to swat down each gallop in turn and have no time left to make an argument for science. Such “debates” also value glibness, rhetorical skill, and the debater’s charisma far more than facts, logic, reason, and science.

Even worse, contrary to politics and other areas where there is not necessarily a “right” or a “wrong” answer and the value of different ideas can be assessed through argumentation and debate, science does have actual right and wrong answers. Evolution is real. Vaccines do work and don’t cause autism. COVID-19 is deadly to a small percentage of the population that is large enough to have produced a death toll in the US approaching one million, and the vaccines do work to decrease transmission and dramatically decrease the chances of one becoming seriously ill and dying of the disease. mRNA-based vaccines do not “permanently alter your DNA”. “Debating” these issues in the sort of forums that Kirsch wants serves no purpose other than falsely elevating the status of cranks and the pseudoscience and conspiracy theories that they peddle to falsely appear to the public to be in the same ballpark as that of real scientists and valid scientific conclusions, even when those conclusions are not as certain as the conclusions that vaccines do not cause autism and evolution explains the diversity of life.

Because they cannot convince actual scientists and experts in the fields whose science they deny or in which they embrace pseudoscience with evidence and science, science deniers tend to look to the public or validation. Hence, they portray science as being decided more by a democratic process than scientific evidence that eventually persuades other scientists. That is why they appear to believe that science is decided in public debates and view the quite proper reluctance among scientists like myself and skeptics to engage cranks in such spectacles as “cowardice”. It is not, but cranks continue to labor under the delusion that science is somehow decided in such forums, which are a variant of a sort of argumentum ad populum, in which something is argued to be true because it is popular or, in a debate, an argument is thought to be closer to the truth because it is more popular; i.e., it sways more people than the opposing argument.

Science doesn’t work that way. It is decided on evidence presented at scientific conferences and peer-reviewed journals, where the real scientific debate plays out until it is temporarily settled and scientists come to a provisional consensus. That provisional consensus, of course, is always subject to change as new observations, data, and experimental results come to light, but it takes observations, data, and experimental results to change the consensus, not “live public debates”. Such “live public debates” are meant for one thing and one thing only: To sway public opinion to a viewpoint not supported by science, in the process elevating pseudoscience or the unproven to the same plane as the scientific consensus as a scientifically viable “alternative”.

If Steve Kirsch or his motley crew of quacks truly wanted to convince scientists of the validity of their claims, they would publish their data and do battle where scientists normally do battle, in the scientific literature and at scientific conferences, rather than issuing vacuous and deceptive “challenges” to scientists who refute their misinformation. “Live public debates” might sway a few souls when the odd hapless scientist or skeptic unprepared for the Gish gallop makes the mistake of going up against a smooth-talking crank, but the scientific consensus remains unchanged. Someone like Burzynski can change my mind and the minds of my fellow Skeptics™ regarding his use of antineoplastons to treat cancer. It just takes him publishing all the evidence from his completed phase 2 clinical trials instead of 42.5% of one. If we find the data compelling, we will start to rethink our positions.

All of this is why I generally decline challenges from cranks to “debate” and don’t care if they portray my refusal to “debate” them as cowardice. It’s been my policy going back to at least 2007, and I haven’t suffered for it. If a crank is really interested in a “debate”, sometimes I’ll proffer a counteroffer for a written debate on our blogs, with each of us linking to each other’s responses. Interestingly, no one has ever taken me up on that counteroffer. I wonder why.

Actually, I don’t. Steve Kirsch has apparently received such counteroffers before. In fact, hilariously, he’s been in an exchange with people who think that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 either hasn’t been isolated or doesn’t even exist. He’s even doing it such a manner that, even though he’s a crank, he’s claiming the mantle of reasonableness by attacking even worse cranks. One of the virus deniers, Christine Massey, responded reiterating that the virus doesn’t exist. Kirsch, being Kirsch, couldn’t resist responding this way:

I responded to her open letter by offering up to a 5 hour zoom call with a few of my friends who do work in this area so we can settle the matter in one meeting. If she’s done early, we end early. I thought I was being generous with the time offered, but was accused of being disingenuous. The reason for 5 hours is having done this before on other topics, it takes hours, so I allow for plenty of time on both sides. Not offering sufficient time could be seen as “ducking” her challenge. She can bring as many people on her side as she wants but for something like this, I suggest a limit of 3 per side. If she wants less time, I’m fine with that!!! She can leave the room at any time if we are done early.

That’s right. Even on one of the rare occasions when Kirsch is on the right side of a scientific argument, he can’t resist by responding with a classic crank “debate me” gambit. Massey responded by saying that she would be happy to “engage in WRITING,” adding, “take it or leave it”. I laughed out loud at the reversal. Here the crankier crank was taking the role that I normally would have taken, insisting on a written debate with Kirsch, and he was having none of it. He did, however, perfectly explain why:

Insisting on a debate in writing is problematic:
  1. it’s really easy to avoid answering questions
  2. easy to change the topic and what we’ve seen in other instances is the responses get longer and longer and longer and go nowhere. I see this over and over.
  3. it’s easy to fool people. For example, her open letter goes on and on. How many readers know enough to challenge her on each point? Very few.

Similarly, people like Waterloo Professor Gordon V. Cormack and UPenn Professor Jeffrey Morris are both afraid of live discussion on camera and insist on documents only.

Others are camera shy like those 270 so-called experts who want the Malone interview censored on Spotify. No response so far to my debate offer. Who’d have guessed? A written discussion with up to 270 people is impractical. Who will read the hundreds of pages of documents? Pretty much nobody.

I’ve played this game before and it never goes anywhere. I don’t think the folks I’d ask to do this would want to spend time writing papers to Christine. They don’t even have the time to prepare their own papers. Doing written documents is much more time consuming than talking because people spend the time to make it bulletproof.

Funny, but I always thought that taking the time to make your arguments as bulletproof as possible was a goodthing, but apparently Kirsch disagrees. I also find it utterly hilarious that Kirsch insists on a five hour Zoom debate. Neither I nor most doctors or scientists whom I know have five-hour blocks of time free to devote to such a pointless exercise, but a lot of us do have time to write in short blocks.

You can see the projection going on here. Anyone who’s ever watched a political debate knows how pathetically easy it is to avoid answering questions; politicians generally answer the question with prepackaged talking points and, yes, change the topic until the discussion goes nowhere. Particularly ironic is Kirsch’s claim that it’s “easy to fool people” in a written debate. Actually, it’s far easier to fool people with rhetoric, Gish gallops, and emotional appeals in a live public debate. Indeed, I rather suspect that what Kirsch really means is that he doesn’t like that he can’t just keep badgering his debate opponent if he doesn’t like the responses he gets until the opponent either makes a mistake or starts showing signs of irritation or anger. Indeed, another post by Kirsch complaining about written debates, where he complains that written debates make it so that he ‘can’t get answers to simple “yes/no” questions’ pretty much tells me I’m right here.

