The first thing I did when the three Covid vaccines were given their Emergency Use Authorizations between mid-December 2020 and late February of 2021 was to seek out the summaries of the clinical findings that had led to these regulatory actions. I quickly found them and delved into what they had to say on protection against infection and transmission.
I did so because my intuitions, backed by my reading of non-mainstream sources, had long suggested to me that the endgame envisioned by those managing the pandemic was to impose vaccine mandates on as many people and as many populations as they could.
And I knew that the ability to successfully implement this plan of widespread vaccination would hinge, or at least should hinge, on the ability to substantiate the injections’ effectiveness in the key realms mentioned above: preventing infection and transmission.
The first company to receive approval, and hence to have a briefing document issued about its product by the FDA, was Pfizer. Shortly after the document was published on December 10th 2020 I read the 53-page document and zeroed in on the section titled “Known Benefits” (p.46) where I found the following three-line summary:
• Reduction in the risk of confirmed COVID-19 occurring at least 7 days after Dose 2
• Reduction in the risk of confirmed COVID-19 after Dose 1 and before Dose 2
• Reduction in the risk of confirmed severe COVID-19 any time after Dose 1
Hmm, that’s funny I thought, there was nothing about the ability to do what government officials and media talking heads were clearly suggesting they would do: stop people from getting infected and passing on the virus.
I kept on reading and came to another much longer section on “Unknown Benefits/Data Gaps.” There I learned that there was not enough information from the limited trials to make any solid affirmative claims about (I’m quoting here):
- Vaccine Duration of protection
- Vaccine Efficacy with immunosuppressed populations
- Vaccine Effectiveness in individuals previously infected with SARS-CoV-2
- Vaccine Effectiveness in pediatric populations
- Vaccine effectiveness against asymptomatic infection
- Vaccine effectiveness against long-term effects of COVID-19 disease
- Vaccine effectiveness against mortality
- Vaccine effectiveness against transmission of SARS-CoV-2
And in the midst of all of these de facto admissions of their limits, I found the paragraph below—listed under the heading of “Future vaccine effectiveness as influenced by characteristics of the pandemic, changes in the virus, and/or potential effects of co-infections”—which seems to indicate that the makers of the vaccines and the regulators overseeing their efforts were well aware that any initial efficacy could quickly be rendered nil by the fast-mutating nature of the virus:
“The study enrollment and follow-up occurred during the period of July 27 to November 14, 2020, in various geographical locations. The evolution of the pandemic characteristics, such as increased attack rates, increased exposure of subpopulations, as well as potential changes in the virus infectivity, antigenically significant mutations to the S protein, and/or the effect of co-infections may potentially limit the generalizability of the efficacy conclusions over time. Continued evaluation of vaccine effectiveness following issuance of an EUA and/or licensure will be critical to address these uncertainties.”
When I checked on the Moderna briefing document issued a week later, I found virtually the same set of disclaimers (starting on page 48) issued in virtually the same language. And when the FDA released the Janssen briefing document on February 26th 2021, there was yet another rehash (starting on page 55) of the same disclaimers in essentially the same idiom.
I was stunned. The issuance of these documents coincided with the kick-off the vaccination campaign in which they were clearly being sold to the public on the basis of their ability to stop infection and transmission. To say the least, they were oversold by most of the top public-health officials and TV pundits, including most of the people relied upon as experts.
Is it, and was it, really plausible to believe that the officials who were leading the vaccine charge on this basis were unaware of what I found in an effortless internet search?
I would say no.
What thus disturbed me even more were the non-reactions I got from friends here in the US in late winter and early Spring, and the readers of my monthly column in the Catalan-language press in May 2021, when I pointed them to the above-cited documents and asked them to observe the enormous gap between the known capabilities of the vaccines and what officialdom was saying they would do for us.
But even more surprising, if that is possible. is that not one reporter in the US that I know of ever confronted anyone in any of the government agencies or in the media with the contents of these easily retrievable and easily read documents.
What could explain this?
We know that government and big tech have worked together to pressure reporters into not going where they don’t want them to go. And this is certainly an important factor in ensuring a certain silence around these documents.
But I think there is a deeper dynamic driving this now persistent failure of so many people, especially the young, to confront authority with the documentary proof of easily-accessible facts. And it has a lot to do with an epochal change in the overall cognitive habits of our culture.
From Orality to Literacy…And Back Again
Thanks to scholars like Walter Ong and Neil Postman we have long been aware of how communicative technologies (e.g. printing presses, books, radio and television) can engender profound changes in our cognitive habits.
