Blog about geeky stuff, computers, physics and life.
Created on Thu, 17 Jun 2021
Today, I play the devil's advocate. My usual conversation when someone presents me with a conspiracy theory is to ask "What would convince you otherwise?". So, let's play this game on me today - what would convince me that the vaccine is NOT safe?
My response is that first, I trust the World Health Organization (WHO), European Medicines Agency (EMA), the US's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the regional Swiss authority for up-to-date information on what regulations I should follow. So naturally if there an announcement about vaccine unsafety, it would go there. I somewhat trust that the news would propagate from these authorities to me as I don't follow these daily. But if a news (or other) article does not source information eventually from one of these (or similarly highly authoritative sources) I would be skeptical to it's validity or as usual - extraordinary claims would require extraordinary proofs.
So let's start from there - is anything alarming on these authorities right now? Most of the side effects are the shoulder swelling or mild flu-like symptoms for a few days. Nothing too scary.
General other rare side effects include anaphylaxis (that's why we stay for a few minutes in the clinic, because it can easily be treated), very rare case thrombosis with J&J which got pulled off in some regions for further evaluation and also not recommended for pregnant women. (CDC, EMA)
Something more scary? Well, recently all of them are investigating "cases of mild myocarditis" (WHO, CDC, EMA, Swissmedic). The jury is still out since most of the data is coming from self-reporting systems and it's a temporal correlation, not necessarily causation and it might be a somewhat increased incidence due to many people vaccinating in a short amount of time or more awareness of systems for self-reporting (i.e. everyone is now super vigilant and on high alert to report anything even slightly suspicious). Or it might be the case that it does actually is caused by the vaccine and the risks should be re-evaluated and eventually pause the massive vaccination.
Why do you trust THEM, sheeple?!
Alright, playing the devil's advocate - is there an argument to lose trust in all of these agencies?
Let's start with the more benign hypothesis - Maybe their assessment of risk is "it's better to kill 10,000 people but save 1,000,000" - but this is hard to communicate since no one wants to be in the 10,000 group of people. And deciding to vaccinate yourself vs. "just living your life" feels a lot more dangerous since it's a decision you take that "powerful people" have made vs. "nature/God running it's course". Although, of course, purely cold risk analysis puts the situations as similar - your decision to stay at home or go out and meet people is a decision that increases or decreases your risk of long-term COVID effects which may kill you - but slowly, each day, one decision at a time. Compare that with the one-time injection - a one-time medium risk vs medium-times small risk - they could both be equal but one feels more decisive.
Or each may trust other colleagues in a "the king is naked" situation - no one individual wants to speak up since their reputation is going to be ruined or marked as a conspiracist. Or they might be afraid that if they blow the whistle now with some uncertaintly, it might push enough people in an already misstrusting societies to not get vaccinated and thus never returning to "normalcy" - so better postpone until a much higher level of signal can be obtained.
BUT, the organizations' might be more devious than that. They might be too slow to approve alternatives or pull out vaccines. They may have some corrupt structure inside that get incentivised by BigPharma, BigTech or BigGovernment(s) to lie, cheat or at least postpone "the truth". They may be censored or cartelled in some way to promote interests worldwide.
It reminds me of the movie "The Big Short" - where there were a few "crazy" people that fore-saw the financial crisis in 2007-8 but were claimed as nut-jobs or conspirators. They looked at the numbers, they assumed all the big banks are blind to the situation and they also had to assume the "government is asleep at the wheel", "the rating agencies were crooked" and so on. Huge leaps of faith that turned out to be true.
This is extremely rare, but it's a proof that it does happen. Sometimes conspiracies are right - as we've seen in the previous posts, the Opioid crisis, the tobacco industry and as The Big Short shows - the financial crisis of 2007-8. But for each conspiracy theory that turns out to be right, there must be thousands or millions that are not. How do you decide? And how strong is the conspiracy - which parts of the theory may be right and which are completely outlandish. You gotta be pretty deep into understanding how things work to be able to draw plausible conclusions of whether the system is crooked or is it the KGB that spreads missinformation and tries to undermine democracies (as I've showed in the last post).
Following each conspiracy theory closely can get you (D)DoS-ed - there might be legitimate ones that should be paid attention to but there will be thousands which will be complete bullshit and are by definition wasting your time trying to get to the "truth" confusing you with false data.
