Anti-vaxxers: so friendless that free speech is enough to defeat them

That’s the headline the Guardian used for my latest piece on calls to deny a visa to pro-disease advocate Sherri Tenpenny. Discussion welcome, but I’d like to stress one particular point about the case for free speech

On considerations of equity alone, we should not be excluding people on the grounds that they advocate views that are wrong, dangerous and unpopular [antivaxers], while admitting those whose wrong and dangerous views have powerful backing[climate science deniers].

42 thoughts on “Anti-vaxxers: so friendless that free speech is enough to defeat them

  1. “since if people are opposed to using all or parts of modern medicine I don’t think they should really be forced to.”

    ZM forced to what?

    Do you mean, they should not be forced to use modern medicine or, they should not be forced to be educated and so become aware of how selfish and irrational they are being and perhaps it would be useful to inform them that there *is* such a thing as society and that a good society depends on each individual taking responsibility for their choices and also the unintended consequences of that choice, not only for themselves but for their society.

    I certainly agree that *they* should not be forced to use modern medicine; let the Jehovah Witnesses die if they want to be free to make their own choices and refuse to have a blood transfusion, but …… what about the children?

  2. I’m amazed to see people persisting with the lie that the money is withe climate deniers. The AGW crowd clearly have much more money

  3. @Megan

    I agree with the suggestion that, like Monckton, they should be allowed to have their meetings and discuss their disinformation with those who wish to hear it.

    If Monckton was suggesting that people not wear seatbelts, or that people should go out and murder children in childcare I think it would be a more accurate parallel. The difference is that climate change kills people indirectly and it’s hard to attribute deaths directly. Lack of vaccination is right here, right now, killing children we can readily identify.

    The problem with anti-vaxxers is that they’re preying on people using very powerful emotional levers, at a time when many of their victims are less rational than usual (at least sleep-deprived). Threatening to kill of maim people’s children is normally a crime, and perhaps should be in this case too. Criminally it doesn’t matter whether the threat is “real” in any way, it just has to be credible for it to be a crime. The evidence is that this threat is credible… people have died.

  4. @Megan

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the AGW crowd got a lot more money than the denialists. That would be because its a lot more expensive to do actual science than it is to cast aspersions and have some swivel eyed, pompous, litigious git touring the world.

  5. Is this a question of scientific ignorance? The fact that vaccines, on balance, save millions of lives does not mean that a parent has to make the choice to vaccinate. The situation is that if five million children are vaccinated and one is not then the one who is not vaccinated is better off, having the herd immunity from the disease without the risk of side-effects. The advantage for the non-vaccinator disappears only when their numbers rise to the point where the risk of the disease returns, and it would probably be scientifically possible to calculate when that point occurred.
    If you believe your duty to your own child outweighs your duty to the community, that is, it would be rational not to have them vaccinated – until the disease comes roaring back, when the odds change again.
    We on this list tend to believe, as I do, that people can be ordered to do many things without a Stalinist dystopia inevitably resulting, but the free rider problem is inherent in the nature of the situation and is not avoidable by better education.

  6. @ChrisB

    I believe that non-vaccination rates have already risen enough in some parts of the Anglophone world for diseases like whooping cough (pertussis), measles, mumps and rubella to make a return. We should not think any of these diseases are harmless.

    “It is currently estimated that the disease annually affects 48.5 million people worldwide, resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths.” – Wikipedia.

    “In the last 150 years, measles is estimated to have killed over 200 million people. Mumps was once the leading cause of viral meningitis. And rubella epidemics resulted in tens of thousands of miscarriages and deaths. Then in the 1960s, vaccines for all three of these diseases were developed. They were combined into one simple vaccine, the MMR, and the number of cases plummeted.” – mental floss site.

    The free-rider problem is a real issue. We need strong campaigns to keep immunisation rates very high. The experts can calculate (with allowances for tolerance or error) the levels necessary. But we cannot make it absolutely compulsory. The carrot approach is good i.e provide rewards for immunisation.

    “Some Government benefits are available to parents of children who meet certain immunisation requirements, that is, they are up to date with immunisation or have an appropriate exemption (benefits can be received without a child being fully immunised).” – Aust Govt Dept of Health – Immunise Australia Program.

  7. I fail to see why Tenpenny’s case is a freedom of speech issue. She is a fraud, using fraudent facts and bogus anecdotes to make a lot of money selling her books, seminars, dinners etc. (The bogus “foundation” promoting her visit has appropriated the names of the conveniently dead Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi to promote itself; of the three of them, Gandhi was anti-vaccines, Mandela very pro vaccines, and King expressed no opinion on the topic).

    If Tenpenny was planning to visit Australia to sell shares in a pyramid scheme, she could be denied a visa or prosecuted for fraudulent conduct. The case that vaccination is bad for you is about as strong as the case for believing following a pyramid schemer’s business plan will make you rich and the potential for widespread real harm is there in both cases, so why should Tenpenny get treated as a free speech champion and not a snake-oil-salesperson and con artist?

  8. @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    I tend to agree. It comes close to a form of medical fraud in some senses. But then depending on how the law was written the authorities might well have to go after homeopathy and chiropractice too. Now I might agree with that too, but is that going to fly in our society? There are so many people out there who believe in quack remedies.

    Quackwatch is an interesting site. Well worth a visit. I could not find a vaccination or anti-vac entry but a search for vaccination on site gets at least 20 hits and some useful information.

  9. Free-riding is an interesting concept and according to a recent publication, it is a relatively new term.

    Philippe Fontaine has published a paper on the way this term was first used and how it is used now. It is in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought (v. 36, pp 359-376) which I haven’t read.

