[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Jeff Medina analyticphilosophy at gmail.com
Mon Mar 20 02:41:07 UTC 2006

On 3/19/06, Robin Hanson <rhanson at gmu.edu> wrote:
> Again, I ask you to point us to a study that uses the method that you favor.
> We can then compare its flaws to the flaws of the study I favor.

Although I lean toward your [Robin's] claims on the utility of
medicine*, the implication you make above -- that Rafal needs to point
us to a better study (or any other study, for that matter) with which
we can compare the RAND study before his criticism of RAND itself
might be relevant or forceful -- isn't quite right.  There are various
criteria by which a study is considered to be more or less likely to
have provided us with worthwhile information on its subject.  One need
only point out that a particular study is "junk" with respect to these
accepted methodological standards to successfully refute the
conclusion the study allegedly supports (ceteris paribus).

Your [Robin's] point in response seems in part to be based on the fact
that if we have no study of equal worth (or junkiness, as the case may
be) with force counter to RAND, we have a reason to shift our beliefs
in the direction of the shoddy study's conclusions.  But even granting
this, as long as RAND is sufficiently dubious for various compelling
reasons, one could legitimately respond by shifting one's credence in
the overall utility of medicine from 99% to 98.999% (or similar
negligible, but extant shift) and still remain far from finding your
claim about the actual value of medicine justified.  Indeed, the
claim's justification w.r.t. yourself should be similarly poor based
on a dubious study (if it is indeed dubious), unless you'd already
started out with a low expected value assigned to medicine.  This may
be the case, but it would imply other, pre-RAND evidence, and the
conversation's focus on RAND is evidence against the existence of this
presumably-less-shoddy, pre-RAND evidence (again, if Rafal is right
about RAND being dubious in the first place, on which I haven't
expended effort on determining).

Although, since you've rightly pointed out that Samantha should care
what people outside of medicine find regarding medicine's value, I'll
point out one parallel that gives reason to doubt the RAND study at
least as much as one would doubt the "value of medicine" claims of
medical practitioners: RAND is an economically conservative / free
market capitalist organization, and hence has an interest in
discrediting ideologically opposed views. This opposition includes the
(American-) liberal position that the government should provide a
universal health care to its citizens, a position which is undermined
by the (alleged) conclusions of the RAND study.

* Side note: Given that Robin is consistently sharp and rational in
areas in which I am fit to make a judgment, and considered so by so
many other seemingly intelligent folks, in areas in which I am not
expert and he is, such as health economics, I have no rational choice
but to give his claims about health economics more weight than my own.
Frankly, I'm amazed so many people with no claim to even moderate
competence in any health economics, public health, or related areas,
have been so dismissive of Robin here.

Jeff Medina

Community Director
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

Relationships & Community Fellow
Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies

School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

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