Antivaccine nonsense Science Skepticism/critical thinking

Antivaxxers attack scientific consensus as a “manufactured construct”

Neil deGrasse Tyson invoked the concept of a scientific consensus while supporting vaccines in his debate with Del Bigtree. Why was his statement about how “individual scientists don’t matter” compared to scientific consensus so triggering to antivaxxers? Why do antivaxxers reject the very concept of a scientific consensus and promote a hyper-individualistic view of how science should be conducted?

Recently, I wrote about the mistake that Neil deGrasse Tyson made by appearing on the podcast of antivaccine leader and influencer Del Bigtree. In brief, I argued that it is, with only rare exceptions, a very bad idea for a scientist, physician, or science communicator to agree to debate a science-denying crank like Del Bigtree. It doesn’t much matter what the specific variety of science denier is, either. They can be antivaxxers, cancer quacks, climate science deniers who deny the scientific consensus that human activity is causing major changes to earth’s climate, or creationists who deny the scientific consensus of evolution.

The general point is that a scientist, by appearing on the same stage or on the same venue as the science denier, automatically elevates the science denier’s status by giving the false impression that there is a real scientific debate to be had over the topic in question. Moreover, although I can (somewhat) understand the temptation of a physician, scientist, or science communicator not to turn down challenges to “debate,” I always caution that such a temptation is very often at least partially rooted in the fear of being portrayed as a coward “too afraid to debate” than it is in a genuine—and misguided—belief that debating the crank will change minds and have one iron principle that I suggest to people who won’t listen to my advice and decline debate invitations: Do the “debate” in a neutral forum with as close to a neutral moderator as can be agreed upon. Do not go on the crank’s radio show, podcast, or whatever venue, where the crank controls the narrative (and even the camera angles). deGrasse Tyson ignored all those principles. Worse, although he was, as usual, very good on “big picture” topics, he was woefully unprepared for specific conspiracy theories and misrepresentations of science that were very predictable to who has paid attention to Del Bigtree. I don’t want to belabor points that I made in more detail in my lengthy post about the debate. Rather, I want to focus on one specific topic where deGrasse Tyson did both very well in concept but also did poorly in that he didn’t seem able to grasp how his argument would be received by Del Bigtree and his audience. I refer to the concept of scientific consensus, which deGrasse Tyson emphasized a number of times throughout the nearly two hour spectacle.

The reason, of course, is that nearly by definition science denying movements reject the current scientific consensus. Because they reject the current scientific consensus, they often feel obligated to go beyond that and reject the very concept of a scientific consensus at all, emphasizing individual scientists who made discoveries that radically changed the scientific consensus throughout history, such as Galileo (who is invoked so often by science deniers that I coined a term for them referring to Galileo, specifically the Galileo gambit, way back in 2005), Albert Einstein, and the like. (Oddly enough, antivaxxers almost never mention Louis Pasteur as an example, probably largely because they often attack him or falsely claim that he “recanted” germ theory on his deathbed as a strategy to deny germ theory.)

In brief, the science denialist view of science is very individualistic in a manner that basically rejects science as a collective enterprise designed to come to an agreement on principles and understandings of specific natural phenomenon in favor of what I like to call the “brave maverick.” Indeed, worse than that, the science denialist view portrays scientific consensus as not just antiscience, but as a “manufactured construct” for The Man to use to suppress “dissent.” Not that “The Man” is not just limited to the scientific community but all power structures in society, something that deGrasse Tyson clearly did not comprehend.

Let’s explore this concept a bit more than I did last time, something I decided to do when I saw a post on the Substack of Maryanne Demasi, Scientific consensus—a manufactured construct (unsurprisingly, now crossposted at the Brownstone Institute, where I can’t help but note that pretty much concept in science—e.g., “theory”—is a “manufactured construct”), as well as antivaxxer James Lyons-Weiler expressing similar concepts in his Substack post What Neil de Grasse Tyson Does Not Understand About Science. I couldn’t help but laugh at that latter title. I also can’t help but note that transphobic antivaxxer Toby Rogers also responded this weekend with similar sentiments.

Cranks react to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance on The Highwire

In my post on the “debate,” I did point out how the one clip that went the most viral, that circulated the most widely in antivax circles, was a five-minute clip in which deGrasse Tyson emphasized the scientific consensus on vaccines. I’ll post a representative Tweet from the same day that video of the debate was first posted online:

Notice the quote featured by the antivaxxer:

I’m not interested in medical pedigree. I’m interested in medical consensus and scientific consensus…The individual scientist does not matter.

While I expressed approval of the general sentiment expressed, I also noticed that it was the last blunt part about how “the individual scientist does not matter” that provoked so much opprobrium from antivaxxers, who howled about it as evidence that deGrasse Tyson was interested only in defending the scientific status quo against “inconvenient” science from their brave deluded maverick doctors and scientists. Of course, ignored by antivaxxers is just how much deGrasse Tyson tried to explain how scientific consensuses evolve and how difficult it is to determine when the anomalous findings of an individual scientist or group of scientists are just a fluke versus when they are harbingers of more findings that force a change in the scientific consensus, as well as how a new scientific consensus still has to account for the old scientific consensus. One example he used is how at velocities that are very small fractions of the speed of light—that is, pretty much all velocities that humans commonly encounter in their day-to-day existence—predictions by the Theory of Relativity become indistinguishable from those made by Newtonian mechanics because the relativistic contributions are so small that they round to zero. Appropriately, deGrasse Tyson pointed out that Newtonian physics were more than good enough to get us to the moon.

Now, let’s look at what Maryanne Demasi has to say. I will first, however, note that she recently featured in this very blog because Peter Gøtzsche had teamed up with her, despite her long history of antivaccine propaganda, to write a review article that exaggerated the risks from COVID-19 vaccines.

She gives away the game in the opening passage of her post:

In a recent interview, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was challenged on his scientific views about COVID-19 and he said “I’m only interested in consensus” – words that would have Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei rolling in their graves.

Whenever an antivaxxer or other form of science denier invokes Galileo, I like to point out that Galileo actually didn’t contradict a scientific consensus but rather the religious dogma, regarding the universe, which was geocentric—i.e., stated that the earth was the center of the universe and that all other celestial bodies rotated around the earth—rather than heliocentric, a model in which the earth revolved around the sun. Indeed, as soon as they had access to good telescopes, Jesuit astronomers replicated Galileo’s results and some of them were even sympathetic to his new hypotheses. Antivaxxers and cranks love to cite Galileo, but they misrepresent his history as that of a lone scientist with a correct new theory being suppressed by other scientists. Interestingly, Pope Urban VIII had even given Galileo permission to publish about the Copernican model, as long as he treated it as a hypothesis; that is until Galileo went too far.

