Beginning late last year, several of our regular columnists became vocal anti-vaxxers with regard to the new Covid vaccines, and as a result our website was swarmed by their zealous adherents, who soon began pushing their determined message on entirely unrelated threads. This greatly irritated me, and I made increasing efforts to drive them away. This is not an anti-vaxx webzine, and I was concerned that it might become perceived as such.
I didn’t know or care anything about the vaxx issue one way or the other, and was disturbed that so many seemingly rational people had suddenly become obsessed by that topic. Eventually I agreed to do a lengthy Q&A with longtime columnist Mike Whitney, one of our strongest anti-vaxx voices, which ran 9,000 words and was published two weeks ago:
- Are the Opponents of the Covid Injections “Anti-Vaxx Crackpots”?
Interview with Ron Unz
Mike Whitney and Ron Unz • The Unz Review • August 1, 2021 • 9,000 Words
The piece proved extremely popular, not only generating strong traffic, but quickly accumulating a huge number of comments. Many of the anti-vaxxers naturally didn’t appreciate my position and why I’d published such a long and harsh critique of their views, so I tried to explain my motives in one of my comments:
Hordes of anti-vaxxers had begun descending upon this website a few months ago, probably because some of my regular columnists had begun running anti-vaxx articles. As a result, those same anti-vaxxers began cluttering up the comment-threads of other articles, including my own, that had absolutely no connection to vaxxing. So I told them to get lost and had their off-topic comments trashed to drive them away, telling them they were all a bunch of nuts, and saying the same thing, somewhat more politely, to my anti-vaxx columnists.
Mike Whitney, who’s very strongly in the anti-vaxx camp, was disturbed at my views and suggested he do a Q&A with me to thrash things out, and I said I’d be glad to do that.
When I write my own articles, especially the long ones that run 9,000 words or more, they require an enormous amount of reading and thought, and usually take weeks of sustained effort. But with the Q&A I didn’t bother with any of that, but just replied straight away to his questions. The whole thing only took me a few hours, and now gives me a perfect excuse to henceforth trash all the off-topic anti-vaxx comments everywhere else.
Although I’d viewed the article and its accompanying discussion as a long-term holding-pen for the anti-vaxxers, their energetic response soon overwhelmed my plans, with nearly 1,700 comments and over 280,000 words making the thread so huge and sluggish that I had to close it down a couple of days ago. This partially defeated my original purpose, and while awaiting some new article on their favored topic, the agitated anti-vaxxers have once again begun spilling over into other, mostly unrelated threads, including those of my own articles.
I also finally had a chance to take a closer look at more of the original thread, and although a large fraction of the material appeared as worthless as I’d expected, some of it seemed much more reasonable. In particular, the discussion had attracted the focused attention of a very erudite moderate anti-vaxxer calling himself “Raches,” who personally contributed dozens of rather long comments, totaling a remarkable 23,000 words. Much of his effort was soon directed towards rebuking and debunking the more extreme, ignorant, and conspiratorial anti-vaxxers, and he seemed to establish amicable relations with several well-informed and moderate pro-vaxxers.
Early on, he urged me to allow our publication to become an important resources in the vaxxing controversy, allowing an informed debate between the more reasonable pro- and anti-vaxxers:
In both the pro-vaxx and anti-vaxx camps, there are those who are most interested in leveraging the vaccine issue to grind a political axe, or in winning a debate at all costs. In both camps, there are also those who are sincerely interested in factually correct information, in objective, dispassionate science, and in protecting their and their families’ health. If you cut diagonally across both camps, then you can draw together the latter, and knock the fulcrum out from beneath the political lever being exercised by the former.
So, depoliticize the Covid vaccine debate. Run a series of feature articles from level-headed authors summarizing the best scientific arguments from both sides, at a level that is accessible to intelligent people who are neither medical experts nor biological researchers—with suitably cited references for those who wish to seek more in-depth information. You do need to bring out the best: I think that persons who are capable of comprehending a myriad-word American Pravda article can probably see through the old propaganda trick of pitting the best from one side against mediocre strawmen on the other.
In the ensuing discussions, impose a moderation policy that excludes empty invective and ad hominem fallacies—while recognizing that cogently presented ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious.
At the time, I summarily rejected the proposal, since my original intent had been to drive away the anti-vaxxers, or at least confine them to a sharply restricted area:
Absolutely not. The last thing I want is to attract more crazy anti-vaxxers to this website. Frankly, I wish they’d all go away to LifesiteNews or wherever. The main reason I agreed to this Q&A was that the anti-vaxxers were angry that their off-topic nonsense was getting trashed on other threads, so I thought it only fair to occasionally given them a thread where they could rant and rave a little.
But in reading through portions of the very long thread, I also noticed his appraisal of other issues of much greater interest to me, which I’ll admit I found both quite acute and obviously rather gratifying:
An interesting datapoint: In early 2020, I firmly believed in the theory of natural zoonotic origins; and when I first saw Ron Unz’s bioweapon theory, I feared that Mr. Unz may have gone off in the deep end. The only reason why I did not promptly dismiss Mr. Unz as a crackpot, just as I dismissed many stereotypical crackpots then screaming “bioweapon!”, was the credibility that Mr. Unz had established from his research of matters that I myself had spent painstaking years of endless hours investigating…
I am still not totally convinced by Mr. Unz’s bioweapon theory, although it looks to me increasingly probable that it is not only correct, but one of the most important works of journalism in the history of the world. I do not exaggerate. He is researching an existential threat. I have prior awareness of credible allegations of hidden bioweapons programs, which I never investigated myself. Well, Mr. Unz may well be on to something enormous—in the full sense of enormity…
And after thinking things over a bit, I decided that perhaps the suggestion would be the best approach after all, just as long as the number of vaxxing threads remains sufficiently small as to not overshadow the main issues covered by the website. Such articles would also make it much easier to reasonably restrict discussions of the vaxxing topic to these particular locations, preventing them from creeping into other, unrelated topics.
Moreover, since I personally don’t know or care much about the topic, I won’t be contributing much myself, and can just allow the various flavors of vaxxers and anti-vaxxers to try to settle their own differences, in effect making this a dedicated open thread.
So those interested in arguing about vaxxing should feel free to congregate here and debate the topic to their heart’s content, or at least until the thread becomes so extremely long and sluggish I have to close it down in turn. However, please be warned that the ensuing discussion will be moderated much more strictly than usual, with crude insults, totally ignorant nonsense, or crazy remarks considerably less likely to be published.