Confused? Here, Let Me Fix It. (March 10, 2020)
You’ve probably been reading a little, or maybe a lot, about the COVID-19 coronavirus and its inroads into the world population. And you might be confused about the whole thing. Being worried or anxious is one thing, and it’s to be expected under the circumstances. But if you’re confused, it’s probably because you’ve been reading a lot of stupid, worthless “information” about it. I hope to help with that today.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A FACT.
I can’t believe that anyone with a sixth-grade education doesn’t already accept this, but apparently education ain’t what it used to be. I have been told more than once about something that is more than clear that “it’s all opinion”. Well, it is NOT “all opinion”. There are individuals and groups of individuals who have dedicated their lives and hundreds of millions of dollars to understanding some area or another (in this case, infectious diseases and how best to deal with them) and their information is a whole lot more reliable than an email from some random idiot no one ever heard of before. Which takes us to…
ALL SOURCES OF INFORMATION ARE NOT EQUAL.
This is the main reason people get confused. That guy at work does NOT know as much about why your elbow hurts as your chiropractor does. (I don’t care if his sister-in-law once had “that exact same thing”.) In the same vein, Facebook posts are NOT as accurate or informative as CDC releases, and the World Health Organization and Gwyneth Paltrow are NOT equally reliable sources of information.
Even more than their academic and historical credentials, what makes an Official Authority a reliable source of information is that if it’s caught lying, it loses all credibility. For example, if the New York Times publishes a story every day for a week about pink aliens landing in New Mexico, and no pink aliens are ever to be found, by the end of said week the New York Times would be no more than a memory. People pay money to read it because it has a reputation for accurately reporting the news, and it got that reputation by accurately reporting the news for decades on end. Without that reputation there IS no New York Times. So you can trust them. They don't dare lie to you.
(Of course there are papers and websites that CAN publish stories about nonexistent pink aliens and they don’t lose their readerships. But they are selling something besides factual information. Fool around with them if you must, but don’t try to get facts from them. That’s not what they do.)
I’ll bet you a pitcher of margaritas that if you’re confused, you’re getting “information” from at least one very unreliable source. Not naming any names here, because there are a lot of them, all across the crazy spectrum from far west to far east, each of them quoting some authority you can't find anyplace else on the internet or mixing their “intuition” or “experience” or some bizarre idea that they channeled from some spaceship pilot from the Pleiades or whatever into known facts. Which, of course, is all extremely confusing.
Why do people trust Gwyneth Paltrow as much as, or more than, the CDC? They will tell you that it’s because the CDC has an Agenda and Ms. Paltrow only cares about the truth. That is, forgive me, seriously ignorant. Those people who chose to devote years of their then-young lives to higher education in public health or infectious disease, and then worked in it for decades, are a thousand times more reliable than some fly-by-nighter who’s trying to sell you essential oils.
My own theory is that scientists, doctors, the government, and other Authority types remind a lot of insecure people of the days when they were small and helpless and at the mercy of their parents, and so they mindlessly react to authorities like a reluctant toddler being compelled to learn to use the toilet. But ok, let’s not go there today.
WHEN SOMETHING IS UNKNOWN, THERE IS ALWAYS A SNAKE-OIL SALESMAN NEARBY MAKING UP SOMETHING TO FILL THAT GAP.
People like to know what’s going on, and they get anxious or scared when there’s a threat that they don’t understand. That’s the perfect opportunity for some shameless liar to step up and reassure you by selling you a fancy new supplement or medication, or a new religion, enrolling you in a college with a 100% GUARANTEED job placement rate after graduation. Don’t let yourself believe in something just because it decreases your anxiety to do so.
Once in a while, someone who normally knows what they are talking about is wrong. That is not the same thing as lying. Any schoolkid knows the difference there. And who’s more likely to be wrong anyway – someone who has studied and worked in an area for decades, or some guy on 4chan who writes a post about how he healed himself by drinking hand sanitizer, rather than applying it topically?
Rule #4 (thank you to Rudyard Kipling):
OF ALL THE LIARS IN THE WORLD, SOMETIMES THE WORST ARE OUR OWN FEARS.
No matter how bad things are, if you panic you’ll make them worse. That’s because when that happens, you’ve let your lizard brain take over from your frontal lobes. Your lizard brain is GREAT for getting you out of the way of a speeding car, but it is lousy at understanding, or dealing with, anything more complicated. So, as another great writer once said (Douglas Adams), Don’t Panic.
My suggestion for the moment is to wash your hands a lot, put as much distance as possible between yourself and coughing strangers, try to keep granny from going to church for a few weeks, make sure you have enough cash and cat litter around plus a full tank of gas, and settle in for the rollercoaster ride. And when you need to decide what to do next, don’t ask Ms. Paltrow.
--dr. diane holmes
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