Weekly Roundup and a Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

Thank you for supporting Quillette with your subscription. By now you have probably noticed our new look—we have a cleaner and simpler website that is faster and easier to navigate (note the search function at the top of the home page). You may have also noticed that we have switched ads off. This has been a deliberate choice on my behalf, as I want to bring you the highest quality content and highest quality reader experience.

So welcome to the new ad-free Quillette!

Quillette is now entering its sixth year of operation. I am delighted by how many of you have become members of our community. We have a collegiate and politically diverse community of contributors and similarly, our discussion forum draws insights from highly knowledgeable and curious readers. I wish to thank each and every one of our contributors and forum members for making Quillette what it is today.

In this short letter, I hope to clarify one issue of concern that has arisen over the past few months and has caused consternation among a minority of readers—particularly on social media—and that is our editorial position on COVID vaccines.

Quillette has published a range of articles that have been pro-vaccination since the beginning of the pandemic. Some of these articles include “Looking for COVID-19 ‘Miracle Drugs’? We Already Have Them. They’re Called Vaccines,” “Vaccines and the Coronavirus Crank Crisis,” “Making the (Conservative) Case for Vaccine Passports,” and “Vexed by the Un-Vaxxed.”

A number of readers have expressed outrage and disgust that we have taken a strong pro-vax editorial position. (Out of all the controversial editorial positions we have taken over the years, I am surprised that being pro-vax has turned out to be the most controversial.) I have received angry emails and indignant comments on social media alleging that I have been paid off by “Big Pharma,” or the Australian government—as if being pro-vax during a pandemic were not supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US today.

Being pro-vaccination is consistent with everything that Quillette stands for, and has always stood for. Supporting the mainstream science on vaccines is no different to supporting the mainstream science on psychological sex differences, or the mainstream science on intelligence (two controversial topics on which we've also taken a strong editorial position).

Scientific consensus can—indeed must—be questioned in good faith. Yet there is a clear difference between questioning a scientific consensus within a young science such as psychology or climate science (disciplines which still have rather rudimentary methodologies) and an older science such as biomedicine, which has one of the most robust methodologies known to man—the double-blinded randomised controlled trial (RCT). Querying epidemiological models is one thing, but denying evidence that arises from RCTs with tens of thousands of participants is akin to arguing that the Earth is flat.

Vaccine technologies have existed for longer than automobiles, antibiotics, X-rays, thermometers, the telephone, and the lightbulb. The technology underpinning mRNA vaccines is likewise older than many people think—and although some of our COVID vaccines use this newer technology, these particular vaccines have been tested more thoroughly than any others we've ever had before. This is not an opinion. It is simply a fact.

In November last year, we published an editorial heralding the emergence of mRNA vaccines as a “triumph of science.” This remains our position today. For all of the destruction and misery brought about by the COVID pandemic, the rapid technological response to it has been a marvel, and one of the only rays of light in what has been a dark period in our recent history.

On the Cusp of a Vaccine—and a Historic Scientific TriumphMore than a century separated the first wave of Spanish flu in 1918 from the emergence of COVID-19 in early 2020. Yet as Nicholas Christakis writes in his new book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, there are people who’ve

Some have expressed surprise that Quillette would adopt the “mainstream position” on this issue. Or that we have taken a position inconsistent with “conservative” or “libertarian” principles. We have, after all, run many articles that dispute the mainstream position on weighty topics like gender, race, academia, and education. The assumption seems to be that because we disagree a lot with the Left, we must be part of the Right.

This is simply a misunderstanding. Quillette is not a contrarian or partisan publication and it never has been. And if we are partisan, it is in the preference of empiricism over intuition or revelation. In an uncertain world, sometimes the elite consensus will get it right and sometimes it won't. If a popular narrative is not supported by good evidence, or if good evidence supports another more plausible explanation for what is going on, what we publish will tend to counter that narrative.

That is why you will find articles querying narratives underpinning activist movements such as Black Lives Matter and the modern transgender movement among these pages. The anti-vax movement is not dissimilar to the activist movements we have scrutinised over the years. Radicals of all kinds rest their claims on cherry-picked data, the imputation of sinister motives, unfalsifiable theories about government conspiracies, and emotional reasoning.

It may be that the pro-vax message is just as unpopular to a right-wing audience as debunking the tabula rasa is for a left-wing audience. If this is the case, so be it. I have received more pushback for being pro-vaccine than for taking any other editorial position in the history of Quillette. Nevertheless, I can reassure you that it will not influence the essays and writers and views we decide to publish. In 2021, our mission remains unchanged, and that is to defend the Enlightenment project.

