Monday, December 13, 2021

How do we know if something is true?

 Let's talk about how do you know if something is true? At some point, we have to trust experts, but it becomes a question of which experts to trust? Much comes down to how much evidence they have or claim to have. We can't look at all the peer-reviewed papers out there, although I have looked at a few. It is possible to verify some of the evidence for ourselves. Much of that verification depends upon trusting the sources that we see, but when the overwhelming number of people in the scientific community back a position we can have some confidence that it is true. Still, it is good to try to verify the claims being made.

I have been trying to understand the motivation behind the conspiracy theorists which seems to me to be closely tied to the anti-vaccine movement. If a person believes that X, regardless of what X may be, is actively trying to harm us or take advantage of us, then any claim that this is the case is going to trigger a person's confirmation bias. It is going to be seen as proof that the conspiracy theory is correct, regardless of how absurd or unverifiable the claim may be.

An example of this is a friend who is pro-vaccine telling me that Pfizer, i.e. "big pharma", is trying to profiteer off of the pandemic by recommending a booster shot, and possibly a different shot for the Omicron variant. I argued that those who gave us this miracle vaccine deserve to profit from it, and we have always known that vaccine immunity may wane. We have also always known that variants may come up that might need a different vaccine.

I'm going to argue that this is not how rational people think. When you have a worldwide pandemic that has killed over 5 million people then this is a serious problem. When a vaccine is created that is almost a cure for the pandemic, it is not rational to reject it unless you have really good evidence that the vaccine is worse. When claims are made against the vaccine, a rational person would make a really strong effort to verify those claims and compare those claims to what the rest of the scientific community believes.


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