Saturday, April 4, 2020

Game Theory and Paranoia

What is going on with the government and the media?

Trump recently announced that as many as 250,000 people will die in the next few weeks from this virus.  Almost immediately, some folks in the White House, as well as medical experts tried to walk this back - saying it was an over-estimate, without actually saying it (disputing the boss gets you fired in the Trump White House).  Trump went from trivializing the virus to over-stating it, it appears.  And some are saying that by doing so, he can posit he is a "hero" if the actual death toll is, say, only 50,000.   It is a classic move - set expectations low and then when you exceed them, look like a miracle worker.  Game theory, I guess.

Meanwhile, we are treated to another story about China.  This time around, we are told the CIA is investigating and believes the death toll may be vastly understated.  I question this article as the CIA is a "secret" organization and no doubt would not be tipping its hand on a pending investigation until results are known.  Also, the article cites the CIA using "agents" in China, and I thought the Chinese government already killed them all.

It is like the story about funeral urns - which I wrote about before and one site claims is part of an anti-China right-wing conspiracy theory.  It is hard to know what to believe.  Where is this stuff coming from, the Chinese military, or Breitbart?   We really have no way of knowing.

One thing is clear, there is a lot of misinformation, paranoia, and conspiracy theories being bandied about.  A man tries to drive a train into a Navy hospital ship to expose the "conspiracy" that the entire virus is a hoax designed to create a totalitarian State.   No doubt, he spends a lot of time online, and wants to investigate pedophile pizza joints, next.

The world is going crazy.  This worries me more than the virus itself.

Meanwhile, we are treated to stories of hospitals overwhelmed with dying patients, who "crash" on a moment's notice.   And indeed, in a few "hot spots" around the country, this is happening.  Whether it will happen elsewhere remains to be seen.  In nearby Jacksonville, Florida, the testing rate has been consistently 7% positive so far - a very small minority of people in that community.  Of course, not many have been tested.   It could explode, or merely peter out.   We won't know for sure until a few weeks have transpired.

Locally here, we have a few dozen cases and maybe four or five fatalities.  Not enough to overwhelm our local hospital system just yet.  But then again, not being a major metropolitan area, the virus didn't get a good stronghold here before isolation and social distancing practices were enabled.  I suspect that we will continue to see cases rise in the big cities before they level off, but in rural areas, maybe less so.  We live further apart here.

Meanwhile, the media is having a field day, which is shameful.  They are putting up sensationalized stories and wallowing in the clickbait revenue.  And people seem to have noticed.  I have had more than one person here on the island tell me they feel the media response has been "shameful" and sensationalized.   Blaring headlines predicting gloom-and-doom, based on little more than rumors or comments from one "expert" with sketchy credentials, or in the case of the funeral urn story, postings on Facebook.  Just for the record, social media is not a "source" for any story - at least not a reliable one.   But that went out the door ages ago.

A recent piece in the local press is a case in point.  A man in Jacksonville had asthma and came down with the Corona Virus - a potentially fatal combination.  He was in bad shape, and they were going to put him on a ventilator.  They told him to call his family, as once the tube was in, he wouldn't be able to talk, and the implication was, well, once they put the tube in, you may never be able to talk again.  So he calls his family and they didn't answer (no doubt thinking it was a robo-call from a timeshare sales company!) and he leaves tearful heartfelt goodbye messages.

A horrific sad story, right?   Well, buried in the last paragraphs is the real truth.  He was never put on a ventilator.  They gave him this anti-malarial drug that the Chinese are using - hydroxychloroquine - and in two days he goes home to recuperate.   Wait..... what?   A happy ending story?   Well, most of these "I have COVID-19" stories do have a happy ending - more than 90% of them, in fact.    To hear the media tell it, it is a worse death sentence than AIDS was back in the 1980's - that mortality rate back then was 100%.

But, where have I heard of that anti-malarial drug before?  Oh, right, that's the one Trump was promoting at a news conference when he was accused of giving people "false hope" about an "unproven" drug.   Seems to have worked for this guy in Jacksonville.   I can only hope that if I come down with this, that the doctor I have doesn't let politics get in the way of trying this drug.  "Oh, that's unproven!  We can't use that!"   Yes, doctors - like anyone with absolute powers - can be dicks sometime.

A recent poll shows that 60% of Americans approve of Trump's handling of this crisis.   That seems hard to believe, quite frankly.  The number seems too high.  But the same poll shows that 55% of Americans disapprove of the way the media is handling this crisis.

That number seems far too low.

Journalism is dead.  Click-bait is king.  Getting factual information from "the news" - whether it is on television, online, or in a printed paper - is an exercise in futility.  It is no wonder people go to conspiracy theory websites or believe whatever they read on Facebook - that the world is flat and that vaccines cause autism.  Wild rumors and conspiracy theories seem about as plausible as what the media presents - particularly when the media publishes wild rumors and conspiracy theories.

In any war, the first casualty is the truth.  But I forgot exactly who we went to war against.  The American people?

UPDATE:  Eventually people will get tired of reading virus stories.  The clickbait revenue will die down, and the media will find something else to obsess about.  Sort of like how the virus itself will peter out.   Eventually.  But sooner than we think.