UPDATE FRIDAY MARCH 5: THE PATRICK DELANEY ARTICLE DISCUSSED HERE (SEE SCREENSHOT ABOVE) HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH DEFENSE WEBSITE
Did the Pfizer vaccine in Israel kill 40 times more elderly, and 260 times more younger people, than COVID itself would have killed? That is the assertion in the headline of an article by Patrick Delaney, published in Childrens’ Health Defense.
How should we go about “fact-checking” this kind of controversial claim? I spent many years teaching critical thinking in colleges and universities, so my way of approaching such questions focuses on logic and evidence.
Oddly, critical thinking based on logic and evidence is itself becoming controversial! The New York Times, for example, recently published an op-ed urging people not to think critically, because doing so might lead them “down the rabbit hole.”
The article cites various “digital literacy experts” who argue that the best way to find out what’s true is to avoid critical thinking, and instead embrace three common fallacies. First, you should succumb to the ad hominem fallacy: If anyone on one side of the argument has ever been called a “conspiracy theorist” (or “anti-Semite” or “racist” or “anti-vaxxer” etc.) you should discount everything that person says, no matter how logical and accurate, and believe the opposite. Next, you should combine the argument from authority with the argumentum ad populum (the argument “if it’s popular, it must be true”) and accept whatever an apparent majority of experts in a given field say—or, rather, what The New York Times says they say. If you follow these three fallacies religiously, and avoid critical thinking, you will get everything right; whereas anyone who uses critical thinking will go down the rabbit hole and get everything wrong.
You don’t need to know much about critical thinking to realize that The New York Times‘ argument is the rankest sort of bullshit, unfit even to line the cages of self-respecting birds. That the nation’s newspaper of record has descended to the level of publishing such obscurantist Orwellian drivel is a sad symptom of American decline.
So let’s put on our critical thinking caps and re-read the article alleging Pfitzer vaccine deaths in Israel.
The article relies on a new analysis of Israeli Health Ministry data. That analysis was carried out by Dr. Hervé Seligmann of the faculty of Medicine Emerging Infectious and Tropical Diseases at Aix-Marseille University, and engineer Haim Yativ. Whether the Health Ministry and Seligman and Yativ are anti-vaxxer Holocaust-denying racist conspiracy theorists, and whether their apparent qualifications to collect and/or analyze statistics are valid, is not the issue. The real issue is the alleged numbers and what they mean. Simply saying “I don’t believe these are valid numbers because all Israelis are racists and all medical researchers are liars” (ecological fallacy) or “Seligman and Yativ may have academic qualifications but they are weirdos” (ad hominem fallacy) doesn’t cut it.
The main issue is simple: “Is Seligman and Yativ’s analysis of the Health Ministry data correct?” To find out, let’s see what the debunkers have to say. If Seligman and Yativ are wrong, surely the “fact checkers” who are paid to shoot down anything that puts vaccines in a bad light will quickly expose the mistake.
Here is the debunking that originally had the highest Google ranking. It’s from a website called logically.ai. (Yes, I know “high Google ranking” and quality are not the same thing, but at least we know it’s high-profile and approved by the world’s most powerful tech company.)
Note that the “debunking” does not actually address the claim about relative death rates! Instead, it attempts to confuse the reader by offering a long list of irrelevant pro-vaccine talking points, beginning with ad hominems, moving to irrelevant claims that the vaccine is effective against COVID, and then stating that it can’t be proved that deaths after the vaccine are from the vaccine (which is likewise irrelevant).
The “debunking” vaguely alludes to a possibly valid counter-argument: Maybe the unvaccinated groups selected for the study are healthier than the vaccinated groups. But instead of clearly and cogently arguing this point and supporting it with facts, the “debunkers” shy away from it, giving the impression that it’s not true, and that the two groups may be fairly compared.
When a credible attempt at a counter-argument fails, the original argument grows that much stronger. So the “debunkers” at logically.ai have inadvertently given us a stronger reason to accept Seligman and Yativ’s analysis than we would have had if they had just kept their mouths shut.
So the claim that there were 40 times/260 times more deaths during the five weeks after vaccination than in non-vaccinated control groups stands unrefuted. We can provisionally assume that it’s probably roughly accurate.
Later, another debunking had reached #1: New Zealand based Newshub’s “Coronavirus: Claims Pfizer’s vaccine is more dangerous than COVID-19 itself debunked.” Though it too begins with irrelevant statements and ad hominems, readers who are patient enough to keep reading eventually hit paydirt: A critic of Seligman and Yativ, a French science journalist named Jean-François Cliche, admits that their numbers are right. But, he says, the numbers have been “tortured.” What exactly does that mean?
Cliche explains (or, rather, doesn’t explain):
“The data on hospitalisations used in the post were a snapshot on a single day when only half the patients would have had the vaccine more than 14 days beforehand, which is how long it takes for some of its efficacy to kick in, Cliche said; while the death data used in the post covered an entire two-week period – so the claims were comparing ‘apples with oranges.'”
Wait a minute. Seligman and Yativ looked at the same five week period for the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, right? (Namely, the five weeks after the vaccinated group got vaccinated.) The statistically huge difference in deaths between the two groups remains unexplained. Cliche, and NewsHub journalist Dan Satherly, have (like logically.ai) failed to address, much less debunk, the central issue.
Should we accept Delany’s implication that the study in question proves the Pfizer vaccine is more dangerous than COVID-19? Of course not. Seligman and Yativ’s analysis only looks at the five week window immediately after vaccine administration. It is possible, even likely, that over a longer time frame, COVID-19 deaths among the vaccinated population will decline relative to the unvaccinated population.
But Seligman and Yativ’s key claim—that 40 times more elderly people and 260 times more non-elderly people died of COVID during the five weeks after vaccination than did their non-vaccinated counterparts—still awaits an explanation. A decent debunking attempt would avoid ad hominems and irrelevancies and zero in on this huge statistical anomaly. Perhaps it can be explained away. Or perhaps not—maybe the vaccine killed these people. At this point we don’t know for sure. But after looking at a couple of lame and propagandistic so-called debunkings, I am increasingly inclined to give Seligman and Yativ, and CHD journalist Delaney, the benefit of the doubt.