Zeal Without Data: Blaming the Church for Utah’s Allegedly Low Vaccination Rates

Romans 10:2 speaks of those who “have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.Psalm 19:2 in the NET (New English Translation) tells us that “It is dangerous to have zeal without knowledge, and the one who acts hastily makes poor choices.” Hugh Nibley was fond of the phrase “zeal without knowledge” and once gave a talk at BYU with that title. Zeal without knowledge can refer to those who think they are valiantly following God but acting in ignorance of the truth, which can lead to atrocious results that hurt others and hinder Zion. Nibley urges us to do our own thinking, to use our minds, to constantly seek knowledge, so that we can mature, grow, and do what’s right. “Zeal makes us loyal and unflinching, but God wants more than that.” Nibley quotes Joseph Smith (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 80) saying, “Many, having a zeal not according to knowledge,” said the Prophet, ” . . . have, no doubt, in the heat of enthusiasm, taught and said many things which are derogatory to the genuine character and principles of the Church.” 

That problem continues to this day, in spite of he incredible growth of access to information. Highly educated people who think they know what they are talking about can easily act in zeal, driven by their passionate loyalty for misguided causes, sharing information and teachings that are based on ignorance and a lack of accurate data. Nibley warned that if we don’t actively seek and obtain good information and use our minds to their full capacity, then “false information flourishes” and we are likely to believe all sorts of preposterous nonsense.

A case in point is the very unfortunate op-ed column by a Latter-day Saint professor, Benjamin Park, in the influential Washington Post explaining why the past conservative politics of the Church is to blame for Utah’s allegedly very low vaccination level. The subhead (line below the headline) declares that “LDS leaders stoked a far-right culture for decades. Now it might undermine their authority.” Yep, that’s the problem, all right. Utah’s got some Republicans and it’s the Church that foolishly “stoked” that. Now I suppose Utahans are going to be devastated by COVID as a result since those ignorant right-wingers aren’t getting vaccinated.

Park jumps in quickly with data showing how behind Utah is: “Less than half of eligible residents of Utah, where members constitute a majority of the population, are fully vaccinated, placing the state in the lower half of the nation.” The link he gives is to a Utah vaccine dashboard where Park apparently has taken the percent vaccinated among all Utahans, not the smaller population of “eligible residents.” Huh? 

It’s well known that Utah has lots of children, and children under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination. So why isn’t Park looking at the eligible population when he claims to be reporting that data? That dashboard page shows Utah’s vaccination level is at 51.2% of all residents (might have been just below 50% when Park penned his article in August), but what’s the level among the eligible? This isn’t hard to find. In fact, the Utah dashboard page that Park linked provides relevant data right next to the number Park was using. The more relevant number is hard to miss: “Percent 12+ Received at Least One Dose” and the value reported is at 72%.  That’s a lot better than “less than half.” The number who are fully vaccinated is at 63% of the eligible population. You can also see how Utah compares to the rest of the nation — not bad at all all  — on the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Tracker page under the section, “State COVID-19 vaccine rates by age.”

If there was any kind of real fact checking going on at the Washington Post, this embarrassing blunder would have been rectified — but then the story would not come close to fitting the desired narrative, for the real data directly contradict the basis of Park’s rant.

Park’s error is treated in more detail by A&R Skabelund in the post, “An Attack of Mormon Mania: Embarrassing blunder by WaPo and Benjamin Park on vaccine hesitancy among LDS Church members and what it reveals about our ruling class” at Worthless Thoughts, Sept 21, 2021. They use data from Aug. 18, the week before the Aug. 24 publication of Park’s piece, and show just how painfully off this piece was, not just in the reported “less than half” level, but also in the comparison to other states:

The second part of Park’s claim, that Utah was in the “lower half of the nation,” also proves to be wrong. I consulted the Mayo Clinic’s vaccine tracker (also from August 18th) to compare fully vaccinated rates for each state in the three demographic categories provided: under 18, 18-64, and 65+. In the under 18 fully vaccinated rates, Utah is at 14.2% vaccinated, tied for 25th place. For the 18-64 demographic, Utah’s fully vaxxed percentage comes in at 62.3%, at 17th place. And for the 65+ demographic, Utah is at 90.4%, at 20th place.

The older group most likely to have been influenced by the conservative era that Park decries, are the most vaccinated and are in the top 20 states. 

