Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking

Quoth Dr. Prasad: “It would not be difficult” to do an impossible VAERS study

Dr. Vinay Prasad recently attacked an epidemiological study published in JAMA Open Network reporting that people in red states are more likely to report vaccine injuries, claiming that it “would not be difficult” to do a much more rigorous study.

The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) is a database run jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration for reporting vaccine injuries whose major strength is the same as its major weakness. The major strength of VAERS is that anybody—and I do mean anybody—can report a suspected vaccine injury to it. You don’t have to be a physician or other health care provider to report a suspected vaccine injury, and, given what VAERS was designed for, that’s a good thing. That’s because VAERS was designed as an early warning system, a “canary in the coal mine,” if you will, to detect potential adverse events (AEs) from new and existing vaccines. What that design means, though, is that VAERS inherently cannot be used to accurately estimate the incidence or prevalence of specific injuries due to specific vaccines, because it is a passive surveillance system that relies on voluntary reporting. The idea is that VAERS is a hypothesis-generating, not a hypothesis-testing, system, because, given that anyone can report anything to VAERS, factors other than incidence or prevalence can hugely impact reporting to VAERS. VAERS is thus subject to the base rate fallacy, which occurs when cases or raw numbers of a phenomenon are examined without statistically correct consideration of the base rate or prior probability of that phenomenon being observed. That’s why any hypothesis generated by VAERS must be tested against more rigorous systems like the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) project, or FDA’s Post-licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring System (PRISM), active reporting systems that actively monitor electronic health records for AEs after vaccination in order to identify potential signals. Usually the VSD is the database most commonly used to investigate safety signals found in VAERS.

Indeed, that’s why the greatest weakness of VAERS is that anybody can report anything to it. As we have discussed here time and time again, the main problem with using VAERS to estimate the frequency of AEs after vaccination is precisely that, in essence, anyone with access to the Internet, mail, or the telephone can report anything to VAERS, as was demonstrated by bloggers years and years ago when one autism advocate filed a report claiming that the flu vaccine had turned him into The Incredible Hulk and another claimed a vaccine had turned his daughter into Wonder Woman. Both reports were accepted. In fairness, ultimately someone from VAERS did contact these people to ask about the reports, and the reports were removed. However, had they refused, reports that vaccines might turn one into the Hulk or Wonder Woman might still be in the database. Another example that I like to cite is how in the 1990s and beyond, lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers for vaccine-induced autism (which is not a thing, given that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccines do not increase the risk of autism) gamed VAERS by encouraging potential litigants to report their children’s autism to VAERS as a vaccine-related AE, as I first discussed in 2006. (Yes, you read that right! 2006! VAERS has been a favorite tool of antivaxxers to mine for deceptive associations going back at least two decades.)

Interestingly, the greatest weakness in VAERS, namely reporting biases and how much changes in reporting that can be affected by news, government campaigns to encourage reporting (e.g., the way the CDC gave instructions to vaccinees receiving COVID-19 vaccines on how to report to VAERS), misinformation, news reports, and disinformation, can also make it a source for preliminary research on factors that can affect the reporting of vaccine-related AEs to VAERS. This aspect of VAERS was in evidence in a study published a week and a half ago in JAMA Open Network, the open-access peer-reviewed journal run by JAMA. The study, by a group of investigators from the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University, was entitled Reports of COVID-19 Vaccine Adverse Events in Predominantly Republican vs Democratic States. Its findings made the news (of course) because they were rather provocative, albeit not unexpected, given how far to the right the political center of gravity of the antivaccine movement has shifted over the last 15 years, particularly during the pandemic. I’ll get into the details in a moment, including weaknesses of the study, but, in brief, examining 620,456 vaccine AEs reported to VAERS from adults 18 and older, investigators found that “the more states were inclined to vote Republican, the more likely their vaccine recipients or their clinicians reported COVID-19 vaccine AEs.”

Unsurprisingly, the study briefly made the news and the rounds on Easter weekend after it was published, although to me the news coverage was actually not very intense and relatively mild, with the few articles I saw about the study having bland titles like Reports of COVID-19 Vaccine Adverse Events in Predominantly Republican vs Democratic States and People in Republican-voting states more likely to report Covid-19 vaccine side effects, study says. It was apparently the news stories like these that drew the attention of someone whose bad COVID-19 takes have been a fairly frequent topic of this blog, Dr. Vinay Prasad, who took to his paid Substack to complain, Unhelpful, inflammatory Jama Network Open paper suggests that people in Red states dream up vaccine injuries and mixed in with a discussion of weaknesses of the study acknowledged by the authors a claim so utterly divorced from reality that it reminded me of a catchphrase that a certain YouTuber employs at some point in all his videos to comic effect, only with Dr. Prasad seemingly using it seriously.

Before I discuss the study and Dr. Prasad’s reaction to it, I will note that nowhere does Dr. Prasad take note of a different kind of reaction to it coming from antivaxxers, reactions from antivaxxers like Covid Vax Deaths Surge in Republican-Voting States, Study Finds, proclaiming. No, that’s not what this study found. It’s what the authors write in the introduction as part of their rationale for doing the study:

COVID-19 mortality has been higher in US jurisdictions that are more conservative in their party registration,1 voting history,2 or representation.3 These differences are likely explained, in part, by differences in vaccination rates. Counties voting for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election had substantially lower COVID-19 vaccination rates than counties voting for President Joe Biden.4,5

None of this is particularly controversial, but Dr. Prasad has apparently decided to echo antivax takes on this study:

Note the use of the phrase “dreamed up.” Nowhere in the study is it claimed that people in red states “dream up” vaccine injuries. I also note that antivaxxer Dr. Paul Alexander is very much impressed with Dr. Prasad’s take on the study, which is never a good sign if you think you are science-based, as Dr. Prasad does.

Let’s take a look at the study itself, which is fairly simple in design. Afterwards, we’ll look at Dr. Prasad’s mix of reasonable critiques with unreasonable critiques, to see what form of negative spin he puts on it.

Red, Blue, and VAERS

Getting back to the study, it’s of a fairly simple design. In brief, it is a cross-sectional study of reports to the VAERS database for injuries after COVID-19 vaccination that identified total of 620 456 AE reports (mean [SD] age of vaccine recipients, 51.8 [17.6] years; 435 797 reports from women [70.2%]; a vaccine recipient could potentially file more than one report, so reports are not necessarily from unique individuals) for COVID-19 vaccination. The time period examined was from 2020 to 2022, and the study looked at adults 18 years of age and older. As a control, the authors examined VAERS reports for injuries due to influenza vaccines. The results were broken down by state, with each state’s reporting of AEs after COVID-19 vaccination and after influenza vaccination (from 2019 to 2022) compared to the state’s voting record in the 2020 Presidential election, specifically the percentage of vote that went for the Republican candidate Donald Trump. These outcomes were then examined:

We separately examined 3 different outcomes: (1) rates of any AE among vaccine recipients, (2) rates of any severe AE among vaccine recipients, and (3) the proportion of AEs reported as severe. To account for baseline variation in VAERS reporting behavior across states, we also used each state’s AE reporting rate for the influenza vaccine (Figure 1).

