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I Will Pay You $1,234,567 to Debate Me!
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about vaccine skeptics wanting to debate vaccine promoters. For example:
Dr. Byram Bridle wants to debate Tim Caulfield
Steve Kirsch wants to debate Prof. David Gorski (among other people)
Robert Kennedy Jr wants to debate Prof. Peter Hotez
Most people in the vaccine-skeptic circles are cheering for these debates. Instead, I would like to question this idea. I believe some debate proposals are not well-thought-out plans that can backfire spectacularly.
Before I go on, I would like to state, as my readers well know, that I am a COVID vaccine antivaxxer, and I support other people questioning Covid vaccines.
So, why am I, a Covid vaccine critic, skeptical about these debate proposals?
Debates Do Not Establish Truth
Debates are very entertaining. About half of the United States turn on their TV to watch presidential debates that precede presidential elections. High schools have “debate competitions,” where aspiring future leaders do their best to convince judges of their superior debating skills. This helps high and middle schoolers develop public speaking skills.
Debates are useful for showcasing debaters’ personalities. They interest the engaged audience as the dueling parties often express our innermost thoughts. We laugh at the jokes, follow the scores intently, and nobody usually changes their mind regarding anything important after listening to any debate.
However, debates are not useful for establishing the truth. They cannot help us discover what is and is not true in matters involving facts in dispute. Examples of such matters (disputed facts) are
Is the Earth round?
Do viruses exist?
Was the COVID vaccine ineffective and harmful?
Do vaccines cause autism?
The list above involves “questions of fact” that people disagree on.
I can imagine a debate where a highly skillful, well-informed, witty, good-looking, well-spoken debater could “win” a debate by arguing that the Earth is flat. He or she could win by appealing to our spiritual beliefs, citing numerous facts, catching the “round earth” presenter in contradictions, etc. The “round earth” debater may come unprepared, speak haltingly, become angry, and lose a debate.
That hypothetical “flat Earth” debate victory would NOT make the Earth flat. The Earth does not care about the debates about its shape. It simply has a shape that is up to us to discover and talk about.
“The truth” — the explanation of certain known phenomena — is a finicky matter that often changed as humans evolved and learned things they had no idea existed.
Public debates do not contribute to finding out “the truth.”
Debates Give The “Other Side” Legitimacy
The pro-COVID-vaccine side claims that it “represents science” and refuses to debate because, in their eyes, it would give “Covid skeptics” legitimacy. They conveniently forget that Covid vaccine skeptics also represent science and include many scientists and vaccinologists, for example, Byram Bridle, Peter Doshi of BMJ, and Geert Vanden Bossche, among many others.
By refusing to debate us, they are protecting their own “legitimacy.” But could it be that debating Covid vaccine promoters would extend legitimacy to them, which they do not deserve?
I urge you to think about this topic differently: the Covid vaccine promoters are quacks and charlatans. Driven mostly by profit or careerism (if not worse), they promoted and praised an untested, non-working product that harmed people who never needed Covid vaccines even if they worked.
Why give these charlatans legitimacy by debating them?
A better approach, in my opinion, is to continue doing what we have been successfully doing: exposing them as quacks and charlatans so that, finally, the public no longer sees them as legitimate parties. Doing so requires the highest integrity, truth-telling, using evidence, and bravery to challenge each other when we make mistakes.
They Might Win The Debates
Wars are notorious for being easy to start and hard to finish. Many wars, expected to last a few weeks, ended as decades-long disasters.
Debates have a similar nature. Why?
The reason is called “overconfidence.” What is it? Overconfidence is a decision-making flaw that makes us think higher about our abilities than warranted. Nobody, myself included, is exempt from succumbing to overconfidence occasionally.
In the case of vaccine-skeptic advocacy, many of us are excited to have substacks, newsletters, amazing followers, and so on. Does it mean that we can win any debate? Not necessarily.
Consider, for example, Dr. Byram Bridle, a renowned viral immunologist, and his proposal to debate Prof. Tim Caulfield, a law professor at the University of Alberta.
How much does Prof. Caulfield know about immunology, vaccines, etc., compared to Dr. Bridle? I would say very little. And yet, Prof. Caulfield might easily win the debate simply because he is very good at debating. He is a lawyer, a law professor, and a long-time public figure who presents well. You can view this Youtube video of Tim Caulfield to see for yourself.
Compare that video to Dr. Bridle, a brilliant scientist who is a deep thinker but not a professional debater like Caulfield. Watch this video at 35:31.
What would they even discuss? Caulfield, a law professor, could not possibly discuss viral immunology meaningfully. Byram Bridle, a viral immunologist, likely will not handle sophistry, appeals to authority, false equivalencies, and other tricks that Caulfield would likely deploy. Bridle and Caulfield’s hypothetical debate about Covid vaccines is like mud-wrestling with a pig: both will get muddy, and the pig will likely win and enjoy the process.
It is possible, therefore, that Byram Bridle could lose to Tim Caulfield, just as it is possible that the “earth is round” debater could lose to a well-spoken and experienced flat earther.
Consider another idea: Steve Kirsch debating vaccines and autism with Prof. David Gorski (one of the possibilities Steve discussed). Both of them, strictly speaking, are not professional vaccinologists.
Steve Kirsch, a very intelligent man, is a brilliant inventor (who invented the optical mouse) and a successful serial entrepreneur. He only started discussing vaccines and autism a few months ago.
Prof. Gorski is an oncologist and a very intelligent, informed, and experienced writer (with whom I usually disagree, not that it matters). Gorski co-authored numerous scientific studies, although none of them involved designing or testing any specific vaccines. David Gorski spent decades writing “anti-anti-vax” articles. Therefore, he has much more experience discussing the topics that Steve Kirsch wants to debate with him. Prof. Gorski has encyclopedic memory of all retorts to every piece of evidence about vaccines causing autism.
Who would win such a debate? I am not sure if Steve Kirsch would end up being the winner, to be honest.
(As an aside, I never wrote posts discussing “vaccines and autism.” Despite looking deeply into this issue, I am genuinely unconvinced about the facts surrounding this story. I want only to tell my readers what I know to be accurate, and in the case of vaccines and autism, I could never convince myself that I could discuss this topic accurately. This substack is not a fake news blog; I want my posts to be based on facts, not the desire to be the most radical, shark-jumping substack publication. )
Who Will Be The Judge?
The press, which cheered Covid vaccines and vaccine mandates, is sponsored by the same players as the Covid vaccine advocates. It would be counterintuitive to expect those publications to be impartial in discussing such debates.
They will likely announce winners to please the above sponsors, regardless of the actual outcome of any debates.
There is no solution to this other than having better mass media eventually appear that would put honesty above money. A tall order, I know.
The most interesting proposal is a debate between Kennedy and Hotez. Peter Hotez is a perfect example of quackery in “Covid vaccine science” because he actually worked on developing vaccines. His vaccines, such as the hookworm vaccine and the S1 subunit Covid vaccine called CORBEVAX, were never proven in proper Phase III clinical trials. There is no evidence that CORBEVAX helped prevent any clinical outcome. The same applies to his hookworm vaccine, which is not widely used.
By definition, promoting untested and unproven treatments is called medical quackery.
In addition, Hotez financed dangerous coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and later prominently worked to conceal the lab origin of Sars-Cov-2.
I hope Peter Hotez will finally be exposed, and the general public will learn more about him.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer and a long-time public figure has many years of experience discussing vaccines. He might present very well in this debate. Peter Hotez is well aware of his above-mentioned vulnerabilities and thus is unlikely to agree to a debate, playing the victim as always. He will continue pretending to be a “scientist above the fray,” while constantly inserting himself into the same “fray” via his public advocacy.
So, of all the proposed debates, the Kennedy-Hotez debate would be the most fruitful and yet is unlikely to happen.
My opinion is that our efforts may be best spent elsewhere.
What do you think? If you disagree with me, you can leave a well-reasoned comment. You can debate me and other commenters - for free!