Sam Harris's latest comments on Bret & Heather's nuttery

Sam Harris: “the reason why I don’t want to do a podcast with Bret and Heather is the same as why I wouldn’t do a podcast with a 9/11 Truth conspiracy theorist or Alex Jones or anyone in that world. Because there’s a basic asymmetry which is very hard to overcome - it’s so much easier to make a mess, than to clean it up. It’s so much easier to light several small fires, than to put them out.”

Comments start at the 11:38 mark.


“so little quality control around the kinds of information theyre putting forward” - it’s so true! and theyre slippery, theyd say: that’s not what we meant, youve misunderstood etc etc, it’s astonishing that they behave as if theyre in tact after being proven to have misjudged things
another neat summary: “theyre obviously the wrong ppl to be doing what theyre doing and it shows, and apparently it’s not obvious to their audience and it’s not obvious to them”

Vaccine misinformation is not causing vaccine hesitancy. The most commonly stated reason given for people not getting vaccinated is that the vaccines are simply too new, in terms of knowing the long-term effects, for some people’s tastes. As far I am aware, I don’t think anybody has yet invented the crystal ball which can allow us to see twenty years into the future to see whether there have been any long-term adverse effects.

It all boils down to trait openness to new experience. Conservatives are less trusting of the new in general. In some ways this serves them well, because although those with liberal psychologies generate almost all innovation, progress and new ideas, liberals can also be extraordinarily susceptible to terrible ideas- one only has to look to educational departments to see how they have failed to adopt the most important scientific idea in learning, cognitive lead theory, in favour of a plethora of really bad flaky ideas from postmodernism to gender ideology to see that this is true.

For a conservative in their forties who has gone on the Oxford University risk calculator and seen that there risks of death in the event of COVID amount to 1 in 16,000, then vaccines will seem like an unquantifiable unknown risk versus a tiny one. They are always going to choose the latter option, especially if they are of the outdoorsy, fit and clean-living variety more typical than not of conservatives, with the types who usually turn up at Trump rallies atypical of the breed.

But liberals tend to have their own biases as well. There seems to be a persistent belief amongst liberals that vaccines will cut daily case numbers. This doesn’t appear to be the case given that adult immunity from all sources was up to 94% in August in the UK, with significant natural immunity now present amongst children likely to catch and spread the virus- yet daily case numbers remain constant at around two-thirds of the prior peak earlier this year. McKinsey have even admitted that it is far likelier than not that the pandemic will become endemic.

I agree that a couple of ideas that the Dark Horse podcasts have hosted have been irresponsible, but they are not causative in creating vaccine hesitancy. Most conservatives made their minds up about vaccines months ago, and it was almost predetermined by their psychology that their risk calculation would differ from that of liberals from the outset. All that Brett and Heather have really done is provide yet more ammunition for their confirmation bias, but really- is this any different than the media peddling the myth that vaccines prevent virus spread when all evidence that exists is to the contrary?

I may think they are wrong- I am double vaccinated myself- but it doesn’t mean they don’t have entirely valid reasoning which informs their decisions. Anyway, the current approach of vaccine mandates/passports is nothing short of catastrophic in terms of outcomes, as this research from Imperial College London shows:

The other thing to remember is don’t believe everything you hear about people with which you are not necessarily too familiar. I did some digging on the QAnon phenomenon and it appears that although many might express a belief in QAnon for reasons of tribal loyalty, with numbers ranges from the low thirties to forties, when you actually dig down into whether they actually believe any of the specific aspects of the QAnon belief, positive answers hover around the 4% mark for any specific QAnon belief at all- and it’s a BIG fruit basket!


You have an unfortunate habit of making confident and purportedly definitive statements in the absence of supporting evidence, but this is egregious even by your standards.


Really? Conservative psychology guaranteed that conservatives would be vaccine hesitant? Donald Trump’s refusal to take the pandemic seriously and months of vax-skeptical propaganda from right-wing politicians and media outlets had no impact whatsoever? If Trump had taken credit for the development of the vaccines and strongly encouraged his supporters to get vaxxed there would be equal numbers of Republicans who refuse to get jabbed? Masking and vaccination were destined to become a front in the culture war regardless of how right-wing thought leaders responded to the pandemic?

To the contrary:


If anything, vaccine misinformation, starting with the widespread misinformation that these mRNA treatments are vaccines at all, much less safe and effective, is driving more people to get jabbed, not less.

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You conveniently ignore that Trump and the GOP have embraced the vaccines publicly. Next thing you’ll be stating that although Ron DeSantis isn’t anti-vaccine he has stood next to people who are (as if that matters at all). Or claiming that his stance that vaccines are a personal choice is irresponsible, when he is absolutely correct.

Plus, natural immunity means over 94% of adults have immunity.

This was the 5th of August so the figure is higher now.

