The headline said: “Scientists Don’t Know if Hydroxychloroquine is Useful—Or Even Safe—for Coronavirus Patients.” While accurate, it is incomplete. No one knows if that drug works on Covid-19 and if it is safe for that purpose. It says something not good about us, however, that a potential medical treatment is now a partisan touchstone. When a right-wing couple was told that a mutual acquaintance had been placed on a ventilator, she immediately asked if Charlie had been given hydroxychloroquine. I am sure that she hoped he would get better, but she was also hoping for vindication for Trump, Laura Ingraham, and other Fox News touters of the drug. Charlie had been given hydroxychloroquine, and she looked a bit devastated that it had not helped. But it is worse that liberal acquaintances seem to hope that the drug is not effective for coronavirus because that would make Trump look (even more) foolish.
The debate over hydroxychloroquine again illustrates how poorly humans generally reason about cause and effect. I look out the window every night before going to bed, stand on one foot, and tap my nose three times. There are no polar bears in my bedroom. Should I conclude that my ritual keeps the beasts at bay? That some doctors have given hydroxychloroquine to coronavirus patients who have then improved is a reason to explore in a rigorous way whether the drug is effective (and safe.) It does not prove it when most patients get better with or without the drug.
I am yet again reminded of the words of Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary: “EFFECT, n. The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other—which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of the dog.”
We all, however, should fervently hope that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment.
Wondering about how the present crisis will conclude, I think of the words of Marina Lewycka in Two Caravans: “When you write a story, you can decide how it ends.”
“Life always comes to a bad end.” Marcel Aymé.
The Covid-19 epidemic has made people think about the many recent popular dystopian novels, movies, and TV shows. That gun sales have increased during the outbreak makes me think of them.
“You know, there’s a distinct lack of female arms dealers, I’ve always thought.” Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends.
In the midst of our present troubles, we should not forget that nature goes on and that it is spring:
“The grass bends
then learns again to stand.”
Tracy K. Smith, “Us and Co.”
“But when I take the blue-stemmed grass in hand,
And pull the grass apart, and speak the word
For every part, I do not understand
More than I understood of grass before.”
Thomas Hornsby Ferril, “Blue-Stemmed Grass”
“And I learn again, in my nerve endings, that information is never the same as knowledge.” Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet.