When Allies Are Your Worst Enemy

Unprincipled promoters of the Covid vaccine use anything to smear anyone who is vaccine hesitant, for whatever reason. Unsourced and unexamined research, religious language and apocalyptic conspiracies just undermine legitimate data, process and political concerns.

It’s unfortunate, but people can be right for the wrong reasons. It’s far more common than you might imagine, because when someone agrees with you, you tend to let the little differences slide.

Less-analytic people frequently have intuitions that something is very wrong, because they are less prone than intelligence-signalling midwits to buying academic or media spin as truth. Too often their intuitions are right, but the rationale they dig up to support them is wrong.

And that’s where the damage starts.

The world is dealing with people in institutions and positions of influence who are arguing in bad faith, contrary to their duty to their institutions and to the people they serve. They resort to any rhetorical device to counter arguments based in data, relative-risk analysis, scientific process, or political and historical insight.

The tool they use most is the straw man. They dismiss any critique as the result of crazed conspiracy, cultish appeals to authority, or misinterpretation of data, reports or papers. In doing so they ignore the substantial range of criticism and concern from people who are arguing far more rationally than the Covid policy and vaccine promoters are.

That straw man has some teeth because they can point to people who do argue that way, and then ignore those who don’t.

Many of the most vocal, particularly online, embrace the wilder world of religious, pedophilic or technological conspiracies. Several online-prominent MDs use their credentials to promote completely unsourced and speculative nonsense, or quote “papers” without reference. Scientific humility is always absent. Consider Dr Jane Ruby and Stew Peters (no link out of disgust).

Worse, credentialists use their diplomas and universities to build credibility even when those credentials are in irrelevant disciplines, and then make outrageous claims that start from skerricks of truth. Consider Sean Brooks’ fiasco at a school board in Ohio, whose video went viral (no link out of disgust).

Sadly, the vast majority of people on all sides of argument fall for these types of fallacies. It doesn’t matter if it is the appeal to authority or just the bandwagon of the weight of social proof. It isn’t just the less-analytic vaccine hesitant. The I’m-so-smart midwits are even more prone to fall for claims to expertise. Stick a bureaucratic position or an Ivy League degree after someone’s name, or just put them on television, and midwits quote them like they’re Muhammed. Both groups don’t want to look at papers or data. They just want the short cut to reinforce their pre-rational prejudices.1

There are myriad legitimate reasons to attack the policy responses to Covid-19: the bureaucratic misrepresentations of the last 18 months, the clinical trials travesty, the partial and biased risk-benefit calculations, the unnecessary attacks on rights, and so-on. We don’t need bullshit that can be used against us in a PR war.

1 Declaration: I am like every other human being in this regard

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