The real reason for Donald Trump’s hydroxychloroquine disaster

Imagine, for a moment, some unscrupulous person perpetrating a fraud in the name of religion. I know that’s a big ask, but please bear with me. Let’s call that person Billy, and let’s say Billy gets a clever idea about a rare disease he just learned about called Ponzi’s Syndrome, or PS for short. It turns out that PS is 95% fatal. It turns out that all PS fatalities occur within a month of diagnosis. It turns out that all PS recoveries are full and complete in the same period, without any debilitating after effects.

So our intrepid Billy locates 100 recent PS sufferers, and, since Billy is no fool, he makes sure PS isn’t transmittable by human contact first. So he travels the United States to interview these PS patients personally and offers to “lay hands on them” and pray for them for free. He looks each one squarely in the eye and tells them with all the sincerity he can muster that he alone can cure them. That he alone has been given God’s special gift of healing. Since Billy is charming and charismatic the patients believe him on that account. Then Billy waits.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, and at no actual loss of generality to our story, that at the end of that month 95 of the men and women Billy has “healed” died and 5 recovered completely, right on cue, statistically speaking. Billy then locates those grateful five and gathers them together in one room at his own expense and tells them they are living proof of God’s healing gift to him, and he wants each of the five to travel America with him and help him tell others about his special gift, to in effect become living witnesses to how truly miraculous Billy’s gift is. And since he, Billy, will be making millions of dollars as the result of contributions to support his “healing ministry,” he will be exceedingly generous to the five he has “healed.”

This little story is brought to you courtesy of one of the most infamous and deadly logical fallacies known to the human race. It goes by the innocuous sounding name of “anecdotal evidence.” It is a common disease of the twin human folly of the wish to believe and the overweening drive to see patterns where none exist. It is the same folly that killed Steve Jobs and millions of other people, and created a trillion dollar industry called alternative medicine. Anecdotal evidence is why hydroxychloroquine is prominent in the news today, and why the child-rapist Idiot-in-Chief is flouting it as a possible cure for COVID-19 — and for his own personal enrichment.

The problem with hydroxychloroquine is that no actual scientific tests have been conducted to confirm its efficacy against coronavirus. Some very weak anecdotal evidence has come down to us as a result of people taking the drug and later having noticeable improvement in their conditions. Of course, this ignores other people who haven’t taken hydroxychloroquine, who haven’t even heard of the stuff, and have had noticeable improvements on their own. Now, call me foolish, but it may actually have something to with the fact that “noticeable improvements” are what people tend to have anyway when they don’t die of coronavirus.

What hydroxychloroquine needs is a double blind clinical trial of a sufficient population of coronavirus patients in order to decide if it has any measurable positive effects on those patients. The patients need to be divided into two groups, a main group and a control group. The control group is given a placebo. The main group is given hydroxychloroquine. It’s “double blind” because neither the doctors administering the medication nor the patients themselves know whether or not they are actually taking hydroxychloroquine or the placebo. This is to avoid accidental psychological effects of bias confirmation, known clinically as the “placebo effect.”

The reason such an experiment hasn’t been carried out is because there hasn’t been time. In an era where medical personnel are overworked and understaffed that is hardly surprising. Since such an experiment has not happened we know absolutely nothing about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of coronavirus. Permit me to repeat that in a different way. We don’t know shit about hydroxychloroquine. We don’t know enough to even speculate. And, since hydroxychloroquine can kill you in certain circumstances, it is the pinnacle of folly to buy it and use it.

In any case, if it is found to be effective against coronavirus and, because, like any powerful drug, hydroxychloroquine has dangerous and even deadly side effects, you must never use it except under direct supervision by a doctor.

This is what the president of the United States should be telling you, and it is disgraceful that it should have to come from me. I am not a medical doctor and I do not have the world-beating resources of the entire federal government behind me. Therefore my voice is tiny to what it could be if I were president. But I am confident that this is the kind of thing Barack Obama would be telling you were he still president, or Hillary Clinton would be telling you if she hadn’t had the presidency stolen from her by the Russians and James Comey and Bernie Sanders.

So don’t use the stuff. Stay away from hydroxychloroquine. Don’t deplete the supply of hydroxychloroquine so that people who actually need it, people who are using it for clinically proven reasons against malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and porphyria cutanea tarda, can still get it. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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