    The following is pretty much a re-organized cut and paste that I have taken from Timothy Taylor, a blogger who has read it and written a review.

    He says that, In a conceptual sense, the free rider arguments entered mainstream economics as a result of Mancur Olson’s classic 1965 book “The Logic of Collective Action” that explored the dynamics of what came to be called free riders, in detail.

    Olsen only used the actual term itself once in that book, and this was with reference to the problem that unions had with the reluctance of workers to pay union dues after their immediate demands had been met.

    But his description of the dynamics of free riding behavior convinced Robert A. Taft a Republican of Ohio, who wrote the Taft–Hartley Act of 1947 as a result of his conviction that the Wagner Act was too favorable to the labor unions, that a “limited type of compulsory membership contract is a complete answer to the ‘freerider’ argument.

    The other early use of “free rider” was in relation to “securities practices” and first mentioned in a speech given by James Buchanan, “What Should Economists Do?,” which was originally given as the Presidential Address to the Southern Economic Association in November 1963, and published in the January 1964 issue of the Southern Economic Journal (30:3, 213-222).

    Buchanan maintained that the “‘free rider’ problem” could be “found in many shapes and forms in the literature of modern public finance theory. That was true, indeed, but the phrase free rider problem was no part of public finance language.

    It seems that Buchanan’s idea of “free riding” in the context of securities practices involved situations where there was an expectation that established institutional participants in financial markets had a responsibility to act in certain ways, and that holding back in an attempt to increase profits was acting like a “free rider.

    The broker-dealer was not supposed to enjoy “an unfair advantage from his position as a distributor of securities.” …

    For its proponents, regulation of the securities market was justified by the need to defend the interests of the public against unfair practices and free riding in particular.

    Olson, Buchanan, and others argued that the free rider dynamic was quite different in large and small organizations.

    Fontaine, explains the dynamic in this way:

    [T]he free-rider problem was above all a theoretical construct, the logical basis of which rested on group size. The main difference between small- and large-number settings was that, in the former, individuals might see their action as exerting some influence on others and their lack of contribution as making a difference, which might cause them to contribute.

    In the large-number settings, by contrast, the individual believed that others would compensate for his or her lack of contribution—hence, free riding.

    In other words, the problems posed by free riding had little to do with the weakening of moral norms and they could not, therefore, be solved by simply urging people to improve; rather, they betrayed the increasing permeation of society by self-interest—taken as a rule for behavior—as a result of social change and, in particular, the increase in group size.

    If free riding was a rational response to certain circumstances, then it was for policy makers to help change the environment in such as way as to make it less conducive to such behavior and for social scientists to convince them that they knew what ought to be done.

  10. megan-

    Over the years I have noticed how feral the Anti-Anti-Vaxxers can be, really nasty sometimes. It may be that where the money goes, so goes the vitriol?

    Umm, you’ve been running an anti-vaxer troll site called Spring Hill Voice for a number of years, haven’t you. Why did you fail to mention this?

  11. @John Brookes

    I tell Coles too because my sympathy is with the worker who undercharges me and might suffer at the hands of management and corporate capitalist employee policy.

    I have an interesting little supermarket story. I saw of couple of people push a trolley load of meat out of X supermarket without paying. Over $400 worth it turned out to be. They were approached but not touched by three staff who had words with them. The staff were able to take re-possession of the trolley of goods but cannot by policy touch or apprehend anyone. No security persons or police were in the vicinity.

    I had a trolley load of groceries I had purchased so I was encumbered, slow and not very manourverable. Notwithstanding that I followed the male perpetrator at a distance, saw the car he got into with the other female perpetrator and a getaway driver. I kid you not, they were parked nose out for the quick getaway. I memorised the number plate, gave it to X supermarket and was later called in and interviewed at the local police station as a witness. I have no idea what happened to the case. Never called to give court evidence.

    Moral Question: Should I have dobbed in poor people robbing capitalists?
    Short Answer: Yes, I believe so. I have no time for the criminal lumpenproletariat just as I have no time for the criminal oligarchs.

    I wonder, does this sound too harsh?

  12. Ikon have you heard of Kohlberg and his stages of moral development?

    Kohlberg was interested in how individuals would justify their actions if placed in moral dilemmas. He then analyzed the form of moral reasoning displayed, rather than its conclusion, and classified the reasoning as belonging to one of six distinct stages.

    Kohlberg’s six stages can be more generally grouped into three levels of two stages each: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional.

    Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)

    1. Obedience and punishment orientation
    (How can I avoid punishment?)

    2. Self-interest orientation
    (What’s in it for me?)
    (Paying for a benefit)

    Level 2 (Conventional)

    3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
    (Social norms)
    (The good boy/girl attitude)

    4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
    (Law and order morality)

    Level 3 (Post-Conventional)

    5. Social contract orientation

    6. Universal ethical principles
    (Principled conscience)

    In Stage six moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws.

    Legal rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. Decisions are not reached hypothetically in a conditional way but rather categorically in an absolute way, as in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

    This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true.

    The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it avoids punishment, is in their best interest, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon.

    Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that level.

    The above is from the Wiki page; the interesting thing in Kohlbergs conceptualisation is the bit about those rare individuals who may exist and can operate at this level of complex thinking; the critical thing is that these people who are able to imagine what they would do if they were in another’s shoes and believed what the other person believed.

    Having talked to people and seen their lives I know there are people who are so lacking in a ‘good’ upbringing that they would plot to steal food from a multi-national, and I have no difficulty putting myself in their place and understanding the reasoning that is rational to them and hence I can see that it is possible that I would have done the same and seen it as a fair thing to do in certain circumstances.

    I would tell the checkout person if they undercharged me because I would think that the capitalists owners would take it out of the workers pay. 🙂

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