If you would like to join us in our mission please consider subscribing to the Quillette Circle, contributing via essays which can be sent to pitch@quillette.com, and supporting us financially through a paid subscription.

Warmly,

Claire Lehmann

P.S. Please enjoy our weekly roundup of articles. Don't miss "George Floyd and the Rise of the Rival Constitution," by Craig Trainor, and Kenneth Whyte on Ralph Nader and the 'Sack of Detroit'. And—don't miss our weekly podcast with our indefatigable host, Jon Kay. —C

George Floyd and the Rise of the Rival ConstitutionOn May 25th, 2020, a Minneapolis police officer subdued a suspected forger by placing his knee on the suspect’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. The encounter was filmed and wildly disseminated. The suspect died as a result of several factors, including the officer’s use of excessiveHow Social-Justice Extremists Spawned a Generation of ‘Progressive’ AntisemitesIn 2019, the Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) division of Stanford University’s Student Affairs department launched a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training program with a mandate to instruct students about institutional racism. Instead, the program provided a case study of ho…Understanding the Motivated Reasoning of Anti-Vax RefuseniksCOVID has hospitalized 6.2 million Americans, killed at least 640,000 (the true count may be 800,000), and caused permanent cardiovascular, neurological, and other health problems in many others. Thankfully, the available vaccines are highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death. And yet…The Status Game: Male, Grandiose, HumiliatedElliot was 11 years old and playing happily at summer camp when he accidentally bumped into a pretty and popular girl. “She got very angry,” he recounted later. “She cursed at me and pushed me.” He froze, shocked, completely lost as to how to respond. Everybody was watching. “Are youThe Moral Panic about Eugenics Poses a Threat to Abortion RightsAmerican partisan politics has just been inflamed by implementation of a Texas ban on abortions once an embryo’s heartbeat is detected, usually after the sixth week of pregnancy. The new law gets around Roe v Wade by making it possible for anyone to charge a person who helps aMale Underachievement and the Gender Turf WarsThe National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a non-profit education organization, published a report earlier this year that ought to have alarmed many Americans. Compared to the prior semester, the decline in male university enrollment was double that of women: Enrollment declines are steeper for men t…Judith Butler: Enough Already!If I were Judith Butler, I would desist from giving interviews to journalists. She has done a few lately (with Owen Jones on YouTube, with Slate magazine last year, with the Guardian a few days ago, etc.) and in each and every one of those interviews, she repeats the samePodcast #165: Peter Boghossian on Why He Quit Portland State University“Grievance Studies” hoaxster and philosophy professor Peter Boghossian tells Quillette podcast host Jonathan Kay why he could no longer continue waging his struggle for intellectual pluralism without first shaking off the ideological constraints of campus life.Lessons for Big Tech from Ralph Nader’s ‘Sack of Detroit’Until recently, Silicon Valley enjoyed a relatively high degree of freedom from US government regulation. That was a deliberate policy choice. Responding to public enthusiasm for the possibilities of global interconnectedness and an endless stream of easily accessible information, Congress decreed e…

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/09/17/weekly-round-up-3/
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I am 100% in support of the Quillette position on vaccination. Those who oppose the vaccination for COVID do not have science to back them up. The vaccine is not 100% effective, but from the start it was stated to be between 66% - 95% effective. It has proven to be that effective. Vaccination is the most successful health technology that has ever been invented, surpassing even anti-biotics which create an evolutionary force to create resistant bacteria. This is not found in vaccines. So, that you, Quillette and Claire, for taking the rational view of the vaccine.

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After having been a casual reader and commenter for several months, I’m subscribing today because of your bold stand on vaccination. Over the years I have criticized the left specifically because of its many anti-science positions. On any topic, be it genetics or energy or even so theoretical a field as astronomy, the left can be counted on to reject science and support some Luddite withdrawal from reason.

Because of this history, I really hate to see that vaccination, a technology that has been around for over 200 years and has saved millions of lives worldwide over that period, and in the US ever since George Washington became the first President to issue a vaccine mandate, become anathema - to my fellow conservatives.

We need to analyze this subject more deeply in Quillette as the pandemic unfolds. How in hell did vaccination, of all issues, become the nuclear power of the right?

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Here, here, Ms. Lehman. Thanks for your support of vaccinations and for this editorial!

Like many others who consider themselves on the Left, (the non-woke Left) I’ve taken a fair amount of heat from family and friends for questioning much of the current left wing social justice dogma, among other topics you alluded to.