What really got Galileo into trouble was not so much his advocacy of a heliocentric model of the cosmos, which was being argued in scientific circles at the time, but rather how much he tweaked the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the first time Galileo was accused of heresy by the Inquisition in 1616 resulted in no punishment as long as he didn’t continue to advocate for the heliocentric model. (It also resulted in the Congregation of the Index banning all books advocating the Copernican system championed by Galileo, which it called “the false Pythagorean doctrine, altogether contrary to Holy Scripture.”) However, in 1632 he published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a fictional account of conversations between a Copernican scientist named Salviati, an impartial scholar named Sagredo, and an Aristotelian advocate of a geocentric universe named Simplicio, who was portrayed as a ponderous and intellectually inept fool whose arguments were systematically refuted and even ridiculed. Let’s just say that the Inquisition did not appreciate this book. Galileo was threatened with torture, tried for heresy, and required to “abjure, curse, and detest” his opinion that the sun was at the center of the universe. He was also sentenced to prison, but this was later commuted to house arrest, under which Galileo lived the rest of his life. The story of Galileo is, as you might expect, far more complex than just a scientist persecuted for proposing an unpopular hypothesis; much of what happened to him had to do with Church intrigue and his going too far in mocking the rival hypothesis that had been adopted as religious dogma by the dominant church, and it has also been noted at the time that Pope Urban VIII had been under attack by Spanish cardinals for being too soft on heresy.

I discuss this in detail again mainly because I haven’t done so in a long time and because the full story of Galileo is inconsistent with the simplistic ideological view espoused by people like Demasi.

Ironically, Demasi is close to correct when she writes:

A widely accepted theory, such as the theory of evolution, depends on a consensus being reached among the scientific community, but it must be achieved without censorship or reprisal.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t resist prefacing this statement with:

The appeal to “scientific consensus” is fraught with problems, just like “the science is settled” and “trust the science” and other authoritarian tropes that have dominated the pandemic.

So close and yet so far. First, as I have argued before, a theory is the highest form of a statement about how a natural phenomenon works that I like to characterize or define as the current best understanding of the phenomenon addressed. Indeed the theory of evolution is a good example, and it is not for nothing that it is often referred to as the central organizing principle of the science of biology. Demasi is also so very, very close and yet so far from an accurate statement of what a theory is in that she admits that consensus is required for a theory. However, instead of just coming out and saying that a scientific theory is a consensus (which it is), she has to qualify it as requiring that a consensus be reached by the scientific community and then adding that that consensus must be achieved without “censorship” or “reprisal,” going on to cite Dr. Aaron Kheriaty:

How many times have we heard variations on this particular sentiment from antivax cranks before?

Or sentiments like this one, from James Lyons-Weiler, which I’ll quote again at slightly more length because it is so much of a piece:

Del showed de Grasse Tyson an image of physicians and scientists they had on The Highwire, to which deGrasse Tyson responded: “The individual scientist doesn’t matter”. And he challenged Del to take the issue up with a “consensus expert” whatever that is. The logical flaw is clearly obvious. If, as deGrasse Tyson claimed, “The individual scientist doesn’t matter”, then Einstein’s singular work should not have been influential. And if science is determined by consensus (which it’s not), then it’s “game over” once everyone agrees on something? We can lock up all the labs, and go home? We’re done? The best any human civilization will ever achieve is now? At this point, that’s not just fallacious, it’s hubris.

This is what we in the biz like to call weapons-grade projection. After all, what is a better example of “hubris,” a scientist understanding that the scientific consensus regarding an issue represents the current best understanding of that scientific question, whose change will require evidence—and lots of it!—or the brave maverick who just “questions” the consensus and thinks that questioning, plus very little evidence, is enough? While it is true, as Dr. Kheriaty says, albeit misleadingly, that every major scientific advance involves a challenge to the prevailing scientific consensus of the time, it is not true that science has little to do with consensus, nor is it true that the consensus doesn’t change. It’s just that merely questioning the scientific consensus or pointing to single experiments is not enough.

I’m reminded of similar sentiments, often quoted by cranks, first voiced by Michael Crichton many years ago. Crichton, as you will recall, was a physician turned novelist who was also a climate science denier. Indeed, his novel 2004 State of Fear was basically a conspiracy theory represented in fiction in which eco-terrorists supplanted Al Qaeda—remember the year!—as the leading global threat plot to undertake weather modification schemes to convince the public of a nonexistent global warming threat. So what did Crichton say?

This, a quote that Demasi concludes her article with:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Sound familiar? Crichton’s sentiment was, of course, utter bullshit, a complete misrepresentation of how science works. (There really is no more appropriate word to describe it.) Also note that even Crichton conceded that that the results of that “one investigator who happens to be right” must be “verifiable by reference to the real world,” which implies that even Crichton realized that anomalous results must be replicated before they can be accepted by science. I would counter that such replication is a collective exercise by scientists seeking consensus. Science has always been about seeking a tentative consensus understanding about the real world. It’s a consensus that can be changed—occasionally even by brave maverics!—but that change requires evidence. Anyone can question a scientific consensus, but it takes a lot more than that to overturn one.

In fact, I laughed at the tags applied to Crichton’s quote. They were very appropriate:

tags: 9-11, bisphenol-a, bpa, consensus, darwinism, dr-jack-cohen-podiatrist, evolution, excitotoxins, fluoride, global-warming, id, intelligent-design, macro-evolution, macroevolution, majority, majority-view, man-made-global-warming, manmade-global-warming, minority, minority-view, monosodium-glutamate, msg, science, scientific-discovery, scientific-inquiry, scientific-method, scientific-process, scientific-research, scientific-revolution, scientific-theory, september-11-attacks

Skeptics will recognize many of those terms as science denial, particularly intelligent design creationism and how it accepts “microevolution” but denies “macroevolution.” In particular, the tag on 9/11 amused me, given that it was almost certainly referring to various conspiracy theories that the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 were an “inside job.”

There’s a lot of Crichton in Kheriaty, to the point that this part doesn’t even make sense:

Those who defend scientific consensus rather than specific experimental findings are not defending science but partisanship.

This is such a nonsensical statement, even by Crichton standards, that there is only one correct initial reaction:

Godzilla facepalm about "consensus"

There is so much fail in Dr. Kheriaty’s assertion. “Specific experimental findings” are often incorrect or can’t be replicated, for instance. Should I defend such findings over scientific consensus? Sometimes “specific experimental findings” come about as the result of poor experimental design and/or execution? Should I defend such findings—or at least refrain from criticizing them and pointing out the flaws in the experimental design and execution that produced them?

When it’s a battle of scientific consensus versus “specific experimental findings,” I’ll initially pick consensus almost every time, the exception being if those “specific experimental findings” are so compelling that they lead me to question the scientific consensus, something that is very difficult for one experiment or set of experiments to do. Indeed, deGrasse Tyson himself discussed this very issue, namely this question: How can one tell the difference between a finding in an experiment that is just anomalous and one that is a harbinger of more findings that will ultimately lead to major changes in the scientific consensus. It’s usually, although not always, impossible to tell at the time such findings are reported; often only in retrospect can we identify which experimental findings were the pebbles whose movement started an avalanche and which were pebbles whose motion disturbed nothing. In science, it is evidence that matters. It is also risible projection in the extremem for him to imply that those who defend “specific experimental findings” are not doing so because of partisan motives.

Concerning this emphasis on “specific experimental findings,” I remember how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once teamed up with Robert de Niro (who is antivaccine) to issue a challenge: Prove the scientific consensus—in this case, with respect to the finding that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative used in some childhood vaccines until around 2001 do not predispose to or cause autism—and win $100,000. Let’s look at the wording of his challenge:

We hereby issue a challenge to American journalists (and others) who have been assuring the public about the safety of mercury in vaccines. We will pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can point to a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women.

