Sparse items on vaccines, Illich, science

  • Interesting and convincing post about the (im)possibility of viruses and bacteria developing vaccine resistance (contrary to what happens with antibiotics). The answer is complex. A lot of if’s and but’s. May I add, evolution has shown to be much more creative than we had expected.
  • Also on the same topic: here, here (commentary here). Some propose that vaccines may be the solution to the amtimicrobial resistance problem.
  • Italian virologist Roberto Burioni claims that science is not democratic. On this issue, I like the words of Harry Collins, from Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog

“The following are anonymized extracts from a heated discussion among about sixty people that lasted approximately half an hour and which, because it could not be resolved, ended in a vote (!) on what should be done. […] Not long after this the meeting concluded that it would be impossible to reach a consensus and that they must vote on it. The vote went eighteen for [A] and a much larger number (around thirty) for [B]. The [A] group was asked to concede, which they did, but not without at least some people feeling frustrated and certain that a poor decision had been made. While everyone felt uncomfortable about taking a vote, to the extent of people looking round at me and laughingly acknowledging that “I had got what I came for,” it was an embarrassingly long time later before I realized what it all meant. The procedures of science are meant to be universally compelling to all. To find that one needs to vote on an issue institutionalizes the idea that there can be legitimate disagreement between rival parties. In other words, taking a vote shows that there can be a sociology of science that is not rendered otiose by the universally compelling logic of science. Though we did not realize it at the time, a vote at a scientific meeting is a vote for sociology of science and we all felt it instinctively. It is not that there aren’t disputes in science all the time, but putting their resolution to a vote legitimates the idea that they are irresolvable by “scientific” means; neither the force of induction from evidence or deduction from principles can bring everyone to agree.”

  • Two interesting personal recollections, one by JP Bunker and one by R. Smith, editor of BMJ, to a conference by Ivan Illich, on the occasion of the re-publishing of Medical Nemesis.

Health, argues Illich, is the capacity to cope with the human reality of death, pain, and sickness. Technology can help, but modern medicine has gone too far—launching into a godlike battle to eradicate death, pain, and sickness. In doing so, it turns people into consumers or objects, destroying their capacity for health.

His notion of its health enhancement is remarkably in tune with current views of the impact of the social environment on health.

He makes his purpose crystal clear: “I used medicine as a paradigm for any mega-technique that promises to transform the conditio humana. I examined it as a model for any enterprise claiming, in effect, to abolish the need for the art of suffering by a technically engineered pursuit of happiness.” […] “ emphatically, I do not care about health”

  • Illich on vaccinations in Medical Nemesis

Some modern techniques, often developed with the help of doctors, and optimally effective when they become part of the culture and environment or when they are applied independently of professional delivery, have also effected changes in general health, but to a lesser degree. Among these can be included contraception,smallpox vaccination of infants, and such non medical health measures as the treatment of water and sewage, the use of soap and scissors by midwives, and some antibacterial and insecticidal procedures.

The combined death rate from scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles among children up to fifteen shows that nearly 90 percent of the total decline in mortality between 1860 and 1965 had occurred before the introduction of antibiotics and widespread immunization. In part, this recession may be attributed to improved housing and to a decrease in the virulence of micro-organisms, but by far the most important factor was a higher host-resistance due to better nutrition.

  • Illich on vaccinations and schooling in Tools of Conviviality (quite a stronger opinion, though at the time he had not studied the medical system yet. Quite interesting the tie between schooling and vaccinations)

It is not always easy to determine what constitutes compulsory consumption. The monopoly held by schools is not established primarily by a law that threatens punishment to parent or child for truancy. Such laws exist, but school is established by other tactics: by discrimination against the unschooled, by centralizing learning tools under the control of teachers, by restricting public funds earmarked for baby-sitting to salaries for graduates from normal schools. Protection against laws that impose education, vaccination, or life prolongation is important, but it is not sufficient. Procedures must be used that permit any party who feels threatened by compulsory consumption to claim protection, whatever form the imposition takes. Like intolerable pollution, intolerable monopoly cannot be defined in advance.

  • Interesting book: Elena Conis, Vaccine Nation (The University of Chicago Press).


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