I laughed even harder at this:

One of the commenters wrote this
But when someone really knows their shit they would much rather handle it in a live conversation; it’s much more efficient (you don’t spend hours writing) and it reaches a wider audience, and that audience has the benefit of tone and body language to affirm (or negate) the veracity and substance of what is being said.
I agree with that.

Body language and tone have nothing to do with facts, science, and argument, and when someone who “really doesn’t know their shit” but is good at, well, bullshitting they would definitely rather handle disagreements in a live verbal debate because it’s easier to hide their lack of knowledge behind clever rhetoric. In contrast, someone who’s not a great public speaker (as in many scientists) might show nervousness and discomfort more over confrontation, even when in the right, than a smooth charismatic debater. Kirsch is basically agreeing that live public debates are about emotion, presentation, and showmanship, not science.

Still, Kirsch continues to reiterate why he prefers live debates. He starts out with why he doesn’t like written debates, basically expanding on what he said above. What made me laugh even more was that he referenced antivaxxer Del Bigtree’s asking the HHS 11 questions, as though trying to get information from a government bureaucracy for serious JAQing off questions is akin to, for example, a blog debate. In other words, he misrepresents something that is most definitely not a debate as being a debate. He then concludes:

This is the real reason why nobody supporting the vaccines wants a live debate: because with a written debate they can string things out forever.

RFK Jr. has been trying for 20 years to get someone qualified (Alan Dershowitz isn’t) to debate him live about vaccine safety. No takers.

The fact that RFK Jr. has been trying to get scientists to “debate him” for 20 years should tell you all you need to know about the value of such “debates.”

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

81 replies on ““Debate me” bros in the age of COVID-19 disinformation”

Malone exaggerating his role with mRNA vaccines should end any “debate” about his credibility.

Anyone claiming SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t exist, hasn’t been isolated, etc. should be willing to walk through a Covid positive ward in a hospital, unmasked, with a waiver of liability for the hospital and a directive not to receive medical care if they get sick.

The only show of Joe Rogaine’s I’ve watched was with Dr. Michael Osterholm, near the start of the pandemic. It was very different than the more recent rants with Malone and McCullough. Guess the grift is more profitable catering to AntiVa.

March 10, 2020 – pro vaccine variant of Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan: (56:10)
I hope this wakes people up to the value of vaccines too. There’s so many wackos out there that think that vaccines are a scam, or they’re dangerous. There are so many people out there that won’t vaccinate their children.

Michael Osterholm: (56:24)
I know. One of your best shows you ever did was Peter Hotez. He’s a dear friend of mine.

Joe Rogan: (56:28)
Yeah, I love that guy.

Michael Osterholm: (56:28)
I do too. He’s a dear friend of mine, as you. He is one of the champions out there on this very issue. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that’s really an important point, that we got to get this idea, these vaccines can be life-saving. If we had one right now, think how different this situation would be that we’re in right now.
Joe Rogan: (56:45)
It would be radically different. You see the measles making a comeback, directly attributed to a lack of vaccines.

Michael Osterholm: (56:54)
You know what? It’s not only the vaccines themselves, but it’s the prioritization of vaccines. I mean, one of the real tragic stories right now in Africa is we are just finally bringing to a close this outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, far northeast part of the Congo. 2,800 people have died from this, okay? Bad. Been going on for almost two years.
Michael Osterholm: (57:19)
Everybody talks about that, and I understand why. Ebola is a challenge. Do you know that during that same time period, over 7,000 kids in that same area have died from measles? Because everybody was preoccupied trying to deal with Ebola. Those deaths were totally preventable-
Joe Rogan: (57:34)
Preventable.

Michael Osterholm: (57:34)
… Totally preventable. I mean, I think that’s a … I have to say, and I’m already on this show so I’m not trying to … Thank you for what you do say about vaccines, because people listen to you, and we need every positive voice because we have so many crazy voices out there right now, and there’s so-
Joe Rogan: (57:49)
So many people are paranoid and delusional. They want it all to be a conspiracy. There’s been an amazing medical innovation in human culture, and that’s vaccines. It’s amazing what it’s done. Have there been adverse affects on people? Of course. Everything that people do, there’s some people that are going to react in a bad way. It doesn’t mean it’s not a positive thing. There’s a reason why the cases of polio are so tiny. There’s a reason why smallpox went away. It’s because of vaccines.

….

Joe Rogan: (59:29)
When something like this can be prevented, and the reason why people don’t do it is because they’re paranoid of vaccines, and they get that information from some wacko website, or from some person who really has no business talking about it, whether it’s the people out there that think that it causes diseases or it’s a government plot, or that it’s a medical scam because it’s just trying to raise money. It’s just, all of it’s very, very disturbing but it’s a part of people.
Joe Rogan: (59:56)
Human beings, for whatever reason, there’s a percentage of us that lean towards conspiratorial thinking. They lean towards thinking that there’s some sort of a plot against them, or the government’s against them. It’s just, you got to listen to the medical experts.

Michael Osterholm: (01:00:15)
You know what? I hope that if there’s any good to come out of this terrible Coronavirus situation, is that there’s a wake up call. If we’d had a vaccine for this, or one that even worked partially, think how different we’d be. You know what? We’ve got other ones coming like this. We have to use our creative imagination.
Michael Osterholm: (01:00:32)
As I said in the book, the chapter on Coronavirus, the title is SARS and MERS, a Harbinger of Things to Come. I mean, we can use our creative imagination to say we should be funding these things, almost like we pay for our Fire Department. Imagine if we had to go out and buy a firetruck when the 911 call came in.

if allergy screening for vaccines exists, why skip it and ask people to wait 15 minutes? if the vaccine is supposed to be intra-muscular, how does anyone know without aspiration of the needle? if antibodies aren’t required for normal recovery of disease, why use them to measure vaccine efficacy?

I see that you believe in ‘debate’. Do you have anything to say about the post?

Thank you for showing why debates so often go ‘off the rails’. People seem to want to debate the actual question of the scientific method, not the science itself.

Aspiration?…I smell Dr Campbell (Doctorate in nursing education) here. I also smell a fan of ‘internet research’ too. I think Orac needs to do a take down on ‘internet research’ without an appropriate background in the topic, albeit ‘Logic of Science’ probably has. Who in their right mind would seek to ask loaded questions of someone who is an MD with a PhD in Cellular Physiology about antibodies?

Nice illustration of the problems of debating with the ignorant. It quickly becomes a Gish Gallop of nonsense that requires time to unpick.

Allergy skin testing is slightly invasive, bring with it a potential risk. It takes a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 4 days to get the results of allergy skin tests. Most importantly, the likely number of people with allergies to ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines is incredibly small.

It is less harmful, less invasive and more efficient to just observe every one for 15 minutes. The incredibly small number that may have an allergic reaction can be treated immediately at the clinic.

Besides, if you’ve ever had allergy skin testing (I have had it done several times), you would never want to put millions of people through it–the worst welts can produce some very nasty itching and several of them can amount to some real discomfort and even pain. It is also expensive and makes no sense in terms of time or money.

Many health professionals are of the view that aspiration prior to intramuscular injections is unnecessary.

“There is ample evidence that suggests that aspiration may not be required for IM (intramuscular) and SC (subcutaneous) injections”

http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5333604/

Some people mistakenly believe there are serious risks to not aspirating prior to IM injection. This contributed to a recent antivax meme that Covid-19 shots given on camera to the Canadian Prime Minister and his wife were “faked”, because the video did not show prior aspiration.

I am tickled that one of the names mentioned (I won’t say which) who would not engage in these absurd debates, but did effectively challenge the anti-vaxx and anti-COVID claims in writing, is someone I’ve known IRL years ago. A very smart and (still) sensible person. This deserves a virtual elbow bump.

healthdata.gov/stories/s/COVID-19-Reporting-and-FAQS/kjst-g9cm/#:~:text=The%20retirement%20of%20fields%20which%20are%20no%20longer%20required%20to%20be%20reported%3A&text=Total%20number%20of%20mechanical%20ventilators,ED)%20overflow%20and%20ventilated%20patients

“The retirement of fields which are no longer required to be reported:
Total number of beds for adult patients
Total number of mechanical ventilators and those in-use
Emergency Department (ED) overflow and ventilated patients
Previous day’s COVID-19 deaths”

How does this help control the pandemic with immediate information and feed back? Hospitals are no longer required to report deaths ? (I know the CDC collects this information from death certificates but it is a slow, as in, weeks behind and can misidentify cause of death.) If there is a spike in deaths in an area they won’t know about it for weeks. Same for bed shortages.

Why the change?

Three thoughts.
A. Criticizing people on Twitter and blogs is not “private” criticism. It’s as public as can get. It just doesn’t give him as much chance to hurt the criticism in nonsense. (Re your quote of him above),

B. Kirsch had one person take his five hours offer, and that person mopped the floor with Kirsch. Interestingly, Kirsch has not shared that debate with his followers, basically burying it. Which is another point. Outside the live debates, science deniers will only publicize things they think show them well, or the bits that they think show them well. These are not good faith players.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1nF2YAn9DQ

C. Re the reasons you gave from Kirsch from wanting a live debate, the points he makes seem to apply very much to a live debate. Changing the subject, not answering questions and fooling people are very much tools if the talented charlatan in speech.

The problem is, even if a scientist, physician, or science communicator “wipes the floor” with an antivaxxer in such a debate, it won’t matter, even if the debate is publicized.

Completely agree – there’s no way to win – but I want to highlight that they’re not sincere in claiming that this is about transparency and that they believe the truth will come out in debate. They believe they can use a debate to help their side. And if they can’t, they would bury it.

They’re not sincere here, either.

I’m having some difficulty picking my jaw off the ground on the AVI and KIRSCH discussion. Thanks!

Just the beginning of the nightmare dude. OMG double thanks.

Calls for “debates” even occur at RI from scoffers yielding the same results Orac describes ( see previous post)

Because I have surveyed a crank infamous for his debating “skills”, let me partially sum up his method:
— there is highly biased selection: “Vioxx/ AZT are dangerous” without mention of why these drugs are considered at all ( used for serious health issues) AND without mention of the thousands of drugs that work/ are lifesaving
— there is no risk / benefit analysis OR risk is over estimated/ benefits are diminished “Vaccines are dangerous, COVID is mild”
— partial truths prevail and are used to circumvent other important facts ( ” Diet is important for health” is true but NOT SO MUCH that it cancels out other factors/ need for meds, etc)
— using overarching, black-and-white statements: ” Medicine fails for chronic care” True, sometimes
— appealing to the audience assuming that there is pent up anger against SBM because it is not perfect and people sometimes aren’t helped or against authority in general
— providing a simplistic, overly optimistic alternative ( see books; ” How to Cure Diabetes”, “How to Cure CVD”, Curing AIDS etc)
— medicine of the past is presented as if it is still happening ( corrections not noted) examples include those of past centuries not just decades
— firehosing/ Gish Gallop

Supposedly, Null- whose braggadocio eclipses that of his fellows by orders of magnitude- was enlisted to “debate” well known doctors – a Surgeon General, the head of the AMA, the head of a cancer facility ( if his tales are true) because of his fame as a “debunker” and critic on his radio show ( 1970s-on). He demolishes ALL of them with his analysis. He says.
Whenever a person relies upon statements that either implicitly or explicitly say “all” , we know that an effort at misinformation is afoot: science deals with probabilities. Vaccines are not perfect, drugs don’t work perfectly for all cases ( Nirvana fallacy) BUT they improve conditions to a degree that can be quantified and if the difference is too small, can be rejected.

In addition, the artful debater presents himself ( and it’s usually a him) as a champion of the people, out to chastise the corrupt, entrenched criminal powers-that-be. I once enjoyed the dubious pleasure of observing a virtuoso performance LIVE at a bookstore presentation: the woo-meister started by joking about – ahem- male issues and continued to ask the audience about their issues which included SERIOUS ILLNESSES.and then boiled it all down to inflammation and how to stop it with a vegan diet. After over an hour of egregious BS artistry, he cited his books available at the store that address their ills and bowed to thunderous applause from the crowd of over 100. This was in an affluent suburb outside of a very large city. At one point during his spiel, he asked me personally if I had any questioned, I responded, ” Not about health and she scurried off. He sold loads of books.

Unfortunately, I’ve been on the receiving end of the consequences of this bad advice. I had a patient who went “Plant based,” not a terrible idea, but became a loony evangelist for the lifestyle and thought it was going to cure everything. She practically screamed at me when I told her she had GAINED almost fifteen pounded at her next checkup and her A1c was now 10.something up from 8 six months prior. “But I have been following the videos and the book!!” I explained test I believed she had but things were just not that simple. She was on a good track but just needed a few tweaks to make it really work for her. She didn’t want to hear any of it. I never saw her again and she hasn’t been back to our clinic.

