In response to The New York Times Downplays Promising COVID-19 Development
As Alexandra notes, the New York Times rushed with unseemly relish to pour cold water on the possibility of using anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. Bloomberg News, however, has to win some sort of award for a piece blaring the alarmist headline “Virus Drug Touted by Trump, Musk Can Kill With Just Two Gram Dose”:
The drug touted by the U.S. President Donald Trump as a possible line of treatment against the coronavirus comes with severe warnings in China and can kill in dosages as little as two grams. China . . . recommended the decades-old malaria drug chloroquine to treat infected patients in guidelines issued in February after seeing encouraging results in clinical trials. But within days, it cautioned doctors and health officials about the drug’s lethal side effects and rolled back its usage. This came after local media reported that a Wuhan Institute of Virology study found that the drug can kill an adult just dosed at twice the daily amount recommended for treatment, which is one gram.
Well, yes, almost any medicine — especially one strong enough to fight an infectious disease — can also harm or even kill you from an overdose. That’s where the word “overdose” comes from. We’ve known since Paracelsus, the 16th-century father of toxicology, that “the dose makes the poison.” Yes, it’s an important caution to prescribing physicians to note that this is a drug whose potentially lethal dose is only twice the recommended daily treatment. But I’m guessing that most of the president’s Twitter followers do not have big stocks of chloroquine sitting on their shelves.
The inability to grasp the concept of dosages is endemic in reporting by journalists or commentary by pundits or politicians on any topic touching on science. What’s a carcinogen? Anything that can cause cancer in a sufficiently large dose. But lots of things can mess up your system in a sufficiently large dose. Enough water can kill you. Indeed, cancer itself is nothing more than an internal overdose of biological processes necessary to life. The same is true of a number of immune-system diseases. Climate-science reporting is full of this fallacy, too: The assumption that “enough carbon released into the atmosphere will change the climate” means “any carbon released into the atmosphere will change the climate.” In fact, there is all the difference in the world between pouring one bucket of water into the ocean, and pouring the ocean into one bucket of water.
Next time, be careful how much science reporting you consume. Too much can damage your brain.