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Ivermectin & Epistemology

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Americans who have decided to forgo vaccination have been hard hit by COVID. In response, some have been self-medicating with ivermectin. While this drug is best known as a horse de-wormer, the same drug is also used to treat humans for a variety of conditions. And, of course, many medications are used to treat conditions they were not originally intended to treat. Viagra is a famous example of this. As such, the idea of re-purposing a medication is not foolish. But there are obvious problems with taking ivermectin to treat COVID. The most obvious one is that there is not a good reason to believe that the drug is effective; people would be better off seeking established treatment. Another problem is the matter of dosing—the drug has the potential for serious side-effects even at the correct dosage. Since I am not a medical doctor, my main concern is not with the medical aspects of the drug, but with the epistemology. That is, I am interested in why people believe they should take the drug. Though the analysis will focus on ivermectin, the same mechanisms work broadly in belief formation. Those most likely to use the drug are people in areas hit hard by COVID and subject to anti-vaccine and anti-mask messages from politicians and pundits. These two factors are related: when people do not get vaccinated and do not take precautions against infection, then they are more likely to get infected. This is why there is such a clear correlation between COVID infection rates and the level of Trump support in an area. Crudely put, we are now in what could be justly called the Republican Pandemic. As I discussed in previous essays, the trend in Republican political thought is authoritarianism and the rejection of expertise. There is also a clear desire to “own the libs” by rejecting their beliefs and doing things to make liberals mad. Liberals want people to get vaccinated and wear masks, so “owning the libs” here puts a person at greater risk for COVID. Once a person gets. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

“My Body, My Choice”: Pro-Choice & Anti-Vaccine Analogy

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In a clever bit of rhetoric, people opposed to COVID fighting mandates have been using pro-choice terminology. For example, a person opposed to getting the vaccine might assert “my body, my choice.” This phrase is, of course, a standard part of pro-choice language. While some people are no doubt engaged in bad faith rhetoric or trolling, the analogy between abortion rights and the right to refuse vaccination is worth considering. Those who read my previous essay can skip the discussion of the argument by analogy. An argument by analogy will typically have two premises and a conclusion. The first premise establishes the analogy by showing that the things (X and Y) in question are similar in certain respects (properties P, Q, R, etc.).  The second premise establishes that X has an additional quality, Z. The conclusion asserts that Y has property or feature Z as well. The form of the argument looks like this:   Premise 1: X and Y have properties P, Q, R. Premise 2: X has property Z. Conclusion: Y has property Z.   X and Y are variables that stand for whatever is being compared, such as chimpanzees and humans or apples and oranges. P, Q, R, and are also variables, but they stand for properties or features that X and Y are known to possess, such as having a heart. Z is also a variable, and it stands for the property or feature that X is known to possess. The use of P, Q, and R is just for the sake of the illustration-the things being compared might have more properties in common. One simplified way to present the anti-vaccine (or pro-vaccine choice) analogy is as follows:   Premise 1: The right to choose an abortion is analogous to the right to choose to not be vaccinated. Premise 2: The right to choose an abortion is supported by the left. Conclusion: The right to choose to not be vaccinated should also be supported by the left.   While this analogy seems appealing to many anti-mask mandate folks, a key issue is whether it is a strong argument. The. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

JCVI endorses Status Quo Bias

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The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recently recommended against vaccinating children under 16 against Covid, despite granting that "the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms." (Of course, aggregated over a subpopulation of millions, even "marginal" improvements in risk profile can result in several saved lives and scores or hundreds fewer hospitalizations.  And, as Deepti Gurdasani makes clear in this thread,* all the evidence should lead us to expect the "unknown" risks from Covid to outweigh those from the vaccine, so taking uncertainty into account should lead us to regard vaccination as all the more important.)So what's behind the JCVI's verdict?  They are at least admirably transparent:In providing its advice, JCVI also recognises that in relation to childhood immunisation programmes, the UK public places a higher relative value on safety compared to benefits.It's important to be clear on what this really means. Note that this is not invoking any kind of philosophically defensible harm/benefit asymmetry.  (Many people think it's more important to reduce suffering than to promote happiness, but that's not what this is about.)  Vaccines aren't to make you happy. The "benefits" they provide are specifically safety benefits, i.e. against other health risks.  So what the JCVI is really saying is that they place higher value on protecting people from potential harms from vaccines than on protecting people from potential harms from COVID.That is deeply messed up.I just hope that greater philosophical clarity here will help people to see how messed up it is (and so change these institutions' values in future).  Every time some dopey bureaucrat claims they're prioritizing "vaccine safety" over "benefits", they need to be met with the response: No, you're prioritizing safety from vaccines over safety from COVID.That's clearly indefensible.  We just need. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

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