From the BBC article “Even if 100% of people in the UK were double vaccinated, the virus would still spread - but the key difference is that far fewer people would become seriously ill.” The latter statement only holds true because vaccines prevent hospitalisation and death in the vaccinated on an individual basis. The vaccines do almost nothing to stop virus spread, as I’ve stated (and supported with incontrovertible evidence, repeatedly). The real world data doesn’t lie.

I read the CNN article. What you have to remember is that British conservatives are completely unlike American conservatives- most are liberal conservatives. I’m sure the same thing can be said of Canadian conservatives.

Plus, you have to remember that the NHS is virtually a national religion here in the UK, and the same thing can probably be said of Canada. This meant that institutional credibility automatically spread to Public Health England (which didn’t always deserve this trust).

In America, conservatives are institutionally paranoid, and with good reason. You’ve now had no less than two massive corporate bailouts which will be paid for by the American taxpayer, whilst almost no help has been forthcoming for the American people. And before you indict the GOP as being just as culpable as the Democrats (perhaps even more so), remember most American conservatives absolutely loathe the GOP and only really vote for them because they are terrified by the Democrats.

Again we are talking about matters of institutional trust. What reassured British conservatives was the moratorium on early treatment for trans kids (including puberty blockers). It reassured many as to the integrity of the NHS- by contrast, the American medical and scientific establishment embraced gender ideology wholeheartedly, this is only one of a range of issues which has caused a breakdown of institutional trust for American conservatives.

Back to science. Evidence now tends to suggest that the only conceivable route for greatly reducing virus spread would be for populations to get double vaccinated first (if they are sensible), and to then get the virus whilst their vaccine induced COVID-19 resistance is at its highest. I think that is where many of the world’s more sensible governments are heading, they just aren’t really bothering to tell their populations the truth- and instead are relying upon general frustration with restrictions to do its work:


Some Republicans have, half-heartedly, but many continue to spread anti-vax propaganda (as do right-wing media outlets). Regardless, the damage is already done: vaccination has become politicized in the U.S. to an extent that’s unique among Western democracies. It’s absurd to blame this exclusively on theories of “conservative psychology” without factoring in the deeply irresponsible behavior of right-wing thought leaders.

(1) This article refers to the U.K., not the U.S. (2) A significant proportion of the population has antibodies because of vaccination, not because they’ve been infected with the virus.

False. The U.S. government has been extraordinarily generous in response to COVID; one $2T “stimulus” bill was signed by Trump, another by Biden. The Democrats are currently attempting to massively expand social spending via the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. I happen to think they’re spending too much, but it’s obviously wrong to claim that “no help” has been provided to the American electorate.

Nope. As usual, you’re making a definitive statement on a contested issue by cherry-picking sources and ignoring contrary data.

How, exactly, do you know this?

(EDITED to remove ad hominem criticism.)


That’s wrong, even now there are many who believe the vaccine is nearly as deadly as the virus, and I think it’s clear that though many who initially bought that particular misinformation now intellectually accept that that misinformation wasn’t true, many of those people are still hesitant because that’s the direction the misinformation pointed their elephants in the first place, so they trundle along looking for other reasons to justify continuing in their initial direction.

My wife is an example of such a person, initially she bought the dangerous vaccines lie, and given her health issues unvaccinated she probably has more than a one in fifty chance of requiring a hospital bed when she becomes infected, perhaps a one in five hundred chance of the virus killing her, with vaccination her chances of avoiding serious effects improve 10 fold, but the misinformation pointed her in a certain direction and no amount of reasoning or evidence will change her belief that vaccine bad.


But you miss my point- virus spread remains persistently high despite high levels of population immunity.

I’m talking about direct payments to citizens- the only measure which is meaningful. Agreeing to spend money on somebody else’s behalf only ends up filling the pockets of the donor class, who directly benefit from bidding on the new services for government. In the UK and most of Europe furlough schemes were introduced- direct payments to citizens which helped them retain their jobs when the restrictions were over. Even enhanced welfare payments can be seen as partisan and self-interested- because for Democrats it represents an expansion of one of their core client classes.

OK, incontrovertible was a bit much, but the alternate hypothesis- that vaccinated wanes after six months seems awfully convenient given it comes along at the exact moment when delta seems able to circumvent the vaccines. Perhaps we’ll never know- because most scientific bodies are advising against booster shots (in all but selective instances) in a rare stand against purely political considerations.

This research shows that Trump support extends to hostility towards Democratic core constituencies, and given the rhetoric we see from legacy media figures every day, (Jimmy Kimmel: ‘let’s not treat the unvaccinated’) I’m sure that if the Right had the same resources they could find that Democrats now hate whites more, Christians (‘you know the thing’), rural voters, the old and any other groups known for voting Republican. How else can we explain the particularly extreme vitriol expressed towards those who are considered to be traitors or treasonous by voting outside their group’s supposed interest?

