A long time ago I read an essay in the New Criterion whose title—“The apostle of inversion”—stuck with me. It was a review of Edmund White’s biography of the French writer, Jean Genet. I was reminded of this essay when I listened to Joe Rogan’s recent conversation with Dr. Peter Hotez. The description of Genet’s characters struck me as especially apt.
His [Genet’s] boys play at being girls, become girls; his maids become mistresses, his blacks wear white masks; and so it goes, good is bad and vice is virtue and betrayal is faith; everything is—in the end quite predictably—turned back to front and upside down.
Everything is … turned back to front and upside down. This, it seems to me, is a perfect description of Dr. Hotez’s many assertions on the Joe Rogan Experience. To quote a few:
Let’s be clear: an anti-vaccine lobby owns the internet right now. What that means is that by some estimates, they’ve put out 500 anti-vaccine websites, so that every time you put the word vaccine into a search engine—whether it’s Yahoo or Google—you’re going to get anti-vaccine misinformation. That’s number one.
Second, we now know it’s amplified on social media like Facebook and other forms of social media.
Third, look at the Amazon site. It’s incredible. So my book—the good news is that it’s the highest-rated pro-vaccine book on Amazon. The bad news is that, overall, it’s ranked about twenty, because there’s nineteen other phony-baloney anti-vaccine books. So Amazon is now the biggest purveyor of anti-vaccine books.
It’s true that Dr. Hotez’s most recent book did not perform well in terms of Amazon sales ranking and reviews. On the other hand, who would be interested in reading about a vaccine advocate’s struggle for vaccines during a time when most of humanity was being forced to receive them?
Wait, it get’s worse. They [the anti-vaccine activists] have Political Action Committees, lobbying state legislatures, plying then with false information about what vaccines do.
The problem is, we don’t have any robust system of pro-vaccine advocacy to counter it.
Really? What about the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, GAVI, CEPI, the Biden Administration, NIAID, DOD, DARPA, HHS, BARDA, FDA, CDC, FEMA, the US Military, US Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, the COVID-19 Community Corps, public school districts, major hospital systems and universities, the film industry, the recording industry, the airline industry, the financial industry, the US Mainstream Media, the major churches, most professional sports teams, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca?
Unfortunately the defense of vaccines in this country falls to a handful of academics like myself. You know, I’m an academic, I wrote a book. What chance do I stand against this major media empire?
Anyone who has been even remotely attentive to public discourse since 2020 will recognize that these statements are a perfect inversion of reality. When Mr. Rogan questions Dr. Hotez about “the empire” he’s up against, he replies:
Well I’m a little reluctant to say it because they’re so litigious, and I don’t have the means to defend a lawsuit.
Parents don’t get the chance [to consider the truth of vaccines] because they’re so inundated with vaccine misinformation.
Some of this anti-vaccine empire needs to be dismantled.
To this statement, Mr. Rogan replies, “But who’s to say whether they’re wrong or right. It seems like there should be some sort of debate … where we can have you versus someone else and break this down.”
Yeah, but that’s a two-edged sword, because then it gives some false legitimacy to the anti-vaccine side. It’s like debating that smoking causes cancer.”
Dr. Hotez is apparently unaware of how, for decades, the tobacco industry employed medical authorities to obscure the evidence—first documented by German researchers in the early thirties and later by Sir Austin Bradford Hill in a landmark 1950 essay—that smoking causes cancer. Had DEBATE about the harms of smoking been suppressed, the majority of Americans would have remained in the dark about these harms for much longer.
Ultimately Dr. Hotez invokes something akin to Papal Infallibility by stating that Amazon and social media companies should censor anyone who questions his view of vaccines. He thereby ignores the obvious fact that “science” has always advanced through a multiplicity of observations and debates. Every generation in history has overestimated its understanding of nature. Proper scientific inquiry has always given us glimpses into how much we don’t know. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. put it, “Science is the topography of ignorance. From a few elevated points we triangulate vast spaces, inclosing infinite unknown details.”