The conditions were as follows:

  1. Any individual seeking to collect the award (the Claimant) should submit, to the World Mercury Project (WMP), an English translation of the proffered study and a $50 processing fee (to discourage frivolous submissions from flooding WMP staff), along with a letter explaining why the study qualifies for the reward, and the name and address to which the $100,000 check should be directed.
  2. The study and corresponding evidence must have been published in a peer-reviewed journal appearing in PubMed.
  3. The claimant should submit a hard copy of the document and accompanying letter.
  4. To be eligible, the submitted study methodologies should be sufficiently transparent and the data available, to allow the judges to verify any statistical analysis upon which its conclusions rely. Only appropriately applied scientific recognized statistical methods utilizing reliable data will be eligible.
  5. Misters Kennedy and DeNiro will either pay the $100,000 reward check or send back a denial explaining why they believe that the study does not qualify. World Mercury Project will simultaneously post a link to the paper and text of the denial on the WMP website.

See the problem? RFK Jr. and de Niro proceeded from the false assumption that a scientific consensus about anything can established by a single study, which is almost never the case. It’s such a common line of argument among cranks, probably because it grossly oversimplifies the process of how a scientific consensus is reached, that I sometimes refer to it as the “One True Study” gambit.

As I have pointed out many times, there is never any one single scientific study or observation that by itself can conclusively demonstrate a scientific consensus. It’s almost never the case that any one scientific study settles a scientific question. Rather, in general a scientific consensus is established by many studies that usually include lines of evidence from different scientists and scientific disciplines that converge on a single conclusion, which becomes the scientific consensus. Similarly, a scientific consensus can in theory be overthrown by a single study, but that rarely happens either, if only because a finding that is so anomalous is more likely to be wrong than it is to be correct and will thus need replication. What usually happens is that a single study (or group of studies) cast doubt upon the existing consensus and lead to more studies that ultimately end up in its modification or rejection in favor of a new consensus. There’s a lot of big RFK Jr. energy in the reactions to deGrasse Tyson’s emphasis on the scientific consensus and emphasis on valuing rogue scientists and physicians (who are the usual collection of antivax cranks and quacks) and their bleetings and bad studies over a scientific consensus built on large amounts of evidence.

Scientific consensus as defined by cranks

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a once-in-a-lifetime (or even century) challenge to science in that the world was hit with a fast-moving pandemic due to a novel coronavirus whose characteristics were initially poorly understood. Unsuprisingly, antivaxxers like to focus on what was unknown about SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, and neglect something very important: Just because this was a novel virus did not overturn our scientific understanding of pandemics, public health, virology, other coronaviruses, vaccines, immunology, molecular biology, or infectious disease medicine built up over hundreds of years, much of which could be applied to this novel pandemic threat. Antivaxxers always seem to forget that scientists had been concerned about a global pandemic due to a new coronavirus ever since the SARS epidemic in 2003, which, fortunately, was contained. Moreover, even though many of us had been warning about the threat caused by antivaccine disinformation for years and years before the pandemic, public health authorities were largely shocked by its emergence and potency soon after the pandemic arrived.

Whatever the uncertainties in the science employed against the pandemic, one message of science deniers was very consistent, here voiced by Demasi:

It’s not difficult to reach a scientific consensus when you squelch dissenting voices.


Scientific consensus has become a manufactured construct, dictated by politics and power.

And reference to how she lost her job as a presenter in Australia years before the pandemic:

Several years ago, my successful career at the ABC came to a grinding halt after defenders of “scientific consensus” criticised several documentaries I produced, which questioned various medical orthodoxies such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, nutritional guidelines, and the over-prescription of medicines.

One of her reports fear mongered about wifi and cell phone radiation, leading to his amusing comment:

Critics complained that I’d given weight to a “fringe” position that was not supported by science. And by “fringe” they were referring Devra Davis, professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, with a distinguished career at the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council.

Let’s just say that we’ve written about Devra Davis’ fringe science and conspiracy theories on a few occasions here. If anything, she is a good example of deGrasse Tyson’s dismissal of credentials and emphasis on evidence when it comes to scientists bucking the scientific consensus.

As I like to say, it is not the questioning of a scientific consensus that is a problem. It is how you do it. If you do it based on credible scientific evidence, there might be pushback, but it’s not disinformation. I would also point out that many physicians and “conventional” scientists have “questioned” the overprescription of pharmaceutical drugs but have not been “canceled.” What starts to push a “questioning” of consensus into crank territory, into misinformation—or even disinformation—territory is when that questioning is rooted in conspiracy theories.

For example, here’s Lyons-Weiler:

Public health has of course done all it can do to prolong and delay the point between dissenting views and actual empirical data collection to try to refute and challenge the hypothesis under scrutiny. Collins and Fauci both argued for combined Phase 2/3 trials, ostensibly to reduce the time to EUA approval of COVID-19 vaccines. In detail, a Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 trial would allow a more thorough scientific process of finding and challenging adverse events via an attempt at replication: those found in Phase 2 could also be found in Phase 3. That did not happen, and de Grasse Tyson likely does not know this, nor can he deeply appreciate the significance of that top-down move on the distortion of the results of the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials: It delayed consideration until the “science” being done was observational, which leads to a causality stalemate (“correlation does not equal causation”). Collins and Fauci didn’t foster the necessary science: they destroyed it.

What Lyons-Weiler apparently does not know (or intentionally does not tell his audience) is that the idea of combining phase 2 and phase 3 trials into phase 2/3 trials is not even close to being a new concept, nor is it unique to vaccines and drugs for COVID-19 during the pandemic. For example, here is an article discussing phase 2/3 trial designs…from 2008! It concluded:

A general conclusion is that, in many circumstances, a properly designed phase 2-3 trial utilizes resources much more efficiently and provides much more reliable inferences than conventional methods.

Basically, it is Lyons-Weiler whose understanding of clinical trial design is hopelessly out of date, as phase 2/3 trials are now commonplace, with fairly standardized and well-accepted methodologies. Indeed, the methodology of these studies has evolved to allow adaptive trial designs that combine phase 2 and 3, and a number of other variants. In other words, it’s Lyons-Weiler’s understanding of clinical trial design that is simplistic and out-of-date, not Francis Collins’ or Anthony Fauci’s understanding, nor was it a conspiracy to cut corners on the way to a vaccine. Combining phase 2/3 trials was a reasonable response to a pandemic for which a vaccine was desperately needed, not a conspiracy to get one approved based on poor quality evidence.

This is basically a conspiracy theory, and if you doubt me just check out how Lyons-Weiler embedded a 2021 Substack entry from Steve Kirsch into his post What really happened at Simpsonwood and why it matters today. The Simpsonwood conspiracy theory is really a blast from the past, being the topic of RFK Jr.’s infamous Deadly Immunity article from 2005. As I pointed out, the article discussed a CDC conference named after the conference center in suburban Atlanta in 2000 where scientists discussed data addressing the question of whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and autism risk and concluded that there appeared not to be an elevated risk associated with such vaccines. As I discussed at the time, thus was born through quote mining the Simpsonwood conspiracy theory, in which RFK Jr. and antivaxxers ever since have misrepresented statistical corrections for confounders as an effort to erase evidence that mercury in vaccines was responsible for an “autism epidemic.” In other words, Lyons-Weiler is referring to a 20 year old conspiracy theory to bolster his current conspiracy theory.

I’ll conclude by pointing out that I do not claim that science is perfect or that scientists are always open to evidence-based challenges to longstanding scientific consensus. Scientists are human, just like everyone else, and can be prone to the same sorts of biases and ideological blind spots that everyone else has. (One only has to point to the case of Ignaz Semmelweis, which was also more complicated than normally represented, but whose additional context does not exactly absolve the medical science of the time of guilt for how it reacted to his suggestion that maybe fewer babies would die if doctors just washed their damned hands after doing autopsies and before delivering babies, to see that.)

Predictably, another antivaxxer, Toby Rogers, directly invoked Semmelweis while mocking deGrasse Tyson:

If “science communicator” Neil deGrasse Tyson were in charge, scientific paradigms would never shift. 

Dr. Tyson in 1633, “I’m not interested in Galileo’s research. I’m interested in scientific consensus! The sun revolves around the earth!”

Dr. Tyson in 1847, “I’m not interested in Semmelweis’s research. I’m interested in medical consensus! Hand washing does NOT prevent puerperal fever!”

Dr. Tyson in 1960, “I’m not interested in what Frances Kelsey has to say. She’s only been at the FDA one month. I’m interested in scientific consensus! Thalidomide is safe and effective!” 

The fact is, Dr. Tyson has contempt for actual science. Any actual scientist knows that “scientific consensus” is politics not science. Actual science follows the principle Nullius in verba — “take nobody’s word for it” (examine the evidence for yourself).

The problems with this misrepresentation, of course, should be obvious. For example, I’ve already discussed how Galileo got into trouble more for mocking the Pope and bucking a religious, not a scientific, consensus, but that doesn’t stop Rogers from invoking the “Galileo gambit,” as cranks love to do. As for Semmelweis, what is often left out of the story is that his findings were not universally rejected and that at the time there was no real theoretical framework to explain his results—Pasteur’s germ theory was more than a decade in the future—and no one had replicated his findings, making them harder to accept. That does not absolve the scientific community of the time, but it does make the reaction more understandable.

As for thalidomide, I can’t help but point out that in the early 1960s the FDA did not require evidence of efficacy, only safety—the former requirement only came about as a result of the post-thalidomide Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments—but that, approvals in some European countries notwithstanding, even at the time it was not really a “scientific consensus” that thalidomide was safe and effective. Rather, it was a failure of drug regulation in some countries. It wasn’t just Dr Kelsey, either. She and two FDA officials were responsible for reviewing the FDA application for thalidomide. All three quickly developed concerns about the drug. For example, the pharmacologist, Oyam Jiro, questioned whether the company’s toxicity tests were adequate, while the chemist, Lee Geismar, was skeptical about the company’s manufacturing controls. As for Dr. Kelsey, she thought that the safety data were inconclusive. In the end, Frances Oldham Kelsey was indeed a hero, but not for bucking the scientific consensus; she was a hero because she refused to buckle under pressure to ignore evidence suggesting that thalidomide might not be safe for developing embryos and fetuses and to adhere scientific standards by requiring evidence that it was. (Also, thalidomide was ultimately approved decades later for the treatment of multiple myeloma, with the appropriate warnings that it should not be used during pregnancy.)

Didn’t I also just point out that the focus of people like Rogers completely ignores all the verbiage that deGrasse Tyson expended trying to explain when anomalous results by single scientists (or groups of scientists) are just anomalies and when they might be harbingers of change in the scientific consensus? Or how scientific consensuses change, but that change requires lots of evidence and experimental data, not just “questioning”? Rogers, like the rest of the cranks, ignores that aspect and focuses like a laser on a single part of what deGrasse Tyson’s actually said.

The point is that cranks like Bigtree, Demasi, Lyons-Weiler, and Rogers reject scientific consensus as a concept not so much out of intellectual honesty but because science rejects their pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. As a result, they elevate an individualistic view of science over science as collective study and understanding to a farcical degree in how they falsely claim that a scientific consensus is unchangeable, based on ideology more than science, and has a sole purpose of crushing “dissent.” Similarly, because their beliefs tend to be ideologically motivated more than they are based in science, they assume that the same is true of any scientific consensus, and falsely portray all scientific consensus as political, not based in science.

If deGrasse Tyson had understood this, maybe he wouldn’t have said something that, while technically not particularly objectionable to scientists (“The individual scientist does not matter”), was clearly something that antivaxxers would fixate on and misrepresent, which they did. It’s a shame, because in other ways he really did do a decent job of trying to explain what a scientific consensus is and how it can evolve based on experimentation and evidence. What happened as a result of his statement was entirely predictable if you understand how science deniers think. Is scientific consensus a “manufactured construct,” as Demasi claims? No more so than any other concept in science—or any other academic discipline—is “manufactured.”

The problem is Demasi’s understanding of consensus, as stated in a comment after her post:

I also agree that there has to be a way of reaching an agreement about the weight of evidence, my problem is with crushing dissent on the way there.

What do I mean? Cranks view any criticism or rejection of their views by scientists (or anyone else) as examples of “crushing dissent” rather than rejecting their bad science and conspiracy theories. As long as that is true, they are likely to continue to reject the very concept of a scientific consensus in science. After all, the whole idea is to promote the idea that nothing is truly knowable or provable, and the scientific consensus is an obstacle to that.

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]

89 replies on “Antivaxxers attack scientific consensus as a “manufactured construct””

NDT made it clear in his exchange with Bigtree that he does not understand the concept of corporate capture. Apparently neither does Orac.

What cynics like you and LaBarge don’t get is that corporate interest is not monolithic. For every Vioxx there’s a Phen-fen. One a Pharma drug, the other an “herbal remedy,” both taken off the market for safety issues. For every Sudafed PE there’s an Oscillococcinum. One a pharma drug, the other a nothing pill theoretically once in contact with duck liver. Both won’t relieve your cold symptoms in any objective way. Corporate pressure is in the mainstream and the alternative alike. When either is left too much to its own devices – doing the science sloppily half-on-purpose on one side and denying the validity or importance of science on the other – people get hurt or, if they’re lucky, fleeced. Medical skeptics work hard to let us consumers/patients know when good evidence is piling up that something is hurting or fleecing us, or that someone is making false claims that something legit is doing so (in order to fleece us themselves, if we want to be cynical).

If you’ve been convinced that all the hurting and fleecing is coming from one side, presumably Big Pharma (and yes, they’ve done their share – I hadn’t even gotten to opioids, but where is medical marijuana going?), maybe you can try being skeptical rather than cynical. It gives you the confidence that if someone is screwing you over for profit, someone else seeking profit will raise the alarm, and someone just trying to do things right will probably find out. It saves a lot of stress. 🙂

That would be fine until big pharma shills try to demonize the opposition wielding their power over governments and licensing board. Here on this blog they call for license removal of any contrarian voice. Twitter files and government mandates reveal more corruption. The right answer here is not that all vaccines are necessarily bad (that said if you observe the system; that observation should cause you to be skeptical if not cynical) but to delay trust in the system until opposing voices trickle through the blockade by folks with extensive interests that are often conflicting with yours.

The right answer here is not that all vaccines are necessarily bad…

OK, I’ll bite. Which vaccines are not bad? List them.

It’s hard to tell at this point, but I think your best bet is those made before 1986, when the companies were held responsible for injuries.

That’s John’s way of saying that he doesn’t know, while trying not to admit that he has know idea.

Ok, Labarge, does that mean you approve of flu and MMR shots, which were among the most maligned before HPV and covid shots came out? They existed before 1986.

