We may have left 2021 behind, but unfortunately, the misinformation that characterized the past year continues unabated. Betty White, comedienne extraordinaire, passed away on December 31, just eighteen days shy of her one-hundredth birthday. It didn’t take long for zealous members of the anti-vax community to link her death with the booster shot she received three days earlier.
There are two issues here, both of which are classic examples of weapons found in the arsenal of agenda-driven misinformants. First, there is the fabrication of “facts.” Contrary to the anti-vaxxers’ assertions, Betty never posted a message about having received a booster on any social media site. There is a good reason why she never did this. According to her publicist, she had not received a booster!
Next is the usual “post hoc ergo propter hoc” argument that I first learned about in my high school Latin class. It means “after this, therefore because of this.” Basically, it refers to the assumption that events are connected if they occur sequentially. One might assume that the crowing of a rooster makes the sun come up because the sun always comes when roosters begin to crow. But one would be wrong. One could conclude that night air causes malaria because the risk of the disease is reduced when the night air is shut out. Of course, it is not the night air that causes malaria, but the bite of a mosquito, an insect that prefers to attack in the dark.
Sometimes it is quite seductive to make a non-existent connection. I like to take a walk at night, usually after dark. On one occasion, I noted that just as I passed a light post, the light went out. I didn’t think much of it until it happened again. It certainly seemed as if my walking-by had caused the event. When it happened again on another night I was befuddled. This I now had to investigate. I decided to wait by the lamp post. Sure enough, within about half a minute the light came on again. I waited some more. About ten minutes later the light flickered and went out. The cycle was then repeated. For some reason, that lamp went on and off periodically and I just happened to pass by at the right moment. Why that street light behaved in this fashion remains a mystery, but the phenomenon had absolutely nothing to do with my presence. There was no “ergo propter” here. So now back to Betty White. Even if she had received a booster three days before her death, one could not conclude without further evidence that the booster was the cause. Death at age one hundred is hardly shocking.
Our story doesn’t end there. As I was in the process of writing this little piece, my computer signalled an incoming email. It was from a Dr. Elena Villanueva warning me of the dangers of the COVID vaccine. She had a tale to tell. “A close friend developed heart inflammation (a serious heart condition) after getting his forced vaccine.” Dr. Villanueva explained that she felt it was her duty to inform me about this case and warn me about the vaccine. A classic case of “after this, therefore because of this.” But there is “good news,” she went on. “You have options that Big Pharma and the mainstream media don’t want you to know about.” I could avail myself of this information by downloading a free e-book. Here I would discover how to heal injuries caused by the COVID-19 vaccine and also learn about immune-boosting supplements and miraculous medicines such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. I decided to forego this fabulous offer.
Villanueva’s email turned out to be a mass mailing from “Modern Holistic Health,” a Texas establishment that she founded with the “goal of merging of science and spirituality, and the integration of the mind/body/spirit in an evidence-based approach for healing and optimization of the human body and mind.” There is the usual disclaimer that the information provided in the email has not been evaluated by the FDA and that any product mentioned or described is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. So, what then are we to do with the information?
Dr. Villanueva describes herself as “an international speaker, health influencer, and co-author of The Longevity Code, a book of which Google curiously seems to be unaware. She highlights her frequent appearances on FOX news.” FOX News! Wow! From her website we learn that “Dr. Villanueva and her team help people support and restore many health conditions that include chronic mental health disorders and disease, autoimmune disorders, Lyme disease, gastrointestinal disorders, male and female hormone imbalances, Type II diabetes, genetic defects (including MTHFR), insomnia, metabolic syndrome, and other health conditions.” Quite a bagful. She also specializes in “leaky brain syndrome.” That begs for a remark but we will leave that one alone. And what background does Dr. Villanueva possess to be able to deal with such a diversity of conditions? She is a chiropractor. Who could have guessed?
Now, if I were a post hoc ergo propter hoc kind of guy, I could conclude that my working on an article about anti-vaxxers forging a link between a booster and Betty White’s death somehow triggered my receiving a related email that also spoke of the dangers of the vaccine. But I’m not that kind of guy. I’m more of an Occam’s razor kind of guy. No need for a complex explanation when a simple one will suffice. The fact is that I receive anti-vaccination emails all the time and this one just happened to coincidentally pop up at a possible “post hoc ergo propter hoc” moment.
One that appears with alarming frequency in my in-box refers to the U.S.’s "Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) as providing proof that the COVID vaccine is not only harming people but is killing them. Superficially, the data seem compelling. There are lots of reports of injuries and death that have occurred after vaccination. But such reports can be submitted by anyone and they appear in the database without any filtering. If you get a vaccine and two days later you get a toothache, you can report that. If you get a vaccine and days later your car battery dies, you can report that too. You can report your great uncle dying in a car accident after being vaccinated because you think something in the vaccine affected his nervous system and made him lose control of the car.
The fact is that VAERS was never set up to determine if a vaccine causes or contributes to an adverse event. It was set up to alert researchers of any unusual pattern of reports that could then be followed up. So far, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has not detected any unusual links between the COVID vaccine and adverse events except for some rare cases of thrombosis after the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. In these instances, “post hoc ergo propter hoc” was found to ring true.