The choice to wait and watch for a while should almost always be respected

Short post on vaccines, airplanes, and potatoes

(Audio reading of today’s post.)

I remarked today that I’ve found it a little odd that organic food people, who won’t even eat a conventional potato that regulators have told them is safe, are rushing to inject themselves with a new vaccine that regulators have told them is safe. You don’t have to believe in any conspiracy theory to suggest that, at a minimum, the risk of harm from the injection exceeds the risk of harm from the potato. (Now there’s a phrase I always wanted to write, “the risk of harm from the injection exceeds the risk of harm from the potato”.) To be fair, there isn’t necessarily a contradiction there, you could certainly be wary of the vaccine but see the danger of actually contracting COVID-19 as even higher, and so make your decision.

But it’s worth asking, why are they wary of the conventional potato? And I think, at least for some people, it comes down to a recognition that biological systems are highly complex and we don’t understand them as well as we think we do. Therefore, even though your study is claiming that this potato is perfectly safe, I’m not sure we really understand what’s going on as well as you’re claiming, so I choose to only eat organic potatoes. I can’t remember the title now, but my wife read a book a while back whose whole theme was to eat the foods humans have been eating for millennia, if you can, rather than the new products of food science… the ancient foods have a proven track record of interacting well with the human body.

That sort of choice, “I’m not so sure about this new thing so I’m just going to wait and watch for a while”, should almost always be respected. The 737 MAX was certified as safe by regulators until they suddenly realized it wasn’t. It is actually the truth that we often do not understand complex systems as well as we think we do. We’ve changed our minds on many things over the years (that’s how science often works). It is an unwisdom of the present age (and also expresses what we want science to be instead of what it actually is) that we will take something we think we learned yesterday and be so absolutely sure it is the full truth that we will force everyone into adopting it and, if applicable, forsake two millennia of wisdom saying it’s a bad idea. There is often a wisdom in hesitation toward the new and even if you don’t participate in it yourself, that hesitation should be respected.

By example, number 3: