What spreads faster than a JAFFA in Level 4? The disease of misinformation!

What spreads faster than a JAFFA in Level 4? The disease of misinformation!

That headline might sound harsh; at the same time, it is a sign of the times where average Joe thinks they are a specialist in medical science after a couple of YouTube videos.

And you're reading this because you're looking for answers on how to pull a loved one out of the rabbit hole. Sorry, it's hard to impossible.

If you're reading this because someone said "you're down the rabbit hole", ya need to listen. They probably see something you're not.

And I know a thing or two about rabbit holes ;)

  • I also appreciate that referencing links back to youtube is somewhat ironic; at the same time, these links are from a well established scientific channel discussing the aspects I have raised.
  • I'm not medically trained either. I do have substantial experience with medical conditions with what I do, 20 years of it. I originally trained as an electronics engineer. So I am good with math and research too.
  • One of the core traits of someone that works with information that demonstrates they know a thing or two; is they will tell you they don't know when they don't know.

I don't know is something that your average anti-vaxer or conspiracy theorist will not say. It is often the opposite; when they are in territory, they have no clue about it; they double down and make stuff up. And yes, they do make stuff up on the spot.

So yeah, I think I've managed to insult just about everyone already. Oh well, strap it on ;)

What are we talking about?

It falls into three key areas:

  • Fear
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Logical Fallacy

I'll tackle fear first

Fundamentally humans are driven to action by two core emotions, fear and greed.

This manifests in two ways, apathy and inaction, or reaction and flight/fight.

  1. The former is the attitude Kiwi's have had toward the vaccine up to the point Delta arrived in Auckland.
  2. The latter is what drives the noise we are all hearing. It is sadly also a reflection of isolation.

Where people are disconnected, bored, and only have social media for contact and interaction. And we know that the echo chamber that results can be hugely unhealthy.

I've seen it with my own social feeds and news headlines where the fear of Covid and the vaccines make better headlines than hey, "it's working, we got this."

As too, we have the economic harm issue. One where people are looking at the dollars are forgetting the lives being saved. The loss of income and money is seen as tangible right now against the lack of lives lost and the intangible of lives saved.

  • These things make for powerful motivators for the disease of stupid we are all seeing.

And while that may sound harsh and less about helping than blame, the reality is that unless you crack people skulls, they aren't going to engage in reasonable discussion. Those down the rabbit hole won't have got past the headline or, at the latest, the first paragraph here.

Like the best place to hide a body is page two of Google. I could confidently publish all the data needed by Anti-Vaxers and Ivermectin Nuts right here, knowing they will never read it.

Yes, you're nodding, I know... I feel your pain too.

So what's really going on?

Confirmation Bias:

  • Confirmation Bias is the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one's preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data (American Psychological Association).
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses.
  • Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.
  • People display this bias when they gather or recall information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way.
    The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
  • Source:Simply Psychology confirmation bias

In many ways, this is the primary issue, where the social and news feeds outweigh the truth purely on the volume of articles and posts.

Real science and data is boring; sensational headlines are interesting. Not to mention real science contains terms and language most people have difficulty reading and understanding.

  • Many I read, the executive summary is the only bit that makes sense. Part of the reason I consult with medical people around me, clinicians I work with or have as clients. This is the "I don't know" bit I referenced above.
  • Getting good data is challenging. Finding complete data isn't easy either. And humans are pretty average at math and crap at statistics most of the time.

An example of this sort of bias:

I reviewed a piece a few years ago on vaccines and ear infections. The author of the published article made a fundamental flaw when reviewing things.

  • They compared the number of unvaccinated ear infections 1% against vaccinated ear infections 1.5%. They then declared on number and percentage of the total population sampled that unvaccinated were healthier.
  • The flaw, the examined population, was not evenly split; they were 93% vaccinated and 7% unvaccinated. Which seriously skews the data in the way the author presented it.
  • They looked at the population to infections data, confirmed what they wanted and published.

The flaw for those that don't do math well?

