Shedding Light in the Darkness

COVID-19 & the Problem of Groupthink

viruseven136077-1200x675Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Groupthink occurs when pressures to agree are so strong that they stifle critical thinking and common sense.

What we are experiencing right now with COVID-19 seems to be a form of scientific groupthink where approaches that question the “established” narrative are often shot down and belittled as heretical.

In their new book “Groupthink in Science,” Dr. David Allen, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science and Dr. James Howell at the University of Tennessee, examine how scientists tend to bias their research in order to further the ideological or financial interests of an “in-group” at the expense of both the interest of other groups as well as the truth.

The authors challenge the widespread notion that science is invariably a benevolent, benign process, and they provide many examples of scientist who were attacked, vilified in the press, refused publication in leading journals and lost funding, for discoveries that challenged conventional theories and understanding, and were later proved valid.

Is this what we are seeing with COVID-19?

Prof. Richard Coker at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests it was groupthink that led to the swine flu immunization disaster. He writes in The Guardian: “In 1976, fearful that an outbreak of swine influenza at Fort Dix army camp in New Jersey was the centre of an influenza pandemic on a scale potentially similar to the 1918 Spanish flu, the CDC advised President Gerald Ford of the urgent need for a mass immunization program.

(The CDC then believed, at least 80 percent of the United States population would need to be vaccinated)

“Forty million Americans were vaccinated. The vaccine was associated with (around 450) cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, (a rare neurological disorder) some fatal. In the immediate aftermath, the affair was seen as a fiasco.

“In their remarkable study of the event, Richard Neustadt and Harvey Fineberg set out the lessons learned. The key issue the authors identified was that groupthink led to misjudgments of the evidence, and failed to question assumptions; and voices that opposed were silenced, excluded or denied entry.”

The CDC at the time on the necessity of the swine flue shot – “If there is any increased risk it is “very small, about one in a million. Studies suggest that it is more likely that a person will get GBS (Guillain- Barre syndrome) after getting the flu than after vaccination.”

Btw many people reported becoming severely sick after being vaccinated, with health problems that haven’t diminished.

Rather than encouraging alternative approaches to solving the virus challenge, a nation like Sweden and their “laissez-faire” approach is attacked as “leading us to catastrophe” (Guardian)  and “Sweden Girds for Thousands of Deaths Amid Laxer Virus Policy” (Bloomberg). As of today Sweden has the same rate of mortality per million population as Ireland with a lockdown and less than the Netherlands with a lockdown.

And there’s the curious case of Taiwan and this island’s amazing success with the virus. With a population of 23 million as of 4/25 they have had 6 deaths and 429 cases. In contrast the State of Hawaii with a population of 1.5 million and a lockdown had 14 deaths and 604 cases. In Taiwan schools, offices, restaurants and most entertainment facilities remain open. But they have a very strict quarantine. Arriving passengers are tracked by phone to make sure they comply. Fines for violating the mandatory quarantine range from $3,000 to $30,000.

Sociologist Diane Vaughan and other researchers note that complacency is usually fed by groupthink. At a time when China and the World Health Organization were downplaying the coronavirus threat, it was easy for world leaders to believe that everything was under control.

You might notice that Taiwan has received minimal coverage in media reports on the virus. The World Health Organization (influenced by China) avoids sharing information about their success (and bans them from WHO membership). The WHO even refers to Taiwan as “Taipei and environs,” which the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center also adopted for a while before several U.S. lawmakers criticized the Center.

In a January modeling study, Johns Hopkins University predicted Taiwan would have the second most COVID-19 cases in the world.

Chinese government officials have criticized public health cooperation between Taiwan and foreign governments – Taiwan’s leaders “engaged in these little tricks, not for the health and well-being of the Taiwanese people, but rather to ‘use the pandemic to plot independence,’” said Chinese official Zhu Fenglian. “The plot will not succeed.”

Groupthink adherents definitely didn’t like to hear what John Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine, had to say. He was pilloried because he dissents from  theories behind the lockdowns, and suggested that Covid-19 is far less deadly than modelers were assuming, citing the inaccuracy of the influential Imperial College London model. “Locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational,” he said.

