Skeptics with a K: Episode #289


Orthopaedic surgery, Instagram woo, jugular veins, and Liverpool gyms. Plus anti-maskers, sports-casters, and the Poddington Peas. Taking the parachute, it’s Skeptics with a K.

Mixed and edited by Morgan Clarke.

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  1. #1 by Maarten on November 14, 2020 - 03:15

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to this week’s episode yet, but wrt to anti-maskers I’m not really all that surprised. You can imagine, for example, that after reading something like this:
    http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=240649
    you can see how you can easily become convinced that masks are useless, given he provides a lot of anecdotal and even some peer reviewed references. I have no idea myself (although we managed to successfully completely eradicate Covid twice here in New Zealand without any mask mandates whatsoever and I’d say <1% of people ever wore them during our lockdowns), but I personally think scepticism is valid for all unfounded claims (and even now there isn't all that much actual peer-reviewed science surrounding the use of masks to combat CoVid as far as I am aware???).
    In any case, "the mask debate" remains a rabbit hole that leads to all sorts of misinformation, that's for sure.

  2. #2 by Ian on November 17, 2020 - 19:19

    I listened to your podcast today and heard you talking about the lacklustre testing efforts. Your comments about them in contrast to other countries felt a bit grass-is-greener. Let me tell you a little story of my own recent encounters with testing in Poland.

    On Sunday I started having some strange symptoms. A light but persistent feeling of not getting enough oxygen out of the air (it’s still here two days later, varying in intensity), some tiredness, slight headaches. Nothing immediately deadly serious, but still worrisome enough, especially since I live with my 70+ grandmother. If it WERE covid, and I was just lucky to be going through it very smoothly, she could still catch it from me and it’s unlikely she’d be as fortunate. So I tried to get tested.

    The procedure started off by my trying to get in contact with my family physician on Monday, by phone since all medical places like that have been locked down since about April/May. Took me roughly all day of calling and repeatedly hitting a busy line. Then upon talking with the person at the desk I got an appointment for a call from my doctor the next day, with a prediction that I’ll be refused testing. And so I was. I had to go through some serious roadblocks and hoops and delays and was refused. Turns out we do testing here only on people who have present symptoms strong enough that the physician is going to be pretty sure the person is sick from the get-go, which I do not. It was rather annoying to then watch the evening news and see a government person being like “the reason why we don’t test much is people don’t want to get tested” to a question whether we can be sure our infection numbers are actually levelling off if our testing seems kind of sparse, but that’s another story. Ultimately I guess I’ll just have to hope for the best (admittedly with the chances of that looking decent enough, since I don’t have the full blast “yeah it’s covid” suite of symptoms) and be careful around my grandmother and that’s that.

    Anyway, this got me thinking. What IS even the purpose of those tests if you’re going to test people you’re fairly sure are actually sick and outright refuse them to people otherwise? Isn’t this completely missing the point of testing, that you’re supposed to catch sick people you wouldn’t otherwise and therefore let them take precautions to help limit the spread? Yet apparently Poland is in 2nd place in the world (after Mexico) for positive test rates, which to me seems to confirm it’s systematically and deliberately not doing that. This reeks of cargo cultism. I can easily see the reasoning being applied by the higher ups who have heard that testing is important for fighting the disease but then haven’t actually spared a thought as to why. It would further follow for them that since tests are so important for finding people with covid, any negative test is a test which hasn’t actually done so, so tests should be limited as to not “waste” them and only do the test when we’re already pretty sure the person has COVID, minimising our “wasted” negative tests? I don’t know, it seems possible that’s how that state of affairs came about, and either way the consequence seems to be that there’d be lots and lots of people who go undiagnosed and spread the disease.

    So hey, two things at the bottom line.
    1. The response you’re getting there isn’t getting those measures out fast, but it could be much worse and you don’t even have to look too far for that
    2. Cargo cult testing and pandemic responses in general based on This Is The Thing To Do rather than any actual practical analysis of what the measure would accomplish. Maybe there’s some skeptical topic to talk about to be mined there?

  3. #3 by Maarten on November 18, 2020 - 20:10

    To follow up my previous comment, what I think is a proper scientific analysis of the efficacy of masks specifically for the prevention of getting CoVid has just been published (18 Nov 2020). I’m not sure how to read these type of articles (sample sizes, confidence intervals etc) and whether the findings are sufficient to draw definitive conclusions.
    https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-6817

(will not be published)