28 October 2014

Sound Science Battles Hysteria- Sagan Got It Right

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Sovogui Maxime Balla, medical student and helping at exit screening at Conakry International Airport, Guinea. These are the people we should be worrying about and HELPING.

Sovogui Maxime Balla, medical student and helping at exit screening at Conakry International Airport, Guinea. These are the people we should be worrying about, and HELPING. Image from WHO.

Some politicians (Mainly the governors of NY and NJ) are taking it on the chin this Monday night for locking up a nurse returning from West Africa who was helping patients with Ebola. The treatment of Kaci Hickox has been called a hysterical over-reaction by several of this country’s top health experts, and fortunately they seem to be backing down.  When they locked up a healthy nurse who was helping patients with Ebola in West Africa, they showed that they are willing to act based on fear rather than sound science, and they deserve the criticism. We should expect far more from the chief executive of a U.S. state, where policy decisions like this should be driven by science and not fear.

From W.H.O.

From W.H.O.

The major news networks have done a decent job of pointing out how damaging this action was to the efforts to stop Ebola in Africa, but they are totally guilty of spending all their time talking about an imaginary threat in America, while ignoring the real threat in Africa. How many people have we sent to Africa?? How much aid, and what type of aid have we sent? Are we sending more? Will it be enough?

Answers to these questions are not to be found on U.S. TV. If they are, I have not heard it, and I’ve been actively searching for them. If you know, please tell me, and I will publish it, so we all can know what is being done. I’ll even let CNN know! If we do not do enough then borders will make no difference and it will spread. With our health system, it will never be a serious threat here or in Europe, but in third world countries it will be, and it could last for years.

This episode has me thinking about Carl Sagan’s book The Demon Haunted World. Read what he said below and I think you will see the connection:

From ”The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan:

Carl-Sagan-1-796x1024We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements- transportation, communication, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting- profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things, so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for awhile, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

…For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with it’s unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror. Science is an attempt, largely successful to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get a hold of ourselves. To steer a safe course. Microbiology, and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.

Avoidable human misery is more often caused by not so much by stupidity, but by ignorance, particularly ignorance about ourselves. I worry that…pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.

…The candle flame [ of Science] gutters. It’s little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The Demons begin to stir.