Most disagreements among scientists, he notes, reflect differences in perspective, not facts. “We have generated a very heavily panic-driven, horror-driven, death-reality-show type of situation.” “Most of the population has minimal risk,” he reported, “in the range of dying while you’re driving from home to work and back.”

The backlash included: “Ioannidis doing his schtick about standards of evidence is not helpful. Everyone knows we’re acting with little or partial information,” wrote Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves in a Twitter post.

German virus expert, Professor Hendrik Streeck, at the University of Bonn, also stepped outside the prevailing orthodoxy with a study of a town that suffered a major coronavirus outbreak. He found antibodies to the virus in 14% of the 500 people tested and suggested the virus kills only 0.37% of the people infected. “You can contain the infection process with social distance, so restrictions on contacts are important. But I don’t know if it makes sense to completely paralyze public life.”

Scientists jumping on the study included Dr Simon Clarke, Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, who dismissed the study: “The finding that 14% of the population of Gangelt in Germany have antibodies to the virus causing COVID19 does not in any way prove that 14% of the population are immune.”

Among the scientists stoking virus fears are Prof. Neil Ferguson and Steven Riley at Imperial College London who suggested that disease-suppression policies – extreme social distancing, self-imposed quarantines, school and university closures – will need to be maintained until a vaccine is developed, which could take as long as 18 months.

And there’s Bill “China did a lot of things right” Gates who told the BBC we won’t be out of the woods until the whole planet is vaccinated. At least Gates cited Taiwan as a primary example of a country that has handled the pandemic more effectively than others.

Why is talk of immunity not being emphasized or that a high percentage with the virus have no symptoms (published in the British Medical Journal, a China study suggested that 78% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms)? What are the alternative health approaches that have mitigated the effects, or how abut focusing on efforts to strengthen our immune systems?

On that surprising new China study, University of Oxford epidemiologist Tom Jefferson, told the BMJ “even if they are 10% out, then this suggests the virus is everywhere. If  the results are representative, then we have to ask, what the hell are we locking down for?” And Sergio Romagnani, a professor of clinical immunology at the University of Florence, also reports that most people infected by the virus do not show symptoms.

The journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in a 2010 article: Potential of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Preventive Management of Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Pandemic: Thwarting Potential Disasters in the Bud:  Herbs exhibit a diverse array of biological activities and can be effectively harnessed for managing pandemic flu. Potentially active herbs can serve as effective anti influenza agents. Tulsi for example has been shown to possess a range of biological activities such as antibacterial activity, antifungal activity, and antiviral activity. Traditional Chinese Medicine’s include Sophora flavescens which has yielded a positive outcome against H1N1 infection.

I haven’t read about the Gates Foundation funding any alternative health approaches to the virus.

When you come afoul of groupthink like two doctors in Bakersfield who put out a video after testing more than 5,000 folks, saying that COVID-19 is no worse than influenza, fears are overblown, death rates are low, and there’s no need for a widespread lockdown, they were attacked.

Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington biologist argued their sample wasn’t representative of the general population. The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine declared they, “emphatically condemn the recent opinions released by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Messihi. These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology.”

After logging 5 million views, YouTube removed it on Monday for violating community guidelines. “We quickly remove flagged content that violate our Community Guidelines, including content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local healthy authority recommended guidance on social distancing that may lead others to act against that guidance,” said a statement. “From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had clear policies against COVID-19 misinformation and are committed to continue providing timely and helpful information at this critical time.”

In response to the video being taken down, Dr. Erickson said, “Anytime you push against the grain, you are going to have people who don’t like it.”

Pushing back against the fear, Oxford University’s Tom Jefferson and Prof. Carl Heneghan at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine wrote: “There can be little doubt that covid-19 may be far more widely distributed than some may believe. Lockdown is going to bankrupt all of us and our descendants and is unlikely at this point to slow or halt viral circulation as the genie is out of the bottle. What the current situation boils down to is this: is economic meltdown a price worth paying to halt or delay what is already amongst us?”


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