[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Mon Mar 13 20:43:16 UTC 2006

This is a great subject, that demonstrates many important and surprising

One is the problem with the oft-stated idea that "extraordinary claims
require extraordinary evidence".  Who decides what is extraordinary?

Another is our emotional resistance to the possibility that medicine may
not be very useful.  This leaves us feeling powerless and vulnerable.
Even back in the 19th century doctors were regarded with awe for their
healing powers, powers we now know to be almost non-existent.

Yet another issue is the difficult question of how to become informed
about the full scope of scholarly understanding of the value of medicine.
This is not an area which has been communicated well to the public.

And there is an associated "meta" issue.  How best to update our personal
beliefs about the matter?  Should we accept the scholarly consensus at
face value, or should we attempt to become experts on public health,
epidemiology, the history of medicine, and the many other factors
necessary to achieve a good understanding of the issues?

On top of everything, it's an issue of personal importance.  Unlike
political questions in foreign or economic policy, where the average
person's opinion have essentially no impact, each of us needs to decide
when to go to the doctor, to take family members, and to recommened
medical intervention to others.

>From my perspective, the most important thing I would like to understand
is the 3rd issue above, what exactly is the scientific consensus about
the value of medicine in general and specific medical interventions
in particular?  Has their been a failure on the part of the academic
community to clearly communicate their skepticism regarding the value of
medicine, in a way that lay readers can understand and put into practice?
Most advice about medicine comes from doctors, who are generally not
disinterested parties on these questions, particularly not the big
question of the overall value of medicine.

It's possible that the academic community has attempted to send their
message, only to find it falling on deaf ears.  People may just refuse to
believe that it could be true, as we have seen in many responses here.
Or, it could be that the Big Medicine and Big Pharma have somehow been
able to suppress this message in order to protect the benefit they
receive from the enormous sums spent on medical treatment.

Robin does have a bunch of links on his page
<http://hanson.gmu.edu/EC496/Sources/sources.html>, including a section on
"How Much Does Medicine Help Health?".  I'm going to try to track down
some of the references and check into some of the textbooks.  It looks
like I will have to do a bit of my own work to get a better understanding
of the acadmic consensus, rather than have it spoon-fed to me.  That's OK,
but not many people will be willing to go to this much trouble.


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