Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola reveals how we turn off our brains and rely on others for common sense…

Ebola, if not good for anything else, is good for demonstrating how our brains and common sense are turned off when faced with a new and stressful situation.

This self-neutering mental capacity is caused by two things:

  1. Predisposition toward the “normalcy bias”:  The automatic assumption that Ebola is nothing new and precautions should be just like for any other transmissible illness.  The thinking:  “We’ve done this before; what can possibly go wrong?”
  2. Predisposition to believe that our personal decisions of “what to do” in particular situations should be deferred to others at a higher or “more informed level” and therefore we are relieved from applying our own common sense.

This mindlessness has been the reason for a number of failures in the diagnosis and precautions involving Ebola in the US:

  • The turning away and sending home the first Ebola victim in the US at the Dallas hospital by nursing staff.
  • Belief that “standard” personal protection items used by hospital staff is adequate to protect from Ebola.
  • The second nurse relying on CDC personnel for their opinion on her proposed trip to Ohio while she had a low grade fever instead of using her own training and common sense.
  • The CDC’s response to the second nurse in using their standard protocol for determining what level of fever allowed then to ignore the travel threat instead of considering all new data associated with Ebola.
  • NBC’s medical “expert” Dr. Nancy Snyderman ignoring a voluntary quarantine order and running out to get fast food despite the fact that she accompanied the camera man who has Ebola.
  • CDC’s belief that all hospitals can somehow know and effectively practice appropriate Ebola protocol by osmosis rather than through weeks of rigorous hands-on training.
  • The off-handed determination by CDC that the man from Nigeria who vomited and died on the flight into JFK did not have Ebola.  See CDC declares dead, vomiting man on plane at JFK from Nigeria “Ebola Free”
  • Soldiers Get Just 4 Hours of Virus Training...
  • UN admits botching response to Ebola outbreak…
  • Our government refusing to close our borders and flights to those coming in from Ebola-stricken nations because we might harm the economies of those nations or retard effective aid to those nations when we have a potential breakout in our own nation.

Here is a relevant comment by someone worth listening to:

Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, predicted last week that the Ebola virus will not be contained in West Africa, and if infected people flee those countries and spread the disease to Central and South America, it could cause “mass migration into the United States” of those seeking treatment.

“If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly said in remarks to the National Defense University on Tuesday. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.

This is a real possibility ignored by the CDC and the Obama administration.

Will we invoke our normalcy bias to ignore or mock these types of real possibilities? 

Bloomberg posted an article that mocked Ebola’s “worst case scenario” and sugar-coated the outcome in the United States.  I posted the following comment.

Wow! I'd get really FAT from that sugar-coating. Given the facts, the spread, and human nature to date, here is what to expect by January:

* Spread to several additional countries in Africa
* Close to 100,000 total cases and over 50,000 total deaths and accelerating
* Cases in several countries in Europe and the Middle East
* Outbreak in Mexico, Central and South America
* Increased influx, aka "torrent" of scared and potentially infected refugees crossing our border from Mexico
* Over 100 cases in the US and growing

Within a few months we will see reductions in travel, forced and voluntary, people avoiding events and activities involving large groups of people, some sectors of the economy heavily impacted: air travel, theaters, sports venues. School attendance will decline.

Until our population sees credible signs of rhetoric matching reality, fears and concerns will outpace what we are being told, whether what we are told is true or not. Circular reasoning, yes. But that is the way it works.

While most comments basically agreed with my assessment, one did not and questioned why I would comment if I was not an epidemiologist. 

Here is my reply:

My basis for these opinions are as follows: 

Just processing recent trends and behaviors, and using common sense and logic - such as is currently absent from the CDC, some hospitals, our president, and others that look to 'big daddy' for direction rather than using their head as if we are mindless minions. It appears that common sense may be more valuable than an epidemiology degree at the moment. Given the errors to date and the unbridled arrogance of our government and many professionals, we have a poor start in the fight and not likely to learn much going forward.

And your basis for criticism is what?

Both the normalcy bias and deferring our use of common sense to those who should know better but don’t is the root of our Ebola angst in the US.

Hospitals and the CDC

These are just a few examples of how “big government” has discouraged us from thinking for ourselves and using common sense.

Related:  “If You Want to Live, Ignore the CDC”  Article by a renowned doctor.

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