Ong explained in great detail what was lost and what was gained in the transition from a culture based primarily in orality to one primarily anchored in literacy, which is to say, the traffic of written texts. He notes, for example, that in the transition to widespread literacy we have lost much in the realm of appreciating the spoken word’s embodied affective magic, and we have gained much in the realm of being able to translate experience into abstract concepts and ideas.
In his Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) Postman argues that every communicative technology carries within it an epistemology, or world view, that shapes and organizes our cognitive patterns, and from there, our operative concepts of “reality”. As he puts it, when trying to understand communication we must “start from the assumption that in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself”.
He goes on to suggest that the rise of a more or less stable representative democracy in the United States was inextricably linked to the fact that the country’s late colonial and early republican periods were characterized, when compared to other previous societies, by an unusually wide and dense textual culture. Because we were a nation of obsessive readers, we were, he suggests, unusually well-equipped to visualize the many abstract ideas that one must assimilate to act responsibly and intelligently within a citizen-driven polity.
Postman believed, however, that electronic media, and especially television, were effectively supplanting this dense textual culture with an epistemology that, while not inherently better or worse, was fundamentally different in terms of its cultural emphases. Whereas reading encourages contemplation, linear thinking and as we have said, abstraction, the television encourages entertainment, atemporality and the consumption of fleeting visual sensations.
He did not believe we could stop television’s seductive appeal, nor should we try. He did, however, sustain that we can and should ask ourselves whether, and to what extent, the epistemological emphases of the medium are compatible with engendering the type of comportments we know to be essential for the creation of the civic “good life” in general, and functioning democratic politics in particular.
From what I can tell, we have not seriously taken him up on his suggestion which, if anything, appears to be even more urgent in the age of the internet, a technology that seems to only magnify and accelerate of TV’s epistemological emphases.
I have seen very concrete proof of this failure to address these important matters in my work as a professor.
About ten years ago, a completely new phenomenon entered my teaching life: students quoting words from my class lectures back to me in their written work. At first it was trickle that amused me. But with time, it morphed into a fairly standard practice.
Had I gotten that much more authoritative and captivating as a speaker? I very much doubted it. If anything, I had gone in the other direction, progressively replacing the classic “sage on the stage” method of exposition with an ever more Socratic approach to intellectual discovery.
Then it finally dawned upon me. The students I was now teaching were digital natives, people whose perceptions of the world had been shaped from the very start of their lives by the internet.
Whereas my first experiences of intellectual discovery, and those of most people coming of age during the half millennium previous to my time on earth, had largely taken place in the solitary and contemplative encounter between reader and text, theirs had mostly taken place before a screen that tended to push often disparate and random sounds, images and short chains of text at them in quick succession.
As a result, reading, with its need for sustained attention and its requirement that one actively imagine for one’s self what it is the writer is trying to say, was extremely challenging for them.
And because they cannot easily enter into dialogue with the written page, they had little understanding of the sense of power and self-possession that inevitably accrues to those that do.
Indeed, it seemed that many of them had already resigned themselves to the idea that the best a person could hope to do in this world of non-stop informational comets was to occasionally reach up to try and trap one long enough to give others the impression of being reasonably intelligent and in control of life. That education could be about something more than the game of serially defending the fragile self against a chaotic and vaguely threatening world—and instead be about something like actively building an affirmative and affirming personal philosophy—seemed, for many in this newer cohort, to be largely beyond their ken.
Hence, my newfound quotability.
In a world where, to paraphrase Zygmunt Bauman, all is liquid and most are driven by the search for fleeting sensations, and where establishing a personal hermeneutic through reading and contemplation is considered quaintly quixotic when not impossible, the mutterings of the authority figure nearby take on an enhanced attraction.
This is especially the case for the many young people who, through no fault of their own, have been raised to see almost all human relations as essentially transactional in nature. Since I “need” a good grade and the prof is the person who will ultimately be giving it to me, it certainly can’t hurt to flatter the old goat. You know, give a little bit to get a little bit back.
What’s all this have to do with the news coverage of the EUA reports mentioned above and so much more in the journalistic treatment of the Covid phenomenon?
I would suggest, though I obviously cannot be sure, that this outlook on information management is now predominant among many of the young and not so young people working in journalism today. Unfamiliar with the slow and deliberate processes of deep analytical reading and the importance of seeking information that lies beyond the frenetic and ever more highly managed jungle of delivered feeds, they find it very difficult to forge a durable, unique and cohesive critical praxis.
And lacking this, they, like many of my students, latch on to the oral summaries of reality provided by those presented to them as being authoritative. That these authority figures might be directly contradicting what can be found in the most consequential thing in a society of laws—its written archive—seems never to occur to them. Or if it does occur to them, the idea is quickly suppressed.
