In my new piece for @johnastoehr, I write about the most subtle & pernicious form of anti-vaxx propaganda: the manipulation of scientific information & the appropriation of scientific authority…
Case #1: Anti-vaxxers have latched onto a preprint wherein the authors report results suggesting "natural immunity" is more robust than vaccine-induced immunity. Anti-vaxxers are now arguing this scientific evidence entails it is *preferable* to become naturally immune
Conservatives have reported on "natural immunity" without stipulating all of the risks of contracting COVID. They are using natural immunity to argue against mandates, as well as to claim Democrats are the real enemies of science. Searches for "natural immunity" have sky-rocketed
"Natural immunity" has gotten a heavy boost from a Harvard Medical Professor. The professor fails to correct the anti-vaxxers in his mentions. And, when he has been challenged to be more cautious by other experts, some respond, "he's a Harvard scientist."
Case #2: anti-vaxxers have used scientific info about viral loads to argue that *all* vaccinated people are just as likely to be carrying infectious levels of virus as *all* unvaccinated people. They do not mention vaccinated people are less likely to be infected in the 1st place
This misinfo has found a happy home on conservative media; however, mainstream media also played a role here, albeit unintentionally. For example, this tweet & other headlines neglected to mention that the research pertained to vaccinated people *who had progressed to infection*
(Plz note: The CDC was fully justified in adopting increased caution in light of the viral load/spread research. However, this is different than the claim that science has proven all vaccinated people are equally likely to spread infectious levels of virus as unvaccinated people)
Why does all of this matter? It’s different to hear, “science says . . .” than it is to hear a rant about microchips. “Just asking questions” goes hand in hand with “science says” and “the science is complicated” to subtly undermine the urgency of mass vaccination.
This abuse of science also has particular power b/c it plays against a backdrop of low personal risk perception. Vaccine rates lag in younger people. Now, what happens when, as a young person, you perceive your risk as low, and then you hear about the power of natural immunity?
“Infectiousness of the vaccinated” has been specifically used to undercut public health messaging about protecting your community. What’s the point in getting vaccinated to protect those around you if you're just as infectious? Here's Tucker Carlson manipulating this information:
Now, you might say: “who cares? Unvaccinated people are all fanatics.” This isn’t true. Though many are extremists, there are still unvaccinated people who are hesitant or merely complacent. Extremism cannot account for the gap in vaccination rates between young & older people
Extremism also cannot account for the fact that only *25%* of pregnant women are vaccinated. This group was likely very influenced by a combination of low personal risk perception & fear-mongering about uterine changes & fertility.
Moving beyond unvaccinated adults, there is a looming new battle ahead of us: getting children vaccinated. Polling shows that even adults who are vaccinated themselves are not committed to vaccinating their children. This gap exists even for Democrats, tho it is less large.
So what happens when these parents, who have been told childhood risk from COVID infection is low, now hear about “natural immunity” or viral spread among vaccinated people? Will this make them more or less likely to vaccinate their children?
Conservatives are already seizing on this opportunity, going so far as to argue that, given natural immunity + “low childhood risk from COVID”, childhood vaccinations are evil.

Again, all with the veneer of scientific authority.
One final point: there are age gaps in vaccination for both Dems & Republicans. But, for Republicans, this gap is enormous. Here, again, we see the interplay of personal risk & anti-vaxxing info. Younger & older Republicans have the same bad info, but are behaving differently
You can read more here. And, if you appreciate my research, please consider supporting @johnastoehr and the Editorial Board!…
Here are the same data w/out goofy Y axis shenanigans

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More from @magi_jay

18 Sep
Natural immunity appears to be robust in the short term, as does vaccine-induced immunity. Comparisons between these cases are of great scientific import. At this moment, tho, it is incorrect to argue the science is complete OR that natural immunity should influence public policy Image
An individualized approach to public health causes all kinds of issues. It’s logistically unfeasible at this scale & creates gaps. It also faciliates bad inferences, such as 1. People have reason to fear vaccines & 2. Perhaps it is preferable to become naturally immune
Note I am *not* saying, “ignore or deny the science on natural immunity.” Natural immunity & vaccine-induced immunity are both great. I am saying the incautious convo is causing more harm than benefit. Also: The differences between kinds of immunity are not “settled” science
Read 15 tweets
17 Sep
Have you heard murmurings about "natural immunity" on your facebook or in your communities? Here's my piece breaking down how this & other scientific topics are being manipulated by anti-vaxxers, as well as how you can debunk their claims.
"Natural immunity as *preferable* to vaccine immunity is a dangerous misuse of scientific information that could have real consequences for childhood vaccination. If parents perceive their children's risk as low, then hear about natural immunity, this could affect their choices.
This kind of scientific misinfo can be hard to combat b/c we feel like we have to argue w/ the science itself. You don't have to argue w/ the science. The preprint could be garbage or or it could be great. All you have to do is dispute the bad inferences… Image
Read 5 tweets
16 Sep
Since many people are telling me they've heard about "natural immunity" in anti-vax or vaccine-hesitant convos, here is the full excerpt I wrote on the misrepresentations of this science:… Image
Here's something to note. The study on natural immunity vs. vaccine immunity is a pre-print. It hasn't been peer-reviewed. Peer review might find the study to be too flawed to print, or they might think the study is genius. But the merits of the study aren't what's at issue here.
The study could be great (or not) & it could be the case that natural immunity is stronger than vaccine-induced immunity (or not), but none of this changes the flawed inference that the path to acquiring natural immunity is *preferable* to acquiring vaccine-induced immunity.
Read 5 tweets
15 Sep
I'm not going to comment on the nicotine taxes bc that's a complicated convo about which I have conflicting views. That said, re: the twitter commentary (not the policy), it always saddens me when liberal &/or progressive people take a stigmatizing or judgmental view of addiction
Nicotine addiction is legitimately very hard to kick. It requires major rewiring of the brain. Addiction also correlates w/ mental health and socioeconomic status. Many smokers self-medicate. The tools we have to fight nicotine addiction are hard to access for many.
Now, you can certainly be mad if someone chooses to exercise their addiction in a way that imports personal cost to you: littering; smoking in public, etc. But that doesn't mean you have to shame the addiction overall, ignore the forces that drive it, or be glib about recovery
Read 5 tweets
15 Sep
This single clause in the Harper's Letter captures the attitude that drives so much political commentary. Because authoritarianism is expected of the GOP, it is no longer of empirical interest. It doesn't grab one's attention. This dangerously entrenches the behavior as "normal"
Think about how much as changed in just the past few years. In 2015, Trump's demagogic rhetoric was viewed as so abnormal, it received a full write-up in The NY Times. The press was aflame when it seemed he might not accept the results of the 2016 election…
Now, Larry Elder cited voter fraud before the California recall election even happened and we barely react. The Senate GOP is attempting to "audit" the 2020 results in PA by accessing every voter's info & we're like, "typical."
Read 6 tweets
15 Sep
Per the NYT's latest count:
64% voted "No" (for Newsom)
36% voted "Yes" (for recall)
On Q2, "Who should replace Newsom?," many left their ballots blank.
For the filled-in ballots, Elder received 47% against 45 other candidates.
I would not call that a resounding victory
So, there's no real evidence for the claim that Elder did well. He did not do well. He did terribly. That aside, I'm a bit concerned that none of these headlines mention the fact that Elder tried to undermine the results of the election before it had even occurred.
It used to be, back in 2016 and before, that a person trying to undermine the results of the democratic process was treated as a huge deal. Now, Republicans have done it so many times that we think it is normal? This is rather disturbing.…
Read 4 tweets

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