Op-ed: On science, liberty and nonsense

By Sen. Dick McCormack

The Vermont legislature has only a few actual scientists and constitutional scholars. But the discussion of public health, including the matter of Covid vaccinations, is a scientific discussion.  And some folks invoke questions of liberty in response.  Strange duty for citizen legislators. But neither are we all farmers, ski area operators or computer programmers. We legislate in all manner of issues in which we are not experts.  But we are experts at listening to experts, at asking questions, and at making reasonable policy based on other people’s expertise. The Covid vaccination discussion benefits from very reliable expert council.

My father was a science teacher who began all his answers, “Well, the accepted theory is…”  I’d say, “I don’t want a theory, Daddy, I want the truth.”  He’d say, “Well people believe that if you’re good, when you die, you’ll go to Heaven and God will tell you the truth about everything. But as long as we’re mere human beings in the physical universe, our limited human reasoning is as close as we can get to the truth of the physical universe.  The scientific method is the most rigorous way to reason about the physical universe.”

All science is theory. But, not all scientific theories are equal. The scientific method is a rigorous way of testing a theory, resulting in some accepted theories enjoying so high a level of scientific confidence that we treat them as the truth.  All such accepted theories are contingent on the rigors of the scientific method,  and as such subject to revision if refuted scientifically. Stubborn loyalty to any accepted theory perverts that theory into dogma, and that is profoundly unscientific.  There is always a philosophical doubt. But, that said, gravity is only a theory but only people who want to die jump off high cliffs. Scientific contingency does not equal nihilism.  Equating untested hypotheses with scientifically proven theory is pseudo-science.

Pseudo-science has been undermining our response to global warming for decades. For an even longer time, pseudo-science has undermined confidence in evolutionary science. This causes not only confusion about natural history; it causes confusion about present day evolution in the form of Covid variants. The most immediate problem with pseudo-science is the confusion about Covid vaccination.

I get emails daily making a pseudo-scientific argument against the Covid vaccine. The argument is essentially that there is at least a theoretical doubt about the testing of the vaccines, and that some people with credentials have presented contrary hypotheses, and that these factors refute the accepted science on vaccination. Yes there is a philosophical doubt (like the philosophical doubt about gravity) about our scientifically accepted understanding of Covid and vaccinations.  Yes, there are untested alternative hypotheses that dispute the scientifically accepted theory. Neither refutes the validity of the scientifically accepted theory.

No medical procedure or pharmaceutical is 100 percent safe.  There is always a remote possibility of a problem. I was warned of the remote possibility of death during a knee replacement. But to the extent that we can know anything scientifically, we know that the Covid vaccines are reasonably safe and safer than Covid.  We know they greatly lessen the odds of contracting Covid and/or spreading it to others.  We know that vaccination not only protects each individual patient, but lessens the spread of Covid among the population.

Some folks make a libertarian anti-vaccination argument. Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right, indeed a constitutional right. Real science or pseudo-science, each person has a right to make his/her own decisions about what does and doesn’t go into his/her own body. Real freedom includes the right to be stupid. But my freedom ends where it interferes with your freedom, and yours ends where it interferes with mine.

Weeks away from the end of the Covid  nightmare, everyone needs to work together, as responsible, patriotic adults. Not being vaccinated risks prolonging the pandemic, not only for the unvaccinated but for everyone, prolonging it long enough for the virus to evolve resistant variants. Still, Vermont is unlikely to legally require vaccination.  But we must not agree to the pseudo-libertarian argument that vaccination should not be a requirement for entering indoor public spaces, using mass transit, school, camp, workplaces etc. The right to not be vaccinated does not translate to a right to infect others or to prolong a pandemic.

Dick McCormack represents Windsor County in the Vermont Senate.

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  1. Don Dalton says:

    I fully agree with the FDA that ivermectin for animals shouldn’t be used in humans. But, this isn’t the real issue, because ivermectin can be prescribed, and there are doctors in the US, and I’m sure even in Vermont, who know that this really is a safe and effective treatment. However, many doctors– such as my own– have been told not to prescribe this. Why?

    What we really should be asking is, why are they fighting so hard against ivermectin? This is a remarkably safe, cheap, effective drug. So, what’s up with that? Are we in an emergency situation and do we need all the tools in our toolbox, or what? Read the studies (the meta-analysis): the evidence is very clear. There is absolutely no doubt that ivermectin, in typical doses, is safe and effective.

    I doubt anyone would be so foolish as to follow my advice on medication: I’m not a doctor. I simply ask that people look for themselves, or are we so closed-minded, so doctrinaire, and so enamored of whatever the authorities say that we don’t dare think outside the box, or even dare acknowledge that there is a box?

  2. Don Dalton says:

    John, did you even read a word of the studies I linked to? It doesn’t matter what the FDA says, it doesn’t matter what the CDC says, it doesn’t matter what the WHO says, if the science says that this is a safe and effective medicine, then it is. The real question is, why are they saying this is ineffective or dangerous? https://covid19criticalcare.com/

    Doctors use drugs off-label (for “unapproved” uses) all the time.

    If you want to hear what doctors who are treating Covid-19 patients every single day with ivermectin, and successfully, then go to the website I linked to. Listen to the testimony of Dr. Kory in front of the US Senate.

    Just because someone disagrees with the authorities doesn’t mean that they’re spreading “misinformation.”

  3. John Garison says:

    Don Dalton – I am willing to let a lot of BS slide, but not when it is dangerous.

    Ivemermectrin tablets are approved by the FDA to treat people with intestinal conditions caused by parasitic worms. In addition, some topical (on the skin) forms of ivermectin are approved to treat external parasites like head lice and for skin conditions such as rosacea. Taking a drug for an unapproved use can be very dangerous. This is true of ivermectin, too.

    Even the levels of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.

    Please do not spread disinformation. I hope no one is injured by your “advice”.


  4. Don Dalton says:

    To say the “my freedom ends where it interferes with your freedom” is a specious argument. If that were really true, then no one would be drinking in bars or restaurants, because their freedom would interfere with my freedom to drive home safely. We would never have parades because those interfere with our freedom to use the roadways. No one would have firearms, if we claimed that that freedom interferes with our freedom to feel safe wherever we go.

    The plain fact is that our Constitution was founded on the principle of individual liberty and freedom from state tyranny within the broad confines of the law, and medical mandates are a roundabout way of getting around this and allowing for state tyranny. Medical mandates– as opposed to advice and guidance– are the road to hell paved with good intentions. If you don’t believe that, then ask the people who suffered under the medical mandates that sanctioned forced sterilization and other abuses that came under the banner of eugenics, supposedly for the greater good. The freedom of the “imbeciles and idiots” interfered with our freedom to have a society of upright citizens, didn’t it?

    Freedom is messy. Tyranny is neat and tidy. Does that make tyranny preferable?

    We also have ivermectin to fight this pandemic, and we should be using that; those who are opposed to vaccination for whatever reason can make their contribution toward ending this pandemic by using this medication. But this comment will likely be censored, as my last contribution to this forum was, for the mere mention of that safe and effective medication. https://ivmmeta.com/