Be wary of overly optimistic news because over-optimism causes pessimism, also with vaccines

Be wary of overly optimistic news because over-optimism causes pessimism, also with vaccines

Regarding the percentages that are presented these days on the effectiveness of some vaccines in development to combat the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 , many scientists and bioethicists are denouncing the treatment of information carried out by the media, which in addition to biased, incomplete and poorly explained, it is based only on press releases, and not on studies.

Others argue that people are hungry for upbeat news. However, if we mix unwarranted optimism with credulity, then the result can create an emotional roller coaster (of optimism surges followed by pessimism dips because the promised results have not arrived) that will eventually add to pessimism .

Stockdale paradox

When Minister Salvador Illa suggested that perhaps at Christmas we were going to receive the gift of the COVID vaccine , he was probably trying to convey hope to the Spanish (let’s hope that’s it, and not a statement that is the result of ignorance). However, since the vaccine will not arrive on that time, and may not even next year, offering such hopes that it will soon be dashed can lead to harmful side effects .

This is what the Stockdale Paradox describes – a concept popularized by writer Jim Collins in his book, Companies That Excel, with reference to Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking American prisoner of the Vietnam War. During his captivity, Stockdale found out what kind of prisoners died the most: Those who kept repeating: "Don’t worry, we’ll get out of here, courage, we’ll be home by Christmas."

Then Christmas came and the forecast was not fulfilled. But then his forecast jumped to another date. And so on until the prisoner surrendered .

Keeping a skeptical thought is not an easy task. In fact, in general, it is so unnatural and counterintuitive that it is reminiscent of the Sisyphus myth : we neglect ourselves, we have to start over. But it is something that we must do with the news of this type that the press publishes, based on simple notes from pharmaceutical companies. But it is not only the way to avoid the Stockdale paradox, but also to avoid self-deception.

Thanks to different surveys, today we know how ignorant the general population is in matters of science. Today, nearly half of America’s adults believe in astrology, in angels and demons, and that we are being watched by aliens arriving in UFOs who frequently abduct human beings.


This happens because our brain is not very efficient when it comes to analyzing information and tends to bias, to self-deception, to fill gaps of ignorance with myths and to establish causality where there is only correlation, as Francis Bacon already denounced in his Novum Organum :

All superstition is the same whether it is about astrology, dreams, omens, retributive judgment, or the like, in all deceived believers they observe events that are fulfilled, but they refuse to see their failures, although they are much more common.

If one of the most important filters to determine if something is false or true, the press, does not work correctly, we are lost. Let’s not allow it. Let’s be skeptical, realistic, optirrealistic , and if the media does not do it, let’s look for the information in better sources, always remembering the words of Carl Sagan and a kind of eleventh commandment. A vaccine as necessary as that of the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 :