This is NOT a post trying to convince someone to get vaccinated. It’s a blog about humility.
How it started
A few months ago, I had a warm debate with a friend about the COVID vaccine. I found her arguments to be shaky and without much reassuring evidence to support them.
But it wasn’t what we were arguing about that struck me. It was the level of certainty she had about her opinions while clearly being nothing close to an expert herself.
Certainty that the counter-evidence was likely bullshit. Certainty that the 1% of medical doctors against vaccines are in the right. Certainty that the virus is being propped up so the government and big pharma may gain control over citizens.
In general, I’m less interested in what a person thinks and care way more about how they think.
The conversation with my friend eventually fizzled out, but I couldn’t help but think: Have you had this debate with any real medical experts?
This was my first dose of humility…because I hadn’t spoken to anyone in that field either. So I decided to change that.
I’m lucky to have friends and folks in my life who are either medical doctors or are surrounded by them. I reached out to each of them and asked for their expert opinions in a neutral way.
I didn’t state my thoughts and then ask for validation. I simply said: “I’m trying to get a clearer picture here. As a medical professional, would you be willing to share your thoughts on the COVID vaccine?”
Every single doctor I reached out to sent me paragraphs in response.
Here are the notable takeaways:
• “I’m extremely confident in my ability to read and dissect medical literature surrounding this topic. I think a lot of people who “do their own research” don’t know the first thing about how to conduct, analyze, or determine the relevancy of medical studies. A Google search is not even remotely the same thing.”
• “One of the reasons mankind is still alive is the existence of vaccines. Polio, Measles, Mumps, Varicella, Meningitis, Influenza, and more…would ravage us if we didn’t have vaccines. I think people have become more skeptical in the world today compared to 20 years ago about nearly everything and essentially with this first new vaccine coming in that time, it’s a perfect target for controversy.”
• “As far as reasons I support it? It’s literally the answer to this problem we are all dealing with. It is safe, it’s well researched, the studies are all massively in favor of it, and it’s the fastest and likely the only way to go back to our normal lives.”
• “After these years of education and practical training, I think vaccines are one those things that have received unnecessary negativity towards.”
• “I know there are people who can’t get it, and that is okay. I also know that people who chose not to get it aren’t necessarily selfish people, they are normally just extremely uninformed or misinformed. Everybody acts in a way that they think is best. But just because you think you’re right, doesn’t mean you are. And in this case, it is causing harm to other people. It’s everyone else’s job to protect those of us who are more vulnerable. It’s part of our societal duties.”
• “I understand people want to be wary about side effects which is absolutely fine, but everything we do in medicine is evidence-based practice. We all take the Hippocratic Oath and essentially we try to do no harm while doing what is right for patients.”
• “I would understand the resistance to the vaccine if there was legitimate cause for concern, but there isn’t. Every single time I see a new BS conspiracy theory pop up, I take a week or two to look at the research and listen to the various experts that I know personally or follow on various forms of media. Without fail, every concern has been comprehensively debunked.”
• “It baffles and frustrates me that people are so resistant to entertaining the possibility that they may be wrong. It’s led to so much vaccine resistance and done so much harm. It’s the reason we are still in this mess, the reason the delta variant is such a problem, and the reason so many people are dying unnecessarily.”
What to do with all this?
To be clear, if any of these doctors said something like: “I actually warn people against the vaccine because of x, y, and z…” I would’ve included that too.
These just happen to be all the major points made by the five people I reached out to. I’m also aware that five people isn’t a great sample size.
The point of all of this is highlighted in the first takeaway I listed: I don’t have the slightest clue of how to read and dissect medical studies. Likewise, my friends who think they can in a matter of minutes seem foolish to me.
I think in the world of the internet—where we can find anyone articulating any opinion—it behooves us to practice more humility.
When did experts become morons? Corruption is real and people make mistakes, yes. But what allows someone to feel certain they know more than someone who’s been studying that thing for decades?
We’re experiencing a strange death of expertise.
Which makes me eternally grateful to have people in my life I can turn to who know way more than I do.
If I were thinking of getting spinal surgery, and I had a friend—who’s a server in a restaurant, say—tell me they actually did some research and thought I shouldn’t because it could damage my vertebrae…my response would be: “What the fuck do you know about spinal surgery??”
Vaccines and spinal surgeries are obviously different things in scope and scale. But what I’m trying to hammer home is the ridiculous nature of listening to people who certainly don’t know what they’re talking about.
This goes for my friends who are for the vaccines as well.
1) I don’t know shit. Neither do most of us…so we should turn to the people who do know shit before cementing our own ideas.
2) Skepticism is healthy, but the point of expertise is to have people we can trust to take care of the wildly complex things which keep our lives going.
3) The next time we feel certain about an opinion, we must ask: How much time have I spent challenging this opinion? Who can I talk to in order to challenge these thoughts?