But I won’t give up. I believe the Left can be saved from woke (I don’t know what else to call it) ideology.

Thanks for your work; keep it coming.

P.S. Quillette has largely curated my reading list for a couple of years now. I’m grateful for this.

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As one of the people who decided yesterday to stop supporting Quillette over its stance on vaccines, I was resigned to just walk away without being heard. But since I just received Claire’s Letter from the Editor about this very issue, I figured I should throw my two cents in. I had to re-subscribe just to post this.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the way Claire has characterized the dissenters in her letter, and in fact, the way every writer in Quillette from Michael Shermer to Richard Redding has represented them fails utterly to represent me.

Michael, Claire, Richard - I’m not against vaccines, love 'em. I’m against propaganda. I’m against government coercion. I’m against assertions that your fears are my problem. And I’m against the failure to define your limiting principles when you want to trample my rights.

By persistently and exclusively representing a dissenter as someone who is against vaccines, you are engaging in propaganda, pure and simple. I came to Quillette to get away from that.

I’m not afraid of COVID. When the whole thing started a year and half ago, I thought, that doesn’t seem so bad. I wound up getting COVID a few weeks later, along with two of my colleagues, and we all got through it. If it had killed me or left me damaged, I wouldn’t have regretted a thing. I’ve also had a history of riding motorcycles fast, racing cars, and jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. I nearly lost a leg and the surgeon was more upset than I was about it.

The bottom line is that I don’t fear what you fear. I don’t fear COVID. I don’t fear the flu. I do fear ebola. And I fear government by whining candy-asses who will wreck my life if I don’t do what they say.

You’re afraid of COVID, I get it. I’m not. Stop pretending every reasonable person must be. And stop pretending that I must care about every last shred of your fears.

And finally, limiting principles. If you and the government can force me to get a COVID vaccination, why can’t you force me to get a flu vaccination? Write me one serious, well-considered, impassioned article about why that’s a bridge too far and I’ll consider coming back into the Quillette fold. Tell me why the half-million flu deaths every year aren’t good enough to force me to get a vaccine. Really argue it. If you can’t, then it’s clear we’re just talking about shades of gray and you need to get off your vaccine high horse. Stop pretending otherwise. But if you can, well, you’re what everyone should really be afraid of.

We should all be asking, just as we ask about free speech issues, what are the limiting principles? I haven’t seen them stated.

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Strawman, I think I can speak for others when I say that those of us who would like to see high vaccination rates recognize that most of those with strong anti-covid vaccination sentiments are not anti-vax in general. For many on the right the anti-covid vax sentiment has become a right-wing membership badge to be worn with pride.

I’m not personally afraid of covid, I again doubt that that’s an accurate label to apply to those in favor of people getting vaccinated, I see covid as an attack on my society that’s a greater threat to overall wellbeing than the measures that the majority (vast majority in NZ) support to combat its spread.

Well I haven’t advocated forced vaccination, not sure on the position of others on that one.

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I’m for forced vaccinations for health care workers, government employees, military, etc. I worked in health care. We always had mandatory flu shots, and now the COVID shot is mandatory at my former employer. Good.

If you have a critical job, I’m for forced vaccination.

But if you are not in a critical job, and just don’t want the vaccination out of ignorance or sheer cussedness, no, no forced vaccination. There’s really no reason to respect anyone stupid enough to not get vaccinated, so I don’t and don’t feel the need to sugar-coat it. Not getting vaccinated is just plain stupid. You wanna be stupid? Fine.

Very soon, the lack of bills for COVID treatment will end for the unvaxed. I hope they are charged through the nose when they are hospitalized. I also resent the FACT that the unvaccinated occupy hospital beds. I hope many are fired due to their stupidity

Illgble can do what he wants. He’s a moron.

I also deny the notion that anti-vax stupidity is a principled stand. It’s just stupid.

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So you want to meet your obligations under the social contract when convenient? Adults understand you can’t have it both ways.

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This. And I’m happy that for the most part, Quillette Forum is a place of respectful dissent; I suspect some minds may even have been changed. I remain unvaxxed for all the reasons that I’ve surfaced in previous comments.

But I do not begrudge those who do get the shot(s), and ask for the same courtesy. I think this is generally true here, which is why I continue to engage rather than cancel in a rage, which I have done on other sites.

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Wow, and I just replied that this is a respectful forum where people’s decisions are usually not begrudged.

Guess you’re an exception.

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Claire, thank you for your firm and I think courageous position on standing up for rational and evidence based journalism.

