Holding a Mirror up to Arthur Caplan: Health Commentators Must Refrain from Hysterics or Should Have Their Agit Prop Refused by MSNBC
Matthew J. Bell October 8, 2009
Enough already with all of the alarmist and unbalanced ranting and pontificating by Big Pharma propagandists. Commentators, reporters, professorcrats, and so-called "experts" ought to be required to maintain at least the semblance of objectivity or find another line of work.
A cardinal rule for responsible dialog is the commitment to avoid straw man attacks and to interact sober-mindedly with the strongest formulation of an opponent's position that is available. Arthur Caplan, however, is apparently either ignorant of sophisticated vaccine dissent or, what is more likely, he is such a zealot for pharmaceuticals that anyone failing to show the requisite obeisance for almighty Science is guilty of profaning the temple of Asclepius. In Caplan's estimation, apparently, it is an article of faith that "sophisticated vaccine dissent" is impossible.
Arthur Caplan professes not to be able to imagine what rights are being violated when health workers are pressured into inhaling or otherwise receiving the latest witches' brew into their bodies in order to keep their jobs. Perhaps he studied bioethics in a vacuum, isolated from any political context. Perhaps he didn't pay sufficient attention to political philosophy. Or, what is perhaps more likely, Caplan thinks that his PhD and his bully pulpit put beyond question his own view about how the various pertinent rights should be ranked.
Caplan's hysterical rhetoric seems to reveal quite a bit about either the limits of his imagination or about his inflated estimation of his own opinions. But, his ridiculous and one-sided caricature of vaccine-dissent goes no distance towards addressing what dissenter's suggest are the relevant issues or allaying what to many people are salient objections. In other words, his opinion piece is irresponsible.
Caplan bestows upon himself the title of vaccine thought-policeman. And Caplan, like "most" (to echo Caplan's own vague generalizations about the supposed beliefs of "most" rally-goers) thought-cops, alludes only obliquely to "all the evidence of safety and efficacy of vaccines" that vaccine dissenters "ignore", but he doesn't scruple to provide any examples of this alleged evidence - though it constitute a veritable mountain. And, as is typical for vulgar propagandists of his ilk, he doesn't deign to quote his opposition at length or to enter into an actual point-counterpoint debate.
Instead, Caplan paints dissenters as malicious and selfish. According to Caplan, health workers who refuse the vaccine essentially want to claim for themselves the "right[s]...to infect [their] patient[s] and kill them" and "to create havoc in the health care workforce ".
Caplan "understand[s] that there are a few people who have medical reasons" for declining to receive flu shots. Presumably, Caplan is here "allowing" for persons with conditions (like egg-allergies) to forego flu vaccinations. Such merciful "allowances" are not an affront to his worship of Science since, in this case, Science itself grants the indulgence.
But, he certainly will not tolerate any deviation from Orthodoxy - specifically no one is permitted to deny the dogmas of vaccination. Caplan even recites a line from the "Hymn to the Flu Shot": "The vaccine will save lives." (I suspect that high-level initiates like Caplan think it prudent, at this point, to forbear pronouncing the "Amen" audibly, lest the cowans get the wrong idea.)
Hence, medical doctors who advise that the Swine Flu "Vaccine May Be More Dangerous Than [the] Swine Flu" itself are, in virtue of this heterodox (even blasphemous) profession, treated as heretics. To Caplan it is doubtless surprising that medical doctors of this type can cease fiddling with their leeches long enough to type articles and, surely, no such doctors would consent to appearing on video to propagate their medieval views, lest the recording equipment steal their souls away.
(Oops! See, e.g., http://www.medicalvoices.org/en/vaccination/articles/vaccine-may-be-more-dangerous-than-swine-flu.html and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--nWrqIspnQ)
Philosophical dissent is completely out of the question, in principle. Hence, persons who might argue for giving priority to particular prima facie ethical duties (like respect for personal autonomy), which priority Caplan would not endorse, should be compelled to recant their heresy or should be fired. (Hopefully Caplan would encounter resistance if he tried to arrange ritual stake-burnings.)
Caplan ends more subtly - and deceptively - than he begins. In conclusion he writes that: "health care workers' own code of ethics dictates that they put the interests of others — their patients — [before their own interests]".
This is "subtle" in the sense that his rebuke here is mild compared with the frantic upbraiding he opens with. It is "deceptive" because it ignores the fact that some vaccine dissenters likely believe that their refusal to take a vaccine WOULD benefit their patients.
First or all, we should qualify our praise of the immediate benefits of the vaccine. Vaccine-boosters themselves should have to admit that "Even those first in line for [flu] shots [in October] won't have immunity until around Thanksgiving."
(MIKE STOBBE, "Swine flu: 10 things you need to know," AP Medical, Tue Sep 1, 11:22 am ET, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090901/ap_on_he_me/us_med_swine_flu10_things/print)
Perhaps all health workers should be suspended until Thanksgiving so that they do not "infect and kill" their patients in the meantime.
(And, in passing I remark that it is beyond belief how a medical ethicist can conscionably conflate "infection" and "death". I take it that not even all "infected" persons will even display clinical symptoms of illness - whether they be health workers or patients with some other ailment other than swine flu - let alone die merely in virtue of being "infected".)
Second of all, vaccine dissenters may be mindful of factors such as the possibly non-negligible risk of vaccine failure (i.e., when a vaccinated individual fails to elicit adequate antibody production and, hence, fails to obtain the intended "immunity" from the vaccine), vaccine-induced illness, and the possibility of transmitting foreign animal pathogens to their patients. And these factors ignore personal factors such as exposure to foreign animal enzymes (such as reverse transcriptase) and exposure to a cocktail of potentially harmful or fatal preservatives, germicides, and adjuvants. (See, e.g., Catherine Diodati's privately published book, Immunization: History, Ethics, Law and Health.)
But Caplan, in his capacity as archpriest of the vaccine cult, can dismiss these concerns with a few solemn intonations and pronouncements (one can almost hear the choir, perhaps with organ accompaniment, singing about the glories of flu vaccines as mankind's "best protection [for] babies, pregnant women, the elderly and the frail") and a wave of his hand.
Such objections ("fears" to use Caplan's disparaging term, evocative of superstitious peasants hiding from an eclipse) are obviously "irrational". After all, regardless of the content of the arguments and the caliber of the source materials, anyone without a column on MSNBC, or without a book from a University publishing house, or without the approbation of the Orthodox, obviously has nothing rational to say.
And Caplan has the perfect solution for this rampant "irrationality": Health workers (and perhaps all of the lowly non-initiated population) should be treated just like enlisted military or immigrants and should be forced to submit to vaccinations.
And we have seen that Caplan arrives at this prescription by entirely ignoring the opposing arguments, demonizing vaccine dissenters, and giving dire prognostications about ignoring the oracles of Orthodox Vaccine Science. For a moment, Caplan seemed on the verge of linking all of this vaccine-refusing lunacy with the Mayan calendar.
In other words, Caplan's opinion piece reads rather more like an apocalyptic or prophetic treatise than a piece of philosophy or science. (And, for those keeping track, the “science” in view is the one with a little "s". That is, the discipline that concerns itself with the continual and patient collection and meticulous analysis of evidence and counterevidence and not the ersatz version with the big "S" which, in this case, busies itself with the repetition of sanitized corporate press releases and the protection and propagation of the poisoned needle racket).
But dealing honestly and rigorously with the opposition's arguments, and dealing soberly with risk assessments, is the least that those who claim to be doctor's of philosophy ought to do. (And dealing respectfully with the opposition is just a function of common courtesy.)
It's time for Caplan to "man-up" and start acting like the director of a philosophical center and not like the hierophant of bizarre cult that believes that the earth will be destroyed if we do not inject diseased animal matter into ourselves without delay. Or else perhaps MSNBC should consider filing Caplan's future pieces under the "Religion" section, in the subsection of "Scientism" or else should perhaps refuse his propaganda altogether.
Caplan's opinion piece can be read here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33210502/ns/health-health_care.