As the authors put it in the introduction, they were using a major weakness of VAERS as a strength for purposes of their study:

However, what is a weakness in the VAERS in systematically capturing AEs is a strength in quantifying the perception of AEs and the motivation to report them. Without a plausible reason to believe that vaccine recipients and their clinicians in Republican-inclined states will objectively encounter different rates of vaccine AEs than those in Democrat-inclined states, or have different abilities to report them, differences in reporting of those AEs will reflect the product of how those AEs are perceived and the inclination to report them, either by the vaccine recipients or their clinicians.

In fairness, one might reasonably question whether there are objective reasons why people in red states might objectively encounter different rates of AEs after vaccination, but that isn’t really what Dr. Prasad does in his critique, as you will see. That quibble aside, the authors made adjustments for the male-female ratio and median age to “adjust for state-level heterogeneity in VAERS reporting unconnected to COVID-19 vaccination.” They also did a number of sensitivity analyses, to determine how robust their model was was and identify potential confounders:

In sensitivity analyses, we (1) stratified regressions by age groups or excluded the District of Columbia; (2) used hierarchical logistic regression with state-specific random effects as another approach to account for heterogeneity in the baseline VAERS reporting rate; (3) performed an individual-level analysis for the proportion of AEs reported as severe within VAERS reports, adjusting for individual age, sex, and history of medication or allergy; and (4) relaxed assumptions of linearity by using locally estimated scatterplot smoothing.10 

The flowchart looked like this:

The results were quite striking:

We observed 620 456 AE reports (435 797 from women [70.2%]; mean [SD] age, 51.8 [17.7] years) associated with COVID-19 vaccination (Table 1). A vaccine recipient could potentially file more than 1 report, so reports are not necessarily from unique individuals. A 10% increase in state-level Republican voting was associated with increased odds of AE reports (odds ratio [OR], 1.05; 95% CI, 1.05-1.05; P < .001), severe AE reports (OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.24-1.26; P < .001), and the proportion of AEs reported as severe (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.20-1.22; P < .001) (Table 2). These positive associations between political inclination and reports of COVID-19 vaccination AEs are shown in Figure 2 against no associations between political inclination and reports of influenza AEs. These findings were seen across all age strata in stratified analyses and in analyses excluding the District of Columbia (Table 2) and were sustained in sensitivity analyses (eTable 2 and the eFigure in Supplement 1Figure 3).

Graphically, the results looked like this:

All these differences are rather striking, particularly the reports of severe AEs. Overall, the authors estimated, a 10% increase in state Republican voting was associated with a 5% increase in the odds that a COVID-19 vaccine AE would be reported to VAERS, a 25% increase in the odds that a severe AE would be reported, and a 21% increase in the odds that any reported AE would be severe.

Sensitivity analyses carried out to try to exclude other factors that might confound the analysis found that…

…individuals with other vaccines or history of medication or allergy do not show a significant association with political inclination, male recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine show a similar association with political inclination as female recipients, and older recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine show a stronger association with political inclination.

The results led the investigators to conclude:

This study found that the more states were inclined to vote Republican in the 2020 US presidential election, the more likely their vaccine recipients or clinicians were to report COVID-19 vaccine AEs. This association between political inclination and vaccine AE reporting was not seen for the influenza vaccine. The results are consistent with a relative overreporting of vaccine AEs among Republicans or a relative underreporting among Democrats.

Further noting:

The association between observation and belief runs both ways. The adage “seeing is believing” recognizes that our individual experiences inform our sense of truth, and “believing is seeing” recognizes that our preconceptions modulate what we experience in the first place. In finding that Republican-inclined states show higher COVID-19 AE reporting than Democrat-inclined states, this study suggests that Republicans are more likely to perceive or report those AEs and that Democrats are less likely to.

All of this is, of course, not unreasonable. Because VAERS is a passive reporting database, that means that what it is recording are AEs that the people reporting the AEs perceive as having been likely due to the vaccine. One only has to point to examples of people claiming that sudden cardiac deaths were due to COVID-19 vaccines, even when they occur weeks, months, or years after vaccination, to emphasize the point that perception affects reporting to VAERS. The same thing is true of cancer, with antivaxxers perceiving nearly any case of cancer occurring after vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines, be it days, weeks, months, or even a year later when the cancer is diagnosed, as being “turbo cancers” caused by the vaccines. If deaths and cancer can be incorrectly perceived as due to the vaccines, then of course lesser AEs will be even easier to have been incorrectly attributed to vaccines. Again, as the authors point out, this goes both ways. If you believe the vaccines are safe and effective, you might be less likely to attribute something that might be a real vaccine injury to the vaccines, a point that antivaxxers offended by this study miss.

The Prasad is outraged

Of course, nuance has never been Dr. Vinay Prasad’s strong suit, at least not when there is an audience to enrage and clicks to be had. He is outraged that this study found what it found:

How to rebuild trust? By doubling down on petty partisan politics, according to a new JAMA NO paper.

And then:

The article claims that people in Red states report more vaccine injuries than people in Blue states. It concludes that either Republicans are more likely to “perceive” injuries, or Dems less likely.

I’m not sure how this finding is “doubling down” on petty partisan politics. It seems that Dr. Prasad is more outraged by a single example of news coverage of the study in which Dr. Eric Topol in a STAT+ article:

Note how the text fades out. Dr. Prasad apparently doesn’t have a subscription to STAT+ and therefore didn’t read the whole article, which might or might not have included more from Dr. Topol. Unfortunately, neither do I; so I can’t check. However, I must agree that Dr. Topol’s not wrong in that, again, the political center of gravity of the antivaccine movement has shifted far to the right over the last decade, especially since the pandemic; moreover, we know that vaccine hesitancy and resistance tend to be higher in states with a high proportion of Republicans. Heck, economist turned incompetent antivax “epidemiologist,” Michigan State University Professor Mark Skidmore inadvertently found data suggesting, for instance, that political orientation greatly affects whether a person perceives a death as having been due to COVID-19 vaccines or not. Too bad he was so hellbent on deceptively spinning his survey data into “proving” that COVID-19 vaccines have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Let’s get to the substance, such as it is, of Dr. Prasad’s criticism:

Let me explain why this is a poor choice. The factors that predict whether someone has an adverse event to influenza vaccine may not be the same as those that predict adverse events from covid shots. It could be that there are actually more covid vaccine injuries in one group than another— even though both had equal rates of influenza injuries.

Yes, but that’s not why the authors were using influenza vaccines as a control. They clearly thought that political orientation would have much less of an effect on whether a person perceived an AE as having been due to the vaccine than it would for COVID-19 vaccines. After all, flu vaccines have been around a long time, and most people, aside from antivaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant, view them rather benignly, or at least not with fear and loathing, based on messaging that is more prevalent on one side of the political spectrum than the other. Of course, Dr. Prasad likely knows this, but that doesn’t stop him from spinning a fantastical confounder with a dubious comparison:

Another way to think of it is, there can be two groups of people and you can balance them by the rate with which they get headaches from drinking wine, but one group can be more likely to get headaches from reading without glasses because more people in that group wear glasses. In other words, states with more republicans might be states with specific co-morbidities that predict COVID vaccine adverse side effects but not influenza vaccine side effects. We already know that COVID vaccine injuries do affect different groups (young men, for e.g.).

I note that the only example that Dr. Prasad can cite (young men being more likely to experience myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccination) would have likely shown up in the sensitivity analyses based on age and gender. It didn’t. Absent that, all Dr. Prasad is doing is coming up with a hypothetical confounder that he can’t prove. After all, if he could, he would have cited specific conditions or demographic traits of different states—other than being young and male—that might have confounded these results.

Next up:

These data are ecological. It doesn’t prove that republicans themselves are more likely to report vaccine injuries. It would not be difficult to pair voting records with vaccine records at an individual patient level if the authors wished to do it right— another example of research laziness.

When Dr. Prasad wrote, “It would not be difficult,” all I could see was this:

Sorry, couldn’t help it. However, remember how in the 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb after the Soviet doomsday device had been triggered and would soon render the surface of earth uninhabitable, former Nazi scientist turned Presidential science advisor Dr. Strangelove gleefully pontificates about how “it would not be difficult” to keep society alive (after which he quickly corrected himself to say, “Mr. President”). All it would require are unused mineshafts, fertile young females (chosen for possessing extreme sexual appeal) brought along at a ratio of 10 females for every male, with all of the males being, of course, the leadership class, leading the Soviet ambassador to proclaim what a good idea it was. Basically, in the movie Stanley Kubrick used “would not be difficult” to emphasize just how difficult and impossible Dr. Strangelove’s ridiculous plan would be.

Same thing here, although I’m sure that Dr. Prasad will claim that I’m calling him a Nazi. I’m not. I’m calling him someone who, if he doesn’t know how difficult the study that he proposes offhandedly would be, should know, and how silly what he proposes is. True, it’s not as silly as Dr. Strangelove going on about filling old mineshafts with leaders, workers to grow food and raise animals to slaughter, and ten females to every male in order to repopulate the world. But it’s getting there.

It is correct that this study is ecological and that ecological studies can find associations that don’t hold up to more rigorous analysis. The authors are very upfront about that, stating that it is one of the study’s weaknesses but also explaining why they think that the ecological design of the study was unlikely in this case to have produced a false positive correlation:

This study is limited by its ecological design.12 Both vaccine reporting and political voting occur at the level of individuals, but here they are measured at the level of states. Nevertheless, the only way the results might not support a relatively increased AE reporting rate among individual Republican-voting citizens is if Republican-voting citizens were less likely to report but far more likely than Democrat-voting citizens to be vaccinated in the first place or if, as the proportion of Republican-voting citizens in a state increased, the AE reporting rates among the progressively fewer Democrat-voting citizens increased at an even steeper rate. Neither possibility seems likely.

In particular, that latter explanation appears very unlikely.

Remember, though, how I referred to a catchphrase of a certain YouTuber whose videos I like? The part where Dr. Prasad blithely says that it “would not be difficult to pair voting records with vaccine records at an individual patient level if the authors wished to do it right— another example of research laziness” is what brought to mind that catchphrase about how “difficult” this task might be, because apparently Dr. Prasad thinks that it would be “super easy, barely an inconvenience.” By way of background, that catchphrase comes from YouTuber:

Super easy, barely an inconvenience is one of the main catchphrases of the series, Pitch Meetings always said by Screenwriter Guy. It is an on-running phrase used in nearly every episode whenever Studio Executive Guy thinks something would probably be difficult, to which the the guy giving the pitch responds that it would actually be “super easy, barely an inconvenience”, which pokes fun at the fact that the thing being referred to should probably be more difficult than it ends up being.

I could point to just how difficult getting institutional review board (IRB) approval for the sort of massive study that Dr. Prasad says “would not be difficult” would likely be, and I’m not even considering getting the funding to carry out such a combined epidemiological and social sciences study would be.

If you were to listen to Dr. Prasad, you’d think that pairing up voting records with over 600,000 VAERS records for COVID-19 vaccine AEs and political affiliation of individuals would be “super easy, barely an inconvenience” that only wasn’t done because the investigators who did this study were somehow too “lazy” to bothered. This is an insult to the investigators. After all, as scientists we all want to do the most rigorous studies that we can manage, but sometimes you have to do what is possible rather than ideal. This study appears to be about the best ecological study of this type that could be done, working within the realm of the feasible and what the authors likely had funding to accomplish. It’s basically the same deceptive technique that Dr. Prasad employs when he complains about there not being any randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) sufficiently “rigorous” for his liking. (Never mind that there is no elite RCT strike force.) It’s what I like to call methodolatry, or fundamentalist evidence-based medicine (EBM) that discounts any non-RCT as crap, regardless of ethics or feasibility of doing the desired “ideal” RCT. It’s the sort of fundamentalism that antivaxxers like RFK Jr. and his lawyer Aaron Siri have used to deceptively imply that the childhood vaccination schedule is somehow “unsafe” because not all vaccines have undergone RCTs versus a placebo control. (I discussed in great depth why this is nonsense here and described how such methodolatry and EBM fundamentalism have been weaponized against public health here.) Dr. Prasad fell for that argument on vaccines and here is doing a variation of the same thing with epidemiology, bemoaning a decent, achievable ecological study because it is not an in-depth, individual patient-record study.

It would actually be a difficult, massive undertaking. First, the VAERS report records would have to be de-anonymized, so that the investigators had names of the people making the VAERS reports. Then the authors would have to figure out who the actual patient injured was. (After all, family members, spouses, friends, and health care workers can make a report to VAERS.) They would then have to match over 600,000 names to voting records in 50 states. They’d also have to decide how they were going to assign political orientation, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, to each VAERS entry. In states in which voters have to declare a party affiliation when they register to vote, it might be fairly “easy” (but not “super easy, barely an inconvenience”). In other states, they might have to figure it out by looking at records for primary elections and seeing which ballots the people behind the VAERS entries selected. Michigan (where I am registered to vote), has an open primary and does not require one to declare a party when registering to vote. However, for any given primary election, you have to pick a Republican or Democratic primary ballot when you vote and can only vote for the primary candidates in that party. You can, however, pick the ballot for either party in any given primary, voting, for example, for Republican candidates in one primary and then the next primary picking a Democratic ballot and choosing among Democrats. For other states with open primaries it could be quite difficult to assign party affiliation to VAERS entries from the voting records, and assigning party would be impossible in states with open primaries that do not require voters to declare a party affiliation when they register to vote and allow voters to vote for both Democrats and Republicans in the primary. This latter group is pretty large.

Seriously, Dr. Prasad. WTF? “Not difficult”? Yes, in Michigan, for instance, you could find out which people reporting to VAERS chose a Republican or Democratic ballot for the Presidential primary, but it would hardly be “not difficult.” And that’s just one state. Every state has different laws and rules. Seriously, ask political scientists how “not difficult” it is to figure out the party affiliations of voters in all 50 states, and that doesn’t even count the question of people registered in one party voting in the other party’s primary in order to try to get a weaker candidate nominated.

Of course, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Prasad knows that it’s anything but “not difficult” to get access to the names of people in the VAERS AE entries, match them on an individual level to voting records in their state, and then correctly assign party affiliation to each one. I do, however, have to leave open the possibility that, as is the case when he says how “super easy, barely an inconvenience” it would be to do randomized controlled clinical trials of every little question related to COVID-19, such as masking, vaccines, social distancing, and “lockdowns.”

The bottom line

So, Dr. Prasad’s deceptive audience-captured attacks on it notwithstanding and the obstinate intentional misinterpretation of the results to say that Republicans “make up” vaccine injuries, what does this study tell us. Again, it is an ecological study and has all the limitations of such studies. On the other hand, it is consistent with a lot of what we know about the sociology of vaccine hesitancy in the age of COVID-19, namely that the demonization of the vaccines coming from the right does influence belief in those sharing political philosophy, with lower vaccination rates, for example, and more resistance to vaccine mandates. It is therefore not unreasonable to hypothesize that political orientation might affect perceptions of the cause of AEs that might be due to COVID-19 vaccination, and this study appears to confirm that hypothesis, with people in red states being more likely to report AEs associated with COVID-19 vaccines but not associated with flu vaccines. Further research will either support or contradict the finding of this study. That’s how science works. As of now, though, the study finds pretty much what, knowing what we knew before, we would have predicted it to find.

Dr. Prasad knows his audience though, having been thoroughly captured by it. That’s why he echoes their exact complaints about “misperception” and then adds these juicy bits of red meat:

The story is framed as Republicans are more likely to imagine injuries, but the truth is Dems might be more likely to brush them under the rug due to misplaced loyalty to our lord and savior St. Anthony of Fauci. Dems might suppress real injuries.

Our “lord and savior St. Anthony of Fauci”? Give me a break. If anyone wonders why I haven’t taken Dr. Prasad seriously for a very long time, the quote above should tell you why. He knows his audience and now completely caters to it. Whether he himself believes his antivax pandering anymore, only he can say, but for all practical purposes whether he believes it or not is irrelevant. His messaging is antivax even to the point where he credulously bought into one of RFK Jr.’s favorite old antivax tropes, undermined the childhood vaccination schedule. with EBM methodolatry, and echoed old antivax “do not comply” messaging, and that, unfortunately, is more than enough.

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61 replies on “Quoth Dr. Prasad: “It would not be difficult” to do an impossible VAERS study”

Clearly the researchers have stumbled across the Deep-State scheme to provide doctored, more dangerous vaccines to red states in order to reduce the voting population.

I am surprised that Prasad did not go there.

Indeed. There is a conspiracy theory that claims that certain lot numbers of vaccine were associated with much higher rates of AE reports to VAERS and that those lots of vaccines were—surprise!—preferentially sent to red states.

Which would mean that the conspiracy theorists were also saying that red states were reporting higher incidence of AEs wouldn’t it?

He’s done. He’s completely crossed to the anti-vax side of things and there will be no coming back for the charismatic little libertarian arsehole. Viney Prasad should never be given another platform.

There’s another significant problem with trying to match VAERS records and political affiliation on the individual level: official party of registration is a terrible proxy for actual political affiliation and voting behavior in the U.S. There are 51 different systems for registering to vote in the U.S., but generally, once you register to vote with a party affiliation, you default to keeping that party of registration, and don’t ever need to positively re-affirm it. And the only time it actually makes a difference is if you want to vote in a primary or participate in a caucus, which most voters don’t do. And in some states, you can vote in either party’s primaries without changing your official party of registration. The result is that official party of registration is a lagging indicator, that frequently bears no resemblance to actual political preferences or behavior.

Also, strategic cross-party voting in primaries and caucuses occasionally happens. And if you’re in a deep “red” or “blue” state, the general election is often a mere formality, so there’s an incentive to cross parties to be able to vote in an election where your vote might actually make a difference.

For example, in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, registered Democrats in Kentucky actually slightly out-numbered registered Republicans, ~47% to ~44%. But Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by 25 points (~62% to ~36%) in that state. Especially in the “Democratic South”, a lot of voters have switched functional political affiliations without bothering to change their official party of registration over the last few decades.

My state doesn’t even include party information in registration. We have open primaries, where everyone gets the same ballot, you pick which party you’re voting for and if you do more than one, your ballot is “spoiled.” Plenty of people have crossed party lines at time to try and slant the other party’s results. Nothing illegal about it here.

I don’t know exactly how the voting system works in the US.
In the Netherlands, you can become a member of a party, exept for one party, which has only one member, named Geert Wilders.
But voting is anynomous. The party with the most members is one of the smaller ones in parlement. They used to be bigger, but some splits happened when the party-leader became deeper and deeper in complot-theories, at some point with a dash of anti-semitism. They are big fans of Putin. One member of the European parlement spread lies about Ukraine involved in childtrafficing and organharvesting.
The biggest party in parlement is the one with just one member. Even the members of parlement of this party are not members of the party. They don’t have anything to say about the party-line.

I believe the Netherlands uses a party list/proportional representation electoral system? The U.S. system is very different.

To start with, each of the states (and the District of Columbia for Presidential elections) administers elections including Federal elections, so there are 51 different voter registration systems.

In general (but some states are different):

You (as a prospective voter) have to take proactively register to vote. At that point, you will be asked if you wish to register as a member of a specific party. Most voters choose to register as a member of one of the two national parties (Democrat and Republican). It’s not particularly meaningful. Unlike in many other democracies, party “membership” is largely passive. You literally tick a box on your voter registration form, and that’s about it.

The only meaningful element of declared party “membership” is which party’s primary election (or caucus) to select candidates you can participate in. But even then, several states have “open” primaries – you can only vote in one party’s primary election, but you can choose whichever party’s primary you want, regardless of your nominal registered party. In those states, party “membership” is almost completely meaningless.

