The testimony of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rick Bright before senate and house committees reveals an ever-widening divide between the Trump administration and the medical community. On one side, you have a belief system predicated on a political need to push for economic restoration and, on the other, opinions shaped by empirical data that show a significant and very real risk for relaxing mitigation measures too quickly. Is it all a bad case of confirmation bias and backfire effect gone wild?
We fully understand that questioning and challenging the Trump administration is an unpopular position among Republicans, conservatives, and a large portion of the “prepper” community. However, we are not here to be popular. Rather, our mission is to provide our readers and viewer with actionable, unbiased, fact-based information and advice.
We submit to you that we are vertical, rather than horizontal, thinkers. We could care less about ideological-based arguments (Left vs Right) but, rather, choose to focus on an analytical approach that is independent and fact-based. Facts, not beliefs, drive the development of our opinions. We are on a quest for actionable truth—not popularity.
We have complimented the Trump administration when appropriate; however, we will also continue to challenge and critique it whenever and wherever the objective facts warrant it.
I have written extensively on the danger of cognitive biases related to investing (see my article 11 Toxic Investing Biases You Must Guard Against). However, these biases extend to the decision-making process in every aspect of our lives—including health decisions. It is critical that we guard against confirmation bias and the “backfire” effect. This means being willing to (1) challenge all opinions and beliefs and (2) change our views when the facts on the ground warrant it.
In this spirit of honest and transparent discovery, I’d like to take a moment to explore the growing divide between the administration’s position on responding to the Covid-19 crisis and that of the broad medical community.
Trump Administration Favors Aggressive Reopening Efforts to Minimize Economic Fallout
President Trump has rejected the warnings of Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and many other health experts. Regarding Fauci’s testimony before the Senate, he replied that Fauci’s guidance on schools is “not an acceptable answer.”
He insists that schools can reopen sooner rather than later, with no risk.
This is despite rising concerns about multi-system inflammatory syndrome. This coronavirus-related syndrome has surfaced in children (from birth to mid-teens) and is growing at an alarming rate. Doctors are warning that it can happen to any child at any time—as much as 6 weeks after exposure. Cases have now surfaced in 17 states, with the list steadily growing. In fact, the CDC is set to issue a nationwide alert to doctors.
Even colleges are beginning to “price” the risk into their fall plans, with Cal State (the largest university system in the country) cancelling in-person classes for the fall across its entire network of campuses. And Harvard has now cancelled in-person classes for the Fall in a number of its programs. The list of fall cancellations for in-person classes is expected to grow as universities continue to shift to an online approach to dealing with the pandemic.
The troubling thing is that the administration has provided zero factual evidence to support their position. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it is a belief system predicated on a political bias—the need to minimize economic fallout as we approach the fall election.
Medical Experts Favor Caution with Relaxing Mitigation Measures
On the other side of the equation, we find the medical community advising that extreme caution should be practiced when considering and implementing the relaxation of mitigation measures. Rather than a belief, their position represents an opinion—a position based on available facts and information.
Dr. Fauci testified before the Senate that reopening schools and other aspects of society relies on our ability to test. As Covid-19 is highly contagious in the early stages—meaning when individuals are asymptomatic, it is critical that we are able to effectively and efficiently identify infection via testing in order to contact trace and self-quarantine infected individuals before they can further spread this highly-transmissible virus.
We have been highly critical of Dr. Fauci. However, that doesn’t mean that everything he says is wrong or biased by his biases (e.g., vaccine development and gain-of-function virus research). In our examination of his testimony, we find most of his points to be accurate, credible, and reasonable (of course, we always encourage you to perform your own due diligence).
Our ability to carry-out effective and efficient testing is highly dubious at best. In fact, an NYU study just revealed that the Abbott Labs rapid test—the one used by the White House—was found to miss as many as half of positive cases. That’s a major potential problem and one the FDA is now attempting to confirm.
Furthermore, vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright warned the House that our country “faces the darkest winter in modern history if it does not develop a more coordinated federal response.”
Bright has filed a whistleblower complaint, arguing that he was ousted from his position for expressing views in opposition to those of the administration.
This is concerning because the administration has demonstrated a propensity for eliminating experts with opposing views. They have made it clear that group think is highly preferred to open, vibrant debate regarding the facts. If that’s the case, that would not be a desirable method for dealing with one of the worst health and economic crises in the history of our nation—one that could become significantly worse if we make ill-informed decisions.
Additionally, the AP is reporting that the CDC’s reopening guidance was rejected by the administration—as it attempted to throttle-down the relaxing of restrictions. Again, we see the belief system of the administration interfering with its ability to analyze the data and reach a fact-based opinion. The administration clearly does not want to hear or consider anything that limits their need for an aggressive economic restart.
