How Science Stuff Works

President Donald Trump made a surprising announcement on Monday that he’s been ingesting hydroxychloroquine for nearly two weeks to ward off the coronavirus. Assuming he is telling the truth, which is by no means a safe assumption, we can only wonder why the hell Trump would do that.
Hydroxychloroquine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as either a prophylaxis or cure against the disease caused by coronavirus, and early scientific results from Veterans Administration hospitals and other hospitals here and abroad have found that covid-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than other patients and have an increased risk of potentially fatal heart problems. Given such empirical evidence, those nosy “fake news” reporters from the “lame stream media” naturally asked why Trump was taking the drug.
I think it’s good,” Trump explained, choosing not to dodge the question by insulting the reporter. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years.”
Trump is correct that hydroxychloroquine has been around for a while, as a provenly effective response to malaria and lupus and other obscure diseases, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more effective against coronavirus than it might be again pancreatic cancer or the common cold or dishpan hands. Those peskey reporters couldn’t resist a follow up question about what evidence Trump had to justify his actions.
“Here we go, are you ready? Here’s my evidence,” Trump defiantly replied, eschewing his usual insults about the reporter. “I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA with, you know, people that aren’t big Trump fans gave it.”
Trump had an uncle who was a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology and according to his unsubstantiated claims all the scientists at the Cwnters for Disease Control were awed by his scientific knowledge, and he claims to be a very stable genius with a very big, ugh, brain. We’ve taken this into consideration, but remain unassured that our president has the the slightest idea about what he’s saying.
Our dad was an outstanding avionics engineer and his dad was an autodidact oil patch foreman who famously figured out how to extinguish an oil well inferno, but you wouldn’t want us anywhere near your airplane or oil patch fire. A friend who’s a former professor at Harvard and currently runs the University of Texas’ genetic engineering program once opined we’re the smartest guy he knew, but that was more due to our witty repartee than anything useful, and we don’t claim to be very stable geniuses or have a very big, uh, brain. We did pass some seventh and eighth grade science courses despite some surprisingly rigorous public school teachers, though, and can confidently spot all sorts of fallacies in the President of the United States’ reasoning.
You’ll all hear all sorts of great things about lots of things from lots of people, but in our desultory experience of life as fairly intelligent people on that doesn’t mean they’re all true. We learned enough in the seventh and eight grades to know that you need control groups an double-blind testing and peer review and replication of methodology and all that other scientific mumbo-jumbo to reach a reasonable conclusion. We also confidently know enough to not reject advice just because it came from people who disagree with us on political or other matters.
And since when is the VA “people that aren’t big Trump fans”? The only reason the VA has distressing data about hydroxychloquine is because it’s been using it with Covid-19 patients, and the most likely reason for that is they were following Trump’s expert if entirely unscientific recommendations. So far they’ve not tried Trump’s suggestions of ingesting household disinfectants to either prevent or cure the coronavirus, nor has Trump, and we’re glad of that.
At this point our best hope is the President of the United States is once again lying his ass off by talking about taking hydroxychloroquine and recommending it for everyone. Why he would do that, though, raises more questions.
One possible explanation is that Trump and his family have a stake in the company that makes hydroxychloroquine. It’s only a small stake, providing only a tiny portion of the wealth Trump makes unsubstantiated claims about owning, and you’d have to be pretty darned cynical to think Trump would endanger the public health for such a relatively mere pittance. When you’re the only president in decades who hasn’t has put his wealth into a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, however, such cynics as ourselves feel free to point it out. Some people are saying, you know.
The more likely explanation is that way back when the coronavirus had only killed a couple thousand Americans Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” that would solve all of his and the country’s problems, and that something in his stubborn nature won’t allow him to back off a claim. Trump demoted the government scientist in charge of finding a coronavirus vaccine after the scientist disputed Trump’s claims about hydroxychloroqine, saying he didn’t know the guy but had “heard bad things,” and even though hydroxychloroquine had faded from the news cycle Trump does not let feuds die.
We’re admittedly laymen about all this, but our best advice is to not stay home and wash your hands and not ingest hydroxychloroguine or household disinfectants and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

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