I was talking with a friend yesterday about the pandemic. One of my doctors, who is an experienced specialist in infectious diseases, commented that this is a “wimpy” virus.
My doctor explained that while COVID 19 is highly contagious and has a significant health impact (death, hospitalization), it is containable, IF we follow the precautions. If we maintain social distance, avoid touching our face, avoid prolonged contact with someone who might have been exposed to the virus and wash or use sanitizer frequently; it is likely that we can avoid infection. If this were an airborne virus, most of our masks would be ineffective; a more vigorous virus would linger on surfaces or be able to survive stomach acid.
My friend was horrified that a medical professional would express such an opinion. She immediately responded, “Well in Washington state they have found a mutant form that is more contagious.” An odd comment, given that there will be many mutations, some benign and malignant.
That is when it hit me…what is going on…why people are so emphatic about their positions; why we disagree on what we should do…good old Confirmation Bias is working against us.
One of the most egregious, and most frequently practiced error in judgement and perception is Confirmation Bias. Rather than rationally sorting through evidence, we form opinions and gather data to support those opinions at the same time de-valuing data that doesn’t support them. This process is called Confirmation Bias.
In her opinion, this is a very dangerous virus, and we should remain quarantined until the virus is gone. So she is unconsciously gathering only the data that supports that belief.
I am a numbers person who believes that the news media is biased to “sell fear” and publish worst case scenarios and stories (one article reported that the Iceland study found 60% of the people with COVID 19 had no symptoms, it was .6%). My opinion is that those of us (myself included) who are at the highest risk; need to take responsibility for our own protection. So, I heavily weighted my doctor’s opinion.
Given that there is so much conflicting data, misleading articles, and self-serving opinions; we can quickly find data to confirm any hypothesis.
Confirmation Bias is working overtime in the pandemic.
So when you are talking to someone who is looking at a specific group of data (e.g., economy) and doesn’t agree with the data that you are looking at (e.g., test results)…recognize that it is simply Confirmation Bias.
We will only know in hindsight what the answers are; but in this conflicting set of facts, we are all a little right and a little wrong; but we are all falling into the Confirmation Bias trap.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.