A video example
So, I got across a certain video and in this section I want to show what kind of investigation I want when someone decides to "show me the truth - don't you see!?".
But let's check at least one of the dudes first. This is how I operate to "fact check" something.
Dr. Robert Malone self-claims on his consulting website that he is the inventor of the mRNA vaccine and is credited as such on the podcast. First, I find it suspicious that there is no wikipedia article for this guy. There is no mention of the guy on the RNA vaccine wiki page however, there is a "semi-protected edit request on 2 March 2021" on the talk page. The user proposing the edit got blocked since "wikipedia police" decided he is spamming advertising and promotion.
Why would I trust the "wiki police"? Well, we can see the history of Glasspool1 contributions - and they are all about DNA and RNA vaccines, therapeutics and we can also see the difference in history edits always trying to push that "DNA vaccine was invented at Vical, Inc in 1988 by Dr. Robert W. Malone" and so on.
Wikipedia is cool - tons of investigative journalism could be done there. And maybe someone does it, but I don't know. Anyway, let's continue.
Could Glasspool1 be right and there is a higher force in wikipedia to "censor the truth"? Okay, so now we must include User:RandomCanadian who warned him of blocking, User:ToBeFree that actually did block him and investigate what would their incentive be to be blocking "the truth teller", what are their contributions and for how long, could they be acting as puppets to someone else telling them to block these "truth seekers" or "conspiracy theorists" and so on. We also need to look at the references of the claim of the edit, what they mean and how all of these are connected.
Could Dr. Malone be censored on purpose? His twitter feed seems to be full of trying to defend his position on the inventor of the mRNA vaccine. Is he fighting the right fight and wants to get acknowledged for his life's work or is he trying to steal the glory of someone else?
And then we also need to check out the other dudes - who are they, what they do, what are their beliefs and claims. The business dude for example seems to have an aligned interest to promote certain medicines for treating COVID instead of vaccinating the world. So how much can we trust his stance?
And the podcast dude can obviously be taking the views from conspiracy theorists, just making the bucks. Or he could be geniunly interested in public safety.
Anyway, that's why we should have investigative journalists that get paid to do all of this work, because it can take days, weeks or even months to untangle all of that just for this one video.
Then, as always, the question becomes how do you trust the investigative journalist? Well, how do you trust me, reading this post?
I presented links to wikipedia that (unless I hacked one of the post popular websites in the world) show progress of events as clues as to what has been going on in recent months. My conclusion (that may differ from yours) is that someone was trying to push the narrative that Robert Malone is the inventor of the RNA vaccine when he might not be or at least it's disputed. Or your conclusion might be a step further - that someone is censoring wikipedia. But then the point is to gather a lot of evidence from both sides of the argument, present them and let the reader eventually come to a conclusion which side has more merits.
As I talked in part 1 and 2 - it's extremely hard to come up with what is True. But I would rather see this kind of investigation than what is currently presented as "news" - clickbaity titles at best, competing for attention, clicks and ad-revenue, or even random 100-something character tweets that in no way can get into any substance or possibility of trying to draw conclusions as to what might really be happening.
Disclosure, as usual
Oh, right, let's move past ad hominem and look at the arguments themselves.
Let's assume the dudes are right - we are in a sort of a Big Short situation and they are the ones seeing the truth. Their basic argument seems to me is that vaccines have more side effects and cause way more deaths than reported, we should be focusing on finding ways to prevent and treat COVID but huge forces such as BigPharma block these attempts. Moreover, the topic of discussing anti-vaccine is taboo and so it's harder to get to the truth.
I need to be careful since obviously I'm a tech dude, not a virologist, epidemiologist, not even any sort of biologist - just have a basic understanding of RNA and viruses (as most people these days on planet Earth). I don't have good historical context or know how the government or the agencies work. Don't know what it means to try to push a drug, publish a paper or run a hospital. Don't know what it means to be a physician and cure people, don't know how to live with assessing risk/benefit and deciding the fate of a single human or a population as a whole.
In other words - I'm just a dude with a blog, trying to make sense of what the video (and the article) says.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The King is Naked and other stories
Could the dudes be somewhat right. Or even if they are wrong but some other dudes in some future time - a week, month, a year - come up and they are right. What would make society believe that something is off and we should stop?
Well, one way is that WHO, CDC, EMA (called TheOrgs from now on) and the rest get convinced or act in a good faith and pull the vaccines off. Another one is what is proposed in the end of the podcast - Elon Musk or someone cult-person like that tweets that we should not get vaccinated.
