This will be my third and hopefully final article that explores the variation of opinion in the scientific community regarding the risk and mitigation strategy that has surrounded the politicized Covid-19 pandemic. In my 1st article I discussed “group think” and showed how the media and “experts” created a herd mentality that marginalized credible scientific thinking that differed from their own and then used the media and willing politicians to create a narrative that was not necessarily based in science. My second article discussed the nature and assessment of “risk” and how maybe the big difference in describing the danger of the disease and thus the mitigation strategy was in individual “experts” perception of risk having nothing to do with data analysis. My final article today will deal with different types of bias—outcome bias, hindsight bias, and conformity bias— very much the same idea as “group think” and that was discussed earlier.
As a predicate or preamble to this discussion let me disclose my own bias. For years in the scientific and not just medical literature, there has been a concern expressed by researchers, academicians, and clinicians about the quality of studies presented in major academic and trade journals. I share in this concern and this problem has been magnified by the Covid-19 political pandemic. The concerns center around a unique type of bias that is the result of so much research being funded by our government—NIH and CDC grants for example, or major corporations—big pharma. Many medical researchers receive a large percentage of their income from grants. The issuer of the grant has a vested interest in the outcome of the research.
The researcher may be in the process of applying for future grants needing the permission of the issuer who again is waiting the results of a current study. Or as happened last April with the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, researchers hired the same fraudulent data collection company to create a scenario that would prove that hydroxychloroquine was not efficacious in the treatment or prophylaxis of Covid-19. No research was done, articles and editorials were published supporting NIH and CDC officials in their publicly stated positions, and grants and investments continued to flow to researchers who supported the positions of the “grantors”. These articles were taken down, but their authors continue to have access to these journals—one is even an editor! No disgrace in the scientific and medical literature for “fake news”.
Outcome bias is based on the knowledge of outcomes of previous similar events. The problem with this is that there is no critical analysis of the events that led to the previous event. During the Spanish flu of 1917 differences in the way the city fathers in Philadelphia and St, Louis handled that true pandemic were described by the experts and the press. No analysis of the different conditions in those two cities was offered. People in Eastern cities—mostly immigrants and children of immigrants were living in closed quarters many families in a very few rooms, indoors, without access to water and food and proper sanitation and sewage. In St. Louis and the Western States people lived under very different conditions. 70% of people lived in rural areas and even in the cities people were not forced to live in close confines. We fast track to 2020 and we find one size fits all Covid mitigation strategies being applied the same way to rural and urban populations. This is outcome bias.
Hindsight bias allows people to convince themselves after an event they accurately predicted the outcome. I have been accused of this when I suggest that I have been more accurate in my assessments and predictions about Covid-19 than the experts in our State or in Washington DC. Basically it is looking back at events and creating a scenario that supports a current position. Be careful because real but selective data can be used to support a historical position in hindsight. What the experts aren’t telling us is just as important as the facts they present publicly. The “experts” know when they do this—the press not so much. Remember when we were told we would lose 40-50 thousand lives in Idaho by the medical director at one of Boise’s large hospitals—”2.5%” of our population. Bill Gates early on—April of 2020 was very close to his predictions about the virulence and transmissibility of the virus. The early predictions in March of 2020 by the University of Washington and Oxford University were way off—why do we still listen to those guys. Researchers at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and even private virologists in Idaho were dead right in their reckoning about the virus. Why do they not now have a voice? Because of “hindsight bias”. The media and the bureaucratic experts have a vested interest in not having their predictions evaluated critically in retrospect. They were wrong. But the same “experts” and media sources will be consulted during the next so called pandemic, without the public ever remembering how wrong they have been during this one.
Finally, I want to suggest a new bias—”virtue signaling” bias. Not the usual virtue signaling, but a bias that says “If I can do something for you it shows that I care”. This is the bias that politicians have when they throw money at a social services or educational project. Does the investment ever do what it is supposed to do? Sometimes but not often. But the person making the investment “cares”. Maybe even making the person dependent upon you may serve you more than it serves them. Physicians and therapists deal with this all the time. Traditionally we have tried to make patients as independent and responsible to themselves as possible. In some cases that can be difficult or even impossible—cancer therapy and dialysis patients come to mind. Some practitioners feel the need to make patients dependent upon them. This has been described as a “God” complex. Patients are never well served when they are dependent on a practitioner and they lose control over their own lives and health. Sometimes I think that Public Health Specialists want to show they care by just doing “something” Masks yes—masks no? Social distance yes—social distance no? Hydroxychloroquine yes—no? O2 sats above 90%—yes-no? Open up yes—no? It doesn’t matter what the decision. As long as I the expert am making it I care for you. God Complex—Yes—No?
And maybe therein lies the crux of the debate. Who is the expert when it comes to deciding what is best for me and my family? An Expert or government commissar or me?
And in the end when we account for “group think”, and “risk” and all the “biases” maybe accounting for one’s faith in God is never taken into account by those who wish to play God. Throughout this entire pandemic including my concern for my own at-risk daughter-in-law with Histiocytic lymphoma and recent chemotherapy and a splenectomy I have always tried—at times honestly difficult, to have faith in God’s plan for me and mine. That faith has allowed me to approach risk and bias in a very different way than any of the experts, doctors, media, and politicians have been capable of understanding.
In the end, WE THE PEOPLE know who our God is and it is not them. We the people are best able to decide what is best for ourselves, our families, our communities and our country.
IN GOD WE TRUST MAGA “Fight Like Hell”