How can you tell the difference between an expert and a quaxpert on vaccines?

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Whom should you trust on vaccines, an expert or a quaxpert? And how can you tell the difference?

1. An expert has formal education in the topic at hand, while the quaxpert has none.

This has several important implications. It means that the expert has been exposed to a wide variety of evidence and viewpoints. He or she tends to be familiar with ALL the scientific evidence, not merely cherry picked studies that the quaxpert has never read and wouldn’t understand if she did read. It means that the expert is fully conversant with any major controversies in the field, has thought a lot about them, has read both sides, and has come to a decision. The quaxpert generally views the controversy as a dichotomy between those with formal education and quaxperts, who claim to have personal experience.

Quaxperts take no responsibility for recommendations.

2. An expert understands both science and basic statistics and can reach an independent opinion about the existing scientific evidence. A quaxpert has to take the word of someone else.

An expert is giving you an expert opinion. A quaxpert is giving you the opinion of someone he likes with all the attendant drawbacks of relying on empirical claims just because you like who made them.

3. An expert recommends what’s good for YOU. A quaxpert recommends what’s good for himself.

Experts rarely have a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Even in the case of vaccination for childhood diseases, which ALL experts (pediatricians, immunologists, public health officials) recommend, there are exceptions and every effort is made to find out if your child is one of the exceptions. That’s why you are asked about your child’s allergies, previous reactions to vaccinations, and family history of vaccine reactions. The quaxperts generally have one-size-fits-all recommendations; you should do what the quaxpert did, regardless of how your circumstances differ from those of the quaxpert.

4. Experts change their recommendations based on new scientific evidence. Quaxperts never change recommendations regardless of what the scientific evidence shows.

For example, over the years experts have changed the formulation of vaccines, the timing of vaccines and the need for boosters. Quaxperts were opposed to all vaccinations 100 years ago and they’re opposed to all vaccinations now even though the scientific evidence has shown repeatedly that vaccines are extraordinarily effective and extraordinarily safe. It makes no difference to quaxperts what the evidence shows because quaxperts rely on unchanging beliefs systems, not science.
Experts also acknowledge when they are wrong. Consider this year’s flu vaccine. The experts, the same people who counseled everyone to get the vaccine, publicly announced that this year’s vaccine has only limited effectiveness. Although you should still get the vaccine, you should understand that it is not as effective in some years as in others. When was the last time a quaxpert acknowledged that he or she was wrong about a fundamental claim?

5. Experts take responsibility for their recommendations. Quaxperts ignore you, or even blame you when THEIR recommendations cause more harm than good.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this point. Experts pay a price if they are wrong. You can take action against them, and they are well aware of that. It is in THEIR best interest — professional, financial and personal — to give you state of the art recommendations based on the latest science. Nothing ensures accuracy like having skin in the game.

In contrast, quaxperts take no responsibility for their recommendations. If they are wrong, YOU pay the price and they just keep giving out the same bad advice. They win if you listen to them, regardless of whether listening to them harms or kills you or your child.

Sure, they dress it up by pretending that you are taking responsibility for your health by listening to them, but you are taking the SAME amount of responsibility for your health when you listen to your doctor. The difference is not in your level of responsibility; it’s in THEIRS.

  • rational thinker

    I had a conversation with that friend of mine this morning about corona virus and I am pretty sure I was right about what I said and she was wrong.So I wanted to ask just to make sure I have correct information or not.

    So she started off by saying that there is a neighborhood in NY where some people have the corona virus and it is under quarantine enforced by the dept of homeland security. Then she said “In the entire history of the US there has never been a quarantine so this is crazy and only old people are at risk of dying if they catch it.” and “everyone is scared over nothing its just a new kind of flu”.

    Then I told her that it is a problem because none of our antibiotics are working on corona virus and it is highly contagious. Then she said this- “antibiotics do not work on the flu or common colds so no doctor would ever give you any type of antibiotic for the flu/common cold.”

    She also said that this virus is not that bad and that it is the medias fault for spreading fear.

    • Lurker

      She’s right and wrong. The State of NY imposed the “containment area” around an area of New Rochelle, not DHS. It’s not a quarantine, doesn’t restrict travel in or out of the zone, and closes schools and bans public gatherings, but not private ones. The National Guard is deployed, but so far they are saying it’s to deliver food to residents, not for policing or enforcement.

