Real Thing to Fear


The more I read about the Ebola, the less I worry about it. But that doesn’t mean that we have nothing to fear.

mosquito3West Nile Virus is also indigenous to Equatorial Africa, and has killed 14 people in California in 2014 (1,440 nationwide). We are, by far, the hardest hit State in the County by West Nile (and indeed, the Valley is the hardest hit area of the State). The initial symptoms of WNV are similar to EBV disease, including the fever, aches and even rashes. The primary difference is that only 20% of people infected with the West Nile virus ever become clinical. But for those 20%, the risk of death is quite high, and even for the survivors, the experience is a long and difficult recovery. Yet despite the very real dangers of West Nile Virus in our own areas (and nationally) there is neither panic, nor talking head pontification, nor political outrage, nor a Czar appointment. Why?

The answer lies in the confirmation bias. That is, we look for data points that we believe tend to confirm our understanding of things and ignore data points that might tend to not confirm our positions. And the obvious conclusion is that the politics of the Ebola outweigh the actual dangers of the Ebola. We take statements that we do not fully comprehend as “intentionally misleading,” rather than admit our own lack of knowledge. How else do you explain chat show hosts emphatically arguing that medical doctors and professional medical personnel are “wrong?” Since the average chat show host – or American for that matter, has zero clue of the difference between a filovirus and a flavivirus, what basis is there for using a lack of my understanding as a statement of factual disbelief? Just because I don’t understand some statement or the explanation of some event eludes me, does not mean that that the statement is untrue or the event didn’t happen. It means that I do not understand it. Stating that it is “wrong” because I don’t understand it is de facto the confirmation bias in action.

Did the Doctors and the CDC make mistakes? Of course they did. In dealing with an unknown and dangerous thing there will always be mistakes. The difference between my mistake and an ICU Physician or Nurses error is one of degree. Mine will in all probability never effect you or anyone else. Theirs can.

For those of you interested in History of the American Revolution, there is no better expert than Dr. Robert Allison, who we had on the show last March to talk about one of the incidents in our history. Dr. Allison is the Chair of the History Department at Suffolk University in Boston, and he is offering a FREE ONLINE COURSE OF REVOLUTIONARY WAR HISTORY of Boston. I guarantee you that you will learn some really cool things and gain a greater appreciation of the Founding Fathers and how it still impacts us today.

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Posted on October 20, 2014, in News & Notes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks Dave, I just listened to your podcast on the west Nile virus. Now I’m sitting out here at Enochs Soccerfield killing every mosquito within 12 inches of me. Out here in the evening, it makes me look like a slaphappy windmill. Thanks

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