Tag: Rootclaim

Rootclaim accepts $500,000 challenge on COVID vaccine safety & efficacy

Have mRNA vaccines killed more people than they have saved?

That’s what American entrepreneur Steve Kirsch claims in his list of Covid-19 challenges. Today, Rootclaim has officially accepted his challenge in the amount of $500,000.

After reviewing all challenges we decided to accept challenge no. 6: “The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have killed more people than they have saved from dying from COVID“. This addresses two of the most pressing and hotly debated issues of the pandemic: vaccine efficacy and vaccine safety. Advancing public discourse on these issues will likely save lives, and improve preparedness for future pandemics. 

After analyzing the available evidence, we conclude that despite several shortcomings, mRNA vaccines have saved many more lives than they cost.

While we challenge Kirsch on this specific item, we actually agree with a number of his other claims, including some that run counter to mainstream opinion. As Kirsch pointed out in his post, we agree with item 9 (“Lab origin is more likely”) and even offer our own challenge on the subject. Before examining vaccines, we studied the benefit of masks (items 7 and 10 in Kirsch’s list) and were surprised to find it is far from clear they are indeed effective, given the many factors involved in their practical use, such as most people wearing them poorly, virus transmission through the eyes, virus adaptation, and considerations of herd immunity. We are also generally in agreement on the importance of drug repurposing in COVID (related to challenge no. 8).

We have great admiration for Kirsch’s willingness to take a personal risk on his public claims. This is in sharp contrast to the many public figures constantly making overconfident statements on matters of great importance, without taking any risk. This is something we repeatedly encounter in our work. Some examples:

These examples demonstrate the low value of claims made when nothing is at risk: public discourse is awash with baseless, overconfident claims that carry no repercussions for their claimants if they turn out to be false. We believe that adding ‘skin in the game’ can dramatically reduce this problem, and therefore offer our own public debate challenge, which coincidentally happened to be very similar to Kirsch’s. So far no one has applied.

We therefore greatly appreciate Kirsch’s courage and leadership here. We see it as our responsibility to accept a challenge when we think the claim is wrong, and of course, take the loss if we fail.

It should be emphasized that regardless of who wins in this particular case, this is a victory for public discourse. First, by offering a reliable resolution to the important question of vaccine efficacy and safety, and more importantly, by setting a standard for settling controversies: an impartial, judged debate where both sides take a significant risk on the outcome. Hopefully, in the future, people making confident assertions on issues of importance without taking a risk will be ignored as background noise.

Update: As we were applying, we noticed Kirsch has recently added a note to his challenge page, terminating the bets due to no one applying. Since we were already in private discussions with Kirsch on the terms before this update, we would be very surprised to find this would apply to us. 

MH 17: Weak Evidence Matters

Discounting Weak Evidence

One pitfall to avoid is prematurely discounting seemingly weak evidence. Weak evidence can take many forms. It could be evidence that seems very unlikely under all hypotheses. Or it could be evidence that is non-intuitive and doesn’t seem to fit what we consider “conclusive” evidence.

When evaluating evidence, it’s easy to get distracted looking for “irrefutable” evidence (more on that in an upcoming blog post). However, that’s a mistake. What’s really important is the ratio between how likely evidence is under the hypotheses.

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Unraveling the Mystery of Trump’s Hair

What’s the Deal with Trump’s Hair?

Given Donald Trump’s flair for controversy, it’s not surprising that even his hair would be the subject of debate. In “What is the story behind Donald Trump’s hair?”, Rootclaim analyzes the most popular claims about the Donald’s trademark hair-covering to cut through the uncertainty.

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False Dilemma Fallacies–Finding the Gray

The False Dilemma

The Fallacy of Presumption can take many forms. One common example is the false dilemma. This fallacy is also known as the false binary or false dichotomy. As its name indicates, the false dilemma divides a scenario into only two alternatives. When the situation calls for a yes/no answer, that works fine. But in many situations, things are more complex. Thus the false dilemma tricks you into choosing between two imprecise, inaccurate or otherwise flawed options.

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