Monday, March 9, 2020

COVID19, common myths, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

During the past week, I've been increasingly surprised and concerned about people's attitudes to the new Corona Virus. Don't panic, of course don't panic, but take it seriously. 

Quarantined areas in northern Italy March 8, 2020
16 million people in Italy aren't quarantined because it's a fun thing to do. They're in quarantine to prevent further spread of the virus.

Some people apparently don't understand how viruses work at all. As in, "If you don't intend to meet someone who is affected, you can't get it." A man explained this to me in great detail the other day. His being right would make life a lot easier, unfortunately that's not how diseases work.

A lot of people say it's a cold or a flu. That's not true. Yes, symptoms resemble a flu, but the virus is different. And, it's so new that we don't know a lot about it.

I didn't think that particular misunderstanding would be all that important, until I watched the news during the weekend and the anchor kept talking about the flu vaccine. Her reasoning was that if you take the flu vaccine and still get the flu, you normally get less sick than you would without the vaccine. Thus, the same must be true for Covid 19.

The doctor in the studio kept pointing out that this isn't true at all since the Corona virus isn't a flu and taking a flu vaccine won't affect our immune response to it, but she concluded with "Great, I'll go get the vaccine."

Speaking of vaccines, many seem to think there will be a vaccine any day. Developing a vaccine to something brand new like this will take time. I personally doubt we'll see one in 2020. We - the worldwide community - need to work together to keep this at bay, so the scientists have time to do their thing.

Other comments show both ignorance and a callousness to others' suffering that's plain terrifying.

Besides this person having all their facts wrong, they apparently think 20% of people affected will die, and that's not a big deal. In fact, it's pretty funny.

I wrote a response, explaining, and it was promptly deleted by the person owning the page. 

Seriously people: The objective right now is to limit the spread, so society - and health care systems around the world - have time to prepare, and so we have time to learn about the disease.

Persons not believing it's real will be a problem in preventing it from spreading.

This leads to an interesting side track: have you ever wondered why the most clueless people are also the most stubborn? 

It's basically a cognitive bias where people know too little about something to realize they don't know. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

An 1999 article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states, "People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. We attribute this lack of awareness to a deficit in metacognitive skill. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s."

Naturally, this has a massive impact on decision making. 

In daily life, the phenomenon can be annoying, but rarely dangerous. (Think mansplaining. Many years ago I heard a friend - male - explain to another friend - female - where her house was, even though he was unable to find it when trying to visit. She tried to tell him that you go up the hill and turn right, and he kept telling her that her house is to the left.)

At a time like this, people who are dead certain they're right and everyone else is wrong can cause a lot of trouble for everyone else, because they're unlikely to follow instructions.

I don't know how to remedy this, since it seems hard to get through with actual information, but I guess we'll have to keep trying.

And while we wait to see where all this will go, follow any and all advice from the CDC. We'll be okay, but we need to meet this with clear minds and awareness.

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