One of the biggest mysteries of 2020 for me is why there seem to be a minority of people such as myself who disagree with many of the prevailing beliefs about Covid-19. I find myself frequently at odds with the beliefs of my friends and family. To them it sounds like I have fallen victim to some fake alternative news source – it sometimes sounds like that to me when I hear myself speak. Because of my background in philosophy and the theory of logic and reasoning, I am extremely intrigued by what is happening to public information and public discussion on topics like Covid-19 – and I think a major factor is the behaviour of the mainstream media.
To try to understand this I want to look at one specific example to do with Ivermectin – which according to a number of highly respected medical experts is showing great promise as a treatment for Covid-19 (see  and  at end of article), yet most people (regardless of where you are in the world) simply aren’t hearing about Ivermectin, or if they do they are being told it is fake news and dangerous misinformation – and the focus of the mainstream media is on “debunking” this “misinformation”.
Analysis of a flawed “fact-check” article
Currently in the New Zealand Herald web site the most recent article on Covid and Ivermectin is titled “Fake news corrected: AP fact check looks at what didn’t happen this week” (Dec 12th) which begins “A look at false and misleading claims…” and contains a short section “No evidence ivermectin is a miracle drug against Covid-19” contributed by New York writer Beatrice Dupuy . After looking closely at this article my conclusion is that it is biased, vague, and full of flawed reasoning – with the apparent intention of discrediting Ivermectin and silencing conversation.
The article begins as follows:
“CLAIM: The antiparasitic drug ivermectin “has a miraculous effectiveness that obliterates” the transmission of Covid-19 and will prevent people from getting sick.
THE FACTS: …”
Although no source is cited for this claim, I think it is close enough to what advocates for Ivermectin are saying so I won’t take issue with this. However the overall structure here is clearly designed from the outset to convince us that the claim is false. People don’t say “The facts:” when they are about to provide evidence which supports the claim. The writer has set out the structure of the article as if we can all agree that the claim is false, and the only task now left for the reader is to learn why the claim is false. This reminds me of a TV programme I once watched about aliens on the moon. It showed a photo of something on the surface which looked vaguely like a gun turret and then the narrator said something like “The question is, why would aliens place a gun turret on the moon?”. Obviously the question that should really be asked is “Is it a gun turret?” – but the trick here is to skip over that question and assume we all agree it is a gun turret. This is so obviously a cheap psychological trick. The writer of this article is doing the same.
The writer then begins her laying out of the “the facts” by saying that at a recent Senate hearing a group of doctors “touted” alternative Covid-19 treatments – the use of the word “touted” here is obviously designed to discredit. See link  at the end of this article for an excerpt from the hearing concerned.
Next the writer makes the following claim:
“Medical experts have cautioned against using either of those drugs to treat Covid-19.”
I don’t doubt that at some point in time some medical expert expressed this view. But no source is provided and the claim is extremely vague. Who exactly said this? When did they say this? What exactly did they say? Would they still say the same today? There isn’t really any reason to grant this claim much credence at all – but again it is designed to persuade us. The next claim the writer makes is this:
“Studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine has no benefit against the coronavirus and can have serious side effects.”
First of all – this article is supposed to be about Ivermectin, so what has hydroxychloroquine got to do with it? The answer is nothing – since Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are different drugs and no-one has suggested they be used together. In fact this little slip-up by the author betrays her bias – or demonstrates faulty reasoning – take your pick. Even if this claim was relevant to Ivermectin, no source is provided and the claim is very vague. What studies were these? What exactly did they show? Are there other studies that gave a different result? (actually yes there are and I talk about some of these here and here). Like the previous claim – this claim is purely designed to discredit. The writer then says this:
“There is no evidence ivermectin has been proven a safe or effective treatment against Covid-19.”
Again no source is referenced. In argument theory this type of sentence is what is called a negative existential claim and I have written here about the danger of making such claims. For this claim to be true the writer or someone else would have had to conduct an exhaustive search of every possible thing that would constitute evidence – and even if they found none they could still not be sure none existed. The problem is that all that is needed to prove such a claim false is one counter-example, and in fact there do appear to be many counter-examples which the writer would have found had she looked (see  and  for some examples).
The writer then says “Yet Dr Pierre Kory, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Aurora St Luke’s Medical Centre in Milwaukee, described ivermectin as a “wonder drug” with immensely powerful antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents at the hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee”. One significant word here is “Yet” – the writer is telling us that what Dr. Pierre Kory said must be false since it contradicts the “facts” the writer has just given us. Then the writer says:
“Clips of Kory’s comments on ivermectin during the hearing were shared widely on social media, one clip receiving more than 1 million views on YouTube”
This is interesting, but how is it relevant? Does it make Dr. Kory’s claims true? Does it make them false? Does popularity on YouTube make a claim false? The writer then says this:
“Ivermectin is approved in the US in tablet form to treat parasitic worms as well as a topical solution to treat external parasites. The drug is also available for animals.”
Interesting, and true as far as I am aware. The writer could have also mentioned that the discoverers of Ivermectin won a Nobel prize, that it has been in use for 40 years, is on the WHO’s list of essential medicines, and is used safely by 3.7 billion people world-wide . The writer then says this:
“The US Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have said the drug is not approved for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19. According to the FDA, side effects for the drug include skin rash, nausea and vomiting.”
