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Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. Epistemologists ask the foundational question, “How do we know what we know?”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Wednesday appeared in a town hall meeting hosted by NewsNation and moderated by journalist Elizabeth Vargas.

The exchanges between Kennedy — chairman on leave from Children’s Health Defense — Vargas and Dr. Tariq Butt, a family medicine doctor in the audience, demonstrated the real quagmire the scientific community finds itself in.

Doctors and journalists cannot see the difference between believing and knowing. If we were in a rational world, there wouldn’t be the need for censorship and shadowbanning.

Nor would many of the vaccines on the childhood immunization schedule, as presently formulated and tested, have found their way into the arms of young human beings.

In 13 short minutes, Kennedy deftly demonstrated to the audience that our problem isn’t just a failure of epidemiology — it’s one of epistemology:

Vargas first framed the topic this way:

“The biggest controversy surrounding your candidacy is your stance on childhood vaccines. Nearly every scientific and medical organization including the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], the AMA [American Medical Association], the American Academy of Pediatrics, all say you’re wrong on this issue.”

Vargas opened the door for Kennedy to not only clarify his position — which he said has been distorted and misrepresented no matter how many times he has tried to set the record straight — but she also revealed how little thought and research she has done into the controversy.

Kennedy pointed out the reality of the situation. These are not organizations that have independently arrived at their conclusions. The AMA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and “nearly all scientific and medical organizations” take information coming from the CDC and FDA as gospel.

In other words, if the CDC and the FDA are wrong, the entire medical establishment is wrong.

There’s a difference between consensus and herd mentality — a fact that never seemed to register with Vargas.

Kennedy is immensely knowledgeable about vaccine science and the regulatory process, as well as its corruption by Pharma interests. Moreover, he is a seasoned litigator and is not careless in his delivery. He correctly asks Vargas for clarification: “On what issue?”

Vargas first alludes to the possibility that vaccines could be the cause of autism and harm.

Kennedy immediately asks the obvious, “So you are saying that these organizations claim that vaccines NEVER damage kids?”

Vargas is forced to backpedal:

“I don’t think anyone is saying they never have. There may be a child here [or there], but overall vaccines have saved millions and millions of lives.”

Vargas is demonstrating the lack of understanding the public has about the issue. How can anyone claim that vaccines have saved millions and millions of lives if proper prospective studies with matched unvaccinated controls have never been conducted?

Kennedy makes this abundantly clear in his response to Dr. Butt, who asks Kennedy this question:

“Eradication of chicken pox and polio in the U.S. and in many parts of the world is a result of regular vaccination. MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] and many diseases are preventable. There is little evidence of these diseases in the vaccinated population. Your vaccine stance is dangerous to the health and well-being of millions. Medical experts are deeply concerned about your message. How can we help you come to the side of science?”

Kennedy admits there is evidence that vaccines have reduced the risk of mortality and morbidity from the diseases they target. However, he argued, without long-term prospective studies around all-cause mortality/morbidity in vaccinated populations nobody — no matter how educated or how big an organization you represent, he said — can claim there is an overall benefit.

Kennedy’s answer to the question dismantles the issue to the very core, catching Dr. Butt off guard. His methodical response should have proven to the audience that the family medicine doctor has very little grasp of all the available evidence.

Dr. Butt clearly wasn’t aware of analyses like this one that concluded that a “Mass varicella vaccination is expected to cause a major epidemic of herpes zoster, affecting more than 50% of those aged 10-44 years at the introduction of vaccination.”

Should studies like this guide public policy in the U.S.? They certainly do in the U.K., where health officials do not recommend universal vaccinations against chickenpox for precisely the reason Kennedy states.

Of all the preventable diseases out there, why would Dr. Butt use chickenpox as an example of how Kennedy’s vaccine stance is dangerous to the health and well-being of millions? Could it be that a doctor with a microphone was unaware of the science?

Was Dr. Butt aware of the enormous tragedy caused by the DTP (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine in Africa? After 30 years of observation, it was shown that children vaccinated with the DTP shot were dying of other causes at 10 times the rate of the unvaccinated. We would have never known about this if no one actually looked.

The devastation caused by the DTP vaccine is not limited to the continent of Africa. Kennedy informed the audience that the flurry of lawsuits against manufacturers of this vaccine led to the passing of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which has protected vaccine manufacturers from any liability.

As a concession to the public, this law also created the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, to “protect” and warn the public of potential vaccine danger; a system that has been shown to underreport injuries as commonly as it gets ignored.

