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When logic breaks down

Yesterday, I had a two-hour long conversation with my father in which he systematically reiterated every single one of the fallacies in my most recent post. I’m pleased he read it. But the fact that my father, who has a master’s degree and is otherwise a very thoughtful person, can be deceived, is troubling and evidence of the dire need for this discussion.

Let’s look at logic’s limits. Logic is a useful tool for us to determine which arguments are possibly true and which are definitely not. Some arguments sound like they should be true. Some arguments we might want to agree with in spite of faulty logic. The Michael Rapaport example is one. We know structural racism exists in America. It’s probably true that if the January 6th insurrectionists were Black, many more would have died. The key here is it’s probability.

We need to look now for “probably-not-truths”. Pre-covid, we knew that corporations and governments were the biggest offenders of perpetuating probably-not-truths. Companies lied all the time about the effectiveness of their products. Politicians promised things they knew they could never deliver. Yet even armed with this previous experience, many on the left have jumped into their arms, and it’s because these probably-not-truths sound so reassuring. But they’re probably not true.

Let’s look at an egregious probably-not-truth: the supposed effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine before the discovery of Omicron. Many experts have claimed that the Pfizer vaccine was working as described. And then Omicron hit, rendering it less effective. But the only data on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness was Pfizer’s. Indeed, Pfizer conducted its own efficacy studies and self-published its data simultaneously to The New York Times and to its quarterly report — to its shareholders, alerting them excitedly of their impending windfall.

“Coke is it.” “It’s finger lickin’ good.” When a corporation makes a claim about its own product, do we believe it out of hand? Of course not. That’s why we have strict regulations about truth in advertising. We call them slogans instead of efficacy claims. It would be absurd to let Coca-Cola or KFC announce these slogans as fact. Yet with this vaccine, we have given Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies direct access to the front page of The New York Times.

Were any of the vaccines sent back to the drawing board by regulators? No. What are the odds that every single vaccine produced was rigorously tested and definitively determined safe and effective without further revisions? Slim to none. Can we trust that all vaccines are safe, effective, and thus necessary due to scientific data we know we do not have — that it is impossible to have? Science takes time. And we know for a fact that we will always have one year’s more data on Covid itself than on vaccines. You’ll never get older than your older brother, no matter how old you both get.

Should we trust data, or corporate claims to it? Should we put our faith in science or industry? Logic reaches its limits when it encounters probably-not-truths. It may be true that vaccines are safe and effective. We hope so. But given previous experience, we mustn’t simply accept pharmaceutical companies’ hopeful assertions. Before Covid, they were the biggest probably-not-truth-tellers. We don’t let Apple and Google determine the internet’s rules. We don’t let GM and Toyota run the roads. It’s not sound policy for industries to regulate themselves. There are laws against it. We must seriously ask ourselves, why not for this?

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