And when I say ‘courageous’, it is in the context of not much intellectual courage being about, and for good reason; i.e., being courageous costs in an era of fear, where it is seen to be foolish to stick your neck out or not keep your head down…because your ‘friends’ are actually more potentially dangerous than the perceived ‘enemy’, for ‘traitors’ are more hated and reviled.

We live in a world of increasingly sacrosanct no go areas, and everyone on all sides is busy right now plumping them ever up like Hindu shrines, surrounded by bottom lines in the sand, inside whose territory they will fight like rabid dogs.

The whole regime that has underpinned the post WW2 democratic consensus is unraveling, and the main regime players; i.e., the hard manufacturing and mining corporate ascendancy and its woke social administrators, pedagogues and soft services ascendancy, are both feeling not merely the cold winds of change, but just how rotten and unstable the infrastructure underpinning them really is, whether we are talking dysfunctional social/existential governance or economic and ecological misgovernance.

The commons each side is supposed to be respectively stewarding is on its knees as a result of the biggest economic and cultural debauch and rape of the commons in the history of our species, that has lasted three generations now. Both sides are having that Warner Bros ‘Coyote Cliff Moment’. Both sides have simultaneously deregulated and privatized anything that would slow this folly down, so they are both in the same depth of doo doos. Both sides are feeling the need to both blame shift and reinforce their own hinterlands and ideological credentials, because the regime as a whole is no longer secure…and neither are they.

This is not going to be good and will not end well, as all the bets come off, the stakes become enormous, everyone starts playing for keeps and no one can afford to lose.

So dear Claire, you find yourself in a no man’s (person’s) land which is a free fire zone for anyone on it, which is what makes you ‘brave’. If you veer to ones side, the other shoots at you, and vice versa. And if you stay scrupulously in the middle, both will try to take you down.

When you feel that you have been sufficiently turned into a Swiss Cheese, may I suggest Norfolk Island as a suitable retreat. The real estate is cheap, your enemies distant and you might even be able to get Colleen McCullough’s place…now that the will has been sorted out…and you too can write supermassive historical novels…Rome has been done…How about the Dark Ages…?

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Hi - I’m trying to figure out how to update my billing information to use a different credit card. (my original card got compromised.) I sent an email to the Quillette service email address asking how I could update my CC info (no link available from the QuilIette or Quillette Circle website after much searching). Received an email informing me that my payment was unsuccessful - the link to update my payment method takes me to the Quillette home page (as far as I can tell there isn’t a way to update my payment info from there. Where do I go to update my credit card info? The last time I had billing issue, after several attempts to reach someone who might help. I just canceled my subscription and started a new one. I’m not doing that again. Love your vision here, and I’ve solved your billing issue once, but why would I continue to fight to pay you?

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Superbly put. My opinion exactly.

This! Some, unfortunately, have forgotten the lessons of how authoritarianism took hold in the past. Every single step down that road was for the good of the people.

Great post, @illgble. I’m sorry to see you leave, even though I understand your motivation.

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havent watched this yet but should be good: Vaccine Mandates | Munk Debates “Be it resolved, to promote public health, governments should mandate use of COVID-19 vaccines broadly in society.” Paul Offit versus Martin Kulldorff

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I am a supporter of Claire’s creation, Quillette, particularly for its defence of science and freedom of speech. However, I do not know why she feels the need to justify publicly her personal stance on vaccination. This strikes me more as an effort to convince herself of the validity of her position.

As a scientist working in the biomedical area, I do not agree with a number of her statements about science.

Yet there is a clear difference between questioning a scientific consensus within a young science such as psychology or climate science (disciplines which still have rather rudimentary methodologies) and an older science such as biomedicine

The only kind thing I can say about this statement is that it is original. Human biology is so incredibly complex that we still have only vague ideas about how many systems operate - and the idea that there is any sort of consensus on the functioning of most biological systems is not sensible.

one of the most robust methodologies known to man—the double-blinded randomised controlled trial (RCT)

So many variables can affect the outcomes of any particular RCT that the idea of this as a “robust” methodology is also somewhat bizarre. Witness the contention over the RCTs conducted for both Remdesivir and Ivermectin.

Querying epidemiological models is one thing, but denying evidence that arises from RCTs with tens of thousands of participants is akin to arguing that the Earth is flat.

But see my comment above. Yes, the RCT provides evidence - but the evidence is shaped by the parameters set for the RCT - and then that evidence needs to be interpreted.

Vaccine technologies have existed for longer than automobiles, antibiotics, X-rays, thermometers, the telephone, and the lightbulb.

