Buckle Up, All Ye Unvaccinated!

And other lessons from the world of scholarly "studies."

Scholarly research is intended to provide us with the tools to solve humanity’s most complex and challenging problems. The findings of academic studies provide the basis for school curricula, inform crucial medical decisions, and guide public-policy formation. We entrust the institutions of academic research with great discretionary power over the direction of our society’s knowledge base. Unfortunately, it seems that many of these institutions have positively lost their minds.

Recent publishings call into question the credibility of some of the most prominent scholarly journals. Consider, for example, a recent study in The American Journal of Medicine entitled “Covid Vaccine Hesitancy and Risk of a Traffic Crash.”

We entrust the institutions of academic research with great discretionary power over society’s knowledge base.The study begins with the specious and pejorative hypothesis that “individual adults who tend to resist public health recommendations might also neglect basic road safety guidelines.” Based on recently collected data, the authors conclude that vaccine hesitancy is associated with an increased risk of having a traffic accident.

While the study does not explicitly declare a causal relationship between vaccination status and the risk of an accident, one sentence in its conclusion implies just that. The authors state that “an awareness of these [traffic accident] risks might help to encourage more Covid vaccination.”

If the relationship between vaccination and traffic accidents is merely associative, then there is no reason that bringing it to people’s attention should alter their behavior. Either the authors are suggesting that physicians and media outlets manipulate people into getting vaccinated by asserting a false causal relationship or the authors believe that Covid vaccines somehow upload superior driving abilities to the minds of patients (see The Matrix, 1999).

The more closely one examines the study, the more its findings unravel. Consider the factor of age, for example. Since Covid impacts older folks much more severely than it does younger adults, one could reasonably conclude that an older person’s decision not to get vaccinated shows a much greater disregard for public health guidelines. As such, the researchers’ findings should indicate that older folks who refused the vaccine are the most “reckless” and therefore the most likely to cause traffic accidents.

The data, however, show the exact opposite. Adults over 65 had a greater risk of traffic accidents with the vaccine than without. How this obvious contradiction didn’t discredit the entire premise of the study is utterly confounding.

The authors go on to make a number of imbecilic recommendations, including the proposal that first responders should take extra Covid precautions at traffic accidents, since the victims are likely to be unvaccinated. In reality, such victims are most likely just young, inexperienced drivers.

A piece on intersectional feminism was, in reality, a rearrangement of a section of Mein Kampf.Considering the fact that the American Journal of Medicine is one of the primary journals distributed among physicians, it is of great concern that such absurdities are allowed to be published. Luckily, the aforementioned Covid study received significant media pushback. Yet the pages of our most prominent journals are replete with similarly foolish research.

For example, National Review Online recently exposed a glaring conflict of interest in a UCLA study on the working conditions of fast-food employees, which was used to support public-policy objectives including increases in the minimum wage. It turned out that the researchers had “outsourced the labor of recruiting and surveying fast-food workers to SEIU,” a labor union with a vested interest in minimum-wage hikes.

Similarly, ReasonTV has reported on a group of university faculty who intentionally submitted ridiculous “studies” to prominent journals to test their academic scrutiny. Seven of their hoax papers were published, including a piece on intersectional feminism that was, in reality, a rearrangement of a section of Mein Kampf.

If scholars and researchers are to supply our students, educators, and experts in the field with trustworthy and insightful studies, we must reverse this decline in the quality of scholarship. Publications with a history of accepting politically corrupt, academically dishonest, and utterly false or ridiculous work should be publicly disavowed by institutions of higher education. Neither students’ tuition nor taxpayers’ dollars should be appropriated to support unscrupulous academic journals. Instead, we should turn to the market to select winners and leave the remainder to the dustbin of academic ineptitude.

Harrington Shaw is an intern at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and a junior studying economics and philosophy at UNC-Chapel Hill.