Plus, even though racism is at an all-time low, one would expect Pew research to show some hesitancy towards interracial marriage because of the way racists will treat the marriage. Instead, what we see is Americans far more concerned about their loved ones marrying outside their political tribe than other interracial marriage.

This is insane! It is certainly not the case in the UK. I doubt you would find 10% of the population who would care if a loved one married across the political divide, although there would probably be more who wouldn’t want to date someone from the opposition.

What has now been made clear is that Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia.

And, even more pertinently, it is clear that these interventions are continuing as Russian agents stoke division around such recent topics as white supremacist marches and NFL players taking a knee to protest police violence.

The overarching goal, during the election and now, analysts say, is to expand and exploit divisions, attacking the American social fabric where it is most vulnerable, along lines of race, gender, class and creed.

“The broader Russian strategy is pretty clearly about destabilizing the country by focusing on and amplifying existing divisions, rather than supporting any one political party,” said Jonathon Morgan, a former state department adviser on digital responses to terrorism whose company, New Knowledge, analyzes the manipulation of public discourse.

“I think it absolutely continues.”

The only reason they picked Trump was because he was the one most likely to divide the country even further, and by extension, further destabilise it. It was never about the election- it was always about dividing America and making Americans hate one another. The CIA has been creating similar destabilisation operations in other countries for years. Social media handed America’s adversaries the perfect master key to hack American society for the purposes of fostering hatred and and animosity and it worked like a dream- most Americans don’t even realise their perceptions and emotions have been hacked by foreign powers.

And for the record, I know plenty of American conservatives. Not a single one of them has ever fired back for me calling Trump a narcissistic reality TV star or for criticising the GOP. On the other hand, I got no end of grief for first calling the American housing market an oligopoly designed to create ever more mortgage debt assets for investors and was heavily criticised for suggesting that one aspect of the Left’s cannon which actually seems to work quite well in Scandinavia is stronger worker protections. In particular, they were not at all happy when I suggested that America end its highly unusual capital depreciation allowance on housing, although to be fair I could perhaps have made it more clear that I was talking about corporations and investment firms only- who tend to use it as a vehicle for net loss carry forwards.

OK. can you at least see that if someone looked at the data and found their chances were only 1 in 16,000 of dying they might prefer to take the risk on COVID rather than on vaccine for which nobody knows the long-term effects? Granted, VAERS complicates matters because many conservatives are convinced that substantial numbers of deaths and serious side effects are massively underreported- but his is based partially upon anecdotal evidence of specific instances where highly likely vaccine deaths are not placed on the website.

As I said, I’m double vaccinated- I was 49 recently- but I certainly wouldn’t get it if I was under 18. The maths just doesn’t support it (although in my case my mother is immunosuppressed so I probably would anyway).

Ah, that’s so sweet! :heart_eyes:


Like stimulus payments (I personally received over $2000), increased unemployment benefits, refundable child tax credits, and forgivable business loans?

So they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. From your perspective Democrats are either corporate lackeys or cynical, pandering opportunists. It seems like you’re committed to despising Democrats regardless of the policies they pursue.

They are?

The staff of the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday declined to take a stance on whether to back booster shots of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, saying U.S. regulators haven’t verified all the available data.

“There are many potentially relevant studies, but FDA has not independently reviewed or verified the underlying data or their conclusions,” they wrote in a 23-page document published on the agency’s website. “Some of these studies, including data from the vaccination program in Israel, will be summarized during the September 17, 2021 VRBPAC meeting.”

The staff said some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine over time against symptomatic infection or against the delta variant, while others have not.

There is currently not a consensus in the biomedical community on boosters for the general public, said Dan Barouch, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School.

“There are senior experts who fall on different sides of the debate,”** he said. “Right now, it’ll be interesting to see where the debate goes, but obviously it is known that the Biden administration has suggested that boosters are needed.”

The sources you cite don’t even come close to establishing this claim. Yes, negative partisanship is increasing among both Democrats and Republicans, but it does not follow that “most conservatives” hate the GOP.

Perhaps so, but Republican office holders are justifiably reluctant to criticize Trump publicly because large swathes of the GOP have become a personality cult that’s divorced from conservative principles.

We may not know the long-term effects, but we have a very good idea of how the vaccines work and the likelihood of negative effects are vanishingly small. Contrary to your claims (which you may have abandoned since you didn’t respond to that part of my and Andrew’s critique), scaremongering misinformation about vaccines is a significant cause of vaccine hesitancy.


Furlough- 80% of salary paid through employers to employees. No bailouts for the corporate sector. We had most of the rest.

No. I am committed to despising both the Republican and Democratic parties as a corporate duopoly, notwithstanding some very high integrity individuals like Katie Porter and Dan Crenshaw- but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Here in the UK, we don’t have offices quite close to parliament where politicians spend most of their time ringing the donor class. Instead our politicians voted in spending limits for elections.

Two of the FDA officials resigned. However, it appears you may be somewhat correct in this regard, I was focused on the FDA, which only advised it for over 65s:

Still, at least this proves I am operating in good faith…

Mitch McConnell favourable 21%, unfavourable 60%

VAERS doesn’t qualify as misinformation, nor does speculation that cases may be far higher than are reported to the site- because there are a significant number of anecdotal cases which have not been reported to the site. Speculation that side effects deaths may be an order of magnitude higher than the site lists could qualify as misinformation, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that side effect deaths are considerably higher than reported to the site, for the simple reason that the incentives are strongly structured to not report vaccine deaths. Few in the medical community would want to fuel vaccine hesitancy.


I noticed that too. I’m the most conservative person I know (not saying much from a Canadian dolphin) and I’ve had my two jabs – civic duty and all. Isn’t that a core conservative value?


Touche. It’s nice not being partisan, you get to permit yourself to see that one is as rotten as the other.


I disagree with this. Instead, i would suggest that the only remaining people in the UK are now the stridently anti-vax crowd, and nothing was going to change their mind anyway.

Contrast this with French experience with introduction of their passport:

If you’re on the fence, or merely hesitant, the passport may be the extra nudge you need. But if you were no vax no way no how to begin with, it should not surprise anyone that a passport would have little effect.


We each have our own sources, the Imperial College source was a good one, if for no better reason that it was survey and polled people’s actual attitudes rather than inferring them from data. You make a good point on fence-sitters though- passports probably incentive the lazy and complacent, as well as those for whom getting vaccinated has proven inconvenient, at the expense of pushing those only mildly disinclined to vaccination firmly into the ‘no’ camp.

If you met a girl, were engaged and suddenly every conservative under the sun said that people had to get married for the sake of the kids, wouldn’t it make you somewhat more inclined to opt for a longer engagement? It’s a silly example, and people like to think that they are independent minded, but just look at how much people’s political views have shifted purely on the basis of whether Trump was for it or against it.

Exactly. The virus doesn’t care what your motives are. In the attempt to reach heard immunity it’s only the raw numbers that matter. That the fundamentalist anti-vaxer remains unmoved is unfortunate but if the fence sitters and the apathetic are motivated that’s good irrespective of the moral worth of the motive.


Not sure what your point is here. As a reminder, I was responding to your claim that “almost no help has been forthcoming for the American people.” That’s clearly false.

Mitch McConnell is unpopular because he’s a deeply cynical and ruthlessly opportunistic pol who (a) looks like a desiccated turtle-human hybrid, (b) has all the charisma of a tree stump and (c) has demonstrated inconsistent fealty to the Donald Trump. It’s a non sequitur to conclude that “most conservatives” hate the GOP.

Actually, it is. The number of deaths attributed to vaccination is almost certainly exaggerated, not underestimated:

As shown VAERS welcomes healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public to submit reports to the system. However, it warns that data found on the site “may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”

As stated here by the CDC, “Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.”

According to CDC guidance listed on its page reporting adverse events from COVID-19 vaccines, seen here , there have been 6,340 reports of death (0.0019%) recorded from December 14, 2020, to July 26, 2021 “among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.” It is important to note that the "FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it is unclear whether the vaccine was the cause.”

Martha Sharan, a CDC spokesperson, told Reuters that “reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.” All deaths must be verified because VAERS does not determine the cause of death.

One might be tempted to conclude that the Trumpist wing (OK, at this point it’s almost the entire bird) of the GOP has abandoned conservative values.

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Anecdote: My sister works at the local hospital and she reports that there was flagrant boosterism regarding corona cases. As to vaccine deaths (not the virus itself), I’d like to see believable numbers either way. My guess would be that the establishment is going to do everything possible to minimize the number of reported vaccine deaths for the obvious reason that you aren’t happy to report it when your merchandise kills its customers. Mind, the anti-vaxers will no doubt be equally zealous to inflate the numbers. And, as you show, if there is some mechanism for reporting any deaths following the vaccine then, post hoc propter hoc, one would expect hysterically exaggerated numbers. It could go either way but even as I type this, my bet is swinging in your direction.

Once again we find ourselves in label-inertia hell. The GOP labels itself as conservative so … what does conservative mean? ‘GOP’ and ‘conservative’ are two stars of meaning orbiting around a common center of gravity but as they pull apart which one drags the other more? Do we preserve the meaning of ‘conservative’ and say that the GOP are liars and phoneys (which they are) or does the meaning of ‘conservative’ get dragged toward the GOP and end up meaning: “Conservative, n: The beliefs of folks who call themselves conservative, irrespective of what those beliefs are.” Sorry, that was badly expressed but you get my drift.