And presumably the DPT and polio vaccines, which are even older than MMR, though perhaps not the improved polio vaccine introduced in 1987?

And the Hep B vaccine, but not the new recombinant one introduced in 1986?

@john labarge Have you noticed that Robert Kennedy Jr sues vaccine manufacturers all the time ? Zero liability, anyone?

Well, the system may have its problems, but I think it has earned more trust than viruses and bacteria. Also, I once read a bit about the history of Big Food, and apparently it started with large companies being able to make a profit without ripping people off as badly as your average street vendor, and so make a name for themselves in a buyer-beware market. Quaker could afford not to put sawdust in your oatmeal, for instance. Big Pharma works on similar principles. They may still sometimes try to rip you off (e.g., Vioxx), but they can afford to backpedal if caught red-handed doing so.

Before COVID I’d still be skeptical but at least more on the neutral end. Watching the data manipulation and lying by the medical establishment leaves me cynical. It will take a long time and a lot of transparency along with more accountability and more respect for freedom for me to trust it again. Indeed of all things I have more faith in some of the European countries that recognized prior immunity granting infection and backed off boosters due to risk/reward calculations that weren’t merely a rubber stamp of whatever Pharma wanted. Maybe there is more to socialized medicine than I thought.

@ohn labarge Lying by medical profession ? Perhaps you were confused by lying by antivaxxers ? Your comments indicate that.
Socialized medicine want to save money That explains booster decision.

Name one antivaxxer who has lost medical license. Then we can check was it Big Pharma or malpractice.
Twitter is Twitter. It has right enact misinformation policy. Elon Musk certainly changed thatt,

That only works if there is a lack of competition and backstabbing within the pharmaceuticals that make up the industry. Pfizer would absolutely destroy Johnson & Johnson’s credibility if they could find fraud in their research. And that’s just one example. Every corporation has research actively going over the data and looking to attack their competitors.

It is a manufactured construct. In climate science too. If you don’t agree we take your funding or license. Pretty simple.

If you don’t agree we take your funding or license. Pretty simple.

No surprise at all that you dismiss all science you don’t agree with, whether it has to do with vaccines or with climate science. Pray tell, what’s wrong with the climate models you’ve never bothered to understand?

They’ve never predicted anything accurately. Al Gore was wrong. And it’s a grift.

Al Gore is no more a scientist than you are john. It’s only the ignorant people who deny the science who bring him up, and it’s the same way as you do.

Read a little — have someone help you with the big words.

There’s growing evidence that the predictions of warming rates by some models are too conservative

www dot sciencedaily dot com/releases/2023/03/230313101127dothtm

What happened to make you hate science so strongly? Was it the fact that what it says contradicts everything you believe?

I’ll bet it really gets your little whitey tighties in a twist to know that Michael Mann’s original hockey stick was recreated by multiple international groups using different datasets.

It probably bothers him even more than you get get the original Fortran source code and data to play with, contrary to the climate deniers’ mantra “If they’re so sure of themselves why do they keep the data and files secret?”

Oh look, LaBorge comes up with a stupid conspiracy theory and no evidence.

Climate science may be the one topic for which his ignorance exceeds his ignorance of vaccines and covid. It seems that the same laziness preventing him from reading about vaccines extends to climate issues as well.

Lots antivaxxers has medical licese and publish papers. It is just that only antivaxxers believe them.

It’s always easy to find those when they’re only published by pay-to-play journals, like mdpi or even some of the Frontiers journals.

If Peter Doshi has published in it, it’s a predatory publisher (new rule).

Want proof why most science skeptics don’t take Orac seriously and they consider him an absolute joke? This post serves as a fine study. It is nothing more than a long rambling strawman that largely avoids its title of the ‘cranks’ claiming that current scientific consensuses are often manufactured.

Yes, Orac, we should be cautious of an individual finding on a certain matter attempting to overthrow a scientific consensus, but what really is your response to the ‘cranks’ claim that current scientific consensuses are often manufactured?

Let’s take Covid zoonotic theory as an example. With the unraveling of this ‘consensus’ and as the lab leak theory gain ground, can an argument not be made that the zoonotic theory was never truly a scientific ‘consensus’ but instead a political ‘consensus’?

After you answer that Orac perhaps we can also find time to discuss the ‘consensus’ on Covid vaccines, masks and lockdowns effectiveness –and much more!

Just because a bunch of conspiracy theorists claim that they hypothesize that SARS-CoV-2 arose through zoonosis is “unraveling” does not mean that the hypothesis is, in fact, actually unraveling. Lab leak conspiracy theorists have been making this claim for three years now. 😂


My interpretation of the consensus around the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is that we are not entirely sure where it arose. Most likely it had a zoonotic origin, as 1) we have seen that occur multiple times in the past with similar viruses; and 2) that hypothesis best explains all the evidence we have.

The competing lab-leak hypotheses are unable to explain all the evidence we have about SARS-CoV-2 and require leaps of faith to explain some features: such as: Why were their two separate strains around the wet market at the beginning of the pandemic?; and How was a virus leaked from a lab that was not known to be present in a lab?

If your research and evidence can’t sway the majority of experts in the region to adopt and include your theories, either through reviews or through active adoption, then what you have probably isn’t as strong as it needs to be. You have to be able to win a consensus. Anti-vaxxers and in general anti-science clowns think that consensus means just people that like what someone said.

In philosophy of science classes it’s widely discussed that new practices/theories often have to wait for an old-guard to die off so they’ll stop protecting and cherishing outdated and incorrect ways of doing things.

You know what else is good at winning consensus? Cash.

You know what is perfect at winning ridicule and dismissal? Your continued dismissals of things you don’t understand and are too lazy to study simply because “you know” the results are wrong. Those dismissals, with your continual lack of providing support, win you the dismissal and ridicule you deserve.

Or if you’re a right-winger, you can obtain power with stupid conspiracy theories and a massive lack of evidence, like what you’re doing.

Climate scientists aren’t rich, but let’s look at the fossil fuel funding of denialism and their active lobbying?

Yes, it’s always been interesting how much the ‘follow the money’ folks get so one-sided in which money they’re following. They assume doctors’ opinions are all bought by pharmaceutical companies while ignoring the fact that folks like Mike Adams are far more ‘rolling in dough’ than your typical family doctor. Climate Scientists are accused of shilling for grant money while the actual bought-and-paid-for studies from the fossil fuel industry following exactly the same lines as the tobacco industry are swept under the rug.

People have been saying ‘every accusation is a confession’ for a while…

Indeed. There’s a reason why I often refer to Joe Mercola, for example, as a quack tycoon. He’s made many millions selling quackery over the last quarter century. Last time I checked, his net worth was north of $100 million.

These people make so much money!
Adams portrays himself as a simple rancher BUT brags about his new warehouses/ packaging facilities, broadcast studio, lab analysis equipment ( millions!), money sunk into his own private internet/ social media ( millions!), how he sells 1000 “ranger buckets” ( @ 300+ USD each) immediately often , his various trucks, farm machinery, GUN collection, precious metals etc.**

Null lives on two estates ( Texas and Florida) where he has an animal sanctuary, an “intentional community”, organic farms, retreats, rents out for films, radio network, sells stuff etc.**

Del has his own place in Austin and earns a hefty salary and travel expense account from his “charity” ICAN and contributions

RFK jr was born rich; estates all over but also has a “charity” CHD and law firms that take cases and a campaign.

