Perpsective is Everything

April 2, 2020 © Moira Dolan, MD

While the World Health Organization advises social distancing of 3 feet, the US Centers for Disease Control calls for 6 feet.

John Lynch, an infectious disease specialist on the front lines of the first US outbreak in Washington State, says that there is no reason for restrictions on kids interacting with the well elderly.

Yet the White House advises the elderly to stay away from other people.

The much talked about exponential growth of viral illness to 67 million by mid-March has failed to materialize, and others work the math quite differently.

John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Stanford says

“Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless.”

Ioannidis goes on to describe that with the data we have, the most appropriate mathematical modeling predicts the death rate in infected persons will end up being more like 0.5 to 1.0%, while the death rate in the whole populace from the virus will be 0.01%.

Sweden is taking a different approach to CoVID19 than the rest of Europe, still allowing lower school to continue, permitting gatherings of up to 50, and advising good hygiene and common sense in everyday affairs.

Sweden is a country with medical technology that equals or exceeds that in the US, and they generally enjoy a better overall health quality of life and have overall lower mortality rates than the US.

On the other hand, the current chairman of the Nobel Foundation, Prof Carl-Henrik Heldin, a cancer specialist, was one of many signatories (mostly non medical) on a petition calling for Sweden to close borders and institute stay-at-home mandates.

In the modern era of scientists advising governments on everything from climate change to global infectious disease outbreaks, the smart health care consumer is wise to know more about the characters that are shaping our world.

For example, Nobel Prize winners were responsible for the first synthetic antibiotic, composed of 38% arsenic, that probably harmed as much as it might have helped; and for trying to treat syphilis by infecting patients with the blood of malaria patients: and inventing the frontal lobotomy.

Other prizewinners ranged from simply small-minded to downright anti-social.

Howard Florey, who shared the prize for penicillin, said, “People sometimes think that I and the others worked on penicillin because we were interested in suffering humanity. I don’t think it ever crossed our minds about suffering humanity.”

Then there was Julius Wagner-Jauregg, who was tried for war crimes after WWI for his brutal electroshock torture of deserters and soldiers with battle fatigue.

And Charles Richet, who wrote in his book Idiot Man, “Yes, in my inmost being, I am humiliated because I belong to this vile animal species, the most foolish of all created things.”

Alexis Carrel was another in this category of the anti-social scientist. In his 1935 book Man the Unknown, Carrel advocated the efficient disposal of unwanted persons by means of gas chambers.

In researching for Boneheads & Brainiacs: Heroes and Scoundrels of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, I was alternately delighted, surprised and dismayed by what I found, but it certainly changed my view of the lofty pronouncements from on high in the medical world.

My purpose in writing the book is to encourage people to develop a rational, healthy skepticism.

What better time than now?

Quotes by Florey, Wagner-Jauregg and Richet are all found in Boneheads & Brainiacs: Heroes and Scoundrels of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, by Moira Dolan, MD

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