Front-line workers – in healthcare, in law enforcement, and so on – have every right to refuse to be vaccinated. Their employers – hospitals, police departments, and so on – have every right not to let them on the job-site until they are. But people are dying – in hospitals and on the streets – because there aren’t enough of these front-line workers. And this is only being exacerbated by blocking unvaccinated workers from their job-sites. So what to do?

If these vaccination mandates were dropped, then some people will be infected who otherwise wouldn’t be. So one question is, what kills more people in the short term: unvaccinated front-line workers or the shortage of front-line workers? And who is responsible for these deaths, the employer or the refuseniks? But the other question is, what are the longer-term consequences of allowing, and therefore encouraging, this kind of defiance?

But yet a third question is, do essential service workers, like nurses and police officers, have the right to withdraw their services, if, in their view, acceding to their employers’ demands puts them in harm’s way? Certainly not if they’re soldiers. But nurses and police officers aren’t soldiers. 

Some people think the issue comes down to the ‘science’. The ‘science’ tells them to get vaccinated. But which science? Whose science? The employers’ science? But that just begs the question.

That wrong decisions cost lives is hardly breaking news. But wrong decisions need not be wrongfully made. If and when this pandemic is over we’ll know which decisions were right and which were wrong. But that won’t impact the debate taking place right now about the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the decision-protocols currently being employed. There has to be a number – a number we can settle on before the fact – of the lives we’re prepared to lose to preserve the freedoms that are at stake here. I say it’s 78 million Americans, and I’ll leave it to you to guess which. But 28,000 Canadians is already giving me pause. 

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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19 replies

  1. Viminitz says, “The other question is, what are the longer-term consequences of allowing, and therefore encouraging, this kind of defiance?”

    ‘An’-other, rather than ‘the’ other question. What are the longer-term consequences of NOT allowing …this kind of defiance? And so on. There are empirical answers to these questions, but the tidal wave of considerata certainly makes them difficult to find.


  2. In case anyone missed it: On deck for a policy decision Oct. 26, whether or not those who lose their jobs for not complying with their employers’ covid policies are eligible for EI.


  3. I think the answer to this situation is simple: stop working for a flawed system, system will disappear and we will have a chance to build a proper system. And the numbers which giving everyone a pause shows how flawed the system is.


  4. I had figured I had nothing to say about this because it looked as if it would be just the usual public-sector-union power game against the government employers. The only question would be who would blink. And the governments are blinking at least for (largely) unionized health-care workers. What happens in the private sector or with EI will eventually be adjudicated by the Courts. So again not particularly interesting.

    My only comment is that the first stake is really the impact on ICUs When they are full, the health care system cannot respond to serious emergencies or do much of anything except try to cope with Covid. A highly medicalized society suffers from the withdrawal of that which keeps it alive. And this drives the entire social and economic dislocation that has resulted from the pandemic. Deaths we can shrug off. As some countries almost literally did, given the age and socio-economic class distribution of the deaths. The ICUs were dominated by younger patients (but still more 60s than 30s even though the latter were in the news.)

    The other stake is health equity. As cases in Ontario decline toward an endemic plateau we can now detect small brush-fires of contagion in our poorer rural and northern public health units especially in the decaying cores of small cities. Cases in the Toronto area no longer dominate the daily statistics. I think you are seeing this in Alberta as well. Covid will likely morph into a scourge of poor minorities just as HIV did before it and rheumatic fever and tuberculosis did before that.

    Those who will decide what to do about the unvaccinated health-care worker will need to look at the impact of the policy choice on both ICU demand and the issues of fairness in access to care by the people who are going to suffer endemically


    • Leslie makes some excellent points here, not the least of which being that the costs/benefit analysis varies between, say Toronto and northern Ontario. Ignoring these differences is precisely what grounds grievances from some of these more isolated communities. So province-wide mandates or relaxations are not always equitable. I’m just grateful that these very complicated decisions don’t fall on my watch! I’m just a inert academic.