Plant-based diet=not a bad idea.
Thinking that this will solve all your woes=well, you get the idea…

@ Dr Yeti:

People accept altie “wisdom” such as this ( and a hundred other pronouncements) because it fulfills their wishes, through magical thinking, that their condition , even if it is something potentially deadly like cancer or aids, is easily treatable without the intervention of doctors with their tests and complicated meds regimes that cannot be guaranteed to work. They can do it themselves with diet and/ or supplements, prayer or thinking good thoughts.

This scenario involves black-and-white thinking- something either works perfectly or not at all, which includes realistic appraisals by SBM for treatment plans represented as percentages..
Alties, in debates or in their massive tomes or lectures, play to this tendency. They provide easy unrealistic solutions to troublesome, complex problems. This style of thought is similar to that of young children and perhaps could be addressed in a similar manner ( without being too obvious). Some adults think this way when faced with difficult, unpredictable, uncontrollable situations: working with them takes loads of time, explanation and persistence.

This is why woo ‘works’- some people desire fantasy even when it endangers their lives. And natural substances like herbs seem so much more wholesome than “toxic drugs” made in factories. The loons I survey are making vast fortunes based on this
human tendency to deny reality.

The decision to stop debating non-scientific theories like creationism has worked out so well we should repeat that success by scientists also refusing to debate the value of vaccines. No doubt, we can expect the same results.

If you are claiming that anti-science views like creationism spread because of a lack of televised debates, some evidence would be nice. I think that claim isn’t particularly convincing.

I don’t think anyone here underestimates the threat that active efforts of the anti-vaccine movement to misinform people about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines, ro vaccines generally poses. We are seeing its effects to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of hospitalizations.

The question is whether a live debate with a misinformer will help with the problem. This post explains why not.

No, I am not claiming “that anti-science views like creationism spread because of a lack of televised debates”. The point I trying to make is that not debating creationists did not make any difference regarding the popularity of their belief. According to some polls, apparently more people believe in creationism now than did back in the 1980’s. There’s certainly no evidence that the decision to no longer debate creationists had any impact on the popularity of their beliefs. While that’s no reason to debate on this issue, it’s also means there is no reason to back off either. If some reputable scientists are interested and decide to do so, there’s no cause for complaint regarding that choice. I think they’d get plenty of views from people on the fence. I watched some of those televised creationism debates back in the 80’s when I was young and in the process of rejecting breaking the young earth creationist mythology I was raised with. It didn’t really matter what the scientists said, it was the creationists who made the creationist arguments look ridiculous.

Ah, Beth, it’s times like this that I really miss Ed Brayton over at Dispatches From The Culture Wars. He chronicled not only things like the Dover case but the general rise of the religious right (since the 1970’s/1980’s) and the impact it has had on the social and political landscape, even as the number of “no religious affiliation” has grown in the US.

As you yourself say, people don’t quit creationism because the data for evolution is ample and elegant, it’s because creationists say bonkers stuff. So there’s no point in debating a religious position with science and data, that’s not what drives people to or from creationism.

Are you saying that anti-vaccine beliefs are a scientific as religion?
If you are right, that anti-vaccine conviction is a faith, not reason based, that anti-vaccine feelings are part of a religion, not a scientific theory, I think that many will agree with you.
But probably not members of the church of Cardinal Kennedy or Malone. Many anti-vaccine activists like to think of themselves as Galileo, not the Pope…

Anti-vaccination is a religion. It is a belief system that is impervious to evidence. Likening it to creationism is accurate.

Back in the days of the Wakefield debacle we used to describe John Stone as the Pope of JABS* for this very reason. His pronouncements on the forum were given the respect of holy writ by its inhabitants.

*JABS was an anti-vaccine message board and pressure group run by Jackie Fletcher. It was used as a recruiting ground for children for Wakefield’s Lancet study.

“Are you saying that anti-vaccine beliefs are a scientific as religion?” No. For more explanation, see my response to Dorit

Actually, creationism has been losing adherents for a long time, a trend that probably wasn’t affected by the pseudodebates featuring Duane Gish and his allies.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/210956/belief-creationist-view-humans-new-low.aspx

It’s highly doubtful that “debates” involving cranks vs. good scientists would do much to sway public opinion on pandemic-related issues. Insistence on such spectacles only shows how desperate cranks and antivaxers are for attention and the the chance to harvest meaningless “gotcha” moments.

If someone is challenging me to a FIVE HOUR ‘live’ debate, I’m going to assume they just want lots of raw footage to edit down to a 5 minute ‘highlight’ YT video they hope will go viral among their target audience.

Really, how many people are going to watch 5 hours straight of a back-and-forth involving confusing arcana differing science from pseudoscience, either live as it happens, or in video replay? So it would be some edited version that gets the vast majority of attention, and due to the general lack of media literacy, most viewers will just take the edit as an ‘accurate’ condensation.

“According to some polls, apparently more people believe in creationism now than did back in the 1980’s.”

Whenever I see “according to some…” I know something is amiss. Looking at reputable polls, such as those by Gallop (1983 to 2019), “belief that God created man in his present form” has decreased from 44% to 40%, “Man developed but God guided” decreased from 38% to 33%, and “God had no part” went from 9% to 22%. Seems like not debating is a good strategy.

Two tidbits about Oz (the quack, not the continent).

A study (published in Nature, IIRC) did a deep dive into claims made by Oz on his show. They picked a random week or something. The claims fell into three categories: supported by evidence, contradicted by evidence, and not enough evidence either way. I assumed most of it would be supported by evidence, but not so. It was something like 30% supported by evidence, and the rest split about evenly. Someone here may know of this study (from 8-10 years ago, I think).

A former colleague had a friend who procured material for his show. Oz just wanted stuff, and didn’t really care about the source or its validity. The woman didn’t work for him for long.

Oz got his big break from the grand mistress of things “woo-eee”, Oprah. He learned early on that to keep getting lots of butter on his income bread he needed to go fact-free. I’m amazed that roughly 30% of the stuff he spews was fact based: I would have assumed it began and ended with his name.

Trump tried to do this and was criticized for it.

“Biden officials trying to recalculate U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations”

politico.com/news/2022/02/07/biden-covid-hospitalization-data-recalculate-00006341

“Just say no”, weren’t that always Fauci’s response to those who questioned Gallo’s flaccid HIV/AIDS etiology and Fauci’s poisonous insistence on AZT? How does the story go, “the Science is settled”, and to debate a science denier is to sully oneself, to engage in an immoral and wasteful act, to endanger the precious audience who must never be exposed to different points of view? Come to think of it, there are other scientific and historical subjects that are considered exempt from debate; these theories are so true that they are self evident, like the emperor’s new clothes.