But not the current gene-technology based vaccination approaches.

…although some of our COVID vaccines use this newer technology, these particular vaccines have been tested more thoroughly than any others we’ve ever had before. This is not an opinion. It is simply a fact.

??? Unless Claire has discovered a method for time travel then this statement cannot possibly be true and it is amazing that anyone would make a statement this absolute - and absolutely wrong. It has not been possible to do the usual long-term testing of these vaccines because they have not been in existence long enough. A perfect example is the realisation in only the last few months that the protection offered by the new technology-based vaccines wanes relatively rapidly. And because we still know so little about how these “vaccines” become distributed in the body and what the mRNA nanoparticles or adenovirus-vector systems do in the various cell types they enter (in contrast to the assertions of biomedicine/“older science” consensus above) any testing is incomplete. It is the nature of testing that you only find what you test for! Witness the complete lack of any mention by Pfizer of vaginal bleeding/menstruation changes when these are now becoming recognised as a widespread (and possibly very concerning) side effect of these vaccines. Why does this bleeding occur? What does it mean? Are there longer term reproductive consequences? WE JUST DON’T KNOW.

"In November last year, we published an editorial heralding the emergence of mRNA vaccines as a “triumph of science.” "

Or, rather, scientific hubris?

I agree with @illgble on this one. The vaccine sceptics are being persecuted due to the fears of the vaccinated. Since the vaccines do not block infection or transmission of SARS-CoV2, they are only of use for personal protection. In fact, since it appears that vaccinated people can carry very high viral loads in their nasopharynx asymptomatically, in a highly vaccinated population, they may represent the main route of viral spread. Yes, we don’t want our hospitals overwhelmed by hoards of serious COVID-19 cases but vaccination is not necessary to prevent this. Early treatment works! Look at Uttar Pradesh that has almost eradicated the virus! Look at the treatment record of Dr George Fareed!

There are amazing success stories here to be told but they are ignored by Quillette that is, for whatever reason, fixated on the politically “safe” vaccination approach. This is not the courageous stance that I was expecting from Quillette. However, I do understand that the act of allowing oneself to be vaccinated is to make an irreversible physical commitment to the idea that the vaccines MUST be safe. The idea that these new-technology vaccines might have shorter or longer term negative consequences must create severe cognitive dissonance in the minds both of those who have boldly taken this step and those who have just succumbed to government/employer/peer pressure and allowed it. They just do not want to believe that there could be harm, and so they must then force vaccination on everyone else to confirm that their choice was the only possible path.

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Keep up the good work. I think I am from the right, and over the last 22 months (ie slightly before the pandemic) I have seen publications that I used to admire, disseminating views which seem weird to me. I discovered Quillette and Melanie Phillips who seem to be sane voices. I am impressed by the variety of different themes you deal with. And I take on board the fact that I have confirmation bias, but I am fighting it. Keep up the good work

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Just wanted to chime in to say (like some of the others here) that I’ve been an unpaid subscriber for several years, and I decided to get a paid subscription today because of this letter from the editor: not only is this an evidence-based stance, but you are not scared of pissing people off by firmly taking it. Quillette is far from perfect, but it fills an important niche and I appreciate it.

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Those who do not get the vaccination want to take a position based on cluelessness and retain the respect of others. Sorry, that’s not possible. If you don’t want the vaccination, you are an idiot (unless you have a medical reason for not having the vaccination). You lose respect.

And there’s a reason for that. The unvaccinated are filling the ERs again. They are the breeding grounds for COVID variants. They are causing problems in other areas.

The decision to not get vaccinated is NOT an individual choice. It is a choice which has implications in other areas and for other people. So, I don’t have to respect the decision of others to forgo the vaccination, because it does cause harm to others.

Finally, you don’t seem to understand your own comments. Uttar Pradesh has done well BECAUSE of vaccination.

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What a clueless comment. The vaccine skeptics are clogging the ERs. The ERs in multiple states are filled with patients, AGAIN, and 90% are unvaccinated. The decision of the stupid to not get vaccinated has impact far beyond their own arms. This decision is harming others.

And your clueless statement about RCTs is again amazing. I am also a medical scientist. I am a statistician. I served for period on the BoD of the Society for Clinical Trials. I know the strengths and weaknesses of clinical trials.

The problem is that we have NO better approach AT THE CURRENT TIME to determine what does and does not work. In 5 years, we will have a better idea. But we are living NOW and must make a decision NOW about vaccination. It is better than the COVID. That is utility calculus. The vaccines are not perfect. But they are better than the COVID.

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