Firstly, let’s deal with the second sentence. What the FDA actually say is that these are some of the side effects “which may be associated with ivermectin” . Secondly, most medicines have side-effects and the existence of side-effects do not disqualify a medicine from approval. Finally, the risk of death seems to me to be quite a bit worse than skin rash, nausea and vomiting, even if those side effects always occur (which according to the FDA they don’t).
However the first sentence about the FDA is the core of the writer’s effort to discredit Ivermectin, but in fact is simply a statement of the current position of the FDA. Furthermore, what the FDA actually say is that Ivermectin’s “benefits and safety for these purposes have not been established” . The real story here – which the writer seems uninterested in – is that the experts who testified at the senate hearing believe that the benefits and safety of Ivermectin have been established and they want the authorities such as NIH and FDA to urgently review the evidence that exists. Instead, the writer follows her misleading comments about the FDA with the following:
“Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, said most of the research around ivermectin at the moment is made up of anecdotes and studies that are not the gold standard in terms of how to use ivermectin. “We need to get much more data before we can say this is a definitive treatment,” he said. “We would like to see more data before I recommend it to my patients.””
The question here is this. Why should what Dr Amesh Adalja apparently says be given more credence than the experts who testified at the Senate Hearing? Furthermore, what Dr Adalja says doesn’t actually make the central claim false.
At this point, the writer decides it is time to provide details of studies:
“In June, Australian researchers published the findings of a study that found ivermectin inhibited the replication of Sars-CoV-2 in a laboratory setting, which is not the same as testing the drug on humans or animals.”
In terms of the actual evidence of efficacy and safety, there are numerous more recent and more compelling items of evidence which the writer could have given as examples. To be fair to the author – because of the influence of articles like hers – the evidence in favour of Ivermectin is more difficult to find than it should be, but it isn’t impossible to find if you are prepared to make the effort. Sky News Australia managed to do that when they reported on the findings of world-renowned Professor Thomas Borody back in August .
The remainder of the article is focused on apparent concerns that people would self-medicate and would deplete supplies of the medicine putting those who needed it for non-Covid conditions at risk. These are certainly topics worth consideration, but surely the overriding question here is whether Ivermectin is a treatment that could significantly reduce hospitalisation and save many lives.
What is wrong here?
What is wrong here? That is the sixty-four thousand dollar question – as they saying goes.
For one thing, the writer obviously has an agenda to discredit Ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19. I think it is clear from reading this article that Dupuy’s mind was made up before she wrote the first word. The question is why. I think the immediate cause is that Dupuy is immersed in a narrative that treatments like Ivermectin are fake news and misinformation, but I think the ultimate causes are many and complex and here I suggest some possibilities.
A secondary question is why the NZ Herald chose to publish this article dismissing Ivermectin, rather than an article about the research that has been done on Ivermectin. Here again I think the answer is that the staff at the NZ Herald are all immersed in the same narrative as Dupuy. Furthermore, somehow we have gotten to the point where there is a high price to be paid by either individuals or organisations for stepping outside of the mainstream narrative – and few are brave enough to do that.
One question we might ask is why more members of the public don’t see through articles like the one I have analysed here. For one thing, the article pulls out all the stops when it comes to devious tricks of persuasion, and I think most people can be forgiven for succumbing to those tactics because most people don’t expect journalists in well respected publications to be trying to mislead them. I’ve no doubt that Dupuy writes well and is intelligent, but unfortunately when such a person chooses to suspend their objectivity and critical thinking skills they may end up using their talents in support of a false narrative. The problem is made much worse because this kind of article is the only kind of article being seen by many people – including the members of the mainstream media themselves. If more objective articles existed, articles like this would not even make it to print.
We are told many people are dying or are at risk of dying, and that hospitals are at extreme risk of being overwhelmed – if these claims are true then authorities should be taking potential treatments seriously. If new vaccines have been developed with such speed, why isn’t the potential re-purposing of existing drugs like Ivermectin being given equal urgency? We should all be very concerned that the mainstream media seem to be discrediting and silencing discussion about potential treatments – treatments that could save countless lives and reduce the economic damage and other harms being done by lockdown measures.
 December 4th. FLCCC News Conference on Dec. 4 – Power Point Presentation (covid19criticalcare.com) and FLCCC Alliance – Call-for-Action News Release/Press Conference Follow-Up (covid19criticalcare.com)
 December 8th. Pierre Kory, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at St. Luke’s Aurora Medical Center, delivers passionate testimony during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Early Outpatient Treatment: An Essential Part of a COVID-19 Solution, Part II.” https://youtu.be/Tq8SXOBy-4w
 December 12th, NZ Herald. Fake news corrected: AP fact check looks at what didn’t happen this week – NZ Herald
 FAQ: COVID-19 and Ivermectin Intended for Animals | FDA. The heading on this FDA page is misleading because the page is not just about Ivermectin in animals – it also discusses approved use of Ivermectin in humans.
 August 9th. Sky News Australia. Professor Thomas Borody on effectiveness of Ivermectin treatment – he says “curative within 6-8 days”, but met with “very negative reaction” from Australian federal government. https://youtu.be/93jI7Gl3yic