  5. A further question to be asked is: What is the cost in lives lost by policy decisions that are sub-optimal owing to damage to academic freedom? After all, it is to be expected that in the absence of academic freedom policy decisions will be made on unsupported assumptions.

    Paul’s assertion: “If these vaccination mandates were dropped, then some people will be infected who otherwise wouldn’t be” hides an unsupported assumption. True, some people will be infected who otherwise wouldn’t be, but I think Paul is implicitly assuming that more people will be infected who otherwise wouldn’t be. Is the assumption true? Dr. Robert Malone says it probably isn’t. Vaccinated people get infected but often do not get sick, do not get tested, and thus infect others. Unvaccinated people get Covid-19 and more often get sick than the vaccinated do. So they isolate themselves, and do not infect others as often as the vaccinated do. This argument is supported by articles like this: Chris Martenson also presents the case very well in a youtube video titled “Mandates Have Nothing To Do With Public Health”. (See How well would this argument go over in an academic setting where vaccines are mandated? Is the reason why I have heard this argument, and Paul hasn’t (if he hasn’t), because he’s a busy academic, and I’m not?

    I have been studying the evidence surrounding this “pandemic” night and day for months now. There is layer after complex layer of uncertain claims built upon each other about SARS-COV2, infection transmission, the mRNA injections, how medical bureaucracies work, etc., that I am still trying to assess. Despite being Covid-19 vaccine hesitant (I have not been injected with synthetic mRNA myself) I think that vaccine mandates at universities may have been justified given what decision makers could have rationally guessed at the time. New data and relevant arguments are continually arising. But, leaving new information aside, I think it would have been impossible for decision makers to have fully absorbed the available evidence at the time in the midst of pressing urgency.

    But that was then, and this is now. The decisions that have been made, justified or not, have exacerbated the perennial obstacles to academic freedom. The mandates at universities create a massive force field against critical review of mandates. The ways this force field works are many. Who is allowed on campus, never mind whether they get to speak? What arguments will be silenced? Who will be vilified? What papers can get published? What might students fear to argue in case they are graded unfairly? What views are being self-censored? What assumptions are left unquestioned? Who gets hired to teach? Which universities will have their funding reduced for questioning government policies?

    What academics should be fighting for now is the freedom to offer the strongest arguments possible for why, in hindsight, the mandates may have been mistaken. Why is it that fewer than 6% of people in Africa are vaccinated, but WHO claims that it is one of the least affected areas in the world? (See What if the all-cause mortality statistics show that over time there is no overall benefit to “vaccination”? (See What if the real reasons behind this “pandemic” are not medical but for the sake of manipulating the public in order to avert some other disaster too vexing to make headway against in public discussion? (Massive unsustainable debt? Climate change? Overpopulation?) What if adverse events to coerced injections cause more students to die than are saved? What if mass inoculation has provoked immune escape, as Geert van den Bossche warned against? And so on. Will academics be able to address such questions with honesty? How can the conditions be created so that such questions can be dealt with honestly?

    Paul says “If and when this pandemic is over we’ll know which decisions were right and which were wrong.” I’m not so sure, but that is a discussion for another time.

    Maybe we’re just doomed, and universities should be focussed on teaching students how to manage the tragic fate of liberal democracy with equanimity.


    • Vaccine mandates don’t restrict your academic freedom to publish or teach the truth as you see it, so there are no knock-on costs down that stream. The mandates just mean you can’t enter university premises unless you’re vaccinated, which is well within the public health powers of the state. Nitpicking about whether vaccines are attractive to you or not is beside the point of the state’s power to require them for entry to specified premises. The vaccines don’t have to be perfect, or free of real or imaginary downsides. The state just has to do the best it can with the resources that exist. Public health is utilitarianism writ large. It can’t be other.

      Academics and everyone else are perfectly free to say whatever they like about vaccines and mandates. And they do! But the state doesn’t have to agree with any of them. And you have to obey them whether you disagree with them or not. That’s what we call laws.

      Yes, the state’s coercive power should be the minimum consistent with the goal of protecting the public’s health. Disputing where that balance lies is the province of politics, which you can freely argue.

      The threat to liberal democracy comes from cancelling people who have unpopular views, not from requiring them to be vaccinated to enter indoor gatherings.


      • Of course vaccine mandates do not explicitly restrict academic freedom, but they do in fact. If an unvaccinated student cannot go on campus to talk with their fellow students about their reasons for not getting vaccinated, is that not in fact a restriction of that student’s academic freedom?

        Would you say that the academic freedom of Julie Ponesse was not abrogated when she was put on leave at the University of Western Ontario for refusing to be vaccinated? Sure, the university may not have intended to restrict her academic freedom, but was that not an unintended consequence?

        My point is that universities should be attempting to compensate for the unintended effect on academic freedom brought about by vaccine mandates.

        I’m fine with public health being utilitarianism writ large, but you seem to be unfamiliar with the arguments that the statistics do not support utilitarian policy. Maybe these arguments are unsound but they are not nitpicks. For a start you could look at Steve Kirsch’s substack: Then, for a more mathematically rigorous approach look at Norman Fenton’s work:


  6. The student and professor remain academically and legally free to say what they want on Zoom meetings, Twitter — god knows they love Twitter — and harangue people on the street about their anti-vax views or anything else they fancy. They just can’t come indoors or draw their university salary until they get vaccinated. The Courts will figure out eventually whether the university is on solid ground. Till then, there is no point in us bickering about it — won’t change anything now that people are lawyering up.
    Fenton does a really nice job with Bayes’s Theorem, which is hard to teach for the reasons he adduces. I was fascinated to see it applied to the analysis of evidence in legal arguments, especially with successive bits of evidence brought in Good treatment of decision-making when you have incomplete information (which is always.) He sounds like a good lawyer.
    If you ascribe credibility to someone like Steve Kirsch I don’t think there is much for us to talk about. I just don’t have the time or inclination to chase through every cranky anti-vaxxer website out there. It’s their tone that turns me off. It’s all about Gotcha! and they just shout so damned much. They appeal to people who haven’t lived years in the culture of science and who haven’t developed the sixth sense for picking up bullshit.
    Amateurs think they can “do some research” down the internet rabbit holes and “fight the narrative.” His post about the 5 Dec NPR story on Covid deaths in Trump counties vs Biden counties was a case in point. Anyone with any experience in biomedical statistics would immediately grasp that vaccination rates would explain only a portion of the difference in any health outcome between red and blue counties and yes, NPR should have been clearer about it rather than just ascribing the difference to “misinformation”. If Kirsch had just noted that, fine, but he implies that NPR made up the data (even though he uses it for his own purposes) and turns his whole post into a rant against Bill Gates and NPR. And his most recent post alludes to Auschwitz, which invokes Godwin’s law and so onto the trash heap he goes.

    It is fair to say that in a disease with an overall low mortality rate that kills mostly really old people, it is going to be difficult to detect reduced all-cause mortality from any vaccine because many of the deaths from Covid prevented will occur from Alzheimer’s disease a few months hence. The main benefit is (and has been) reduction in prolonged ICU admissions which have a devastating impact on the health care system. This issue is not addressed in your cited sources, perhaps because the impacts are less nitpicky. A standard anti-vaxxer tactic is to try to find some minor aberrancy in death counting — one Covid-positive suicide! — or test specificity — Koch’s postulates not satisfied! — and then inflate that into a worldwide conspiracy to kill us with vaccines for some nefarious purpose. With the ICUs the problem is easier to see from a straightforward perspective. I don’t even pay attention to deaths any more.

    This is a public-goods problem. It is only through reducing the stress on ICUs that we get back to normal. Nothing else matters because when you or a family member are having a car crash or a heart attack the government doesn’t want you to be left on the sidewalk because the ICUs are full of Covid patients. We’ve had a long wearying slog with pandemic restrictions and children losing ground in education because the government can’t let the ICUs collapse. Vaccines are the way back to normal. Anti-vaxxers make it harder and slower to get there and that is why I am sick of you all.


    • I very much appreciate your having paid some attention to Kirsch and Fenton. I will get back to you in a few days, but right now I am flooded with other things I need to do.

      Before I go, though, I would like to amend one of the sentences in the last paragraph of my previous comment, which did not clearly convey my meaning. Replace “you seem to be unfamiliar with the arguments that the statistics do not support utilitarian policy” with “you seem to be unfamiliar with the arguments that the statistics show that the vaccination mandates are unjustified on utilitarian grounds.”


    • You and I Leslie are so far apart that we probably both agree that we have better things to do than to try to sort out our differences. So I am going to make one more comment, leave you with a question, which I hope you will answer, but I will probably not reply. It’s not that I think you’re not worth replying to. I think you are. But I am absolutely swamped with other pressing things.

      The way you start your last reply to me, “The student and professor remain academically and legally free to say what they want” indicates to me that we have completely different understandings of the meaning and value of academic freedom. To me, academic freedom is not just about the rights of dissenters, though it does include that. To me, academic freedom includes the rights of conventional thinkers to have their thinking challenged by dissenters (though they may not want to be challenged). And this in turn is a necessary condition for preserving societies from succumbing to mass illusions that cause great suffering.

      Mass illusions have occurred frequently throughout history. Here’s one. I’ll make a long story short. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a general denial of the germ theory of disease. Using statistics, Semmelweis showed that doctors could use a handwashing procedure that would reduce the incidence of childbed fever in mothers giving birth. He suggested that there were invisible particles involved in causing the disease. The medical profession of the time viewed him as a crank. He was vilified and had problems holding down a job. He did become cranky – possibly because he cared – and he met a tragic end. In attempting to resist treatment in a mental institution he was beaten, which was probably the primary cause of his early death. So for more than 20 years women continued to die in agony during childbirth from childbed fever, until Pasteur began to advocate for the germ theory and it began to dawn on the medical profession that Semmelweis had been onto something important.

      Here’s my question to you: What is it about our current medical system that makes you think that it is not susceptible to illusions in the same way that the mid-nineteenth century medicine was?

      My own answer to this question is that it is still susceptible, and I’ll explain why I think so. Most of the web of our beliefs is constructed by relying on what others tell us. If we trust others who have it wrong, we can build large structures of false belief upon their errors. It is important to know who to trust.

      I have a method for determining who to trust, and I apply it both to individuals and to institutions. It is quite complex, but it goes roughly like this. There are 3 primary categories of sources: 1) those who can reliably be believed, 2) those who cannot reliably be believed, and 3) those who can be relied on to be spreading false belief. It is very helpful to be able to recognize which category a source belongs to, though nothing is guaranteed. As I see it, one of the characteristics of a source that belongs in category 1 is that it is open to being challenged. Even within this category there are degrees of reliability. A source that is not only open, but goes out of its way to seek out counterarguments to its own perspective, which treats those counterarguments with fairness, and which is willing to change its mind if those counterarguments are strong enough, is to be relied upon with confidence.

      Most normal individuals and institutions do not belong to category 1. They belong to category 2. They accept what others tell them without a lot of questioning. They often get it right, and most of what they say can be accepted as true, but it is a mistake to heavily rely on them. I worked as a database programmer for 15 years within a normal institution, and I have some direct experience of how things can go wrong within a normal institution. Most normal people go along to get along. This is usually not a bad thing. There are some interpersonal abrasions, but normal people are pretty good at managing these and cooperating with each other. But when a crisis hits people start thinking fast instead of slow. They begin relying too much on what they are told by others, and there is no time to check everything carefully. Mistakes begin building upon mistakes. Coverups become politically necessary. The mistakes get locked in. Bad things happen – sometimes very bad things – and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault.

      Some individuals and institutions belong to category 3. They engage in deliberate deceit, blackmail, vilification, bribery and murder, in order to promote a false narrative. If you can recognize the behaviour you can pretty much depend on believing the opposite of what they say. Telephone scammers are an example. The behaviour of the CIA with regard to the Kennedy assassination is another.

