I have mentioned in several previous blogs that I love conspiracy theories; and as I have said before, I do not believe any of them. But still - it is a never-ending source of amusement for me to see what others are gullible enough to believe.
However, I should explain how I typically respond to conspiracy-related information that I know is bogus when it is posted to public forums:
- If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is based on their mistaken beliefs and is clearly harmless to anyone, I usually have a quick laugh and move on.
- If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is an urban legend or a hoax, I often point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org in order to stop the spread of false information.
- If I see that someone is posting information that is deliberately misleading and harmful to society, I will also point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org, but I will also ask them to stop posting information that will harm others.
I freely admit that I am not the "Internet Police." It is not my job to point out every instance where someone has posted bogus information. And - to be honest - that job would take far too much time. However, people's reactions to correction vary widely; some people are thankful to discover that they were posting something that wasn't true, while others are deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. This latter group of people has recently become very, very dangerous. The world is struggling with the mounting death toll of a global pandemic, and the last thing that we need is people posting bogus information about it.
I have made it abundantly clear in previous blogs how I feel about anti-vaxxers. Several of the anti-vaxxers that I know are well-meaning people, even though they mistakenly believe something that is fundamentally wrong. What many of these anti-vaxxers believe has been refuted time and again, but they ignore all of the evidence to the contrary, and they cling to their inaccuracies with a passion that resembles radical religious zealotry. I continuously see incorrect information strewn about by these anti-vaxxers, which stirs up a great deal of unnecessary fear of science. As a direct result of that fear, other people have been avoiding medical treatment that will save lives. (Even though people in developing nations are crying out to receive that same medical treatment.)
As I have pointed out in the past, our nation - the United States - has been blessed with amazing health care. Decades of successful vaccination programs have eradicated some diseases, and rendered others nearly moot - at least within our shores. This has resulted in domestic complacency with regard to immunology, while countries around the world are still grappling with infectious diseases and clamoring for treatments that we take for granted.
All of this discussion leads me to a conversation that I had earlier today with an anti-vaxxer who was claiming that the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was a corrupt company that was only in the business of selling vaccinations for profit. If you'll refer to my second point above, you'll see how I initially reacted. I pointed out the errors that the ill-informed anti-vaxxer was posting, (for example the fact that the CDC is actually a government agency that is funded by tax dollars), and I referred this anti-vaxxer to the www.factcheck.org website to correct the other misleading information that was posted.
As you might imagine, this did not sit well with the anti-vaxxer. As I mentioned earlier, this person was deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. And in reply to the facts that were presented to refute the inaccuracies that this anti-vaxxer had posted, I was told something to the effect that I was entitled to my own opinion.
The problem with that argument is that people are entitled to their 'opinions' when they are discussing something trivial, like whether the Pittsburgh Steelers are more important in the history of football than the Patriots. (Hint: they are.) But when it comes to actual science, opinions do not matter - facts matter. And facts do not care about your opinions.
When this anti-vaxxer continued to push the issue and post messages that were ultimately going to lead people astray, I shifted from the second point in my list of responses to conspiracy theorists to the third point. At our current stage in world history, the fear of life-saving immunology that anti-vaxxers continue to promote is intolerable; it is anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-facts.
As far as the CDC is concerned, a basic study of its duties and responsibilities show that its collection of scientists are fully-employed in trying to investigate and find treatments for thousands of diseases; such as HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Tuberculosis, Alzheimer's, Hepatitis, Diabetes, etc. They are also responsible for researching and preventing a host of occupational and public health issues. Their workforce of more than 15,000 employees has over 50% with advanced degrees; many of them doctors who are specialists in their respective fields of virology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, etc. These specialists will often have at least a decade of formal education in their fields, then another 10 to 30 years of experience within their chosen specialty.
With all of that in mind, it takes a special kind of hubris for an anti-vaxxer to assume that they know more than these thousands of well-educated and brilliant minds because he or she read a blog that agreed with their pre-existing opinion, even though their pre-existing opinion is baseless and easily-refutable nonsense.
The following video sums this up nicely.
In the end, of course, nothing that I said could convince this anti-vaxxer that he or she was wrong. This person continued to cling to the mistaken opinion that vaccines are the evil by-products of a world-wide plot involving the CDC, the WHO, and a host of other organizations and individuals. I realized that there was nothing that I could do, so I left this anti-vaxxer to his or her delusions, although I wished that neither this pandemic nor the next would claim the life of someone in his or her family.
But, you know, that's just like my opinion, man.
UPDATE: I had originally meant to add the following video from PBS to this post. It's from a few years ago, yet it explains some of what is happening in today's world quite well.