Politicizing Science 5/4/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Today I read what must be the most ridiculous thing I can recall in a very long time.

First, a little background. At the start of the current Coronavirus crisis, a right-wing blogger suggested that hydrochloroquine was the miracle cure that everybody needed. He claimed that this malaria drug was proven, FDA approved, readily available and safe. He had endeared himself to Fox “News”, which our president watches faithfully. Before long, he, too, was singing the praises of this miracle drug, and continued to do so even as his own team of medical advisers warned to slow down.

His advisers never said that it wasn’t an effective treatment. At that point there was anecdotal evidence that maybe it was, but this kind of evidence is highly (and famously) unreliable. The argument they made is that, without clinical trials, it may not only be ineffective, but dangerous as well since (at the time) they had no way of knowing if the virus actually makes it more dangerous. Which, of course, it did. Several studies, including one at the VA, were halted when they realized that more patients on hydrocloroquine were dying than without.

Enter the newest entry in the fight, Remdesivir. Originally introduced to help treat SARS, early studies, done properly, are showing promise in the treatment of the Coronavirus. Doctors are still urging caution; these are only preliminary studies, and more work has to be done to verify. In addition, it’s not clear if it helps people already infected, or could help prevent infection, or a myriad of other factors that could also play a part. None the less, it’s a promising development.

What is missing is a president singing the praises of Remdesiver. His restraint on this newest drug reflects, frankly, the same kind of restraint that I believe should have been demonstrated with hydrochloroquine, or bleach for that matter. Optimism and promise are a good thing, but false hope is dangerous.

Okay, on to the ridiculous part. See, it seems that a large contingency of people are claiming the Remdesivir is a hoax, and insisting that Hydrochloroquine is the only true treatment. Yes, even after clinical trials demonstrated that it kills more people than it helps, there are people that desperately insist that Hydrochloroquine is the true treatment. They are pointing out (correctly) that Remdesivir is as yet unverified, has potential dangers and needs further testing, but their reasoning is flawed since they only argue that it applies to Remdesivir while ignoring the negative results of Hydrochloroquine.

And, yes, they are MAGA supporters.

People hate to be wrong. If they accept the clinical results of Hydrochloroquine, they are wrong and that just can’t be. And if Hydrochloroquine is right, then Remdesivir must be wrong, right?

There’s a marvelous quote; science doesn’t care what you believe. To me, giving faith in the results of science over conspiracy theory seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, our society has become so dysfunctionally polarized that people continue to hold stubbornly onto their politicized beliefs over the results of legitimate scientific inquiry. It’s the same reason there are still climate deniers and (at the risk of angering some of my friends) anti-vaxxers.

If people hold onto the political lines they’ve been fed by parties and mouthpieces it means that they don’t have to think for themselves. Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous practice. In a fascinating recent study, Fox “News” viewers were studied for statistical differences in Corvid-19 infections. This was a brilliant study, because it didn’t compare “Fox” viewers with people who did not, but rather, they studied two different groups, both of which viewed this “News” program. Apparently, there are two popular commentators on the network, one of whom supports the notion that the Coronavirus is a hoax and continues to push for Hydrochloroquine as a treatment, while the other is, oh, let’s say “more reasonable” in his reporting. This is a brilliant idea for a study since it removes the bias of news stations.

The results of the study showed that those that listened to the more reasonable commentator had statistically significant fewer Coronavirus infections as a group than those who listened to the other. Misinformation is, truly, dangerous. This is why, when I read misinformation on my social media page I feel morally obligated to correct it. I find it difficult to feel sorry for people who insist on putting politics above science, but neither do I wish harm to anybody. I keep hoping that people will learn, but they have put so much importance on being “right” that they just refuse to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. Unfortunately, such stubbornness can be fatal.

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