      I can tell that you rely on what the AHS tells you. I think you rely too heavily on them. I put them in category 2. I don’t automatically think that their policies are wrong, but I am somewhat distrustful. One of the things that I think they have wrong is their policy on ivermectin. I’ve had a certain amount of interaction with them regarding ivermectin and these interactions make me think that the AHS is a normal institution being run by normal people. Minister of Health Jason Copping (and before him, Tyler Shandro) relies on his scientific advisory group for advice. My guess is that everyone in that group is well aware that they would be taking a very unpopular stand to come out in favour of ivermectin, so unless there is really compelling evidence that it works for Covid-19, they all go along with the prevailing narrative. Yes, they do look at the evidence, and maybe they do so quite carefully, but several months ago I read their review, here,, and it felt to me like there was conformity bias in it. I see now in their Oct 5, 2021 update that they say:

      “Concerns regarding the lack of assessment of quality of these studies [favouring ivermectin] have been published, stating that “relying on low-quality or questionable studies in the current global climate presents severe and immediate harms. The enormous impact of COVID-19 and the consequent urgent need to demonstrate the clinical efficacy of new therapeutic options provides fertile ground for even poorly evidenced claims of efficacy to be amplified, both in the scientific literature and on social media. This context can lead to the rapid translation of almost any apparently favorable conclusion from a relatively weak trial or set of trials into widespread clinical practice and public policy.”

      They are quoting from this article, Yes, the article is a statement of concern, but it is not in itself a scientific study. It talks of “severe and immediate harms,” but makes no mention of any real harms. Yes, there is some possibility that people will over-rely on an ineffective treatment, but to call that a severe and immediate harm seems dishonest to me. Why is the scientific advisory group just accepting that claim of “immediate harm”? It seems like typical category 2 behaviour to me. It is worth noting as well that the AHS has more or less locked itself into its policy. Can Copping easily reject the advisory group’s advice? Can the advisory group easily disagree with Copping? True, some brave soul might dissent, but they have to weigh the risk that doing so will destroy any good influence they might have.

      On the other side of the issue, Norman Fenton and Martin Neil seem to me to be doing competent statistical analysis that compensates for the biases to which category 2 individuals and institutions are susceptible. I put Fenton and Neil in category 1 of reliable sources. If you’re interested you can pick up the trail to their ivermectin work here:

      (Despite the fact that I trust Fenton more than the AHS on ivermectin, I am not certain that ivermectin is effective. However, even if ivermectin is shown conclusively in some future study not to be efficacious I regard the AHS policy as irrational. Ivermectin has been proven to be safe. What the AHS is doing is like running a ferry in a storm where several passengers get swept off. Someone says “Throw them lifesavers,” and the captain says “No, don’t, lifesavers might not work. They might get false hope.”)

      I could say much more, but let me bring it back to the issue of academic freedom. We need academic freedom in order to protect dissenters like Semmelweis, Fenton and Neil. We need it not just to protect them, but also to give people like Jason Copping and his advisors a chance to hear perspectives that differ from their own. And it is not just challenging Copping and the AHS that matters. In hindsight we can see that many thousands of women died in agony because Semmelweis’ advice was not heeded. How do we know that many thousands are not dying now because Fenton and Neil’s statistical analysis is not being heeded? (And it’s not just Fenton and Neil. I could add at least a dozen names of competent people supporting ivermectin.)

      My question to you, again, is: What is it about our current medical system that makes you think it is not susceptible to illusions in the same way that the mid-nineteenth century medicine was?


      • Nowhere in that long screed have you explained how the public health rules currently in effect restrict the “rights of conventional thinkers to have their thinking challenged by dissenters (though they may not want to be challenged.)” Academic freedom was your primary argument in engaging with me in the first place, I consider that you have failed to prove your point that academic freedom, even as you describe it, is being abridged by vaccination mandates or any other public health policies.

