[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Robin Hanson rhanson at gmu.edu
Mon Mar 20 15:29:34 UTC 2006

At 09:41 PM 3/19/2006, Jeff Medina 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).

To be clear, I do not at all think the RAND study is anything close to "junk".
Its quality is substantially better than the typical study you will find via
MedLine, for example.  Its main "flaws" are that it is now 30 years old and it
only looked at 5000 people over five years, and that it had a needlessly
complicated set of varying treatments (mainly because they didn't anticipate
that the main result of the experiment would be no effect).    It would cost
about a billion dollars to now do a study of 10,000 people over ten years.

>... 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.

The RAND experiment was funded primarily in the hope that it would show
support for universal health care, and the people who ran the experiment
shared that hope.

Robin Hanson  rhanson at gmu.edu  http://hanson.gmu.edu
Associate Professor of Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
703-993-2326  FAX: 703-993-2323 

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