Previous: Savoring: The Sunset Series Returns
Next: I L*** Hank



View count:5,760
Last sync:2021-07-30 20:00
Science is a human-created process that is undergoing constant revision and it is the best tool we have for uncovering truth. It's not a bunch of facts, it's not an ideology. It's imperfect and influenced by bias, but it is also very good at decreasing the affects of bias.

Forcing science to stand up next to systems that use entirely different rules is super frustrating, and I have been very disheartened by how effective that has been for getting people to abandon expertise for some guy who has opinions.

But I am also frustrated by people who treat science like it's an ideology...who take whatever is the current consensus and attack people who want to add to it or challenge it as if they are anti-science or a political opponent.

The nice thing is that we do have lots of randomized controlled trials for several different vaccines so, like, let's definitely do that. But we also need to keep investigating anti-virals and treatments for sick people because, like, we're not out of the woods yet...

A good general article to read if you want to know more:

Latest and most robust analysis shows ivermectin is not a good COVID Treatment:
(this only looked at randomized controlled trials, which compare people in the same situation who got either a drug or a placebo and no one knew who got what.)

Observational Studies find Promising Results:
(observational studies give people the experimental treatment to see how they do, but they don't test that against a placebo, just against the general background, which makes them much less reliable.)

Ivermectin Study Used Faulty Data:

Big New Ivermectin Trial:

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
Learn more about our project to help Partners in Health radically reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone:
If you're able to donate $2,000 or more to this effort, please join our matching fund:
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Book club:
Good Morning, John.

So I'm a bit of a science guy, which I love. I love the job. I love the science. I love learning new things about the world. But it is entirely possible to have too much faith in the existing body of scientifically supported knowledge. Like, if you take all that information and you treat it as gospel, guess what? That is deeply unscientific.

It's easy to forget that we don't know most things. Like, the things that we do know, we have a pretty good idea. Now there are some of those things that we do know that might turn out to be a little bit wrong or all the way wrong; it's pretty unlikely. But mostly what we have is stuff that we don't know about at all.

Many times in history, people have had diseases that doctors were like "You don't have a disease." And then it turned out they just didn't know about that disease. That has happening in doctors' offices right now, like that's a limitation that we have.

But I want to talk about a thing that bugs me. When faced with the reality of the fallibility of scientific knowledge, a lot of people will go looking for alternatives. And those alternatives might be valuable, but they exist outside of the constraints of science. And so they can, and often do, kind of disclaim stuff and they tend to claim things that kind of vibe with people's perspectives and emotions, rather than vibing with reality.

We need to be on the lookout for when different sets of rules are being applied to different systems. In our guts, we're going to be much more frustrated when science gets something wrong, because our society does, rightfully, herald its accuracy and also because of that, science has a lot of power in our society.

When alternatives are wrong, though, it's a little bit like when AFC Wimbleton loses. It's like, "Well yeah, that happens." I'm sorry.

But in order to be scientifically supported, information has to exist inside of some really specific and pretty harsh constraints. Whereas alternatives can kind of claim whatever. That doesn't mean that they're always wrong. It just means that they are much more likely to be wrong. That's what the constraints of science do—they make information much more likely to be true.

So let's do an example of the constraints of science. Ivermectin is not an effective treatment for COVID. But this time next year, it might be that ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID.

But how could the same drug be both effective and not effective depending on the year? Well the most recent meta-analysis of ivermectin shows that when you look at randomized controlled trials only, most of them show no effect, some show positive effects, some show negative effects.

But there's also a really big, well designed study being done right now in England that will give us a lot more good data, and it's a good idea to run that study because several observational trials that were not randomized or placebo-controlled have shown strong positive effects. So the FDA can't suggest that doctors prescribe ivermectin for COVID because within the constraints of science, there is no evidence that it works.

On the other hand, anyone in the world can get on cable news and shout that the FDA is holding ivermectin back from patients who are needlessly suffering, because they are not operating under the same constraints. Being wrong on cable news isn't illegal. In fact, it appears to be encouraged.

Now, there are also people who will hear the FDA say "Ivermectin is not an effective treatment for COVID," and they will turn that into "Ivermectin is bad and dangerous and you want to give my grandma horse de-wormer."

And that is not a problem of over-trusting science; that is a problem of misunderstanding science. This is one of the billions of things that we don't know yet, but we are using science to find out. So let's do the research, let's do properly, let's do it carefully, and in the meantime, let's try and keep people from taking their dog's heart worm medication.

If we don't do this methodically, we might end up trusting data that is later proven to be false, as happened with the most widely publicized papers showing ivermectin's efficacy, which was recently retracted.

So yes, you can put too much faith in science. It is not always right, and if we all thought it was always right, it would stop progressing, because science is not a set of facts. It's not an ideology. It is just a system that humans created that is really really good at uncovering truth.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.