Though Kennedy did not discuss the MMR and polio vaccines, his point was clear: Unless proper, long-term, prelicensure placebo-controlled safety studies are done we cannot determine if more harm than good is being done.

Dr. Butt’s response to the likely damage caused by the varicella and DTP vaccines was all too predictable: “A person can take a medicine and then get involved in a motor vehicle accident.” In other words, correlation does not prove causation!

Dr. Butt has good intentions. He is also particularly skilled at picking the weakest examples to prove his point.

The issue with the varicella vaccine was the resulting increased risk of herpes zoster infection (shingles). The issue with the DTP vaccine was the increased risk of death from other prevalent diseases that proved to be more deadly for the kids who received the vaccine.

We are not talking about random traumatic injuries that have nothing to do with immune modulation.

Furthermore, was Dr. Butt aware that the “correlation does not equal causation” argument can be used to dismiss vaccine benefits as well?

This double standard is mindlessly applied by vaccine proponents. Trials don’t prove causation, only correlation. That goes for efficacy too. On what grounds can one say that a vaccine caused a decrease in the disease it targets while assuring us that it was only correlated with an increase in side effects?

Trials just measure the incidence of things in two (or more) groups of participants. It’s a mathematical comparison. No causation is ever proven.

Vargas took issue with Kennedy’s claim that not one vaccine on the childhood immunization schedule has been subjected to a prelicensured placebo-controlled trial.

Vargas: “Yes they have.”

Kennedy: “No.”

Vargas: “Yeah, they have!”

And later …

Vargas: “The FDA says, and in fact, on its website, you can clearly see vaccines go through three stages of testing against double-blind placebo. They already DO that testing.”

Kennedy: “Elizabeth, you can say that.”

Vargas: “I’m not saying that. The FDA is saying that.”

Kennedy: “The FDA is not saying that.”

Vargas: “Yes they do! They say that on their website!”

Kennedy: “They will not tell you that there’s a vaccine that has ever undergone a long-term placebo-controlled trial prior to licensing because it’s not true.”

The reason why this embarrassing (and mildly entertaining) spectacle is important to dissect is because of what it reveals about the stubbornness we have about being right. Did Vargas actually scour the FDA website prior to this public exchange?

She couldn’t have for the obvious reason that no such statement from them exists on their website as she maintained.

Why is she so sure that she is right? I would venture to say it is because someone whom she trusts more than Kennedy told her that.

But was she really listening to what Kennedy was saying? Kennedy demanded a citation from Dr. Anthony Fauci in a face-to-face meeting with him in 2016. Fauci couldn’t produce one but promised he would.

He never did — so Kennedy (and attorney Aaron Siri) sued him and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). After a year of litigation, they finally obtained a written statement from the HHS which still does not cite a single study but assures us that inert placebos are not required to demonstrate safety in childhood vaccines.

Of course, there is no reason Vargas should trust Kennedy if she has not visited the Children’s Health Defense website where the letter from the HHS is made available.

But at what point should she have paused and honestly asked herself about what she really knew and not just what she thought she did?

In this case, the spectacle arose not because Vargas was wrong, but because she was so sure she was right.

It’s also worthwhile to consider what was on the line for her, personally. Was she able to face the possibility that the vaccines we have been injecting into our own bodies and our children have never been tested against a placebo?

Her argumentative responses to Kennedy’s views, which he defended with several key citations off the top of his head, reflected the real impediments the public has toward seeing reality for what it is. What would it mean if Kennedy has been right all along?

As a veteran journalist for NewsNation and previously for Fox and A&E Networks, Vargas should have come prepared. Kennedy has previously made himself very clear that he is willing to change his mind. “Show me where I got it wrong.”

Kennedy asks Vargas to cite a single prelicensure, placebo-controlled vaccine study. She couldn’t because no one can. There aren’t any.

Kennedy pointed out the real issue: “We have a corrupt federal agency [FDA] that is lying to the AMA and all those agencies and all those doctors. But those agencies are controlled by Pharma. That is the problem.”

Without any studies to cite or any way to refute Kennedy’s damning allegations, Vargas chose to confront Kennedy with the fact that some of his family members disagree with his stance on vaccines.

Kennedy: “Does your family agree with everything that you say?”

Vargas: “Definitely not. You got me on that one.”

The Defender on occasion posts content related to Children’s Health Defense’s nonprofit mission that features Mr. Kennedy’s views on the issues CHD and The Defender regularly cover. In keeping with Federal Election Commission rules, this content does not represent an endorsement of Mr. Kennedy who is on leave from CHD and is seeking the Democratic nomination for president of the U.S.