In an orgy of self-righteous triumph and relief, Republicans are exhuming Trump’s hydroxychloroquine gaffe and claiming that he’s been exonerated after all, according to a recently published study by the Henry Ford Health System. The study appears to indicate, according to the peer-reviewed article, that the use of hydroxychloroquine significantly reduced the incidence of death in COVID-19 patients. So it turns out that Donald Trump was right after all, yes?
Not so fast. Trump was wrong for advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine no matter what any later studies may have said in the first place. More about that later. Additionally, the Ford Health System study is flawed, and its flaws were artfully exposed by Dr. Anthony Fauci during Friday’s House subcommittee inquiry on the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
After crowing about the findings of the study during the hearing, Republican Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, who holds no medical qualifications whatsoever, smugly sat back. No doubt he warmed himself with visions of sugar-tweets to come from his toad-god Donald Trump. That’s when Dr. Anthony Fauci proceeded to absolutely destroy the study.
“The Henry Ford Hospital study that was published,” Fauci replied, “was a non-controlled, retrospective cohort study that was confounded by a number of issues, including the fact that many of the people who were receiving hydroxychloroquine were also receiving corticosteroids, which we know from another study gives clear benefits in reducing deaths from advanced disease. So that study is a flawed study, and I think anyone who examines it carefully [will see that] it is not a randomised placebo-controlled trial.”
In a desperate counter gambit, Luetkemeyer said, “It’s still peer-reviewed.” Fauci replied, “It doesn’t matter, you can peer review something that’s a bad study, but the fact is it is not a randomised placebo-controlled trial. The point that I think is important … in any and all of the randomised placebo-controlled trials, which is the gold standard of determining if something is effective, none of them had shown any efficacy for hydroxychloroquine.”
In other words, Luetkemeyer and other Republicans found a single flawed study that appeared to contradict the overwhelming majority of properly conducted other studies. All the other studies concluded that hydroxychloroquine is entirely useless in combating COVID, and may indeed prove dangerous. Instead they decided that the lone flawed one was correct. Why? Probably to save Donald Trump’s ego and get potential brownie points in a favourable Tweet from Trump. The ultimate value to the American people in the deadly game of using their lives to rescue the brittle president’s hopelessly frail ego was never once a consideration.
But it’s worse than that, really. In the absence of medical advice, Donald Trump should never have made the suggestion to use hydroxychloroquine in the first place. He is neither a doctor nor has he ever played one on TV. It was an act of egregious negligence of his duty of care to the American people to gamble with their lives for the sake of his own ego. Or, in the words of NASA Flight Controller Gene Krantz, “Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” Trump made things worse by guessing, and the fallout months later is still distracting Republican lawmakers from doing the right thing by their constituents.
This is why anecdotal evidence is so deadly and useless. Since the flawed study was not, properly speaking, a real study in the first place, it was the equivalent of anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is commonly used by quacks and pseudoscientists all the time because they cannot find randomised placebo-controlled trials to support their outlandish claims.
And Fauci was right, bad studies get peer-reviewed all the time too, and sometimes they pass muster. Scientists make mistakes, just as they did when disgraced and “struck-off” Doctor Andrew Wakefield, father of the incomprehensibly stupid anti-vaxxer movement, got a favourable peer review in the Lancet. By the time their error was discovered and retracted, the incalculable damage caused by Wakefield had been done.
This is a subtlety that is often missed by voters, and it’s why Republicans, who are anti-science, use anecdotal evidence so often. For example, Republicans will use video of a white man being beaten by police as “proof” that police brutality happens to white people too, despite the statistical evidence that people of color are overwhelmingly the objects of police violence. So beware of anecdotal evidence. The truth rests with properly employed, proven and tested statistics, together with properly performed randomised placebo-controlled trials.
There are a million reasons why Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States, this has been another one. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.