      I can’t speak to whether there’s ever been a quarantine in the history of the US. I would imagine that there has been.

      People other than old people can and do die, but obviously the elderly seem to be at the highest risk. (I suspect that in a year we will be reacting to coronavirus much the way we currently react to the flu, but that just my opinion.)

      You’re right about antibiotics not working against coronavirus, but that’s because she’s right, too – antibiotics don’t work against viruses (coronavirus, influenza, common cold (which can be caused by coronaviruses, too)). I believe they can sometimes be used against secondary infections that develop when you’ve had the flu.

      As for whether the virus is “that bad” – that’s a matter of interpretation. For the average healthy citizen, individually, it’s not. For the elderly and immune compromised, it can be. In terms of absolute numbers of deaths? Probably not that bad. In terms of overall impact on the healthcare system? If you look at Italy, it appears to have the potential to be very bad.

      • Not to mention that community spread in countries with already-fragile health systems would be very bad. Vietnam has 38 cases, Indonesia 34, and I’d bet there are several under the radar; there are a lot of people at risk from malnutrition and lack of adequate health care.

        • StephanieJR

          My brother is currently living and working in Vietnam, as a teacher; he’s mostly been bored out of his mind, staying at home as they’ve shut (most) of the schools. He says that Vietnam’s quarantine procedure is strict but efficient and effective, at least in his opinion. He’s mostly worried about getting paid, especially if they close the schools for longer.

          • It’s good news if Vietnam can limit their cases, though I hope your brother gets paid. But how long can this quarantine last?

          • StephanieJR

            His birthday is tomorrow, and his wife’s was earlier this week, so we’ve sent them some money as a present. He’s somehow accidentally become a sort of union leader for the teachers at their company, arguing for getting at least half pay while they’re off, and they’ve started offering online classes. Every new case seems to prompt a new response, increasing how long the quarantine lasts.

    • PeggySue

      There are a couple of things. We have a vaccine for flu, so that some people are spared entirely and others get cases that are less severe. We also have some antivirals (Tamiflu) that, if given early, can lessen the severity of the flu. We have neither of these things for this new virus. In addition, the new virus may spread more effectively even than flu, maybe more like measles, which is highly infectious. So people wandering around with this thing can make lots more people sick, and once sick, we are lacking certain things that can help us get better quicker. It will be hard to compare death rates, etc., because to know a death rate we need to at least have an idea how many people were actually infected, and that means we have to have tested lots more people than we are currently able to test. In the US, our response to this thing got messed up in politics and in past reductions to the precise agencies that used to know what to do. So the response has been nothing short of pathetic. We may not, this year, get an accurate sense of the mortality and morbidity of this thing, because we have no idea how many people have mild infections. That said, we need to take some of the news seriously. Like the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, where so far 20+ people have died. Even a bad flu year does not, I don’t think, take out 20 residents in a facility in two weeks. By next year, it may not seem so bad, simply because a huge swath of the most vulnerable may have died this year. Maybe it is a silly thing to fear, but having been caught flatfooted, it may not really be easy to tell.

    • Heidi

      What I think is most worriesome,.and I say this as someone who worked in patient care previously, is who might suffer and even die because of a shortage of staff and an even more packed hospital because of corona but not directly from corona. I would think you’d be more likely to die for any reason if staff is low and patient numbers are higher. The mortality rate isn’t nothing either.

      • rational thinker

        Yes that is also a concern. Also during the conversation with my friend about the virus I said that I hope nursing homes are taking precautions to protect their elderly residents. She really disgusted me with her thoughts on that but I have to keep in mind that this is the same person who said I should not of had kids because I did not breastfeed them. She said “we should not care about the virus killing off the elderly because anyone older than 60 should not be alive anyway and they are a drain on everyone else”. I was speechless. I know by now to expect that kind of shit from her but that was just awful to hear.

        • kilda

          wow, she sounds lovely. I assume she’ll present herself to be put down the day after her 60th birthday?

          as far as comparisons between this and the flu, it is true that both conditions are more likely to kill elderly patients than young healthy ones. But the new corona virus is definitely not killing only the elderly.

