[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Wed Mar 15 00:19:17 UTC 2006

On 3/14/06, "Hal Finney" <hal at finney.org> wrote:
> Overall, the book makes it clear that this is all still very much in
> dispute and the decline in mortality post 1750 must be considered a
> puzzle at this time.

Nonsense. There is reasonable grounds for debate about the exact relative
importance of each of several important factors. That's very different from
saying the whole thing is a puzzle.

In any case, I don't think we can justify a feeling of relief even if it
> does turn out that medical knowledge has helped.  Go back to the strong
> claim that "medicine", defined as services delivered by doctors, has
> played an insignificant role in extending life.  Redefining medicine to
> include washing your hands doesn't make this uncomfortable fact go away.
> Reset your mind to the state it was in a few days or weeks ago and I think
> you will find that this claim sounds completely insane.  Russell compared
> our discussion to those who insist we never landed on the moon.

I'll repeat, as I have said several times before, that the claim at which I
levelled that charge of absurdity is that medicine _in the broad sense_ (all
public and private measures aimed specifically at preventing, curing or
alleviating disease - as opposed to things like improved nutrition which had
other motives) hasn't played a large part in improved health and lifespan
over the last couple of centuries.

Though looking at medicine in the narrow sense, even the data provided by
the skeptics confirms - as was admitted earlier in this conversation - that
vaccines alone can be credited with years of extension to average lifespan.

Bearing in mind Robin's paper on "muddled thinking", how do you want
> to react to these facts?  Do you want to accept them, to accept the
> expert consensus?  Or will you refuse to believe it?  Are you thinking
> rationally, or emotionally?  Which way do you want to think?

So will you accept the expert consensus that we never went to the moon,
then, or will you refuse to believe it because it's not what you want to
think? :)

And the real sticking point Robin raises is this: even if you find this
> convincing, as I do, will you change your habits?  Will you stop going
> to the doctor, and even harder, stop taking your kids or loved ones?
> That's a hard decision!  I can feel my mind squirming, going into "excuse
> mode".  That's what I call it when you don't want to accept the reality of
> something and you are searching for reasons to disbelieve.  It's a very
> specific and noticeable mental state, if you pay attention.  Frankly I
> suspect that many posters here have been spending time in excuse mode.
> Pay attention to your own thoughts and see if you can feel it happening.

*laughs* I'm familiar first-hand with excuse mode, but you're looking at the
wrong guy if you think it's happening here - I'm one of those people who
won't go near a doctor unless I'm at death's door.

Anyway, this is more silliness on top of and quite independent of the other
silly claims. Whether you should go to a doctor if you're sick depends on
whether modern medicine can help your particular condition, not what its
contribution to lifespan has been across the entire population.

(Which again is independent of the more reasonable claim that most of the
marginal dollars spent on health care today have little effect.)

I'll bow out of this discussion with the following observation: 1750 is
before the time period I mentioned, and into the earlier wave of mortality
reduction (which was about nutrition). History since the fall of the Roman
Empire can be seen as the progressive conquest of War, Famine and Pestilence
in that order. (Yes, the wars of the 20th century were terrible by modern
standards - but they were mere arguments by Dark Ages standards.) Looked at
from that perspective, it's time we started making inroads against the
fourth horseman. I think I'll use that argument next time I'm talking to a
life-extension skeptic who takes the (in itself not unreasonable) position
that history is a better guide than science to the future.
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