Anti-vaxers: the paradoxes of paradigm busting
Updated: 5 days ago
Not so many weeks ago in an article called 'Covid Information Struggles' (i) Brian Martin wrote about the censorship of the alternative strategies to the vaccine program and lockdown and to tackle the pandemic. Although not entirely focused on the anti-vaccine movement, Martin's piece centred around the Great Barrington Declaration. Essentially, and although allegedly signed by leading scientists, this document proposes an alternative to the vaccine program in the fight against Covid-19. As a previous blog (ii) on this site pointed out, the Great Barrington Declaration is deficient in a number of regards.
Firstly, it argues we can defeat Covid-19 by ignoring its highly transmissible, mutable and deadly nature. Simply allowing so-called 'herd immunity' to take place ('achieving' this is the normal parlance) by staying healthy, by for example, washing our hands is the untried, untested but desirable alternative to vaccination. Secondly, we have been railroaded by science, medicine and government into accepting lockdown restrictions and vaccines; it thus argues the former are deleterious to our health and the latter we know too little of.
This, simplistically, is the argument contained in the Great Barrington Declaration, which Martin tacitly supported in his last article. As the previous blog here argued, herd immunity is a fantasy; only those surviving the first wave of the virus would be left standing to face the inevitable onslaught of new variants, a factor the Great Barrington Declaration is seemingly blind to. The virus is never-ending like flu and we need to constantly alter vaccines to combat it, because like flu it can kill, unlike flu, and because it is a new, novel virus we have not yet reached the stage of epidemic management: we are still in the grip of a pandemic and the virus is still killing many of the unvaccinated.
Now however, Martin explicitly espouses the Great Barrington Declaration approach in 'A Covid Paradigm' (iii) and presents it as a 'paradigm busting' alternative to the vaccine program. Exercising and taking vitamins hasn't been tried yet and so why not give it a chance Martin argues, as though this would present a Kuhnian like paragdim shift. Perhaps Twitter, Google and Facebook did go too far in censoring the Great Barrington Declaration, and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate likewise in its pursuit of anti-vaxers.
Nazi or Agent Provaceteur?
Or perhaps we'd think not if we were to read George Monbiot's Guardian piece (iiii). This is because as Monbiot's piece reveals, the anti-vax movement, although unknown to many, is connected online to far-right so-called 'pure-blood' organisations. The name gives it away but for those not in the know this is an allusion to the mythologised Teutonic nonsense of National Socialism. So what is Brian Martin's real intent now because we know he cannot possibly mean to connect his paradigm busting approach to Hitler's Third Reich. Indeed Martin even admits to having received the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in the conclusion of his piece.
So why is Martin taking this approach? Surely not because he sympathises with National Socialism and obviously not out of naievety; Martin is a well-informed academic and as stated in fact admits to having the vaccince himself. This is in slight contradiction to his paradigm 'busting' approach, which it has to be said, is simply a reiteration of the Great Barrington Declaration. So is this hypocrisy, even cowardice in the face of the reality of a virus potentially so deadly without vacination and even sometimes highly debilitating with?
I think it's fair to credit Martin with much more credibilty than this and to acknowledge that as an academic his approach is to provoke, in no short measure. However, let us analyse his article in-depth in order to see what Martin is really up to. Could it be that he is asking us to question science again - is a form of epistemic humilty in train here? We will see in due course, but first it might be apposite to begin with Monbiot's article just to underscore this blog's objection to Martin's argument - Monbiot's article can be re-read in endnote (ii) below.
The Deadly Consequences of Vaccine Denial
Monbiot begins his article by discussing how he has heard that yet another acquaintance who resisted having the vaccine has contracted Covid-19. Moreover, he writes of how often we hear too late of the regrets of those resistant to the life saving jab who find themselves in this position. Monbiot goes on to argue how online anti-vaccine sites are connected to right-wing libertarian anarchist type movements, and moreover to neo-nazi anti-state organisations.
Monbiot's main point is that many on the left who are resistant to the fascistic tendencies of capitalist governments are seduced unknowingly by these sites. This is perhaps the warning those of us in academia ought to take seriously when promoting paradigm busting alternatives to the vaccine program. So in order to at least to try and understand Martin's article, that is the rationale for a position which is seemingly so at odds with simple common sense, we must look in depth at his argument. Perhaps then our road to Damascus moment will arrive, for as they say, there's none so blind as those who will not see.
However, before we go any further, and in an effort to remove the scales from the eyes of the blind, this story will facilitate matters: a fifteen year old girl in Portsmouth (iiiii) has died on the day she was due to receive her first jab and only four days after testing positive following a PCR test. Do we really need to go on you might well ask? Yes we must in the name of rationality and in an attempt to quell the reckless argument of Martin and others - and given the circumstances that is being charitable, as we also acknowledge that long Covid is proving to significantly affect a significant minority of young people (iiiiii).
And yet, Martin, in questioning what he calls 'the Covid Paradigm', seems upset because those opposing the vaccine program are reviled. However, science and medicine show vaccines are dramatically reducing deaths. Is it any wonder then that emotions run high if for example someone dies unnecessarily without vaccination?: vaccination isn't just a matter for the individual, it is to protect the community and wider society; by getting vaccinated we protect others as well as ourselves.
Martin's Alternative Paradigm
Martin takes the usual line of attack in questioning the role of government, big science and big pharma in a critical analysis of the vaccine program, model and how it has eclipsed and excluded all other possible strategies to fight Covid-19. However, and as discussed above, the alternatives are so minimal and weak as to resemble a homeopathic response to cancer. Indeed, might not Martin consider a 'cancer paradigm'?
This would not of course be popular at all: suggesting we abandon tried and tested treatments for cancer in favour of exercise, fresh air and vitamins would raise the hackles of practically everyone on earth. Although, of course, the radical medicalization thesis has been well rehearsed by many, not least Illich: the theory that medical intervention is unnecessary and benefits big-pharma. Indeed, the purpose of Martin's article seems to be to simply question the vaccine program without offering any alternative and while tacitly presenting a Covid conspiracy theory.
Martin does this after beginning his article in a seemingly conventional academic manner, citing his previous interest in Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions etc., suggesting that this theory can be applied to the pandemic, but then veers into a conspiracy theory like essay. Indeed, is it even possible to apply the notion of scientific revolutions (the seismic shifting of a politically immovable institution) and paradigm busting to this pandemic when it is so new, and, an emergency response to a catastrophe engulfing the world? One feels as though to justify the notion that big-pharma and government have used the pandemic for their own ends, Martin might now suggest the whole Covid-19 event to be a fraud.
Looking at Martin's previous publications, it seems as though the pandemic and vaccines in particular are a bete noire of his. But is it possible that the beast has run out of steam? Martin himself admits to having the vaccine as if testing his theory might just be a risk not worth taking. Indeed, is this not the fundamental problem with Martin's article? That is, that he conflates his theoretical interest with Kuhn with his continued focus on Covid-19 and vaccines, and then argues an untenable position through this: all of us question science and medicine of course, but the facts (and yes this is much maligned empiricism), demonstrate there is no question that vaccines have saved millions of lives, although they are not perfect (iiiiiii). Thus to question - theoretically - whether we might abandon the program to exercise, take vitamins and to wash our hands instead needs no further comment here.