[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Wed Mar 15 00:37:28 UTC 2006

On 3/14/06, "Hal Finney" <hal at finney.org> wrote:

Go back to the strong
> claim that "medicine", defined as services delivered by doctors, has
> played an insignificant role in extending life.

### The term "insignificant" is quite vague. If five years is
insignificant, compared to thirty years, then yes, medicine as defined
above (or let's say, as delivered by doctors and nurses) indeed played
an insignificant role in extending life. Mysterious factors, perhaps a
combination of better nutrition with public health measures and
changes in hygiene played a vastly greater role. If five years sound
like a good deal you get for your insurance premiums, then no,
medicine does not play an insignificant role.

I took issue with Robin's claim that smallpox vaccination played a
thoroughly insignificant role in the reduction of its prevalence, and
so far Robin did not point me to any evidence in favor of this claim.
The larger issue, that is the total impact of our current and future
medical spending on our own survival is something we discussed last
year primarily on wta-talk, although the last part of the exchange was
posted to exi (at that time the peans to the North Korean way of doing
things convinced me to unsub). Robin claimed that medicine does not
have any definite positive net effect on survival. I hope that when he
comes back he will give us some more arguments.

BTW, the Rand study he quotes is junk. I am busy today but I'll try
find my critique of that study somewhere in the archives.

I think that it is much more important to talk about the usefulness of
today's medicine to us (the subject of the discussion between Robin
and me last year), than the usefulness (or uselessness) of 19th
century medicine to our great-grandparents (the subject to which this
thread seems to have drifted). The consensus among economists and
historians is that medicine was not very useful two hundred years ago
but is clearly useful now, although there are huge differences in the
economic efficiency of various therapies. Robin's ideas on the history
of medicine are mainstream but his extrapolation of these notions into
present is far out of it.


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