Newsflash: claiming that it is not ethical to debate certain topics is a flimsy rhetorical shield. The ONLY reason to avoid debate is because you know your opponents are more convincing than you. Because your opponents are correct. You must keep them silent. The COVID vaccines are an utter failure if not an absolute disaster. The lockdowns, masking and all the “public health” messaging has been a fraud. Due to the MSM’s refusal to discuss the risks and shortcomings of the vaccines, informed consent has not been achieved. Instead people are being economically extorted to comply.

All vaccines, not just these newfangled mRNA therapies, should be subject to double blind RCT investigation. You sir are not a scientist as you have no regard for Western ethics, you promote a totalitarian ethic, your science is an extremely profitable fraud. Fauci’s control of the pharmaceutical industrial complex is textbook fascism. Yet you would have us believe fascism consists of some politically powerless racists, and not the marriage of state and corporate power for the “greater good” of the nation.

Debate me anytime, bro.

The ONLY reason to avoid debate is because you know your opponents are more convincing than you. Because your opponents are correct.

Um, no. The reason to refuse “debates” like this is because such debates are about rhetoric and emotion far more than evidence and reason. Real scientific debates occur in the peer-reviewed literature and at scientific conferences. Debates like the ones Kirsch proposes are simply a ploy to make pseudoscience seem sufficiently plausible as science to be worth “debating.” They are propaganda, not real debate.

All vaccines, not just these newfangled mRNA therapies, should be subject to double blind RCT investigation.

Silly troll. You do know that vaccines, in order to be FDA-approved, do have to undergo randomized, double-blind controlled trials first, don’t you? You do realize that all the currently COVID-19 vaccines available in this country underwent just such trials, phase 3 RCTs involving tens of thousands of patients, don’t you?

Apparently you don’t because you are ignorant or do and are lying because you are intentionally spreading disinformation.

Rest assured that Dunham’s grasp of rhetorical theory is at the same level as her grasp of pharmaceutical trials.

How rich of you to claim that mRNA vaccines have undergone phase III testing when they have been in human bodies for less than two years. The only reason these vaccines were developed and approved is because Donald Trump declared a state of emergency and ordered a “Warp Speed” vaccine push out. You simply do not know the long term effects of mRNA vaccines in humans because have been observing the interaction for less than two years. You do not know the long term effects of repeated expression of the spike protein, which is known to be cytotoxic. You do not know the long term effects of the nanolipid envelope. mRNA vaccines have passed phase III review in the same sense that an invisible plague is a “pandemic” and a prophylactic that does not prevent transmission, infection, hospitalization, or death is a “vaccine”. In the sense that words don’t mean the same thing they did 20 years ago, in this age of Orwellian manipulation.

Furthermore, Pfizer conducted their own clinical review of their product, after Donald screamed “make it so!” This is sort of like Boeing certifying the safety of their 737 Max, another textbook example of fascism, since folks like you ignore the meaning of the word. Pfizer unblinded their own trial at the first sign of the result they were looking for (ie, short term efficacy against severe illness). Are there any unvaccinated adult control groups still under clinical review?

Anyway, let’s assume you’re right and the science is settled. Then I have a very simple question for you. Since you know everything there is to know about the risks. How many people do the mRNA “vaccines” injure, and how many do they kill?

“The ONLY reason to avoid debate is because you know your opponents are more convincing than you.”

I guess that’s why there are so many healthy debates between battered wives and the men who abuse them. Nothing like being shouted down, ignored and then attacked when you try to use a bit of reason and logic.

SD: “the precious audience who must never be exposed to different points of view?”

You think people only hear about differing opinions through staged debates? How precious.

“The ONLY reason to avoid debate is because you know your opponents are more convincing than you. Because your opponents are correct. You must keep them silent.”

How are they kept silent when we continually hear their blatherings?

“Debate me anytime, bro.”

That’s what we’re doing here. Based on the judges’ scorecards, you’ve got some catching up to do.

Orac “just says no”, because reasons that he lists extensively in this article.

He might be a powerful promoter for anything he espouses, what a shame he just says, “no!”

Here’s an example of what the mis-dis-mal-un-informed are missing out on by Orac’s ignoble dereliction of his duty to his material and factual wealth by his refusal, what a shame, what a loss!

https://youtu.be/N1LcgaIBnnY?t=62

You did it yourself. How do you know that Gallo´s etiology is bad. Present evidence, this is scictific studies. Not possible during a debate. Same thing about toxicity of AZT. How do you know that it is toxic ?
Any antivaxxer would just makr baseless claims, with very big noise. This does not help to find facts.

Orac’s article mentioned the Jock Doubleday “challenge”, in which he offered $150,000 to any physician who would drink vaccine components. A number of docs accepted his “challenge”, only to find out the rules were sufficiently oppressive to discourage participants (among other things, you were supposed to supply a bunch of personal data and undergo psychiatric examination at your own expense to prove you weren’t crazy to do such a “dangerous” thing. Ultimately no one was certified as jumping through all the hoops…not that Doubleday was likely to have paid out in any case. And good luck getting any such charlatans ordered to pay – there was a case of a German antivaxer who offered 100,000 euros to anyone who could prove the measles virus existed, but a successful challenger couldn’t get a court to order the money paid out, on technical grounds. The judgment probably is still being hyped by germ theory deniers.

The odds of getting antivaxers to agree to a controlled debate format with a professional moderator where interruptions are not allowed, debaters are not allowed to indulge in personal attacks and lengthy digressions/Gish galloping, and must respond to questions directly without evasion, are approximately zero.

If it was made clear that they wouldn’t be allowed the guerrilla theater atmosphere they covet, antivaxers’ enthusiasm for debates would wane rapidly.

That is correct. The “debates” they propose are virtually always on their own home turf (i.e., podcast or YouTube channel), with at least one moderator that is on their side (sometimes they propose that “each side” supply a moderator), and an audience sympathetic to their viewpoint. It’s always a stacked deck. As you rightly point out, their enthusiasm for “debate” declines inversely with the rigor, professionalism, and lack of bias and ability to make appeals to emotion and conspiracy theories in the format proposed.

As I noted above, if I was a crank, I’d agree to fair terms for a looonnggg live debate, as long as I had my peeps able to construct my own edited short version for continued wide distribution afterward. In this, the surface neutrality of the audience and professional moderator, the formal decorum of the rules, would lend an air of legitimacy to the subtle spin I would introduce in editing. [I’m a damn good video editor, and y’all are lucky I’m not working for the bad guys ; -) ]

Sam Harris has done a great job of addressing this, as well. His main point seems to be that these people will lie with impunity and the fact that they catch you off guard with lies will be perceived as a victory and as though you are “Uninformed.”