Who am I, they seem to say, with my inexperience in mindful reading and research and thus deep insecurities about my own critical acuity to raise discordant questions in relation to the great and powerful men and women before me?
The answer to this query, one apparently too few of us teachers and parents have given them, is that they are citizens of a republic whose founders sought to prevent them from ever having to return to governance by edict. We are all citizens who believe that, among other things, the ability to develop individual critical criteria through independent reading and research, and to openly challenge the powerful with the knowledge resulting from those activities, is key to achieving such an outcome.
About Thomas Harrington
Thomas Harrington is an essayist and Professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford (USA) who specializes in Iberian movements of national identity Contemporary Catalan culture.
Image by Amberrose Nelson from Pixabay. Article cross-posted from Brownstone Institute.
Excellent post. Technology, and the “dumbing down” of society. A good start is to read John Taylor Gatto. Plus, a lot of this can be attributed to upbringing. Most parents are unaware of how damaging it is (the technology) that has replaced the deep-thinking and contemplation that was prevalent prior. Hard quagmire to fix quickly.
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The check this out on Moderna –
“Today’s primary analysis was based on 196 cases, of which 185 cases of COVID-19 were observed in the placebo group versus 11 cases observed in the mRNA-1273 group, resulting in a point estimate of vaccine efficacy of 94.1%.”
1856 placebo; 11 in the mRNA group. None under 18. efficacy (I now hate that word) based on how long a period ?
A POX on all their houses
This was a very thought provoking explanation on the shortening of society’s attention span from book learning to electronic learning.
One aspect of this I have been noodling around in my head awhile is that electronic presentation of knowledge, itself hard fought through book learning, disincentivizes people from becoming experts. People grab the scraps available online, perhaps 50% of what an expert knows. If they can get by and perform the low level stuff, then the expert has a harder time being employed because there are all these people able to perform some of his tasks..
The MSM was supposed to this type of dirt-digging and they FAILED US. The MSM is no longer relevant to US anymore and can be ignored or discarded.
Acquiring information for the younger population has become more akin to osmosis.
Prepackaged ideas seep through their unguarded semi-permeable membranes which becomes their catalogues of scripted knowledge. The continual repetition of carefully selected positions is now their truth, having lost the ability to question the never ending numbing streams of approved data.
I had a discussion with my kids when this plandemic started and I told them I was extremely skeptical of any corona virus vaccination.
A running joke my entire life was if someone could come up with a cure for the common cold, they’d be millionaires, because the corona virus constantly mutates. You fashion a vaccine against the current cold virus and it’s useless because the virus mutates constantly.
This virus is the exact same thing as the cold causing corona virus. There will NEVER be a usable vaccine for a corona virus, period!!!
And the old joke missed the point a little bit, this fake vaccine made Billions, perhaps, trillions of dollars for the evil big pharma, not just millions.
The worst thing is that they won’t admit what the side effects are and people are dropping dead everywhere from the poison shot.
Interesting piece. I too have noted the tendency for people born after 1970-75, in particular those with at least a bachelors degree, can only learn from someone they consider an authority figure. They can’t work within what I call the Ben Franklin persuasion. You can’t learn something new every day if you limit whom you are willing to learn from.
I have yet to get people out of that rut without a certain level of discomfort.
Brilliant and insightful analysis of the shift in the ways and means by which we feed our intellect. I realized that during this pandemic, other than a few sporting events, I have not turned the television on once, especially for the news. I have watched Political speeches and analysis on my computer, giving be the control of what is filling my brain. So what is occupying all that extra time? Reading.
As a physician, I have been reading all things Covid whether it pertains to the US or the rest of the world. Out of the 20 physicians that work at my clinic, my pediatric partner and I are the only ones who did not get vaccinated. I got Covid in March of 2021 and recovered in 3 days.
I educate every family on the risks of the vaccines by presenting them with the actual evidence in written form with links to the source material so that they can research these issues and make an informed consent. Most are shocked that they have never heard these facts before. They also get a detailed regimen of the supplements that have scientific proof of efficacy in minimizing the severity of infection. Armed with this new knowledge, they hopefully will pass this on to their relatives and friends.
The greatest obstacle to acquiring the truth in this digital age, however, are now the algorithms that search engines use to hide or eliminate those articles that deviate from the narrative.
1984 is upon us.
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” Mark Twain.
And from George Orwell:
“In a time of universal deception, even telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Good points that could’ve been said in fewer paragraphs without the urge to be seen as a highly intellectual erudite logophile or lexicographer.