Should We Trust the Medical Priesthood or Their Machines?
We trust skilled physicians with our lives for good reason. But even the best doctors wouldn’t demand unconditional faith. Anyone who’s had a serious misdiagnosis, or received a damaging treatment, knows the staff of Hermes is no sign of infallibility. For all their victories, medical scientists are only human. I’m willing to forgive that, but that may soon be irrelevant.
In 2012, the founder of Sun Microsystems predicted that artificial intelligence would replace 80% of doctors. Today, AI is proving more effective than human doctors in the fields of radiology, cardiology, oncology, and radiation therapy. With artificial intelligence now biting at their heels, we see an arrogant medical establishment caught between its members’ own egos and the prospect of becoming obsolete.
Even before the dubious COVID response, many of us viewed medical authorities with intense skepticism. A 2016 study suggests that roughly 10% of deaths in America are due to medical mishaps. Authored by Johns Hopkins patient safety experts, the paper puts “medical error” as the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.—just above respiratory illness. In raw numbers, that’s around 250,000 people a year.
If that estimate is accurate, it means that every two years about as many American lives are lost to careless nurses, incompetent physicians, or clinical accidents as were supposedly lost to COVID-19. During the eight-year period the study covered (2000-2008), medical error appears to have killed nearly four times the number of people that the Covidian cult now upholds as martyrs.
Skeptics say the study’s estimates are inflated. Others say the situation is far worse. Good! Every doctor should welcome a second opinion. That’s why the ongoing campaign to silence, shout down, and shame the faithless should have everyone on edge.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how many COVID deaths were actually due to medical practices themselves. To be fair, doctors faced an unknown disease with novel symptoms, so it’s likely that, despite their best efforts, a fair number of patients perished from traumatic therapies. For instance, the invasive intubation process has long been known as a potentially lethal option. The embattled Dr. Peter McCullough maintains that many physicians were unwilling to use Ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, not because of evidence of danger, but in response to political invective.
At the helm of this incoherent response was Dr. Fauci, the “High Priest of Scientism.” As Tucker Carlson said, “Fauci is Jesus for people who don’t believe in God.” There’s one major difference, though. The medical priesthood’s healing powers rely on the fluctuating opinion of public health officials, so you run into all kinds of petty politics. In worst-case scenarios, medical staff make critical decisions based on political considerations, with little concern for open inquiry.
Scientism is an unforgiving religion that ordains experts to decide what’s good or evil. After a year of lockdowns and mask hysteria, half the country is psychologically prepared to segregate the population into “sacred” and “profane”—i.e., vaxxed and not-vaxxed—on the basis of this priesthood’s questionable advice.
Mortal terror makes us vulnerable to suggestion. Because we’re only human, most people are incapable of critical thinking when fear consumes them. After fourteen months of media-driven frenzy—whether pointed at disease-ridden rednecks or evil scientists—it’s past time to calm down and think clearly. At least one Nobel-winning psychologist agrees.
Last month, The Guardian published a revealing interview with Daniel Kahneman. In a rare moment of candor, he questioned the “believe the Science” crowd:
I think there is less difference between religion and other belief systems than we think. We all like to believe we’re in direct contact with truth. I will say that in some respects my belief in science is not very different from the belief other people have in religion. … We shouldn’t think that because we are not religious, that makes us so much cleverer than religious people. The arrogance of scientists is something I think about a lot.
The psychologist gained fame in 2012 after publishing Thinking: Fast and Slow. Condensing decades of research, the book distinguishes our quick, deeply intuitive decision-making process from our slower, more rational faculties. The former is the source of much folly, leading many to wonder if machines could do better.
Take the cognitive bias toward unrealistic optimism, for instance. Life is messy and unpredictable, but according to Kahneman, human nature creates the illusion of control. If I may offer my own illustration, public health officials confronted with a deadly pandemic might believe they could easily save the day using strict lockdowns and sweeping mask mandates, regardless of the psychological damage and social fragmentation.
An associated concept is “the overconfidence effect”: the instinctive sense that we’re capable of sound decisions based on limited information. Imagine Fauci staring into his Zoom self-view and repeating, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” Meanwhile, your lonely kindergartner contemplates suicide.
On the public side, “the framing effect” is another powerful bias. If I tell you that one out of fifty Americans who contract COVID-19 will die by slow suffocation, you’d probably give up your civil rights—and mine—to avoid that fate. Whereas if I tell you the coronavirus has a 98.2% survival rate, you’d be ready to burn your mask on a bonfire.
An excellent JNS column highlights relevant passages from Thinking: Fast and Slow, where Kahneman writes:
Lawmakers and regulators may be overly responsive to the irrational concerns of citizens, both because of political sensitivity and because they are prone to the same cognitive biases. … The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile.
In the final analysis, Kahneman argues that consequential decisions—including those made by public health officials—are subject to the same irrational forces that keep superstitious goobers from stepping on cracks. However, the book does offer the possibility that slower, more rational cognition, enshrined in rigorous institutions, can overcome our natural biases.
Some eight years later, Kahneman has a more misanthropic take. In the Guardian interview, he argues that human fallibility will lead to our replacement by artificial intelligence as the arbiter of truth and falsehood:
Some medical specialties are clearly in danger of being replaced, certainly in terms of diagnosis. And there are rather frightening scenarios when you’re talking about leadership. … When linear people are faced with exponential change, they’re not going to be able to adapt to that very easily. So clearly, something is coming. … And clearly AI is going to win [against human intelligence]. It’s not even close.
Kahneman may be correct here, despite his biases. If human beings can’t slow down and think clearly and then act deliberately, authorities will justify having computers make our decisions for us. Take a moment to think that over.
Joe Allen covers technology for the War Room: Pandemic. His work has appeared in The Federalist, ColdType, This View of Life, The American Spectator, IBCSR: Science on Religion, Disinformation, and elsewhere. Follow him @JOEBOTxyz and www.joebot.xyz.
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