Trump was the grandmaster of this. An ignoramus of grand proportion, he must have learned how to win arguments at a young age by vomiting lies. He certainly can’t win one either truth, logic, or reason. It’s a damn shame how many follow his script.

I think resistance to science-based medicine may be an echo of the war on natural psychedelic drugs (i.e., Psilocybin) . For decades, psychedelic’s (e.g., magic mushrooms) research was inhibited based on the US governments war on drugs. Today, research on psychedelics’ are showing encouraging results that may help alleviate debilitating mental health issues (e.g., Depression, PTSD, Mood Disorders, Suicidal Ideation…).

@ Orac’s minions,

I’m coauthoring a book titled, “Mushrooms and Psychedelic Morality.” Once published, let’s debate said morality here at RI. Okay?

mjd, the assumption is this “book” will be as validity-free as your recently paid to be published article. Will you have the final version done in yellow or blue crayon? That’s the level of respect your “work” deserves.

“I think [no, no you don’t] resistance to science-based medicine may be an echo of the war on natural psychedelic drugs…”

No, it’s due to ignorant clowns like you (and other anti-vaccine dorks) supplemented by a decades long attack on science by the right.

My best RI buddy, Idw56old. Your constructive criticism is noted! I will endeavor to improve.

In other anti-vax/ denialist news…
via Dr DG’s twitter:
RFK jr’s CHD made a contribution to a political org ( Republican Attorney Generals) that should lead to them losing their tax free status! Kennedy’s a lawyer and should know this.
CHD has enjoyed a great increase in contributions over the past few years so I suppose they have money to throw around and they found likely allies in the AGs.

Details, of course, matter. HOW and WHY the recalculation is being done matters. Trump didn’t actually recalculate anything, that would be too much work, he just lied about it.

“On this blog, I like to think that I go beyond just refuting misinformation with facts and science.”

Except that instead of facts, you spend this entire blog making excuses as to why you won’t defend your position in an adversarial setting. Your point that some people are better at written expression than oral debate is not unreasonable. The problem is, no one is offering written rebuttals to the many unanswered questions posed by Malone et al. Mostly they shout “Misinformation!” as if the mere act of stating it proves anything at all. So Kirsch is right to call out the obvious avoidance tactics being employed by narrative scribes.

Occasionally, you’ll link to a “fact check”–I wonder if you actually read them–such as this one claiming Joe Rogan made false statements about the mRNA products: https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/aug/31/joe-rogan/joe-rogan-falsely-says-mrna-vaccines-are-gene-ther/

The “fact check” quotes Rogan: “This is really gene therapy. It’s a different thing. It’s tricking your body into producing spike protein and making these antibodies for COVID. But it’s only good for a few months, they’re finding out now. The efficacy wanes after five or six months.”

Politifact then goes on to use the semantic trick of redefining “gene therapy” to mean something more specific than utilizing genetic material to treat or prevent disease, which is exactly what Rogan described. It is only by unilaterally insisting that the definition requires making permanent changes to the host’s DNA (jury’s out on this as an unintended side-effect; point is, Rogan wasn’t making this claim) that the “fact-checker” can assert that Rogan’s statement is false.

This is of course ridiculous, and in a live debate it would be called out. Moreover, policing definitions doesn’t address ANY of the unanswered questions of substance regarding the consequences of using the product under discussion.

“In addition to that, I try to inoculate our readers with critical thinking skills by discussing the tactics of disinformation and misinformation.”

Manipulating definitions is a variation of the strawman tactic; it is a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position, not a debunk. Someone with actual critical thinking skills will spot this immediately and not be fooled.

Using the term “gene therapy” implies changing a person’s DNA, which I’m sure you know the mRNA vaccines don’t do. In a “live debate”, someone could easily gloss over this, or more likely change the subject.

A person with actual critical thinking skills, or even a rudimentary knowledge of doing an Internet search would quickly find numerous examples of rebuttals to Malone’s misinformation. For instance:

https://www.factcheck.org/2022/02/scicheck-scientist-misleads-on-covid-19-vaccine-effectiveness-and-vaccine-safety-for-children/

http://nytimes.com/2022/02/08/arts/music/fact-check-joe-rogan-robert-malone.html

I regret that your “adversarial” skills are so lousy.

Using the term “gene therapy” as defined by the US FDA:
[ https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/cellular-gene-therapy-products/what-gene-therapy#footnote1 ]

“Human gene therapy seeks to modify or manipulate the expression of a gene or to alter the biological properties of living cells for therapeutic use”, which I’m sure you know the mRNA and Viral-vector vaccines do, as noted by the FDA publication linked above:

“Viruses have a natural ability to deliver genetic material into cells, and therefore some gene therapy products are derived from viruses. Once viruses have been modified to remove their ability to cause infectious disease, these modified viruses can be used as vectors (vehicles) to carry therapeutic genes into human cells.”

Here is an “official” explanation regarding mRNA vaccination mechanism of action:

“In cells, mRNA uses the information in genes to create a blueprint for making proteins.”

“mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a viral protein, usually a small piece of a protein found on the virus’s outer membrane. (Individuals who get an mRNA vaccine are not exposed to the virus, nor can they become infected by the vaccine.) Using this mRNA blueprint, cells produce the viral protein.
[ https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/therapy/mrnavaccines/ ]

So, mRNA ‘instructs’ cells to create viral [spike] protein[s].

In a “live debate”, some pharmaceutical company promoter could easily gloss over this, or more likely change the subject or even more likely go on a shrill ad-hominem rant.

A person with actual critical thinking skills, or even a r/udimentary knowledge of doing an Internet search does quickly find numerous examples of rebuttals to pharmaceutical company’s and their government partners’ and their “captured regulatory agencies” commercial-political propaganda and misinformation.

[ See Dr. Dorit Rubenstein Reiss’ seemingly prophetic, detailed promotional manifesto on the benefits of regulatory capture, from 2 Aug 2011 – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1904023 ]

It’s remarkably obvious how many of the volunteer and/or professional pharmaceutical commercial and government totalitarian promoters “adversarial” skills are so lousy and depend upon appeal to authority using defective, shallow formulaic boilerplate “scripts”.

According to your citation, is the vaccine ‘therapeutic use’? The FDA listed 3 potential mechanisms:
– Replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene
– Inactivating a disease-causing gene that is not functioning properly
– Introducing a new or modified gene into the body to help treat a disease
Which one fits the vaccines?

