One of the common arguments being put forward by anti vaxxers towards those of us who support vaccines is that we are unable to engage in critical thinking. It’s an argument that doesn’t wash when it comes down to brass tacks, when one actually understands what critical thinking is, and more importantly what it’s not.
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.
Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987
Yes that’s 30 years old but it’s a definition that stands the test of time.
Now what brought this subject to my attention was a link on my website forum from one of it’s members, that makes it clear that true critical thinking does not allow for an arbitrary judgement. Heavy emphasis on the adjective I just used there, because there is a difference between an arbitrary judgement and a final judgement. The latter can only be made when all the information relevant to the subject is available.
Now let’s apply this to the Vaccine War (as I call it);
1. The anti vaxxers will claim that they have conceptualised, applied, analysed, synthesised, and/or evaluated information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. Now maybe they have, but the issue here is belief. Belief is not the final judgement and should never be, unless it is based in proven fact. And then there is the information gathered and taken into account. Now has it all been taken into account? I say in the case of the anti vaxxers it hasn’t, because they refuse to take on information that they see as biased (ie paid for by Big Pharma etc etc). And this is the key flaw. There is absolutely no foundation in this claim, so it defaults to being an assumption. It is there that the test of critical thinking fails
2. The pro vaxxers including myself have made the same claim. And like the anti vaxxers claim they have, we have as well. Now unlike the anti vaxxers we are aware of the pitfalls of belief alone in making a judgement, so we seek proven fact. That’s why in the first instance we reject the argument of bias due to lack of evidence. For example the profits made by Big Pharma, and the insistence by anti vaxxers that this is the proof when it’s an assumption based on the idea that vaccines are a part of those profits, pressing figures of money made. Accountancy is clearly not their strong point and it’s at this basic level that I have some knowledge as I studied Accounting at high school. Incoming revenue does not automatically become a profit. Simple. When expenditure is taken into account, and vaccines are expensive to manufacture compared to other Big Pharma products, any revenue is cancelled out. It’s called Profit and Loss in a Balance Sheet. Now we on the pro vax side do look at all the information, and using the very method of critical thinking combined with listening to those with the proper expertise, we are able to come to a final judgement which is far less arbitrary than the anti vaxxers.
Now let’s look at the second paragraph;
a. Purpose – Now obviously the two sides are coming from polar opposites. One sets out to prove vaccines are dangerous. The other sets out to prove vaccines are okay.
b. Problem – See what I just said.
c. Question at issue – See what I just said again.
d. Assumptions – This is the first divide as I previously covered. Anti vaxxers rely on assumptions. Pro vaxxers rely on established and proven scientific fact.
e. Concepts – Now there are plenty of these from both sides, but the anti vaxxers ignore all pro vax concepts in their so called effort at critical thinking.
f. Empirical grounding – Now here’s a real divide. The grounding of the pro vax argument is far stronger than that of the anti vax and this is based on how many holes each ground has. And the anti vax grounding speaking empirically is full of holes. The odd grounding on the pro vax side may have a couple of holes as well as no one is perfect, but we are on far firmer ground than the anti vaxxers.
g. Reasoning leading to conclusions – Now this is an area where I have criticised some anti vaxxers myself directly. Reasoning has to come from neutral ground and emotions have to be kept out of it because it clouds judgement. That’s why I get peeved at parents who yell at me that I can’t make a judgement because of one fact about me – I have no kids. That’s actually a win for me because I can reason without the emotions to interfere. The only time I may get emotional is when some upstart lights the blue touch paper with me and claims that vaccines cause Autism. And at least I’m aware of it and seek to control it. I’m not seeing anything like that on the other side of the divide.
h. Implications and consequences – Here’s another act of arbitrary judgement by the anti vaxxers, refusing to see the consequences of their efforts. That’s the return of preventable disease to it’s former levels, leading to an increase in illness and the return of death from said diseases. Anti vaxxers promote childhood disease as nothing to worry about, especially the measles which can and has killed. And what about the pressure on the health system even if there aren’t any deaths? And in the case of the measles, what about the threat of encephalitis? That’s just one example, and I could go on about influenza especially from my own experience!
i. Objections from alternative viewpoints – The height of the dispute comes out here. Reactions to objections. For a long time pro vaxxers have kept their civil tongue in, but in more recent times we’ve been fighting back. That’s why the governments of the world have started to act whether it be Australia’s No Jab No Pay, No Jab No Play at state level in Australia, SB277 in California in the United States, and so on. Anti vaxxers won’t listen to objections and insist that they are right and toss around links that have been proven to be unreliable either by direct objection to the content, or by identification of a person who is not an expert in the field or is otherwise compromised.
j. Frame of reference – Anti vaxxers try to bias this and are very quickly hauled back into line….well actually attempts are made.
As the quote states; “Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking”. Anti vaxxers refuse to interweave pro vaccine concepts, so this is another fail. Pro vaxxers do, through balancing the whole thing to the best of our ability. We think scientifically as far as our education will allow us, we think mathematically when required, we think historically – I know I certainly rely on history a lot – we recognise anthropology both in historical terms and empirical terms, we think economically, we certainly think morally and after all that philosophy is also a winner. Anti vaxxers fail on all those points. They say that they don’t but the reality is that they make their judgements based only on what they believe. As I said before – belief alone does not made for a final judgement. A final judgement must be made taking into account ALL information, and an ability to reasonably and justly set aside the incorrect information based on all critical thinking points, adopt the correct information – and proceed from there.
And if all those points are followed correctly and without emotion getting involved, a well educated person will always come to the same conclusion.
That vaccines are safe and effective when used correctly.
That is why, as a consequence of this critically thought out view that I certainly hold, I feel absolutely justified to pass out judgement on those listed on the AV Name Check. It’s not based on belief alone. It’s based on a well thought out proven scientific fact, that is yet to be proven to be wrong in a manner that ticks all the boxes of critical thinking.