Party “members” participate in selecting candidates through primary elections (or caucuses) and…that’s really it. The formal party organizations that determine platforms and allocate funding to campaigns and candidates are a mix of professional political operatives employed by the party, current office holders, convention delegates, and volunteers. Ordinary “registered party members” don’t actually have any direct say in any of it.

For that matter, in the U.S. system of single-member, first-past-the-post electoral districts, party platforms aren’t very meaningful. Individual candidates generally each put forward their own personal platform. They also raise campaign funds on their own. Parties can have some influence by funding (or not) individual campaigns, but it’s a very weak control. And by law, they can’t block anyone from seeking a nomination to be the party’s candidate for an office in a primary (or caucus). There are no “party lists”.

The result of all of that is that formal party of registration is an extremely weak indicator of actual political allegiance. Formal party registration is just not particularly salient to most voters. Which primary they vote in is a better indicator, but it’s still kind of weak. Most registered voters don’t vote in most primaries, which primary a voter participates in can vary from electoral cycle to electoral cycle, depending on individual candidates, strategic cross-party voting, and whim.

Despite Dr. Prasad’s assurances, even if you had all of the available records for all 51 electoral jurisdictions and the unblinded VAERS data, trying to determine the political leanings of individuals who have filed VAERS reports just from matching them to electoral records would be a fiendishly complex undertaking, and I seriously doubt it would yield very meaningful data.

Looking at correlations between party affiliation and VAERS at an individual level would be difficult. But Dr. Prasad writes “voting records”, which I would take to mean actual votes, not just party affiliation. Pairing actual votes “with vaccine records at an individual patient level” is, by design, impossible. The US universally has anonymous ballots. At least in my lexicon “not difficult” and “impossible” have somewhat different meanings. I suppose they could have done a survey, but would that actually improve the reliability of the results? Surveys (contra Kirsch) are actually complicated to assess for systematics and estimate reliability. What brave new world of willful ignorance and stupidity is this?

Has Dr. Prasad done any actual study designs (I suppose I could look that up)? Does he actually vote? (I shouldn’t be able to look that up at, at least which way he voted.)

Well, I do have a STAT News subscription, so I can quote the article in full:
People in Republican-voting states more likely to report Covid-19 vaccine side effects, study says
People in Republican-voting states were more likely to report adverse events after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination than people living in Democratic-leaning states, a new analysis finds, suggesting that how people view their post-vaccine side effects or decide whether to report them may be shaped by their political views.
The cross-sectional study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, looked at more than 620,000 entries in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System from 2020 through 2022 and found that a 10% increase in ballots cast for a Republican in the last presidential election was associated with a 5% increase in the odds that an adverse event after Covid vaccination would be reported, a 25% increase in odds that a severe adverse event would be reported, and a 21% increase in the odds that any reported adverse event would be severe.
“It’s all part of this incredible polarization that’s politically charged,” Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told STAT. He was not involved in the study. “The fact that they’re reporting a significant increase in states that are Republican is just consistent with everything we’ve seen in the pandemic.”
In the grim calculus of Covid-19 deaths, there is already a well known red-blue state divide among Americans. More people died in states where more voters registered as Republicans, voted that way, and elected members of the Republican party. Counties in Donald Trump’s column in 2020 were much less likely to get Covid vaccinations than counties that voted for President Biden.
VAERS is a surveillance system created by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows patients, doctors, and vaccine manufacturers to voluntarily report symptoms that occur after vaccination. That’s a weakness for establishing cause and effect, but it’s a strength for gauging people’s attitudes about their experience, David Asch, lead author of the new paper, told STAT.
“It’s probably a better measure of how motivated people are to report. And that was really what we were trying to study,” he said. “The anti-vaccine movement might have started out along libertarian lines like, ‘Let’s not have compulsory vaccination,’ but it gradually moved into thinking that either the vaccines weren’t effective or that they were unsafe. And so we wanted to look at whether people were reporting safety concerns.”
In the study, the authors also looked at flu vaccination reports to see if certain states had greater tendencies to report related to political affiliations. They found no link there, which fits with greater acceptance of flu shots than Covid vaccinations, Topol said.
“That’s telling because we’ve never seen the flu engender political divides like this,” Topol said. “Partisan use of the flu shots has not really been part of all the anti-vaccine efforts.”
Asked what can be learned from his research, Asch replied with what he called less of a lesson and more of a lament.
“I wish we could find some way to just take this out of the dark side of political polarization, because it’s not serving anybody,” he said. “To the extent that some groups may be aligning themselves with, let’s say, an anti-vaccine approach, [that] puts those individuals at risk and actually puts the people who live around them at risk.”

I suspect Dr. Prasad is smart enough to know he’s spewing hoaxes, just like the Republican leadership who were first in line to get vaccinated.

“If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero. If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
— Gov. Ron DeSantis, July 2021

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina—who had received two doses of vaccine—suffered a short-lived COVID infection with mild sinusitis. “I am very glad I was vaccinated,” he said, “because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse.”
— Dr. Paul Offit, Labels Matter: Breakthrough Infections, January 2, 2024

“the vaccine works but some people aren’t taking it. The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don’t take the vaccine. But, it’s still their choice. And if you take the vaccine you’re protected. Look, the results of the vaccine are very good. And, if you do get it, it’s a very minor form. People aren’t dying if they take their vaccine.”
— Donald Trump, December 22, 2021

I think it more likely he’s aware his posts have certain resonances with hoaxes, and he doesn’t consider that a disqualifying problem. I take his self-image to be a gadfly to the medical establishment, or (as Dr. Howard at SBM might put it) a professional contrarian. He’s faculty at UCSF, yes?, and academia typically values a limited degree of challenges to consensus, for the purpose of fostering debate that keeps everyone on their toes. Either the consensus becomes stronger in response to the challenge, or is revealed to be problematic if it cannot respond effectively.

From this basically classic Enlightenment perspective, Prasad is performing a valued function exactly by engendering the debunkings by the likes of Orac.

I don’t know if such a high-minded rationale totally characterizes his self-image, or if more base conceptions dominate, but I’ll wager it’s in the mix somewhere and likely how he would justify himself if challenged, however such a defense might combine sincerity and disingenousness.

The problem with this, and it’s a big problem, is that Enlightenment ideals are a problematic fit for forming public health policy in the face of a combination of a deadly pandemic and an extremely well resourced conspiracy-theory-fueled anti-science movement with major influence on the levers of power.

I.e. there’s a big difference between being a contrarian in social philosophy at a scholarly symposium (e.g. Slavo Zizek) and defaming Tony Fauci in the blogosphere with absurd proposals for “easy studies”.