Lesser luminaries have websites, give lectures, make films, raise funds, have Substacks, sell books and films. Sayer Ji, Sherri Tenpenny, Naomi Wolf, Covid denialists Maone et al

** the ways these guys talk up the “free states” of Texas and Florida I wonder if they are also discreetly selling property there

Take it from me, I’m an atypical family doctor, and I still will never see a fraction of the kind of income these quacks pull in. Then, there’s the loans…

It’s a minor point to be sure, but I can’t help thinking how unfortunate it has been that certain skeptics, especially Martin Gardner in his cranky geriatric “get off my lawn!” phase, demonized Tom Kuhn.

This discussion is needlessly overcomplicated. Consensus (on any topic) is broad and voluntary agreement amongst people. So, scientific consensus is broad and voluntary agreement amongst scientists.

If scientists who hold contrary opinions are fired and deplatformed or defunded, the consensus does not exist at all. Anyone claiming such consensus is simply making stuff up.

A great example of this is the quack treatment called “Covid vaccine”.

That unproven and non-working treatment, fitting every definition of medical quackery, is supported by a large number of charlatans who are well paid for supporting it. It is also NOT supported by a large number of other scientists, who are not paid for not supporting it, but oppose it anyway.

Therefore, the so called “covid vaccine consensus” does not exist at all.

If scientists who hold contrary opinions are fired and deplatformed or defunded, …

To whom has that happened?

That unproven and non-working treatment, fitting every definition of medical quackery,…

No. You claim it is quackery because it doesn’t fulfill your imaginary requirements for a vaccine. You’ve had it explained to you tons of times why your assertions are wrong, your interpretations of the papers you refer to are wrong, yet you continue with your nonsense. What you are was strongly indicated when you first began to post, but your choice to continue to repeat your mistakes instead of learning anything cement it: you’re simply another liar and conspiracy pusher looking to beef up creds in the anti-science community.

Occasionally that sort of behavior is simply amusing: “flat earthers” are monumentally wrong, but they are harmless in the grand scheme of things. The things you push will, if people believe you and take your advice, put them at risk. The fact that you don’t care that you’re pushing harm doesn’t bother you sinks you even lower on the humanity scale.

Malone, McCullough (so?) I think the latter lost his license and the former is demonized by your mob as a cool. Just two of them. Both well published in their fields.

Malone did not lose a license. He was removed, then reinstated on twitter so — your assertion is wrong.

I think the latter lost his license and the former is demonized by your mob as a cool [sic]

I assume you mean fool: he is, as well as a serial liar and pusher of blatantly false information.

McCullough got in trouble first with his old employer, Baylor Scott & White Health, because

Nearly 6 months after McCullough’s employment had ended, he continued to use his former professional titles — such as “vice chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center” — in media interviews in which he spread his opinions about the pandemic

Sounds like a real upstanding guy you support. Thankfully, this scumbag was decertified for his continued attempts to harm patients. You may be willing to forgive doctors who lie about treatments and put people at risk, but most people are smarter than you are and don’t want quacks like that around.

LaBarge gets it wrong, again.

Peter McCullough did not “lose his license”. The American Board of Internal Medicine, noting his history of misinformation-spreading about Covid-19 and vaccination, recommended that he be stripped of his board certifications in internal medicine and cardiology. McCullough later claimed that those certificates were revoked*, but the ABIM website as of today shows that they’re still in force.

*McCullough blames “powerful dark forces…working in internal medicine”. What a loon.

“powerful dark forces…working in internal medicine”.

I had a couple of those attendings on the floor back in the day HAHA

But it’s also supported by a large number of individuals who receive no compensation for supporting it and those who disparage the vaccine often make large sums of money off of giving lectures, selling books and offering alternative treatments. Why is the money made off of not supporting the vaccine morally superior? Why is the praise and fame given to those who say the vaccine doesn’t work cleaner and truer than the praise given to individuals working in the medical industry?

Not to mention, those disagreeing with the effectiveness of the vaccine rarely, if ever, address that not getting the vaccine often results in a worse outcome if an individual. Why is their line of thinking immune to questions to the point where all one has to do is claim that something horrible happened to a person after getting vaccinated and that statement is taken as gospel truth, beyond all need to be further investigated.

You always go to the same motives for the villains of your stories, follow the same plot lines and when someone points out a plot hole or inconsistency between the stories you tell, you ascribe malice to those questioning. So who’s really trying to prevent dissent? Scientists who do their best to answer questions, or people who write stories that have to be taken at face value and respond to questions as though they’re personal attacks.

@ Igor:

-btw- I see that Naomi Wolf likes your analyses.

I have some questions because I’m curious.
Did you ever study any life science like biology, physiology, epidemiology?
Did you know that many of the regulars here have degrees in these fields ( bio, medicine, epidemiology etc) or have studied them in depth?

Do you know thar statistical methods/ research design for life sciences ( or social sciences) are taught specifically for those areas? Do you understand that differences between these areas of investigation matter ? Can you comprehend that the hypotheses/ theories that anti-vaxxers/ scoffers put forth frequently illustrate that their creators don’t understand basics ? **
Do you ever read Orac’s posts that he or someone else suggests?

** Wakefield is an example. Calling for an unvaxxed/ vaxxed RCT is another.

Also, an alt med guru who studies everything once described how his extremely healthy 25 year old cat and 22 year old dog were totally vegan!
Someone must have corrected him and he changed the story to that the cat also hunted and ate rats at night.

Serendipitously, I just found an interview with Wolf ( from yesterday: shows/ progressivecommentaryhour
wherein the resident “nutritional biochemist” interviews her, the “feminist/ journalist”, about Covid vaccines which are “destroying” women and babies. AND she tells us why!
I only listened to 35 minutes but it can give you a good idea of what we’re discussing: CT after CT, confabulation, posturing, misinformation.
IIRC, she has a long history of exaggeration ( e.g. rates of anorexia deaths) by DEGREES of magnitude leading to publishers changing her books’ cites. Other issues with her books and social media over the years.

If she approved of me, I’d get very worried.

Facts, not feelings, Igor. You have no facts, you have no evidence, and you have no credibility.

So where does that leave your stupid claims?

“So, scientific consensus is broad and voluntary agreement amongst scientists”

Based on the most widely supported evidence from studies, experiments and trials.

So, in order to change the consensus, you need to provide results that prove your hypothesis is true. These results need to be argument proof (as much as possible) and repeatable by other researchers.

Of course, if you can’t do that, one option is to make a bunch of biased, unproven, assumptions and apply them to VAERs before publishing on a personal blog and claiming that the only reason your genius isn’t recognised is the deep pockets of big pharma.

You choose.

“Consensus (on any topic) is broad and voluntary agreement amongst people. So, scientific consensus is broad and voluntary agreement amongst scientists.”

This is absolutely wrong. A scientific consensus is based on the conclusions of research approximately repeating the original hypothesis. For climate change it would be “is anthropogenic emissions of CO2 causing the majority of global warming”, for instance. And for that question, the research that addresses that hypothesis is 97-99% in agreement.

For COVID and vaccines, you will see a similar consensus for a hypothesis like “is being vaccinated less risk than being unvaccinated for SARS-COV-2”. The result is absolutely clear across the research.

You need it to be “scientists” or individuals so that YOUR individuals have some sort of voice for their worthless opinions to hold any weight because very few of them ever will publish any actual research.

“If scientists who hold contrary opinions are fired and deplatformed or defunded”

Funny how they turn up on JRE (tens of millions listening) and just about every other podcast, YouTube channel, every right wing idiot retweets or reposts their crap, they’re all over Fox News, they regularly make guest appearances at the behest of Republicans In legislative sessions, they write incessant editorials, they are on Sirius XM and AM radio, and every little old lady in my nursing home knows them by name and tells me how I should listen to their wise, sage counsel in these trying times (Often before I reevaluate her dementia.)

Alties/ anti-vaxxers couldn’t grasp deGrasse Tyson’s characterisation of consensus as evolving over many years whilst evidence accumulates because they imagine a more static concept that can be easily overturned by a single result. Take for example, Wakefield: when his infamous study was published it primarily affected the general public, alt med provocateurs and less savvy media outlets who had no idea that we already had a pretty good idea about what “causes” autism and it certainly wasn’t vaccines.

I have repeatedly outlined how the origins of autism have been studied for decades in multiple disciplines that illustrate pre-natal/ peri-natal conditions and events: there are animal studies, autopsies and abortion results, genetic studies, brain development research, studies of meds, poisons, infection, vitamins ingested during gestation, brain waves, brain imaging, facial physiognomy, very early infant movement/ social interaction and studies of unvaccinated children.

Anti-vaxers who postulate post-natal causation tie themselves into knots to overrule what we already know and concoct outlandish, highly unlikely physiological scenarios to explain how children’s brains are transformed from “average” to “autistic” in a short period of time using ideas they collect magpie-like from neurological texts and research. Three common vaccine-autism “theories” are mercury, too many vaccines and an elaborate GI mediated model of course, because Wakefield was a gastroenterologist- all these ideas suggest that something whole was somehow destroyed rather than showing an alternate path of development.

So much for Popper’s universality through verifiability, unless the “new consensus” is equated with an acceptance of empirical nihilism. The casuistry of cranks is astounding.

Orac writes,

“Is it ever justified to doubt a scientific consensus? Sure…”

MJD says,

In support, there is scientific consensus that allergies are a maladaptive immune response. This much-maligned immune response may be a mechanism-of-evolution to inhibit or control cancer.

Q. Have allergy medications become a manufactured construct that inhibits researching medically-induced atopy as cancer immunotherapy.

In simplification, allergy symptoms suck therefore there can be no medical benefit to artificially producing allergies. This is called belief perseverance…

Allergy medicatios tune down allergic response, a symptom based medication.

I can think of one example where the consensus is “wrong,” and that is the debate over junk DNA. Those with deep knowledge of evolutionary genetics knew we would find lots of sequences with no function, but those with more superficial knowledge are convinced that functions will be found for that 90% of our genome. Some here may remember the “80% of our genome is functional” debacle from ENCODE. These people sound like creationists, but instead of “God wouldn’t give us junk DNA,” it’s “evolution wouldn’t waste resources on replicating and transcribing junk DNA.” Larry Moran has a book about this coming out soon.

@ johnlabarge

You write: “It is a manufactured construct. In climate science too. If you don’t agree we take your funding or license. Pretty simple.”

Give legitimate references. So, besides being antivax you don’t agree with global warming. Wow! You really live in your own stupidly ignorant unscientific world. Just like your previous claim that any one writing that vaccines can be dangerous doesn’t get published; yet I did a search of National Library of Medicine’s online database PubMed and found a number of just such published articles. I bet you have NEVER actually done good searches of Google and PubMed. You just continue to post comments based on your ignorant unscientific biases.

You write: “You know what else is good at winning consensus? Cash.”

So, again, give legitimate references that all medical doctors and public health scientists formed a consensus based on receiving cash, not on the overwhelming science with which you are totally ignorant.

@ Igor Chudov

You write: “If scientists who hold contrary opinions are fired and deplatformed or defunded, the consensus does not exist at all. Anyone claiming such consensus is simply making stuff up.”

While one can probably find a very few who fit your description, if one searches National Library of Medicine’s online database PubMed one can find numerous peer-reviewed published articles that question just about anything; but, as I’ve written over and over, you don’t understand the basics of the immune system, so you lack any understanding of how and why vaccines work. And you have NEVER indicated any knowledge of the history of vaccine-preventable diseases or PubMed and Google searches of COVID vaccine studies giving overwhelming support that the vaccines work in reducing significantly risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death. And you admitted your ignorance in a previous comment; yet still continue to post stupidly ignorant comments:

Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
April 21, 2023 at 12:10 pm
@ Igor Chudov
You write: “Dr. Caulfield is a professor of law, with zero education pertaining to virology or vaccinology. His level of expertise in vaccines, virology and vaccinology is on par with my own. In other words, he is an amateur to the field of vaccines and viruses.”
So, why don’t you follow your own advice, that is, “zero education pertaining to virology or vaccinology”, and stop posting stupidly ignorant biased unscientific antivax comments???

You write: “It is also NOT supported by a large number of other scientists, who are not paid for not supporting it, but oppose it anyway.
Therefore, the so called “covid vaccine consensus” does not exist at all.”

Wow! The overwhelming number of scientists around the world support the vaccines. I’m talking about literally millions and, yep, one can always find ones who disagree, just as doctors such as Suzanne Humphries, once an accomplished kidney specialist, now promotes homeopathy. As opposed to you, I understand immunology, microbiology, epidemiology and I have downloaded and read over the past 3 1/2 years over 1,000 papers on COVID, COVID vaccines, etc. and I read them carefully.


@ Frog

As I’ve written in several previous comments, scientists have sequenced the genomes of a large number of corona viruses in bats, civet cats, etc and found a number that were only either a couple of mutations from the current pandemic viruses and/or cross-exchange when two viruses in same bat. And even, despite almost overwhelming evidence not a lab leak, even if was, the US has a much higher per capita death rate than other nations who took appropriate measures and there will be another pandemic that certainly will come from nature and the US will be just as unprepared and the next one could be more highly transmissible and deadlier.

And I also pointed out that several decades ago, there was a lab leak from University of North Carolina lab of a gain-of-function corona virus. Gain-of-function means much more virulent. Fortunately, didn’t break out into public.

There are a number of papers discussing lab leak vs natural origin. Almost all favor natural origin. Here is the latest, available free online:

James C. Alwine et al. (2023 Mar). A Critical Analysis of the Evidence for the SARS-CoV-2 Origin Hypotheses

Just cut and paste title in Google search box. I’m sure you won’t bother.

@ Matt G

You write: “I can think of one example where the consensus is “wrong,” and that is the debate over junk DNA. Those with deep knowledge of evolutionary genetics knew we would find lots of sequences with no function, but those with more superficial knowledge are convinced that functions will be found for that 90% of our genome.”

Consensus??? Those with deep knowledge certainly not part of consensus, so which group dominates? Wikipedia article Junk DNA quite good, clearly discusses a range of ideas, not a consensus. So, my reading is there is no consensus, so something that is non-existent can’t be wrong.