But would they? As I alluded previously any individual whistle-blower is risking everything in such a polarized society. Moreover - they are most likely to get blocked and banned by BigTech and mainstream media, marked as a conspirator etc. Edward Snowden took huge risk when disclosing the NSA privacy invasions that happen - and that was not such a forbidden topic by the main conversation medium of the day - it was actually interesting. Today - we are much more on social media and isolated at homes for a year and it's not about invasion of privacy - but invasion of our bodies. Literal life or death situation. The wrong message is deadly - the wrong arguments are going to kill people. The false flags of "pull the vaccines" will make people hesitate.
So one must be certain beyond doubt to do certain thing. And then how far away his message will go? Just look at the video above - on YouTube or elsewhere it's still up but don't know for how long. And how many people will watch it. And how much is it going to be pushed by YouTube's algorithm or the author might get demonetized.
How many are possibly blocked right now "telling the truth"? The anti-DDoS measures taken must have false-positive/false-negative rates - and when we don't have transparency or ways to check the quantity of true-positives and true-negatives but just blindly blocking everything then we are blind to potential red flags.
I was initially skeptical of the whole corona-thing way back when I first heard it in January 2020. I thought it was "just the next virus happening somewhere else that the media is overexagerating as they usually do". In just my lifetime, there was swine flu, bird flu, ebola and others that hadn't infected me in the slightest but were huge media news everyday about these.
So I was almost naturally trained to not care about the corona. I thought it's something happening in China, so no trip there - whatever.
Then it got stronger, it got to Italy. There were visuals of people staying at home but still didn't get it - thought it might be an overreaction or something.
Then it started affecting me. Flights, trips and plans canceled. Stay at home. Masks. We all know it.
Then I looked at the numbers. I made this video for exponential growth (in Bulgarian).
So it might be real. But for a few months I was not believing, thinking it's a hoax, it's an overblown flu for some political reasons and so on. I was in the "boy who cried wolf" situation - I had the perception that the media lied to me too many times.
I can see how some people are still doubtful. Numbers are complicated and as I spoke previously - (thank God/Random/etc) it's not The Plague that we see death everywhere. It's just dangerous enough to keep on spreading and with the potential to overwhelm the health system if not contained.
But are the measures still effective? Are masks good? Are lockdowns effective? Or are we in the TSA kind of situation where we introduced a metric like checking you at the airport for dangerous stuff for the "security theater" which makes us believe we are safe and protected and people in power don't dare to pull the measures off so that they don't seem weak or other political stuff.
This erodes trust. Blocking people while necessary to stop spread of missinformation also erodes trust in people having a true-positive story. Journalists wouldn't talk about anti-vaccine effects. See how the theory of the Lab-leak was taboo and then suddenly, when Facebook lift the ban, it became mainstream and normal to talk about again. How is that good if we want to find truth?
How long would it take for WHO and the rest to recognize a true positive of a lot of deaths in the population? After all, if doctors believe that the vaccines are safe, would they ever report a death as a causation of a vaccine or would they always assume it must be something else?
What would get me convinced not to vaccinate?
Honestly, my belief is starting to get shaken up. And of course it will - I've been deliberately going into looking for negative information about the vaccines lately. As a human, I'm also subject to negativity bias so everything that is bad, deadly is gonna be way more intense than the hundreds of millions of people that are fine after >2 BILLION vaccines administered. When you have such big numbers, one in a million events are going to happen 1000s of times!
I shouldn't have to look at rate of background mortality for myocarditis and have the statistical knowledge to decide whether I now have an increased risk after vaccinating or that's just a correlated effect coming from something else - like selection bias and so on. It should be TheOrgs to do that and get a decision quickly, preferably before my second vaccine...
I'm getting obviously selfish here. I wouldn't care much if they come up with a decision after my second vaccine - I'm already in the pot. As I don't care much of long-term effects after my first vaccine that may come up - I've already done it and what happens will happen regardless of how much I worry.
But they may not. Me and millions of people will get vaccinated in the next months and every day that delay will push more and more potential harm. It seems we may truly be in a kind of a guinea-pig situation where the population works as a huge test surface. But I can also see of course the argument that extremely rare events would not manifest until extremely large pool of the population gets exposed (to the vaccine). I can also see the argument of the risk of side effects of the vaccine are smaller than risk of side effects of the virus. My trust lies in TheOrgs to calculate the risks using known background incidence rates and metrics such as Quality-adjusted life year (QALY) to make a decision based on whether certain people should vaccinate or not. And of course, it would make sense for certain cohorts to vaccinate and others - not. Also, as time goes on perhaps the vaccinations of certain individuals can tip the scale as being more dangerous - as COVID is not circulating that aggressively anymore.
That puts these two options as the only ones on the table. What if "the dudes" are right - what if there was the option to spend more time and research money on treatment and prevention instead of the fastest vaccine in the world for the first time with this technology of mRNA? What if we took the time to explore other options for not only staying locked at home but restructure (part of) the education system to allow for more in-nature education?
Are there still options or are we pass this point? What if the next crisis we need to solve is the after effect of a rushed vaccine - treating all those people for whom the solution was worse than the problem?
For sure I'm not even close to the smartest people on the planet working at TheOrgs. I'm not even the only one who is getting a bit scared of all of that. It's a symptom of the loss of trust TheOrgs because of so many issues and true conspiracies previously, incentives which align with the wealthy and powerful so that businesses can reopen quick and the-always-must-be-growing capitalistic economy turns its wheels again.
So officially what would convince me is: a message from TheOrgs that risk profile is changing. I still trust them although I see some arguments not to. One the one side - I don't want to fall into the sunk cost bias - I'm reevaluating my risks these days. The fact that I've done one shot shouldn't make me more likely to get the second one, even if I have an appointment. Things change, risks change and perhaps is better not to. On the other hand - I still want to travel and a single dose gets me no closer to travel than no dose. On the other hand on protection level-argument, I'm about 30% less likely to get COVID and possibly also transmit it to my parents or other people I care about since I got the first jab. So now I must weight the risks of getting the second jab and have a slightly higher risk for a (mostly) treatable inflammation of the heart and unknown side effects from a vaccine vs getting exposed to COVID and getting it with the unknown long-term side effects from COVID. Waiting to see what the stance of TheOrgs is but this kind of time pressure is definitely no good and shows a huge whole in the whole "we should all quickly get vaccinated to return back to normal".
Here is the summary of my concerns:
- Blocking discussion, claiming everything on the side of non-vaxxing is conspiracy while there might be legitimate concerns.
- BigTech and media censorship leads to possible under-/over-reporting of bad stuff, influencing scientific method, losing trust in The System and leading all nutheads and shity arguments like the one in my blog to exist, further eroding trust in authorities and organizations who should be able to make decisions.
- I should not be dealing with calculating risks of side effects - every action has risks and I don't do this for my daily activities including stuff like skiing or boarding a car. Though at some point, those seem to be concerning and is about "informed concent", not imposing from employers or governments.
- Giving pharmaceutical companies a golden ticket into my body. They will not be sued because they leveraged that it's an emergency vaccine etc. so they will not be liable.
- Opioid crisis as proof of malice in pharma companies
- Non-opensourcing vaccines
- Regulations are political, the theatre of security rather than real protection.
- WHO suggested lockdowns don't work but countries impose them
- A never-ending "temporary" measure,
- Lack of consistency and criteria on how said rules are applied and enforced
I'm much much more tolerant to non-vaxxers after this almost a month into the rabbit holes of trying to figure out what is happening. And after this post I'm sure I will get claimed by some to be spreading fear, doubt or be claimed as an anti-vaxxer. Read my other posts. I want the freedom for people to be skeptical and don't want the black/white either you are pro- or anti-. But in the world of echo chambers, fast-food news and mistrust in authorities - that's what we get. 1 or 0.
One more thing. What happens to conspiracists if some of the claims in some currently censored/banned discussion turn out to be true? They will have much more arsenal to say "See, that thing turned out to be true, therefore my other arguments are also true!". Since there are thousands of iterations of conspiracy theories with various level of claims - from Bill Gates injecting a chip, to controlled population and so on - some of them may eventually turn out to be true. Classic survivorship bias. The logical way is: one thing at a time - if one thing gets demonstrated - e.g. lab leak theory turns out to be more likely - it doesn't mean that vaccines are dangerous and vice versa. But conspiracists don't think this way and all humans in general will lose trust, no matter how scientific or logical one claims to be. It will get even more difficult to defend trust and not turn the nice neighbourhood into a gheto