Scholars make mistakes all the time, just like medical experts do. The appropriate scholarly thing is to own up to it and make a retraction.  The appropriate political thing, however, if your purpose is pure politics driven by data-free zeal, is to continue acting with zeal while ignoring the real data because the end justifies the means and “progress” is all that matters. I’m looking forward to seeing whether this particular professor will choose scholarship over politics, now that the blunder has been made known. Here’s my wish that he and WaPo will issue a correction that gets at least as much visibility as the error did, though such a thing is rare in the increasingly politicized media. 

The Skabelunds go on to discuss reasons for the lack of scrutiny to facts and data in pieces that attack the Church, and also write much to point out that there are good reasons why intelligent people might be skeptical of the positions our government is taking in the fight against COVID. Some of what they write is similar to the points I made in my recent article, “How to Talk to Concerned Church Members Who Are ‘COVID Policy Doubters,’” published Aug. 15 in Meridian Magazine. Please read their full article and consider some of the excellent point they make. It can help us be less divisive and more understanding of those among our ranks who don’t yet want the vaccine. Again, I’m vaccinated and encourage people to get it, but I value freedom of choice on this issue.

Park is worried about fundamentalist, evangelical, and right-wing white Americans who seem to be the bogey man for COVID, failing to recognize that the data shows black Americans and some other minorities are among the most vaccine hesitant. And the reasons they have for not being super trustful of the US government should not be ridiculed. Ever heard of the Tuskegee experiment? Park may have accepted the call of the politicians to demonize the vaccine hesitant, but his response is an unfortunate illustration of how some of our own members can harm the cause of Zion by acting in zeal without knowledge, or in this case, zeal without sound data.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

25 thoughts on “Zeal Without Data: Blaming the Church for Utah’s Allegedly Low Vaccination Rates

  1. So, the vaccination rate (fully vaccinated) for Salt Lake County is 56.6 percent. The rate for Summit County is 72.6 percent. These two counties have a larger-than-average non-LDS population. What about those counties that are more LDS? Well, Utah County's rate is 44.4 percent. Davis County is bit better at 52.6 percent. Weber County's rate is 47.1 percent. The whole northern part of the state, primarily Box Elder and Cache Counties, where Latter-day Saints predominate, has a rate of 44.6 percent. Rural counties are in the 30s generally, with the three counties in the northeastern (Vernal) corner of the state at 29.4 percent. What this looks like is that the counties with higher percentages of non-LDS residents are better at following the prophet than those areas with high LDS concentrations. Just sayin'.

  2. Lies, dang lies, and statistics….

    Colorado, where I live, also has counties that have low vaccination rates:

    Washington: 31.8%
    Cheyenne: 32%
    Kit Carson: 39.3%

    I'm willing to bet that the percentage of non-Mormons to Mormons in those counties is huge.

    And Boulder County, the county in which I live, has a vaccination rate of 80.1% but yet there is a Boulder County mask mandate in place for everyone indoors. Go figure.


  3. I find myself wondering if the Washington Post figured it didn't need to fact-check, because Parks is a Mormon and so he surely wouldn't say anything critical about the Mormon leadership unless it was true.

  4. Parks did not see fit to mention that vaccination has been officially encouraged by the Church since at least the 1970s. This is not something new.

  5. Yep, pretty bad op-ed. In the interest of getting more accurate information about the Church, I'm thinking about canceling the Post and getting a subscription to the Nauvoo Expositor instead.

    — OK

  6. I'm grateful to be a Californian where we vaccinate, test, contact trace, mask and have one of the lowest case and death rates per M in the country and possibly the globe.

    When I'm in a public space, I'm masked. When I with someone vulnerable I mask. When I'm with people who are vaccinated and responsible we take off our masks and relax.

    My grandson is in full-day school. They monitor their own temperatures/health, report it to the school before heading out and then wear masks all day. They don't whine or complain about it. They go. They cooperate. They learn. They stay well.

    Restaurants are open and doing land office business. Malls are open and busy. Salons and industries characterized by close contact are flourishing. We even party. More outside than inside but we gather, we party and we stay well.

    And we don't have worry about getting infected nagging at our days and nights. We've just behave like civilized people who have one another's backs and civilization is doing just fine in CA.

  7. There was a typo in the original post in which, after spelling Park's name correctly in introducing his article, I slipped into the surname I am more familiar with, Parks, as in Rosa Parks. That was corrected early yesterday. Sorry for that.

  8. Your zeal for California is heart-warming, but not quite accurate in light of actual data. California has fared pretty well, as you can see in the Death Rates by State page at Statistica. They are ranked #33 with a death rate of 176 per 100,000. That's not bad. It's much better than the intensely locked down states of New Jersey (307 deaths/100,000) or New York (283/100,000). The inhumane treatment of elderly citizens resulting in huge numbers of excess deaths in places like New York has not received adequate attention by the media. Instead of being held accountable for what Cuomo, for example, did with nursing homes, he was praised as a role model in coping with COVID by Pres. Biden and given as Emmy award as if he were some kind of hero. The failure of the media to report what was pretty obvious has cost thousands of lives. But I'm grateful that the disease did not ravage California as much as other states. California's level of 176 is pretty good. And it's only twice as high as that irresponsible enclave of right-wing rebels, Utah, at 88 deaths per 100,000. That's an important figure which Park and the Washington Post didn't feel we needed to know.

  9. But Anon@7:48, did you do any comparison of California's data relative to other countries when you boasted of having one of the lowest rates not only in the US but perhaps on the entire globe? It's not hard to check. See the Statistica page on COVID mortality by country. That page reports deaths per million, so we multiple the 176 per 100,000 of California by 10 to get 1,760 per million. Of the 155 countries listed, the great news is that California is better than some, but not better than most. Among the worst is Belgium at #15, not exactly a conservative enclave, with 2,222 deaths per per million. At #26 is Spain, with 1,825. And then comes the long, long list of nations that did better than California, beginning with #27 Uruguay with 1,747, and the much reviled rebel nation that refused to lockdown and let people live their lives, Sweden, with 1,438. Sweden's freedom-based and genuinely scientific approach turned out better than California, without sacrificing the economy and the education of its children. Hope you'll weigh that factoid.

    I'm not only slightly disappointed at your unawareness of the actual data, but am personally sorry for you since the constant masking and compliance means one very unfortunate thing: you aren't among the elite in California who get to dine at fine restaurants like the French Laundry or attend fabulous galas like the Emmy Awards or dance to the music at expensive night clubs (as was just reported for SF Mayor London Breed) without being burdened by all those regulations for the lower classes. And you probably didn't get invited to Obama's birthday party. Me neither!

    The elite seem to know that these regulations are about keeping us little people in place and aren't really essential for their own health. (But they also understand that vaccination is a good idea, and there we can agree. Vaccination seems to work, based on the data. And so do a variety of treatments for COVID, based on solid but often censored data. Go figure.)

    And I bet you did not make it to the $30,000-per-ticket Met Gala, where you, too, like AOC, could have enjoyed international attention as you party maskless, attended by masked servants, wearing a "tax the rich" outfit. That dream could have been yours if only you were if you were fortunate enough to be part of the ruling class, enjoying a high salary paid by the taxpayers on which you pay ZERO in federal taxes, with many other benefits such as not having to live under the challenges of Obama care.

  10. California anon, I'm very grateful for your comments. They should remind us all how effective political propaganda can be, leading intelligent people to think their leaders are wise and successful, even achieving breathtaking and globally unique wonders when the reality is relatively dismal, especially when you consider the damage to the well-being of millions in California due to the economic decline, the impaired education, and the bloating of power in the hands of a few, all of which is leading large numbers to flee the state and come to places like Utah. Utah, scorned by the Left, is declared to be a benighted state of fools putting themselves at terrible risk for being highly unvaccinated, when the reality is that Utah is doing relatively well in vaccination rates and is one of the best in the nation, far ahead of California, in terms of mortality rate.

    I'd encourage you to be more skeptical about the information sources you have relied on and branch out.

  11. Oh dear! Did I indulge in some hyperbole or be less than rigorous about my research? Go ahead and pillory me.

    But it's worth noting that the even better results experienced in other parts of the world are where people also practice a communitarian approach to sensible avoidance protocols and refrain from the hysterical childish footstamping about their precious "freedoms". Did you intend to make my case?

  12. Repeating memes that are flatly contradicted by data is not just a matter of a little hyperbole. It's about being seriously misled or seriously misleading.

