Vaccine mandates, personal freedom and public health

A disclosure right up front, namely that I’m a member of the UCT Covid -19 Vaccine Mandate Panel, which is currently seeking comment on the draft vaccine mandate policy that we have drafted. (And, it’s no doubt also relevant that I’m a member of UCT’s Council, which will have to approve the final conditions of any mandate the panel proposes.)

Challenges to science communication in a post-truth World

This is an original manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Communicatio on November 8, 2021, available online here: Challenges to Science Communication in a Post-Truth World.


Communicating scientific research to a lay audience – or, for that matter, communicating any contestable or potentially controversial ideas in areas such as politics or policy – would be a significantly easier task if the audience agreed on what the relevant facts are, and also on the extent to which the facts are even relevant (rather than facts being regarded as of secondary importance to political or pragmatic interests).

The first issue (“what are the facts?”) is an empirical matter, and one which reasonable people can disagree on in situations of uncertainty or incomplete knowledge. The second issue is of more concern when communicating complex or possibly controversial ideas, particularly in light of the increased polarisation of opinion in public discourse, alongside an increasingly widespread mistrust of mainstream media and “authorities” in general.

Vaccination, ethics and freedom of choice

Earlier this month, News24 asked me to contribute to a piece on whether vaccine mandates were ethically defensible. Here are some more fleshed-out answers to their questions. David Benatar’s (a colleague at the University of Cape Town) Business Day column on the same topic is worth reading, if the paywall isn’t an impediment for you.

Noakes and vaccine-assisted herd immunity

Professor Tim Noakes has published a response to Nathan Geffen’s criticism of a recent radio interview, where Geffen argued that Noakes was running the risk of misleading the public and “demean[ing] the scientific and medical community”.

One reason I haven’t written about Noakes for 18 months or so – despite his recent interest in climate-change scepticism, and his continued misrepresentation of his critics – is that I thought he was doing enough to demonstrate his epistemic irresponsibility without people like me having to point it out.

Coronavirus lockdown, South Africa: bioethics and miscellany

Today is day 10 of South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown, which has been implemented with a resolve rarely seen in our country, with the military deployed to assist the police in keeping people in their homes. Unfortunately, neither they – nor the police – are (in general) accustomed to much besides being authoritarian. They certainly don’t have a history of “shower[ing] our people with guidance [and] leadership”, as President Ramaphosa asked of them when they were sent into the streets.

COVID-19, South Africa, and humility regarding scientific reasoning

Eusebius McKaiser (host of a show on Radio 702) and I were meant to be part of a public discussion at WiSER (based at Wits University) on COVID-19 and its social implications later this week. The conversation was in the end postponed – not because of health risks (although that is now an utterly sensible reason for postponing) – but because some people thought that a philosophical conversation was inappropriate, and that WiSER should include epidemiologists, virologists and the like on any panel related to this coronavirus.

The Magic Pill – Pete Evans does “documentary”

All you really need to know about Pete Evans’ new documentary, The Magic Pill, comes up on your screen 18 seconds in, where a disclaimer tells you that “the personal stories portrayed in this film are anecdotal, and we make no claims that these experiences are typical”.

A (partial) autopsy of pseudoscience: Natasha Bolognesi and WAVEEX

Earlier this month, Prof. George Claassen of CENSCOM (Stellenbosch University) published a piece on GroundUp, detailing how science journalist Natasha Bolognesi became the subject of disciplinary action after refusing to copy edit a study on the cellphone-attachment WAVEEX, described by the manufacturers as

a composite chip of seven superposed layers, outside of plastic, inside five layers with silver ink printed circuits, which, if they are exposed to the electromagnetic waves, weaken the passing harmful radiation and balance it with the magnetic field of your body.

I won’t spend time focusing on how it’s well-established that low-frequency EMF radiation doesn’t pose a risk to humans, nor on the journalistic ethics of Bolognesi’s choice to refuse to copy edit the piece in question.

Noakes on McAlpine’s review of Lore of Nutrition

Well, this is a doozy. If Alastair McAlpine* was at all worried about negative responses to his review of Lore of Nutrition, he’s perhaps less so today. This is because Prof. Noakes and Marika Sboros have now responded to said review, and in doing so, made his case for him.

Noakes and vaccination: if it quacks like a duck…

On November 29, Professor Tim Noakes was interviewed on the Gareth Cliff Show. Much of the interview focused on his new book, and his reasons for co-writing it (with Marika Sboros). I’ve previously described some of this book’s inaccuracies and falsehoods in respect of its mentions of me, including the assertion that I’m part of some conspiracy against him.

Today, I’d like to briefly focus on a more worrisome theme – vaccine scepticism – that Noakes has tweeted about in the past, and one that he returns to in this interview with Gareth Cliff. The relevant segment’s audio is transcribed below, and embedded at the end of the post. It takes place between 44m07s and 45m37s of the full interview.