EDITORIAL: COVID and the Power of Anecdotal Stories, Part One – Pagosa Daily Post

Posted: August 14, 2020 at 11:53 pm


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For a short while, the novel virus identified in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, was referred to in the media as SARS-CoV-2, due to its supposed similarity to the SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus identified in 2003. Between late 2002 and summer of 2003, SARS had generated about 8,000 confirmed cases and almost 800 deaths were credited to the outbreak, indicating a death rate (per confirmed case) of about 10 percent.

After about the middle of April, 2020, the global media apparently stopped making comparisons between SARS and COVID, even though they had similar symptoms and were both caused by a contagious coronavirus transmitted via respiration. I went searching online, yesterday, for comparisons between the SARS virus and the COVID virus, but could not find any relevant articles dated later than about the middle of April. Four months later, in mid-August, public health officials presumably know more about COVID and they ought to be able to make a better comparison. But there seems to be little interest in SARS comparisons at this point.

From what I can tell, COVID is much more contagious than SARS, but also much less deadly.

And speaking of much less deadly, a Daily Post reader sent me a link to an interesting article this week: How Bad is COVID Really? (A Swedish doctors perspective) by Sebastian Rushworth, MD. According to Dr. Rushworths short bio:

I am a practicing physician in Stockholm, Sweden. Every day I get asked questions by my patients about health, diet, exercise, supplements, and medications. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and it is easy to get the wrong advice, and hard to tell what is right and what is wrong if you dont have advanced scientific training. The purpose of this blog is to share what the science actually says.

One might have the impression, from this bio, that Dr. Rushworth is interested in sharing scientifically-valid information, with ordinary people (like you and me) who have been getting misinformation via the Internet, and who have possibly come to non-scientific conclusions. Those of us without advanced scientific training.

Doctor Rushworths story begins like this:

Ok, I want to preface this article by stating that it is entirely anecdotal and based on my experience working as a doctor in the emergency room of one of the big hospitals in Stockholm, Sweden, and of living as a citizen in Sweden. As many people know, Sweden is perhaps the country that has taken the most relaxed attitude of any towards the covid pandemic. Unlike other countries, Sweden never went in to complete lockdown. Non-essential businesses have remained open, people have continued to go to cafs and restaurants, children have remained in school, and very few people have bothered with face masks in public

And it concludes like this:

If only 6000 are dead out of five million infected, that works out to a case fatality rate of 0.12 percent, roughly the same as regular old influenza, which no one is the least bit frightened of, and which we dont shut down our societies for.

In the space between those comments, the good doctors essay proposes that Sweden which chose not to lock down completely during the pandemic simply allowed the people to die, people who (he surmises) would eventually die from COVID anyway even if the economy had been locked down and then reopened later. As a result, Sweden is now basically done with COVID, and on to better things, the doctor suggests.

He predicts that the countries that locked down will eventually see the same death rate as Sweden when they eventually reopen fully but will simply take longer to get there.

Dr. Rushworth is obviously a cool guy, to judge by his winning smile and his tattoo.

If you do a Google search for Sebastian Rushworth, you will find literally pages and pages of results that link to, or quote, his above mentioned article. Among the people and media outlets who believe the US made a huge mistake in shutting down our economy, Sebastian Rushworth MD has become an international hero. But do we know anything about Dr. Rushworth? And is his oft-quoted article built upon what the science actually says?

None of the articles I could find on Google told me much about Dr. Rushworths background. None of them, for example, linked to the good doctors LinkedIn page, where we can learn that he currently works in a rather large hospital north of Stockholm (Danderyds Sjukhus AB), and that he graduated from Karolinska Institute in January 2020, and that hes an Underlkare which translates (via Google) as assistant physician. (A fully accredited doctor in Sweden is often designated as a Lkare.)

In order to find Dr. Rushworths LinkedIn page, I had to do a search for sebastian rushworth underlkare sverige Sverige being the Swedish name for Sweden. (The bio on his own website tells us almost nothing about his background.) But we do know that hes reasonably honest about what the science actually says because he began his essay with this comment:

Ok, I want to preface this article by stating that it is entirely anecdotal

The article is written in English, so we need not translate that sentence. It says, quite clearly, that the essay is entirely anecdotal. That means it is entirely non-scientific. Although Dr. Rushworth would like to share with his readers, and the world, what the science actually says he has given us an essay that is entirely anecdotal. It would appear that thousands, maybe millions, of people around the globe have now read his non-scientific story, and are sharing it.

How many of those readers paid attention to the very first sentence?

I dont work in one of the larger hospitals in the Stockholm area, and I dont have a license from a medical school. But I can write anecdotal essays with the best of them, because anecdotes have nothing to do with science. They have to do with personal experiences in a small town in Colorado, or in an emergency room in Stockholm.

Read Part Two, on Monday

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 based on the belief that community leaders often tell only one side of the story while the public deserves to hear all sides.

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EDITORIAL: COVID and the Power of Anecdotal Stories, Part One - Pagosa Daily Post

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