  • The vaccinated population was always going to have more infections by number than the unvaccinated when the groups' size was so different.
  • When you looked at this fairly, the group had a 14% incidence rate of ear infections with unvaccinated patients.
  • And about 1.6% of the vaccinated had ear infections, which went up as the number excludes unvaccinated kids.

That's a significant statistical difference and a complete misrepresentation of the data, and this was a simple case.

  • Veritasium's channel is a fantastic learning resource, and they have an excellent demonstration of cognitive bias

This is why we need good scientific data that is robust and preferable has a double-blind placebo basis. It's the only way we can manage both proving the impact of what is being tested and manage any regression to the mean that is going on.

Logical fallacy and the theory of falsification

There are many different logical fallacies, 15-24 core ones with my quick Google search. Yes, Google can be helpful! This link has a list of most of the common ones

The issue here is when someone gets tied up in a bias driven by a failure of logic. Karl Popper proposed this discussion on  the inductive vs deductive reasoning. A crucial part of logical fallacies and the last point on confirmation bias.

The best recent example of this is the Ivermectin studies that have been kicked around. There are two in particular that I'll cover.

  • The first is a simple failure of logic, where there (at the time of writing) are 36 studies purporting to show Ivermectin works for the treatment of Covid-19. However, when you scratch the surface, there is only 1 study that is genuine research and 35 that are meta-studies.

And many will go, so what?

  • Meta studies are papers that have been written based on reviewing all other papers on the subject. They contain no direct research data but rely on the data and research of others.
  • Most of the time, this is fine. The scientific process involves lots of studies looking at different things. The data is then brought together for analysis and review. Where there are many direct research studies, the meta-study approach can be powerful in teasing out specific questions without doing lots of expensive direct data research.

Where the Ivermectin studies mentioned above fall apart is the baseline study, which wasn't published, peer-reviewed or even a double-blind placebo trial, wasn't the research they thought it was.

  • It actually doesn't tell us anything except that those taking Ivermectin did better than those taking Hydrochlorquinine (HCQ).
  • Basically, there was no control over the data. The result is no better than maybe, but that could be just those who happened to be sampled who survived better independently.
  • It could be that HCQ was actually harmful and the Ivermectin aspect was just the normal result; we don't know because the study wasn't robust.

I'm not saying that Ivermectin is complete rubbish; where there's smoke, there's often fire.

  • And it has been used in other conditions to manage viral infections.
  • But there isn't anything presently that is clinically conclusive that it does anything at all.
  • There are over 50 direct studies underway with Ivermectin presently, so there may be something helpful to come out of this.

My point is, presently, the data we have is not worth using as toilet paper; it's scratchy, though it may be useful as stable fodder.

As you have probably figured out, once the base study is pulled out of the 36 studies mentioned above, the meta-data studies of the 35 remaining now fail to be relevant.

  • The core principle they are based on is false.
  • Just because they have been published doesn't mean their data is correct.
  • You have to follow the source and ensure that the basis of the data used and the claims made are sound.

Unfortunately, most people will not dig that far, and they have taken it at face value.

  • And then dug into their position once it has been exposed, which is the rabbit hole stuff you are seeing.

The other Ivermectin one kicking around, and is partly responsible for the number of hospitalisations from taking Ivermectin we have seen, is a study that says Ivermectin kills the virus in a petrie dish.

  • The level of the dose needed is 200 times the dose that humans can tolerate.

A point well made from a science blogger, even a handgun kills covid in a petrie dish, and so does bleach!

  • Yes, the basis of this one lacks the simplest of context. What is proven outside the human body doesn't always translate to inside the human body.
  • Veritasium covers some of this with the illusion of truth

These are but a few of the things I have seen in the last week, and I have heard from many people asking for help to explain things to their loved ones.

I hope the helps; however, from experience, it's going to be hard work if it is at all possible. Good luck if you're tackling someone about their off base thinking.

They aren't stupid, but their thinking is compromised, and they shouldn't have to die from their misinformed thinking.

Jon-Paul Hale

Written by : Jon-Paul Hale

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