    What makes freedom such a childish thing that needs to be abandoned when someone says "crisis"? What does one have once freedom is stripped? Have you learned nothing from history, including the history of slavery, of tyranny, of despotism and the impact this has on the subjects? Where tyranny rules, poverty and diminished healthcare tends to be the rule except for the elites, but the problems with tyranny are much greater than that.

  13. Well, when it comes to freedom and taking a stand I have to admit you guys walk the walk without respect to the personal consequences 'cause you're dying to defend your "freedom" at a far higher rate than those of us who are vaccinated and uses masks and common courtesy.

    1. If I wasn't vaccinated how does that hurt you? Let me answer that. It doesn't. If I choose to not get the vaccine then that is my choice and I will have to live (or die) with that decision.

  14. Masks do not stop viruses. Masks are being forced because it is a feel good thing. It is a false security blanket but more importantly it is about control.

    If a person has the Covid vaccine, then it does not matter if another person does not, because the person who has the vaccine is protected. Right? If the person who does not want the vaccine but would rather get natural immunity then that is their right.

    More people are dying from the Covid vaccine now at a higher rate than those who contract Covid and have not had the Covid vaccine.

    Universities in the USA that have forced the Covid vaccine and have a 98% vaccinated student populations are having high Covid infection rates….Covid is spreading like wildfire through campuses. And they are still using useless masks and useless social distancing.

  15. Benjamin Park is a Marxist just as the Mormon church leaders are…..embracing Marxism just as the Mormon church embraced Hitler. Staying silent while tyranny is marching on the USA and world, while rubbing elbows with those in anti Christ Secret Combination organizations.

  16. @ Anon 8:57 pm

    Good for you, living in California, where crime and homelessness is rampant….drug use in broad daylight in the streets, trash everywhere, used illegal drug use needles everywhere, where people defecate on the sidewalks/parks/statues/streets, ultra high home prices, one of the most expensive states to live in.

    If Covid is so dangerous, then why is the homeless population, where most use illegal drugs, not wiped out from Covid?
    Why are masks discarded on the ground, in trash cans and not put in Bio Hazard containers if Covid is so dangerous?

    Florida has the lowest Covid rates in the nation, with no masks, no social distancing, no one losing their jobs, no invasion of privacy and no loss of personal freedoms.

    You are a Marxist Useful Idiot. That is why you like the totalitarian state of California.

  17. I am vaccinated but wish I wasn't because the vaccine has been a huge disappointment. I wish I had just gotten the mild disease my family got and be done. This vaccine is incredibly ineffective by traditional standards of vaccine effectiveness.

    The whole problem is this disease is deadly in the old and harmless in the young so why should the young get vaccinated or even care? If they get the disease they are the most protected and protect others the most. Vaccinated people who get the disease might not have a fever and run around continuing to be spreaders. What a mess.

  18. My comment is the anonymous one above.

    I have a PhD in epidemiology. Anyone claiming we "know" that this state is doing it right or wrong is premature. It will be years before we know who did things right or wrong. Masks, lockdowns, social distancing, etc….who knows. Most the death rates we see are not even age adjusted which means for a disease that mostly impacts the elderly they are useless.

    We probably know lockdowns are not effective at this point…maybe.

    Also its not very useful to make comparisons about different places that differ in significant ways. Australia is doing well but its an island. Utah is doing fantastic but it has low population density. Arizona is doing terrible but it has tons of people crossing the border who are not vaccinated or screened. Israel has high vaccination rates than had their biggest outbreak. My point is simply most the comparisons people make are superficial and dont and cannot yet account for the data so its hard to know what is really happening.

    I dont interpret the prophets guidance as a requirement to get vaccinated. Its general guidance just like lots of letters we receive. I am vaccinated but my wife is not. She got CV19 so she has been naturally vaccinated (one thing we do know now is that as expected that has the best and most enduring immunity). She has no reason for additional vaccines. The prophets guidance was not nuanced enough for those decisions…although given the risks of some of the mRNA vaccines for myocarditis in young men I do worry about all the missionaries getting vaccinated.

    The whole mess has highlighted how broad government mandates are not good for such different populations. If you live in New York and you have the same policy as rural Idaho thats crazy. Completely different risks and population densities.

  19. The hot spots o covid destruction are also the most highly vaccinated Vermont Israel Gibralter ireland Etc. Go ahead and alter the genes as the pre flood olks polluted their gene pools with somthing because it says Noah was correct or pure in his generations.

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