        I don’t live in Alberta. I know nothing of Alberta Health’s policies beyond the degree to which they line up with Ontario, and I know nothing at all about the personalities involved. You are moving the goalposts when you ask me to review the nature of knowing out of your dissatisfaction with how Alberta Health works.

        Omicron is here. It is highly contagious even in people who have been vaccinated or previously infected. It seems to be a mild disease in people who are vaccinated or previously infected. We don’t know yet if it is similarly mild in people who are neither, although we will very soon. You will almost certainly be exposed to it; we all will. Please get vaccinated.


  7. And what do you say about a university who puts a professor on “non-discplinary unpaid leave” after teaching there 38 years? For what, you ask? Not disclosing his Covid 19 vaccination status! Locked out of his university email and told his office will be “repurposed.” Non-discplinary? No, what they really mean is, he’s fired. Seriously, do you people have any feeling, emotion, empathy? Do professors have any collegiality? Do they defend their own who are thrown under the bus? No. They only defend those who chant the mantra of the day. Academic freedom is a joke. The university is all about group think. What mediocrity!


  8. Well, okay Leslie, I wasn’t sure I’d reply but here I am. I‘ll try to explain how the rules restrict the rights of conventional thinkers to have their thinking challenged.

    Academic freedom is not a binary thing. It has various aspects and admits of degrees. In my original reply to Paul I listed several ways in which mandates create a “force field” that restricts free discussion of ideas. I won’t repeat them here.

    The conventional views on Covid-19 vaccines are that they are safe and effective, and that cheap alternative treatments do not work. Given present media bias most people – including academics – are not even aware of the many scientific studies and arguments that call these views into question. Among the claims supported by argument and evidence are:

    1) The vaccinated may be spreading disease as fast as the unvaccinated, possibly even faster. (See the argument of Dr. Robert Malone, mentioned in my first comment.)

    2) The adverse effects of the vaccines are larger than governments claim, possibly much larger.

    3) Natural immunity acquired from a previous infection to Covid-19 is superior to immunity from vaccination.

    4) Vaccinating during this pandemic may be creating mutations of SARS-CoV-2 which escape vaccine-induced immunity.

    5) Alternatives like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are effective protections against getting infected, and also reduce the severity of symptoms. They may be taken whether you’re vaccinated or not. Vitamin D and zinc help too. (Mandates or not, should universities be distributing vitamin D and zinc?)

    By throwing students and faculty who are not vaccinated off campus universities are removing those who are most informed about these claims.

    The point of my original comment on Paul’s post was not to assert that the mandates are wrong (If they do what they are supposed to do I agree with them), but to make the point that they inhibit the expression of counter-conventional thinking. If universities regard it as necessary to implement the mandates, they should also figure out ways to compensate for the inevitable chill that they instill. How can the suppression of a fair hearing of counter-conventional claims be averted? (How about conducting zoom seminars with Julie Ponesse, Byram Bridle, or Jessica Rose?) You and I might not agree that the chill is occurring, but do you at least agree that the 5 claims above should freely be discussed within university communities, even if such discussion tends to undermine the belief that mandates are justified?

    I would also still like to hear an answer to my previous question: “What is it about our current medical system that makes you think it is not susceptible to illusions in the same way that the mid-nineteenth century medicine was?” but maybe the question is a bit too big for a comment. Let me make it smaller: never mind answering why, do you think our current medical system is less likely to be susceptible to illusions than mid-nineteenth century medicine?


  9. The five numbered claims you make are false, misleading, or unproven. To present them as facts supported by evidence is dishonest. Since your whole point here is just to promote ivermectin and to vilify vaccination, I wish you had been honest enough to just say so at the beginning.


  10. I didn’t present them as facts. They are hypotheses that have some evidence and arguments supporting them. They should be tested against counter-evidence and arguments. Don’t you believe in testing hypotheses?


  11. I’m sorry I haven’t yet carefully read this thread.

    But I thought some might be interested in SAFS October 2021 Newsletter, Special Issue on Covid Policies and Universities:


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