The time has come to talk of many things*… (on vaccination, trust and public policy)

It is quite clear. All the studies show it. Vaccination is helping “save society” from previously common, potentially-deadly diseases.

So why do I feel so queasy about vaccination, and about the whole debate that surrounds it?

Well. What do we know about vaccination?

We know that for individuals who are vaccinated against a particular disease, such individuals (usually) do not catch the disease against which they are vaccinated.

We also know that by vaccinating a large section of the population against a particular disease, we can effectively eradicate that disease in humans.

These things are simply proven by studies and direct experience. I do not dispute them.

There is a lot we don’t know.

What organisms arise when a particular organism is eradicated or weakened? We do know, for example, that increases in deer population are correlated with increases in tick population, for example. And that by reducing the numbers of bees, we reduce pollination of plants, leading to the potential for animal and human food shortages. These things are also “proven” (or at least studied) by science.

But we seem to know very little about what happens to the environment when particular bacteria or viruses either increase or decrease in number, at least in the general case.

What happens to the general immunity of people who have been vaccinated? We know they are, for some time, protected from the disease against which they are vaccinated. Does vaccination either improve, or inhibit their immunity to other organisms? I would argue that we don’t know. Does the eradication/weakening of one viral species cause the strengthening of another virus or bacteria? Who knows for sure in each individual case? But intuition tells me it’s a possibility, and one supported by analogues such as the bee, and tick examples.

This is the kind of problem we get with all public policy decisions made on the basis of science.

It is, in fact, possible to overstate the importance of science in making public policy decisions.

What, I hear you say, this man is ANTI-SCIENCE?!

No.

What I am wary of is:

Public policy: because science
I am an expert: because science
I am right: because science
This situation is clear: because science
Trust me: because science

These are all examples of the poor use of an excellent tool.

The best scientific studies are intentionally grounded in a specific thesis which may be provable, or dis-provable via specific methods. Specific studies deliberately control for, or ignore “the rest of the world” in order to provide very specific results. That is no accident. That is good science.

However, the world at large, is just not that simple. Everything actually is inter-connected. Everything is ambiguous. Specific results do not generalize beyond what they actually prove. And what the best studies prove, are very specific things.

So what should we do?

Making a decision based on science may or may not be “better” than making a decision based on intuition. It’s not possible to know everything before a decision, thus it is not possible to make only good decisions. A good decision can only be labelled as such only in hindsight (and with the benefit of history and sufficient analysis), and only when applied within a certain context. Science does not, any more than any other mechanism, help you know everything.

Decisions made “on behalf” of large numbers of people have wide-ranging consequences; beware of making them at all, or those who say that they know (anything at all) when making such decisions. Especially beware of those in public policy who believe that they can ever be “right” before making wide-ranging public policy decisions. Beware of people who say that in order to help you, you need to regard them as an “expert”, and that their expertise should necessarily carry any more weight than your “intuition”. Such people cannot help you in the way you need help; nor are they helpful in the way they think.

(*) http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html

 

Aggressive Dog 13

Brutally cold, but beautiful

New Marlborough 16

On Hayes, waiting for snow

Twelve thirty-five. I have to make it back by two-fifteen. Ten miles then, not thirteen. Bitter wind. Ground hard as iron. My shoes are tighter than I’d like. Up the hill, I feel my heart strain a little with the incline. Broken down stone house wall on my left. What happened to those people? Why did they leave their house to the woods. Wind whipping across the top of the hill. Feet slipping a little, but not as much as the day before when I couldn’t stop on the ice sheet that covered the dirt. I run past the impassive statuesque bullsand the silo barn. No more dirt road; I’m on the tarmac. Squished porcupine in the middle of the raod, not far from where I saw the squished but not-yet-dead water snake this last May. Past the junction down Hayes, and I speed up as Brewer Hill inclines some more. Past Mill River Farm, and the identical stucco houses looming over Brewer Branch road. Warming up. Legs turning over, but I can feel my left hip and knee; still sore and complaining. Downhill hurts more. Will I make it all the way? I hope I don’t have to walk – then I’ll never make it back in time. I don’t even really notice the winding chalky path that leads to some mansion back up the hill, but I can feel it there in my mind. On to Konkapot, my knee better for the flatter road. Past the river and up around the curve, and I switch to the other side of the road. Yes, there might be a car that doesn’t see me around the bend. But I also need to be on this side so as not to offend the unpleasant border collie who likes to rush out and surprise me with his snarling ripping. I imagine punching his nose and pulling on his tongue if he really did bite me. But he doesn’t come today. Just watches me from the garage as I wind my way along Konkapot. Past the lovely two-level covered porch that I admire almost every time I run here. And the corrugated box house. Horses standing in the field, backs turned to me. Puffing up the hill and over the top, down towards Umpachene and the ominous road sign “Travel this road at your own risk”. My knee is doing fine now, and I still have plenty of speed up to Lumbert Cross. Few cars. Sky steely and braced for snow. Down into Mill River, and the knee complains briefly about the incline. I wonder about my bucket of grit “per-storm” from the town, and whether it’s worth the trip. Last downhill before the climb up Hayes. Around the town hall and library. Past the messy-looking house on the corner, chimney puffing billows of smoke. To the stop sign, and a left on Hayes. Straight up. Slow down. Into the woods. I wonder if I can make it back home before I need to pee? Then walking. I take a photo – trees waiting for the snow.

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A young man walking on, orange hunting cap, but just walking. We greet each other, but I’m running again now the incline isn’t as sharp. Rolling on with the lovely view to the south over the hills I can see a patch of orange and blue through the grey. Nice weather, somewhere. Not here. The horse looks up, alarmed. I shuffle by him, turn up Brewer Hill again, getting tired finally. Must push up the last part of the dirt road though. Finish the run. “Way to finish the run, John”. Two oh-nine. Made it.

Stoney ledge Sunday

I wore a balaclava today more in anticipation of cold than the feeling itself.

The run up to the ledge was fairly typical but coming down was slower due to my not wearing glasses.

When I lost concentration on the lower part if the trail, I also lost my footing. Note to self: bring glasses for the descent.

So what changed?

One should expect spies to be untrustworthy.

Technical standards are often corrupted or manipulated by companies in the hope of competitive advantage (see patent FUD or other changes made to get features from some old/existing product grandfathered into a specification)

Various security technologies get weakened almost every day.

No specific security compromises have been so far revealed. Just innuendo.

I’ve always suspected that the government, instead of performing the role of “market watchdog”, was in cahoots with the large corporations who lobby it with big money.

So, what exactly changed with yesterday’s NSA revelations?