You should read up on Larry Moran’s take, especially his continuing struggle with Wikipedia and the way the site’s work on junk DNA has been handled. Agree or not with his view on junk DNA, Wiki does not look good in regards to how they handle edits to the material on their site. It’s pretty damn close to the way conservapedia dealt with evolution and complex numbers [schlafly stated at one point complex numbers had no useful purpose, an amazing statement for someone with a background in electrical engineering], the unacceptable mathematical method of proof by contradiction. [Note quite as bad as their downplay of Einstein’s role in developing relativity [his contribution was downplayed because of his Jewish heritage — they made no bones about that].

I see the posters who least understand science just had to post first to prove it.

I’ve run out of working irony meters thanks to the pandemic.

Of course they have. If they really understood the topic, they could not hold the views they hold. Refusing to be educated allows them to hold fast to their belief systems.

As a practicing scientist, I always find these crank arguments about scientific consensus amusing. Cranks hate the idea of a scientific consensus because they can’t face the fact that their ideas are completely wrong. So they go looking for “brave maverick scientists” who espouse ideas they believe in.

Far from circling the wagons around some supposed “scientific consensus” I am questioning the scientific consensus all the time. I use the consensus* to develop hypotheses that are then tested to see whether the consensus holds up**. So much for the crank view of the scientific world.

Here I have substituted the word consensus for the real thing, which is the evidence base, as after all that is what a scientific consensus really is: a summation of the evidence base on a topic.

** I have just published a paper showing an example of Lamarckian evolution really existing. Does this invalidate Darwinian evolution? Of course not. It is just that genes in strange places do strange things.

@ ldw56old

You write: “Note quite as bad as their downplay of Einstein’s role in developing relativity [his contribution was downplayed because of his Jewish heritage — they made no bones about that].”

An entire Wikipedia article entitled Theory of Relativity gives complete credit to Einstein and nowhere even mentions Jewish. And the Wikipedia article entitled Albert Einstein does NOT downplay his development of the two relativity theories. So, please, give link to what you claim.

Also, I have a number of papers that give more credit to Wikipedia than you do, as well as papers that claim bias; but majority, especially non-political science articles usually quite good. What I especially like about Wikipedia is the articles often have extensive reference lists. However, on topics of more importance to me I seldom if ever rely on a single source.

Mihai Andrei (2019 Feb 22). Study shows Wikipedia Accuracy is 99.5%. ZME Science
Orac (2014 Jun 5). Two and a half months later, quacks are still upset about Wikipedia. Respectful Insolence
David Gorski (2019 Oct 14). Woo versus Wikipedia. Science-Based Medicine.

@ ldw56old

You write about Einstein: “”his contribution was downplayed because of his Jewish heritage — they made no bones about that].”

I read the Conservapedia article Albert Einstein. Yep, they downplayed his contribution; but I couldn’t find “because of his Jewish heritage” though they did discuss his Jewish heritage and positions on other topics. Please cut and paste what you claim.

Do you really think that Conservapedia would own up to straight-up antisemitism? They don’t want to say the quiet part out loud.

And why, oh, why, would relativity theory have anything at all to do with politics? No human activity is entirely divorced from culture and politics, but physics comes pretty close — or should!

@ ldw56old

I really don’t understand why you would even refer to something in Conservapedia. It is NOT even close to an encyclopedia. It is a far right-wing Christian propaganda website that doesn’t explain things without attacking anyone and everyone who doesn’t follow their twisted version of Christianity. On the other hand, though it may not be perfect, Wikipedia is a legitimate attempt to be a valid encyclopedia. In fact, there are even articles that compare it with Brittanica.

@Joel Harrison – I apparently replied to you, when I meant to reply to the original poster — the two of us are in agreement. Einstein’s physics really have basically nothing to do with anything else except physics, despite endless attempts to read meanings into his physics that arent’ there.

palindrome, Joel:

I think you both misread and/or misinterpreted my comment about conservapedia.

I was not saying it is a good reference: I know it is far from it, as should be clear to anyone who looks at it. I was comparing Wikipedia’s editing history of the entry on junk DNA to the way conservepedia has handled entries on a variety of topics: that’s with heavy-handed censorship and removal of information that the primary contributors to the topic dislike. It isn’t a good look for wiki.

Second: I agree there is no “political” or “social” take on relativity, but those are the ways conservapedia’s owner and his brother attack it.
One of their ‘strongest’ arguments against relativity [other than their long list of ‘problems with’ and ‘experiments that disprove relativity’] was this:

Moral relativists accept relativity.
Moral relativism is wrong.
Therefore, relativity is wrong.

Note that it’s entirely possible to disagree with Wikipedia in one instance or action and not suggest the entire endeavor be tossed in a trash bin. You seem to be suggesting that I equated it with conservapedia and so, by implication, said wiki should be uniformly dismissed. I did not, and I did not imply relativity has anything to do with social constructs or morality: I was pointing out those were tracks taken by the folks at conservapedia.

@ palindrom
“And why, oh, why, would relativity theory have anything at all to do with politics?”
Since the snappy retort to this should be fairly obvious, and since I’m not sure exactly what you meant by this in terms of the context regarding some discussion of Einstein, I’ll ask you to clarify, and suggest you might think about other ways of understanding that question, ways in which physics might be inevitably tied to politics.

“Einstein’s physics really have basically nothing to do with anything else except physics, despite endless attempts to read meanings into his physics that arent’ there.”
One of the key lessons of semiotics is that meaning is largely divorced from intent. Meanings are concrete empirical phenomena, which is to say they exist whether or not any of us approve of them. Whether or not meanings are ‘there’ in any sense is typically a complicated question, but as a general principle, meaning is a constantly shape-shifting beast that absolutely refuses to behave.

I’ll ask you to clarify, and suggest you might think about other ways of understanding that question, ways in which physics might be inevitably tied to politics.

But that wasn’t the question, now was it? If you want to explain how general relativity is related to politics, then do it.

@ ldw, palindrom, joel
“Moral relativists accept relativity.
Moral relativism is wrong.
Therefore, relativity is wrong.”

That’s a hoot, but it reminds me: are any if y’all familiar with the episode of Bronowski’s Ascent of Man dealing with Heisenberg? “Knowledge or Certainty” It’s a hoot in a way, too, (a less funny way…) but a more telling and interesting one.

@ Julian Frost

I too have the book; but I read it over 50 years ago, so my memory isn’t that great. I have a pile of books I intend to read, so it gets added to the pile.

@ ldw56old

I have NO problem admitting I misread/misunderstood your post, so I eagerly await your clarification; but it has been 12 hours, so I suggest you resubmit it.

@ Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend

I went to your website, read your posts. BS. And David Gorski isn’t even close to being “ultra-orthodox”, unless you mean anyone who understands science and basis articles on science. So, yep, there is one set of scientific principles of objectivity, so if that is what you mean by “ultra-orthodox” OK. As for antivaxxer being or not being a scientific term, irrelevant as it is a good descriptive term. Calling someone an antivaxxer, then explaining scientifically why they are wrong is a normal use of terminology.

And there aren’t a hundred schools of thought when it comes to science, religion yes, politics yes; but not science. However, research done by scientists can find various results, results based on scientific methodology, and then one either finds weaknesses in one or the others methodology, or accepts that random chance could result in study sample, and then call for additional research; but all within one science.

As for the policies during the COVID pandemic, some were pure politics; but the call for using masks, getting vaccinated, etc. were ALL based on the science of airborne viral infections. And one can see this in stats where areas of US with lowest vaccination rates and/or lowest mask usage have much higher COVID deaths per capita.

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