Personally, I think Dr. Prasad started out being the professional contrarian in a more reasonable way but, as the pandemic progressed, increasingly was captured by his audience. After all, prepandemic, he clearly loved being viewed as the contrarian, the critic who finds problems with things like oncology clinical trials, and he actually did do that to some extent before COVID-19 hit. (I even once cited one of his papers approvingly around 2018, IIRC.) However, Dr. Prasad is clearly incredibly arrogant and always fancies himself the smartest guy in the room—any room—as evidenced by his attack on doctors who take the time and effort to analyze and debunk the claims of alternative medicine or things like jade eggs sold by Goop as wasting their training, time, and intellect doing something that (to him) is so very, very easy and obvious compared to what he was doing then, critiquing clinical trials and pharma influence in oncology. Steve Novella and I tried to school him on Twitter and then answered an article he wrote in December 2020 that basically laid out his BS case.

That arrogance made him (1) prone to COVID-19 contrarianism because a pandemic is an excellent illustration of a situation when the perfect can too easily become the enemy of the urgently needed adequate with respect to medical research and public health, and (2) even more to audience capture. Ironically, he is a poster child for how difficult it is to debunk the sorts of things (e.g., jade eggs) whose debunking he once derisively referred to “dunking on a 7′ hoop.” Moreover, his ego made him particularly vulnerable to audience capture. Given his self-image as a brave contrarian who says the things about oncology trials that no one else had the guts to say publicly, it’s not surprising that he was particularly susceptible to chasing (likely without realizing that’s what he was doing) the praise he got from COVID minimizers and antivaxxers for “contrarian” takes on masks, nonpharmaceutical interventions, vaccines, etc. If anyone was a prime candidate for audience capture, Prasad was.

Maybe Prasad believes himself the classic gadfly. However, even though I can’t comment on the role of gadflies in the humanities and philosophy, I can say this about gadflies in medicine. They need to be right from time to time, or there’s no reason for us physicians and scientists to take them seriously. After it becomes clear that they’re wrong so much more often than they’re right, their buzzing as a gadfly tends to be more and more ignored. Of course, in medicine, Prasad is pretty much ignored. It’s his status as an MD that gives him influence among lay readers. They don’t see through what he is doing, the way many physicians and scientists do.

First, the VAERS report records would have to be de-anonymized

Is anyone else amused that these clowns who make huge stinks about lockdowns and vaccines being violations of the rights and privacy of people have no problem advocating for hypothetical studies that would require direct loss of privacy of the subjects involved?

No, that’s pretty normal for this crowd.

“My privacy is important and you are a bad person for trying to invade it.”

“You insisting on your privacy means you are a bad person for trying to hide something.”

There are no universal principles to them: principles are always directional and hierarchical.

At this point in his career, Prasad is dunking on a two-foot hoop with a hockey puck.

I once skeptically analyzed VAERS death reports for my state of Illinois. I simply read every VAERS death report. (it was the fall of 2021 so only 200 or so death reports) I then tabulated the results.

Most VAERS reports were perfectly legitimate and obviously submitted by medical professionals (about 75%). The remaining ones were submitted by relatives. About 5-10% seemed fake, made up, empty or based on obituaries without direct knowledge.

Overall, I became convinced that VAERS reports are not figments of antivax imagination and reflect deadliness of COVID vaccines.

The reason why Democratic states have fewer VAERS reports is obvious: VAERS reports are a “danger to our democracy,” so they were suppressed and doctors were discouraged from submitting them by pro-vaccine operatives.

Other dangers to our democracy include humor, white rural voters, and the Supreme Court. Even elections are bad for our democracy, as the WEF and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation adviser Adam Grant explained in his NY Times opinion piece.

I for one would really love to know how hard Igor has to work to make posts that have statements even more stupid and fact free than all of his previous posts. He does it all the stinking time.

Reading all 200+ VAERS reports and looking at them critically was hard work. Hard work pays.

Reading all 200+ VAERS reports and looking at them critically was hard work

The point is this: it’s a sure bet you didn’t look at them critically: you’ve demonstrated that you are the opposite of a critical thinker. You ask yourself “does what I’m seeing match my preconceived opinion?” and then you make damn sure it does.

Why do I say that? Because none of your comments about the dangers of covid vaccines, about how useless they are, etc., is supported by any data or any study result. Add to that the fact that the way you talk about using those reports isn’t justified, and the only conclusion is that you’re simply blowing more crap.

Summary: Posting history shows you’ve never done “critical thinking” or “hard work” on these issues. Whether it’s because you’re too lazy or simply incapable is something I won’t speculate on here, even though I have my suspicions.

Ldw56old to Igor: your statements are not supported by data

Igor to Ldw56old: provides data

Ldw56old: this is not data because I do not like it

Of course, it is not the data that are the problem. It is Igor’s “analysis” and “interpretation” of the data that are the problem—and why no one with any scientific background here takes his “analyses” and the conclusions based on them the least bit seriously.

Ldw56old to Igor: your statements are not supported by data

Igor to Ldw56old: provides data

Ldw56old: this is not data because I do not like it

You really don’t understand anything do you? You are the one making claims that contradict research. You are the one that is using VAERS reports in ways it’s explicitly stated it shouldn’t be used. You are the one claiming some nebulous group suppresses reports in certain states. It’s up to you to supply data and support for those claims, yet you never do: it’s all by assertion.

And the reason you don’t supply data to support your comments is simple: there isn’t any.

But (here’s the main point in case it’s to complicated for you): it’s not up to us to supply any more data than already exists showing the vaccines reduce transmission and severity, don’t cause “sudden death”, that there have not been millions of deaths worldwide from the vaccine, that the majority of current evidence points against covid 19 having been developed in a lab, that the Gates foundation is not doing all of the evil things you claim it is — basically, reality about these things is 100% against your assertions.

So, if you want any of your comments to taken seriously, you need to supply proof. Not bullshit claims of “critically examining” things, not your usual misrepresentations of articles, not your paranoid conspiracies about Bill Gates, proof: data, collected in a meaningful and careful way, analyzed by people who know what they are doing (that alone rules you out of the mix), and has been reviewed for validity. Go ahead, do it.

Of course, that doesn’t even begin to deal with your unfounded, simply misogynistic comments about and attacks on women with whom you disagree. That doesn’t stem from your lack of understanding of science, it simply comes from a lack of decency on your part.

The usual advice applies: if you don’t like having it pointed out that NOTHING you claim is true or is supported by evidence, stop saying things are not true and not supported by evidence.

“Reading all 200+ VAERS reports and looking at them critically was hard work”

At which point did you realise that your critical analysis was as much use as asking a random selection of prison inmates if they were guilty of the crime they are incarcerated for?

And, Igor, you’re not capable of being skeptical of anything: you are a sponge for the most asinine conspiracies around: covid vaccines killing people, the notion that VAERS reports were suppressed and doctors discouraged from submitting them. it is interesting, for all your talk of ‘loving science’ and ‘doing hard work’ that your results are consistently lacking in any support from data or even a plausible mechanism to indicate they might be correct.