The AP asserts that the CDC proposed specific guidelines and recommendations that were much more detailed than previously known (or disclosed by the administration). For example, it included detailed guidelines for states to use in determining when to allow non-essential travel and when to shut down again for future flare-ups of the virus.
In response to these reports, the administration publicly insisted that those guidelines were not approved by CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield—going so far as to claim the details were provided by a “rogue” employee at the CDC. Again, it responded by deflecting and discrediting, rather than making a solid case for why those guidelines were wrong or not necessary.
However, the AP’s case was backed by facts—including evidence that internal emails revealed Redfield did, in fact, sign-off on the detailed guidelines and, furthermore, repeatedly asked the administration to approve the release beginning more than a month ago.
In addition to a growing body of medical experts, our own analysis of the pandemic data finds that relaxing measures too quickly represents a substantial risk to our nation—both from a medical and economic perspective. If we move too quickly, not only will we incur a steep health cost, but we will also face potential setbacks that will likely harm our economic recovery even more.
Opinions vs Beliefs: Cognitive Biases Exposed
A cognitive bias is a type of error in thinking that occurs when we are processing and interpreting (analyzing) information.
Specifically, a cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from a rational decision-making process. In essence, we construct a “subjective reality” based on how we perceive inputs (data & facts). We then base decisions (actions) on that subjective reality rather than the objective inputs (facts).
There is a long list of confirmation biases—again, we encourage you to read my article 11 Toxic Investing Biases You Must Guard Against to learn more. However, in the case of our response to the coronavirus pandemic, we must be very careful to avoid falling prey to one bias in particular–confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias represents the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs.
Psychology Today states:
“Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs… Once we have formed a [belief], we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.”
“We don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.”
It would appear that the Trump administration is suffering from a really bad case of confirmation bias when it comes to how best to handle our response to the pandemic. This should be concerning to all, given that a bad response—one predicated on a belief or flawed assumption—could be extremely harmful to all of us (both from a health and economic point of view).
Again, the president has a well-established pattern of assembling teams around him that are comprised exclusively of individuals that agree with his belief system. Opposing views are quickly and aggressively squelched. It is a textbook example of self-reinforcing, group think—and fertile ground for confirmation bias.
The Backfire Effect: Doubling-Down on Unsupported Beliefs and Flawed Assumptions
When opinions are challenged with facts, people are inclined to incorporate the new facts and modify their opinions. However, when beliefs are confronted by disparate facts, our beliefs actually become further strengthened. This is known as the backfire effect.
When we formulate a belief, we strive to protect it from harm—we do it instinctively and unconsciously.
Just as confirmation bias shields our beliefs when we are seeking information, the backfire effect defends us when information is presented to us–especially when we are blindsided by it.
Sir Francis Bacon eloquently illustrated this effect when he quipped:
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate”
Our point is not to convince you that the “experts” are 100% right and the Trump administration is completely wrong.
Rather, we simply want to highlight our growing concern about the existence of confirmation bias and the backfire effect within the administration.
There is an expanding wedge between the two—one that is self-evident. How we handle that gap is critical if we are going to respond well to the current crises.
We must not be sheeple, blindly adhering to the party line (any party line). Rather, we must assemble the facts, carefully analyze them, formulate logical and rational opinions, and then chose the best actions (behaviors) to take.
This requires us to be highly cognizant of both our and others susceptibility to confirmation bias and the backfire effect.
I encourage our readers and viewers to be independent thinkers—employing empirically-based critical thinking skills. Always seek the truth and be willing to adjust your opinions when the facts warrant it. As we always note, if you don’t like the facts, the problem isn’t with the facts.
We are facing a massive, highly complex, multi-faceted crisis. There are no simple or easy answers… nor does any one person (or administration) have the silver bullet or end-all, be-all solution. It will require a team effort, with a willingness to compromise and ability to listen to opposing views and evidence.
Covid-19 presents clear and present dangers to our society—both medically and economically. We can’t see or predict the future. However, we can begin to construct a risk profile or probability distribution of all possible outcomes—based on the best facts we have at present.
We must then formulate opinions based on those probabilities—for our nation, states, communities, and, most importantly, our families. It is these fact-based opinions that should guide our actions—not belief systems predicated on subjective constructs.
Based on the distribution curve of probable outcomes, we will all have slightly different opinions and, thus, chosen behaviors. We must always remain respectful of those differences and avoid dismissing out of hand those that diverge from our own (confirmation bias & backfire effect).
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid that both parties are serving up. In the end, they both have the same agenda—wealth, power and control. Think for yourself and do what is in the best interest of your family—based on facts, not group think, infectious biases, or flawed assumptions.