Defining Away Vaccine Safety Signals, by Matthew Crawford

You don’t have to be a mathematics whiz to understand what they’re doing: setting mathematical parameters around tests such that it’s virtually impossible to flag safety signals. From Matthew Crawford at

The Chloroquine Wars Part XLVIII

"We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." -Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

What if it turns out that vaccines are killing and crippling millions of people around the world, but that those harmed are just well enough spread out that almost nobody saw sufficient signals to build an intuition about the problem? And what if the agency most responsible for examining safety signals defines their algorithm using a nonsensical mathematical formula that hides nearly all serious problems?

Last night I tried to go to sleep early in order to shift my exercise routine to a morning schedule. But I’d received a late phone call from a friend whom I work with researching vaccine safety/danger, just as I was brushing my teeth. He remains anonymous for now due to fear of job loss or reprisal. I let the phone call go, but I couldn’t just let it go. I needed to know why he would call me that late, so after spending an hour in bed not sleeping, I checked my email. I understood immediately.


To a mathematician, everything depends on definitions. Whatever we state mathematically, the definitions of the terms we use should be traceable back to the axioms of the field we’re working in. Mathematics is an artfully woven tapestry of axiomatic structure, lit brightly by definitions. Often, we create new definitions for the task at hand, but make sure that these relate clearly to the pyramid of definitions that come before it—generally as standard as possible to language common within the field. This becomes both a habit and also a part of the self-reinforcing social structure of the mathematics community. We talk definitions that sound boring to untrained ears, but we recognize that definitions are our palettes. We port definitions to applied fields, and we create new ones to use where needed. No mathematician or statistician with a soul forgets the well from which they draw energy and meaning.

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