No rush,

“Your point that some people are better at written expression than oral debate is not unreasonable. The problem is, no one is offering written rebuttals to the many unanswered questions posed by Malone et al.”

When Orac and others speak of debating with “written expression”, they are usually talking about PubMed indexed peer reviewed papers. Some are not actual studies, but opinion pieces using the scientific literature. The PubMed index does include several medical science “debates” where many subjects are argued: https://www.google.com/search?q=debates+about+vaccination+for+covid+19+pubmed

They have a quality that lacks with the debates requested by others: the facts are checked before hand, and lying is not allowed. Or cherry pick. Malone tends to exaggerate the incidents and severity of myocarditis from the vaccines, but completely ignores the harms from the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A podcast recently went into a deep dive on Dr. Malone’s conversation with Rogan. They actually contacted and talked one of the authors of a study from Hong Kong that Malone mentioned. He explained where Malone was correct, and what he got very very wrong. This is the transcript, at the end of it are the over a hundred citations they used:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTtZvEF2re9w-b3IMHP8zLOhr4IODwM3AmZ7J5lc5ebGq-adj3cRlvWXhmelDozKhdi8vkCqAtKzTUV/pub

By the way, the Gimlet “Science Vs” podcast is now a “Spotify Original” podcast. So this is what they said at the end of this particular podcast (from the transcript):

And one more note … going through this episode of Rogan’s show and hearing the misleading stuff in there was pretty frustrating …And that’s why on Monday, me and our editor Blythe Terrell… announced on Twitter that until Spotify improves its policies… We aren’t going to make any more new Science Vs episodes, except those intended to counteract misinformation being spread on the platform – which is bigger than Joe Rogan.

Like we said at the beginning of the show – if you want to look into any of the things we talked about on the show – any of the studies, you want to dive into the studies – in the show notes you’ll see a link to our transcript – with all of our citations. There’s more than 150. Go knock yourself out…

Also, this blog is in essence an adversarial setting. You are free to make whatever claims you like. But, in contrast to a live “debate” in a podcast or televised setting, the other commenters can research and reply to those claims in detail.

And yet none of those asking for such a debate have chosen to attempt it in this forum.

Our newest troll is a particularly odious one. It really is sad to see first hand just delusional someone who thinks he is so clever can be. It really reinforces what folks like Denise have been saying-these people have a deep-seated hatred of genuine knowledge and the hard work it takes to earn it.

I wonder sometimes what will happen when the next one of these viruses comes along. What if this next one has an R0 of, say, 30 and a case fatality rate of 40%. Not unrealistic. What if some scumbag engineers one to be even worse?

Our best hope will be the speed at which an “mRNAIDS” vaccine can be built and distributed. With these fools turn it down, then? To what end? Have they done that reflection?

The alties may hate knowledge and the hard work involved in acquiring it BUT they sure mimic legitimate researchers/ doctors/ students!
I look at it as cosplay, an important component of cargo cult. They decorate their names with “doctorates” or important sounding degrees that often have no relationship to the subject or reality. They wear lab coats and are addressed as “doctor” or “professor” by their supporters. They discuss how they were made “research fellows” at (bogus) august institutions or head revered organisations- internet only- that they created themselves. They hire “scholars in residence” who studied areas totally unrelated to life science.

There is another angle to this masquerade that is more difficult for followers to discover on their own: that is when someone with a reasonably decent background falls into the puddle of woo. That might be an actual researcher or physician who departs from consensus usually in a field not his or her principal area of expertise: a cardiologist pontificates on virology or a chemist discusses neurology. We see this now as Covid has attracted many contrarians in search of an issue that will produce an audience.

@MedicalYeti, wrote [Edited for clarity and cogency]:
“It really reinforces what neurotic morons like Denise are … people like us have a deep-seated hatred of genuine knowledge and the hard work it takes to earn it, but we worship the monetary benefit grantor, authority figures who proclaim and mandate irrational nonsense, circle-jerk peer review, sophomoric feeble-minded illogic and post-modern inductive ‘reasoning’ etc. as long as we think that makes us special and better than the plebes”

“What if this next one has an R0 of, say, 30 and a case fatality rate of 40%. Not unrealistic. What if some scumbag engineers one to be even worse than the engineered “SARS-COV-2″, with the unthinking naive pincushions remnant of what used to be their immune systems primed for maximum failure effects by engineered mRNAIDS and other induced systemic failure infections?”

Our best hope will be the speed at which an “mRNAIDS” antidote/antitoxin can be built and distributed. Will these fools turn it down, then? To what end? Have they done that reflection? Of course not, so the only solution will be welding those willing and unwilling victims injected with mRNAIDS infections and/or the competing toxic products into their buildings and setting up those portable incinerators, Wuhan style, to protect the remaining viable, critically thinking humanity”.

Here’s the link I’ve posted before again out of respect to you for actually asking out loud, “What if some scumbag engineers one to be even worse?”, and all that which that pondering entails, study this and related matters and consider it carefully in light of your question, entitled, Cambridge Working Group Consensus Statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens (PPPs):
http://www.cambridgeworkinggroup.org/

For those other than agenda driven numskulls. paid propagandists, and totalitarian lackey collaborationists (formerly known as Quislings, kapos, etc. under prior regimes) – this has nothing to do with the manufactured artificial vocabulary and “Hegelian Dialectic” methodology drummed into us by the Mockingbird media [look up “Operation Mockingbird” in your favorite search engine and make your own conclusions].

Manufacturers and their regime bureaucratic partners pollute our world and us with the help of properly credentialed technicians allegedly skilled in the appropriate arts but devoid of empathy and exceeding in personal avarice, for profit and control, and tell us it’s good for us, or mandate it, or force us, or coerce us, and too many indoctrinated simpleton victims and dolts buy it and pay for it all, until the reality is inescapable or some pesky mid-term election or vote of no confidence is looming, and any properly educated, critically thinking person and student of accurate history should know this and have the proof of this. Then the clamp down closes again, only harder.

Unless persons with intact humanity think and act.

Read this from Sep 25, 2016, which partially covers more than 70 years of this in the US. This goes on in a genuine Constitutional Republic for more than 70 years, one can only imagine what other undeniably full-blast totalitarian regimes have tried to do and actually have done in this realm, and then imagine how it would look when various ‘Democracies’ team up with ‘Totalitarian Regimes’, and it looks very similar to what we have now:
https://www.businessinsider.com/military-government-secret-experiments-biological-chemical-weapons-2016-9#-2

Yeti wonders, “What if this next one has an R0 of, say, 30 and a case fatality rate of 40%. Not unrealistic.”

Leaving aside the fact that such a scenario sounds completely unrealistic, you won’t have to wail about the failure of science communication in such a case, because it will be a real, old fashioned pandemic – one that causes obvious widespread disease and death – instead of a numbers game that the average person only hears about through the media.

Millios of deaths are a number game ? I am sure that you would oppose vaccines in all cases,

As noted at the very link you provided:

“Gene therapy is a technique that modifies a person’s genes to treat or cure disease.”

mRNA vaccines don’t modify our genes, nor do they assign us specific Bluetooth frequencies.* Love your wackadoodle references to “mRNAIDS” though.

“…those…agenda driven numskulls. paid propagandists, and totalitarian lackey collaborationists (formerly known as Quislings, kapos, etc.”

You talkin’ to me?

Hey, the money can’t be beat, and we’ve been promised luxury suites in Big Pharma’s underground caverns when the global depopulation bomb really hits.

*part of NN’s latest vaccine reveal.

mRNA vaccines don’t modify our genes, nor do they assign us specific Bluetooth frequencies.

Bluetooth? Nooooooooooo. I was promised 5G. I want to be able to get mobile coverage in the Malleee.

All I get from this is that anti-vaxers are more successful at rhetorical tricks and convincing people (call it propaganda). Why is that so? Why can’t there be an equally skilled counter-weight? Why isn’t there anyone (let’s call it:) Orac’s side inviting anti-vaxers to debates, just to smash them? Why do you allows quacks to rightfully use the argument that they’re censored and silenced? Aren’t you giving them what they want?

Currently, they are still the minority, but they’re obviously making progress.

Quacks become successful because they are smooth talkers.

It’s the main qualification for the job.

For scientists and public health officials, other skills may be more important. Further, the person who is not bound by truth – the person willing to make up lies on the spot – is always at an advantage in such a discussion with someone who has to stick to facts.

Finally, such debates give the impression that the grifter is equal to the scientist – they’re sharing the stage, both debaters – which can only pull the grifter up and push the scientist down.

The article above goes more deeply into the issues.

@ Dorit:

They’re smooth talkers and masters of theatrics and posturing, producing set pieces to convince their audience. I listen to and watch a few of them perfecting their game:
they list their “accomplishments” and why the powers-that-be oppose their truth. They
demonstrate how they are on the side of the people unlike Big Government, Big Business and Big Medicine.

The people I survey are barely educated in the life sciences with greatly inflated CVs but recently, during the pandemic, a few physicians/ scientists have joined in, These guys ( and it’s nearly all men at this point) do the same BUT actually know something about bio/ medicine so they can be more impressive in their presentations and exude the confidence of people who have worked in a specific field for years ( unlike the confidence of con men described above).

The general audience is usually unaware of details that tellingly give either group away: simple misinformation/ lies in the first group and more contrived and disinforming facts in the second. As I mentioned above, they histrionically give a speech to sell their ideas just like the salesmen which many of them actually are. Look closely at videos of RFK jr, Del Bigtree or Gary Null speaking publicly and you might vaguely recall that you’ve seen the whole performance somewhere else before- in my case, it reminds me of old school films wherein a simple, down-to-earth citizen / candidate addresses a governmental body/ court/ crowd and leads the people to a better future, opposing corruption and misuse of funds.
Mostly, he has rolled up shirt sleeves and a fervent manner.

A. I think you’re right about the added value doctors bring in. It’s why Wakefield, Humphries, Palevsky, Meehan and the others were so prized by the antivaccine movement.

B. Bigtree’s style was compared to that of a preacher.

“Why do you allows quacks to rightfully use the argument that they’re censored and silenced?”

There’s nothing “rightful” about claims that they’re being silenced.

Cranks and quacks have many venues in which to spread their messages, including online debates using the written word. Refusal by scientists and physicians to be sucked into a free-for-all live debate frustrates cranks, because they can’t capitalize on sleazy tactics like Gish galloping.

Dr Bacon:
if they were truly being censored and silenced how would we shills be able to quote and link every statement and speech they make?

I completely agree that they aren’t being truly censored, but that’s the narrative they push. And if they get deleted from certain popular social media sites, it seemingly makes them look like they’re right. And for some, getting deleted at all means censorship. It’s not truly censorship, because they can publish their media anywhere else, only if the state started making policies that certain opinions cannot be published it would be censorship. Yet, I bet every time some anti-vax media gets deleted from a big social media site, the anti-vax side throws a party.

I know, surely Chris Preston is correct with his succinct comment below: they have success by fighting dirty and joining with the far right. But still, I feel like a big problem is that the scientific side doesn’t dare to throw itself into the “fight” with full determination. Whatever that might look like, I’ll refrain from trying to reflect what has been/could be done in this direction.

I only want to say this: in times where an epidemiologist’s/virologist’s scientific research might affect the lives of ALL people in the present and immediate future, maybe they have the duty to communicate their scientific findings to the public in an effective way, even if it’s not their job, not what they’re trained in, and even if they might have to face the people we are reading about in this blog.

Oh, and I want to say a second thing: it’s not even an “us” and “them”. The established media often enough publish false information too. (Even if they tend to be much better at being truthful than anti-vaxer media.) This too had terrible consequences. Better communication of scientific findings would benefit everyone.

This blog is a positive example: someone is taking the time to write articles that document and expose anti-vaxer methods. I really, really, really didn’t know the rabbit hole went this deep before I found this.

As I’m writing this, I’m actually feeling more and more unsure about the balance of information versus disinformation in the media. Maybe I’m missing the point, and the whole problem is actually the “bubble” effect of social media, that simply drops a good percentage of the population into disinformation land, helped by the marriage of far right politicians and anti-vax quacks. Oh whatever.

Why is that so?

Because anti-vaxxers are willing to tell as many lies as they can. The Big Lie can be a very effective propaganda tool and anti-vaxxers use it.

What we have with anti-COVID is the weaponising the Big Lie with far right tribalism. It doesn’t matter how many ridiculous lies Donald Trump tells, his supporters believe them to be the truth and debunking the lies just makes his supporters hold to them more strongly. Anti-vaxxers have tapped into the far right ecosystem.

Debating is pointless, because the followers of these people will only become more strongly welded to their heros.

It’s always been easier to present a simplistic picture, with clear good and bad (and someone to blame, if possible), than the complex and ever-changing real world, with much unknown.
Are you surprised that the anti-vaccine marketing is so successful?

It is my impression that your comment policy suggests that you will not post those with whom you do not agree. I have read through a number of your posts and comments and have not seen one comment that challenges your assertions. Is it safe to say that your target audience is just people who agree with you?

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