Knowing what to believe with the Pandemic

Knowing what to believe with the Pandemic

The Coronavirus is a prime opportunity and reminder that we need to join forces across the world to fight a common enemy.   

So I’m deeply troubled by the amount of disinformation that is being spread on social media.

There are so many videos that are being widely distributed that from doctors, alternative medicine practitioners and even researchers.  And many are saying things that are contrary to my understanding of epidemics, immunology, statistics and basic medical science.  

They are making extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence.

Most of these “experts” are making not just one, but multiple claims, that are contrary to the vast majority of public health professionals at the most respected institutions.

In the time of a pandemic, it’s essential that we clearly are able to discern fact from fiction.

Not knowing who to trust can cause unnecessary loss of life.

So  I posted this request on Facebook this week.

Please, before you pass along another video from an angry doctor or Ph.D. that goes against the public health community, please consider these points:

1.) Anxiety & Our Ability to See the Big Picture

When we are in a state of fight or flight, we get into a state that causes us to hyperfocus on getting out of the bind we are in. We go into what is called a myopic state. There’s research that observed Indian farmers in times of feast and famine. They got one paycheck per yr. So right after pay day, they were rich. But before payday they were poor. Their economic decisions were much wiser after payday than before.

This means that in a state of anxiety and panic we don’t see the big picture as effectively.  Research in neuroscience shows that anxiety weakens the power of the pre-frontal cortex to make wise choices.

Angry doctors and Ph.D.s who post those videos are in the same state of fight or flight. They aren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions either.

2.) Unvetted “science” isn’t valid science

Almost every ranting video I’ve seen has produced “evidence” with faulty statistics that could have been prevented if they had taken Epidemiology 101, or if they had consulted someone with such training.

Many of them are saying things as being true, that are completely out of alignment with mainstream thought in the research!

Unvetted "Science" isn't scienceIf doctors or Ph.D.s are posting angry videos, then my question is, why aren’t they presenting their ideas to their colleagues. Why are they going straight to the public?

The problem is many of us do NOT have the scientific training and background to properly examine or question their claims.
And when we don’t, we are way more susceptible to believing them.

Responsible doctors and Ph.Ds are joining up with their colleagues to explore ideas and write up scientific papers based on their ideas. They may have heated scientific discussions in conferences, and that is where they belong.

When publishing articles, papers are peer reviewed to ensure that scientist aren’t pushing their own personal agenda without evidence.

When they publish angry videos, they are not being properly vetted by those who have the expertise to do so.

3.) Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Some of these videos are showing “experts” with disturbing signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

When we are in state of despair, some narcissists exploit our distress as an opportunity to get our attention.  As a part of their strategy to dominate and manipulate, they spread inflammatory information that is short on details and later shown to be unproven.  They never admit to being wrong, constantly blame others, and accuse others of persecuting them.   They only give credit to others if it serves to elevate the status of the narcissist.  Because they know how to use emotions to manipulate, many are persuaded by their arguments.

While we can’t make an official diagnosis remotely, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs.

The ego of the narcissist gets in the way of the seeking the truth. The real truth is manipulated and distorted to glorify the narcissist. By sharing their narrative, we feed their “narcissistic supply”.   Narcissists don’t care whether they look good or bad. What matters to them is that all eyes are paying attention to them.   Malignant narcissists in power, use inflammatory statements as a means to distract us from more sinister intentions.

Therefore, when assessing who to trust, whether it’s the news media or science, I’m more likely to trust sources who’s information are backed by details and references, and they aren’t focused on triggering my emotions.

4.) Can we trust public health officials?

The public health community is not driven by money. They don’t get rich from what they do. No public health official will ever profit from asking you to social distance, or its stay-at-home policies.

Please do not confuse them with pharmaceutical industry or the money-making elements of medicine.

That being said, our federal government has confused the matter with who’ve they’ve appointed at the very top of some agencies.

So in order to make my own assessment of what is best, I turn to my own state of Washington, to academics, and to the wisdom from Johns Hopkins and I watch how other countries are responding.

It is interesting to note that there really isn’t much disagreement about how we should be social distancing. The exception is Sweden, and I think it’s reasonable to call what they are doing, an experiment at this point.

5.) Science is not black and white

It often takes years of research to converge upon the truth. We are all biased in terms of how we interpret the evidence we see. One scientist may look at a paper and dismiss it as plausible evidence, another might celebrate it as definitive proof. A wise scientist will see the grey, and might say something like “that’s interesting…. I wonder under what precise conditions this finding holds?”

With Coronavirus there are so many unknowns.   With so many new discoveries, there are likely going to be studies that don’t agree.  It will take awhile before science converges on the truth.

6). Experts are Biased too

And finally, and most importantly, a scientist who is speaking directly to the public in protest of the rest of the field is just as biased as everyone else.

I for one trust doctors and Ph.D.s that are humble enough to propose ideas, to test them, and gather evidence. The only truth we know for sure is that more research needs to be done.


And finally, please keep in mind that this Coronavirus is especially challenging to all the medical & public health fields. No loan scientist or medical professional has enough expertise to come up with the best solutions.  The best solutions are going to be multidisciplinary and multiculturalHere is an example of an excellent proposal that uses the typical epidemiological paradigm of how to fight pandemics, and offers excellent suggestions of how to do it more efficiently and effectively.

We can get through this.  But part of getting through this effectively, is to understand who the true experts are in fighting pandemics.  Importantly, we need to avoid sharing information that will prevent us from defeating our common enemy, the Coronavirus.


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