Let’s start with one fact: There is no preventive cure or vaccine for the coronavirus yet.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the world, scientists and medical professionals are hard at work to find a vaccine. Three vaccines are in clinical trials but it could be a while before anything is available to the general public.
Still, over the past few weeks, thousands of people across the world have been buying hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a malaria drug, to protect themselves from the respiratory illness.
There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine—also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—can either cure or prevent COVID-19, but demand has still surged.
Some of the hype stemmed from US President Donald Trump’s aggressive advocacy of the drug. “It is a very strong, powerful medicine. It does not kill people. We have some very good results and some very good tests,” he told reporters. “What really do we have to lose?”
Trump requested Indian authorities to export hydroxychloroquine to the US after India banned all exports of the drug. India partially lifted the export ban after the US President’s request.
But why is hydroxychloroquine suddenly considered a coronavirus wonder drug?
The story of hydroxychloroquine lies in the maze of misinformation, uncertainty, and fake news surrounding us.
The debate about the drug is clearly based on problematic logic. In other words, it’s a logical fallacy or an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.
There are many types of logical fallacies that can be found in our reasoning. For now, we’ll focus on one called an appeal to ignorance.
An appeal to ignorance is a fallacy based on the assumption that a statement must be true if it cannot be proven to be false or vice versa. For example, someone saying that ghosts or other paranormal creatures exist because it is impossible to prove otherwise.
So, HCQ is seen as a cure for the coronavirus quite simply because there is no evidence against it either. People have been popping the malaria drug because there’s no proof it doesn’t work.
(To learn about the other fallacies, you can check out Harappa’s Thinking Critically course.)
The root of this story lies in a study in France in March which described the effects of using HCQ on coronavirus patients. A controversial French doctor, Didier Raoult, released a study that showed the drug was effective in combating the disease.
His study was widely criticized, but the drug still found itself on Trump’s daily press conferences with the US president hailing it as a “gamechanger” in the fight against the coronavirus.
All this happened even as Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease doctor and one of Trump’s advisors, warned against considering it a cure for the coronavirus.
This is where thinking critically becomes important. While it is still too early to dismiss the effectiveness of HCQ in the treatment of coronavirus, it is also too early to consider it as a cure based on one flawed clinical study.
Appealing to ignorance can in this instance prove to be far more deadly. Taking HCQ without proper consultation can have adverse health issues; in some cases, even heart attacks leading to death.
Additionally, lupus or arthritis patients who need the drug are finding it incredibly hard to find it because of the rate at which hydroxychloroquine is flying off the shelves.
So, the bottom line is: think critically. Because, if not checked in time, ignorance, in this case, will certainly not be considered bliss.
Shubhayan is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum Team. A graduate of the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Shubhayan enjoys laughing at his own jokes and playing the bass guitar.
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