          Flu kills more Americans (so far) because a lot more Americans get the flu (so far). But this new virus has a fatality rate that is about 30x the fatality rate of the flu. 3.5 % of Covid19 patients die, based on the numbers we have seen so far. That may not sound high, but it is. And keep in mind, that’s 3.5% of all patients. Not 3.5% of elderly or frail patients. Among those, it’s more like 15-20%.

          • mabelcruet

            I think people are misjudging the seriousness of Covid19 because most people have never had genuine influenza. What many people describe as ‘the flu’ is a simple cold with sore throat and runny nose. Genuine influenza knocks you off your feet, no matter how healthy. All over body pain and aches, shivers and rigors, absolute exhaustion that can go on for weeks-its a horrible illness. If it was a simple coryzal snotty nose, we wouldn’t have developed specific vaccinations for different versions of it. So because they underestimate flu, they are underestimating coronavirus because they genuinely don’t believe there is a mortality rate with it-after all, who dies because of a runny nose? Look at Trump, publically disbelieving WHO’s global death rate from coronavirus and calling it a false number. Perfect Dunning-Kruger (along with the moronic ” I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it…every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability” Aye, right).

          • Who?

            My friend always says that if you have a cold, you think you might die.

            If it’s actually the flu, you are wishing for death.

    • mabelcruet

      Technically she’s right about antibiotics not working on the virus. But what is happening is similar to what happens in other viral infections in the elderly or infirm-they get the virus, and then they get superimposed co-infection with bacteria which further compromises the respiratory system. Most people won’t have a severe illness with it, and most of the deaths have been in older folk or people with significant pre-existing health problems, but that doesn’t mean a young person can’t die of it or shouldn’t take precautions. And she seems fairly callous about its ‘only’ going to be old people suffering. They might be old, but they deserve the same standard of health care as anyone else.

      There is a discussion in the UK at the moment with allegations that the government pandemic plans essentially amount to trying to establish herd immunity. The virus is currently tending to affect the elderly with pre-existing health concerns more severely than the rest of the population. If everyone under the age of 60, say, who had no significant health concerns, went out and mingled, we’d all get infected and for most of us it would be fairly trivial. But that would build up herd immunity and reduce the risk of infection for those who are more likely to be more ill with it. I can sort of see the logic, but it goes utterly against what everywhere else is doing-aggressive self isolation, quarantines, closing borders etc. And no matter how young or healthy you are, there is always a risk of severe morbidity and mortality.

      • StephanieJR

        I’m not worried about myself, I’m mostly worried about my brother and SIL in Vietnam, and my elderly grandmother with multiple health problems (including diabetes, arthritis, angina/AFF, hernia, and whom has recently been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, with multiple hospital appointments coming up). My mother have had colds for the last week or so, but there are reported cases from both the Shetlands and Inverness, just a few hundred miles away from us, so we might get it yet. We also run a B&B, so any guests could bring it up here, too.

        Today’s our usual shopping day, so we’re doing it online. I’m an introvert who rarely goes out anyway, so I don’t mind staying in, but I might get a little crazy anyway.

  • Russell Jones

    The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as
    being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all
    things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater
    number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these
    it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside
    and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination
    the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

    Sir Francis Bacon wrote that back in 1620, so neither confirmation bias nor its recognition are anything new. But the anti-vaxxers have taken the phenomenon to previously unheard-of heights.

    The last anti-vaxxer I dealt with at length simply kept posting YouTube videos whenever s/he got boxed in. Quaxpertise abounded, of course, but my “favorite” videos were those of some unemployed techbro who spent all his time pontificating about vaccines on his YouTube channel instead of pursuing work. Unemployed techbro had exactly zero education, training, experience or knowledge in any relevant field, but that didn’t stop his fellow anti-vaxxers from treating and citing him as an authority.

    Anti-vaxxers are fond of telling people to do their “due diligence,” but in their itsy bitsy minds, the quoted term boils down to: (1) watch/read crapola on the internet; (2) if anti-vaxx, accept as true without question.

    • rational thinker

      The thing I hear most from them is “do your research” and “read the inserts”, and they believe if we just do that then we will see the light.They will not accept that we have done our research and we side with the medical/scientific community.