COVID-19: serological tests, snake-oil, eggheads in Italy

Pure irrationality, same irrationality that over the years led desperate people to believe in the “Di Bella method” or in the Stamina method to cure cancer or even before that in the “Filipino healers” and other forms of medical superstition spreads in the times of COVID-19.

“Serological tests” for the self-diagnosis of the presence of antibodies specific for the Coronavirus are now on sale. Still, notwithstanding their doubtful effectiveness, they have great commercial success. These tests do not claim explicitly to have a 100% guarantee of actually identify the presence of COVID-19 and make clear that only a physician should administer it. But as they are freely available online, they “cash in” the public hysteria of being able to know “if they have taken the virus”.

Against all logic, therefore, parts of the Italian institutions – the Regions – and business  for these tests to become the tool to decide who can return to work and newspaper articles stigmatize the silence of “professors” declaring verbatim that

there’s no point in continuing to distrust this screening.

Despite (to the extent that bureaucratese can enjoy this attribute) the “clarity” of the Ministry of Health guidance pointing out the lack of reliability of these tests, fear overwhelms rationality, and the belief of “knowing better” drives people to buy these kits against all evidence of their effectiveness and usefulness.

On the other hand, though, why these “eggheads” should know better about these things?

“I xx” (and instead of “xx” put commentators, journalists, professional talk-show guests, know-it-all philosophers, “influencers” and so on) am the cognoscenti, not them!”

Yeah, what do these above mentioned “talking heads” (with all due respect to David Byrne and his band) should know that scientists don’t?

Nothing, of course, but this doesn’t prevent “experts-at-large” (part Gorgias, part Don Ferrante) from stubbornly stating opinions that are the result of fear and incompetence (in the sense of “having no competence on a specific topic) instead of scientifically validated information. Or – worse – to belittle the value of scientific information in the name of “common opinion”.

The irresistible force of fear amplified by that of ignorance produces unstoppable reactions, unleashing, as in a stampede, a mad rush in search of the new Snake Oil.

Not bad if the miracle product is used to “heal” joint pain, but promoting its validity on a viral infection has very serious consequences for oneself and for others.

Its ineffectiveness, its improper use, or the inability to understand the meaning of the results may lead to violating the containment measures “because I’m immune” or “because I don’t have the virus”. Still, when one of these “smart people” infect others or is infected because of his recklessness, it is of poor value to complain: “Hell! I took the f* test!”

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