Dishonesty and misinformation, the names are Igor.

I just explained where exactly I got “support from data”: from Illinois VAERS reports. I looked at each death report very critically, trying to find fakes etc.

I just reviewed up what I wrote them in Oct 2021.

Death reports: 216
Entered by medical professionals: 165
Entered by relatives: 32
Possibly fake reports: 8
Undetermined (no data): 11

The entried from the largest category, “Entered by medical professionals,” had medical jargon, lists of the victims’ prescription medications, etc.

Do you read what you write?

You cannot possibly be this ignorant. Surely?

Could you critically analyse every report of alien abduction and report back which one you think are true please?

. . . Most VAERS reports were perfectly legitimate and obviously submitted by medical professionals (about 75%). . .

So, vaccines killed about 150 people in your state in less than a year? Amazing that you were able discern that so easily. Naturally you must have spent a good bit of energy and time to verify both the status of the reporters and get them to show you their case reports. You are truly sui generis and ready to apply to the FDA and CDC. If only others were so dedicated and qualified. We eagerly await the links to your evidence.

Not all Covid vaccine deaths are recorded in VAERS.

A case in point is a relative of my friend, a young autistic man in his 20s who died from a blood clot in the brain two days after being administered his safe and effective COVID vaccine in May 2021.

I searched VAERS and he is not there.

So, no, not all victims of Covid vaccines are in VAERS, only a fraction of them.

A case in point is a relative of my friend, a young autistic man in his 20s who died from a blood clot in the brain two days after being administered his safe and effective COVID vaccine in May 2021.

So no proof it was due to the vaccine, but more evidence that “after the fact therefore due to the fact” is your definition of critical analysis. You are really a sad joke.

Has anyone researched how many people have died within two days of watching a Super Bowl? I suspect the results of such a study would suggest serious risks.

We can actually estimate that number fairly easily. There are approximately three million deaths in the US every year, which means that there are approximately 8,200 deaths every single day, meaning that one would expect around 16,400 deaths in the US within two days of a Super Bowl. All that’s left is to look at viewership figures, normalize to the total population of the US, and apply that fraction to the above number.

This year, the Super Bowl was watched by 123 million people, which represents approximately 37% of the population. We’d therefore expect that there would be around 6,100 people who died within two days after watching this year’s Super Bowl.

Of course, this is a very rough calculation, a ballpark figure if you will, but you get the idea. It’s useful exercise to do calculations like this to illustrate a point like yours, and this calculation tells us that by random chance alone, we’d expect at least 5,000 people who watched the Super Bowl this year to die within two days of having watched it.

A case in point is a relative of my friend…

Hmm, a minor variation of the “friend of a friend” of urban legend notoriety.

I searched VAERS and he is not there.

Well, I wonder why…

I thought it was improper and such a hearsay report would not be credible. Good question, I also thought a lot about it

Igor and his Substack cronies each know dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of friends, relatives and casual acquaintances who’ve suffered severe health consequences or died from Covid vaccines*, but curiously enough, no one who experienced similarly disastrous consequences of Covid infection.

Antivaxer Proximity Syndrome has been ignored by the MSM long enough!

*many, many women accost Igor at Costco to tell him these dreadful stories and beg for autographs.

Have you though this: there was obvious non reason for blood clot, (a precondition) and that is why it was not reported. An example of critical thinking.

Who pray tell suppresses VAERS reports? And why do they only live in Democratic states? And why has no offended doctor come forward to blow the conspiracy wide open?

I can give igor’s answers — the ones he gets through his “critical analysis” of issues as well as his mastery of “critical reading”.

Who pray tell suppresses VAERS reports?

They do — the ones who released covid 19 from the lab in China. Probably paid by the Gates’ foundation or its operatives.

And why do they only live in Democratic states?

Because that’s where they are protected.

And why has no offended doctor come forward to blow the conspiracy wide open?

Money from the Gates’ foundation and other wealthy liberals buys their silence.

That’s not Igor’s answer – his answer is always, and I do mean always:

“I cannot imagine how these people think or speculate as to what motivates them. All I do is tell the facts.”

Which is pretty efficient if you ask me. Keeps him from having to look or think about the holes that are repeatedly pointed out in his so called ‘facts’.

Actually Republicans attack COVID vaccines, and that’s why red states repoehrt more AEs as severe.
Have you any evidence that “pro vaccine operatives” (who they are ?) disourage VAERS reports ?
WEF and Gates ride again… Actually having a crook supporting mutinies as president is a greater danger to democracy One of his advisers proposed military rule. remember that ?But democracy will survive
As for Grant piece, would randomly selected leaders be better than current ones ? Expertise is needed, though
Check history. Republicans thought Warreen Court was very undemocratic.

Since you’ve consistently shown that you’re not competent to evaluate the evidence, it really doesn’t matter what ‘conclusions’ you’ve reached. The crackpot lies you’ve convinced yourself are true will always be irrelevant.

The steady increase in the amount of red meat being fed to the anti-vaccine hordes has resulted in a shortage. We are therefore no longer able to serve all the red meat that they crave. As a temporary measure, it is necessary that, beginning today, that they be tossed sardines on alternate days. Once the supply chain recovers we will reevaluate and rescind this unfortunate but necessary measure.

Getting tired of VAERS being use for things outside its very well stated purpose? Well a new paper in The Journal of Evidence Based Medicine The Journal of Evidence Based Medicine claimed to use a novel modification to the self-contained case series method to show a signal from myocarditis in younge men. It makes some assumptions regarding timing I don’t think are reasonable for the “control period”, but it passed peer review fwiw. Antivaxxers have of course glommed onto it and are claiming it’s a “watershed moment” in VAERS analysis (from the grand poobah of antivax pseudoscience James Lyons-Weiler himself). So now expect JLW to grift for more “research funds” to do this analysis for all vaccines in VAERS.

What’s funny is JLW buys into the idea that vaccine injury for myocarditis in this paper must happen soon after vaccination but of course, when it comes to other purported (by them) vaccine injuries like autism and autoimmune disorders, they are just fine with the “injury” taking months or longer after vaccination to happen. They want it all ways regarding their claims that vaccines cause all know human suffering, meaning, all they have to do is find any hook that makes people buy their lies.

Igor, like many of anti-vax mothers and alt med proselytisers I read/ hear, is self-taught which is by its very nature, problematic: people who proceed without a guide frequently gravitate towards pet topics and self-confirmation whilst assiduously avoiding more relevant material that includes basics in that area of inquiry and important information that runs contrary to their cherished beliefs. When you identify yourself as an authority, critiquing experts, you believe you cannot be cross checked by them. You think that you have already won by contradicting and overriding standard knowledge in the first place. Conspiracy believers usually negate the very concept of expertise because they reject these hierarchies as irrelevant.

