Nate Silver Feuds With CNN Medical Analyst on Twitter After She Dismisses His ‘Arrogant and Uninformed’ Take on J&J Pause


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FiveThirtyEight’s editor-in-chief Nate Silver squabbled on Twitter with CNN medical analyst Céline Gounder following his assertion that pausing the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine due to six reported cases of a rare blood clot was a mistake.

All the blood clots so far have been reported in women between the ages of 18-48. One woman has died, and another is in critical condition.

“6 cases out of 7 million people. This is going to get people killed. And it’s going to create more vaccine hesitancy,” Silver tweeted Tuesday. “These people don’t understand cost-benefit analysis. They keep making mistakes by orders of magnitude.”

Silver later fleshed out his take, noting that the odds of contracting Covid-19 because of a delayed vaccine and subsequently dying from it are much higher than the likelihood of dying from a blood clot complication.

Silver followed up after a few hours — proposing that instead of a sweeping pause, the FDA could have stopped the vaccine rollout only for women between 16-49 years old, “quietly investigate,” and then announce their findings.

Gounder, an infectious disease physician, took issue with Silver’s tweets, arguing that they were coming from someone who “is not an expert on the psychology of vaccine confidence.”

“He is a poll aggregator and political pundit,” she wrote. “He is not an infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, virologist, immunologist, or behavioral scientist.”

Silver shot back that if “your first instinct is to attack someone’s credentials, you don’t have a good argument, especially when it comes to complex multidisciplinary policy questions that it’s good to have different perspectives on.”

He added that he felt his experience with statistics was very relevant to the topic.

“Also, the most important aspect of whether the (sic) decision to suspend the J&J vaccine is correct is the effect it will have on public opinion about the vaccines, so having a background in studying public opinion is pretty relevant,” he said before noting “these are incredibly complicated questions” that should be defined broadly.

Gounder in the comments section of her tweet said that having outside, educated opinions on the issue can be good, but not “arrogant and uninformed” ones.

Gounder also responded to Silver’s tweet asking, “Those most resistant to vaccination right now are those who do not trust the health system or the government? How would your approach rebuild that trust?”

She then screenshotted a Tuesday tweet from FiveThirtyEight senior video producer Anna Rothschild that decried “armchair vaccine experts” who were “underestimating both the intelligence of the American people and our age-old tradition of crying ‘conspiracy theory!’ whenever any information has seemingly been kept from the public.”

Gounder wrote: “PS: your own colleagues?”

Gounder also linked to a couple of surveys showing rising intent to become vaccinated among the adult population. The first, by the KFF Vaccine Monitor, found 61 percent planned to get vaccinated as soon as they could, and that “wait and see” responses dropped to 17 percent.

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