I remember students’ distress when they were required to study historical context: it included loads of pre-scientific philosophy as well as early speculation and experiments. It seemed endless and unrelated to present day realities of research and treatment. Our prof- who frowned upon that attitude – said simply, ” How can you progress if you don’t know what has already been done? ” Which means is that you have to be familiar with ALL OF IT. Later on, you discover parallels, resonant ideas and precursors.

Rejection of expertise allows a self-satisfied amateur to falsely believe that they have discovered something new or found a hole in someone else’s reasoning or findings. I enjoy the fact that brilliant investigators– super sleuths- like RFK jr and anti-vaxxers somehow have missed volumes of brain research over decades that show that autism largely begins before birth and the “epidemic” of ASDs is more likely a change in how those conditions are defined and diagnosed. Somehow they missed all that.

In my college class on Science and Technology in the Early Modern World (it’s amazing the things you remember) we had several classes on Newton, and in one of them we went through his geometry proof of calculus.

Now, we had all taken several calculus courses (required) and generally remembered our geometry proofs. Even so, working through that proof was brutal, to the point that someone called out “but we use calculus now, can’t we just get to that?” and the Prof said “you have to see what he was up against, and why it was such a revolution in math.”
(Don’t worry, we also covered Leibnitz, who frankly had much better notation and was less of a uptight weirdo.)

If you don’t know where people were coming from, if you don’t know the logic train that got us to the current point, then you’re not going to understand how and why other ideas were discarded along the way.

You made some VERY good points Denice. It is indeed easy to get carried away and be caught up in confirmation bias, ignorance and groupthink. All thinking people should be on lookout for that.

Regarding “brain research”: what if I told you that scientists, sponsored by the US government (Air Force) tried to turn off “religious beliefs” and “right-wing prejudice” in experimental subjects by means of sending electromagnetic waves directly to their brains?

I am sure that you, a perfectly reasonable and sane person, would consider such a suggestion to be totally bonkers, insane, and reflecting poorly on the person reporting it.

You would probably laugh and make fun of people who like to wear tin foil hats and believe in alien abductions.

That’s a perfectly normal reaction of anyone who would read such a report.

Except that it is true: Dr Colin Holbrook of UCLA conducted multi-year research about turning off religious beliefs and right-wing prejudice in people.

His study “Neuromodulation of group prejudice and religious belief” attempted just that: he exposed subjects to focused electromagnetic waves called “transcranial magnetic stimulation” at the frequency of 50 Hz.

Dr. Holbrook reported “an average of 32.8% less conviction in positive religious beliefs” in subjects exposed to such electromagnetic radiation. So he was successful in turning off religious ideation.

The study was extremely unethical: religious, God-fearing study subjects were lied to and not warned that their religious beliefs would be turned off remotely. Instead, scientists promised them an experiment “ostensibly consisting of a series of unrelated measures, in exchange for $25.”

Now to religious people, less religious conviction is a sin, blasphemy, and could easily ruin their relationships with excessively pious relatives, chirch congregations, and so on.

I am an agnostic and not a religious person but I can name several things wrong with such experimentation!

Sadly, such research by Dr. Holbrook is supported by the US government (Air Force), as his another study “Continuous Theta Burst Stimulation of the Posterior Medial Frontal Cortex to Experimentally Reduce Ideological Threat Responses” mentions. That violates the First Amendment, disallowing the government to meddle with “free exercise of religion” but it seems that no one cares.

How sad…

You’re no agnostic. You’re a religious nut bag. No one else uses language like “God fearing.”

Also-VAERS reports that say healthcare professionals submitted them… I’ve read a lot of those. Nearly all came from LTACs and nursing homes. A person with end stage renal disease who was already failing got the vaccine and died. Another with severe dementia who had quit eating a week earlier. Another with inoperable cancer who was already in respiratory failure. Yeah. The vaccines did it.

I am not religious and not God-fearing. I respect religion but from a distance. But Holbrook’s study subjects were religious.

I know what some of you are thinking: you might have that special uncle who, at every Thanksgiving, starts talking about God, T R U M P, vaccines, and unborn babies. Some readers here probably would want to zap that uncle’s brain to reduce his religious beliefs. That’s what Holbrook’s research is about. Very unethical research

You did not read the paper, It was not about turning people to atheists

Also, here’s the funding for that study:

“This work was supported by a University of California, Los Angeles Clinical and Translational Science Institute grant to D.M.T.F, M.I., C.H. and K.I. (UL1TR000124). This research was also supported by the Brain Mapping Medical Research Organization, Brain Mapping Support Foundation, Pierson-Lovelace Foundation, The Ahmanson Foundation, William M. and Linda R. Dietel Philanthropic Fund at the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, Tamkin Foundation, Jennifer Jones-Simon Foundation, Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation, Robson Family and Northstar Fund.”

NOTHING about the Air Force or US Government. So much for your lame-ass 1st amendment argument.

Air Force funding is mentioned in Holbrook’s 2018 work (see above)

“Continuous Theta Burst Stimulation of the Posterior Medial Frontal Cortex to Experimentally Reduce Ideological Threat Responses”

See the acknowledgments section: Colin Holbrook was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Award FA9550-115-1-0469.

Citation from this paper:
In the example protocol provided here, participants are exposed to a threat prime-an explicit reminder of their own inevitable death and bodily decomposition-following a downregulation of the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) or a sham stimulation. Next, disguised within a series of distracter tasks, participants’ relative degree of ideological adherence is assessed-in the present example, with regard to coalitional prejudice and religious belief.
So again, it was not turning people to atheists

Orac and several regulars spend time and effort filling you in on what you’re missing re Covid, vaccines, epi etc and yet you disregard everything they say!

Do you really think that you understand this material better than they do? Do you truly think that you have uncovered hidden clues and secret information that Orac, RI regulars and other professionals have missed?

re brain research: your examples are nothing new- there has been speculation for years that stimulation of a certain brain area produces feelings of awe and otherworldly emotions associated with religious engagement.
Also, do you actually think that researchers can just experiment with subjects’ brains / emotions without supervision or a review board’s involvement?

“Dr. Holbrook reported “an average of 32.8% less conviction in positive religious beliefs” in subjects exposed to such electromagnetic radiation. So he was successful in turning off religious ideation”

F@#k me you’re doing it again.

Uncritical thinking is truly your forte.

Paper is this:
Transcranial magnetic simulation is described here:
Electromagnetic waves are not involved
A citation:
Specifically, we predict that participants confronted with their own mortality will ‘solve the problem’ via pMFC mechanisms that facilitate amplifying their belief in God; likewise, participants confronted by an out-group member’s critique of their group’s values will more intensely derogate out-group critics.
So government is not sending electromagnetic waves to turn people atheist.

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