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A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 4 - Ebola

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

Today, I'm taking a look at his article, How To Keep Ebola Out Of America.

Out of the five articles I read at the start of this project, this is the worst. It is irresponsible fear mongering. Yes, Ebola is a major concern, and is something that needs to be monitored very closely. And Carson made some good points about expanding research and support in Africa. But Carson goes too far in wanting to temporarily exile citizens.

For this reason, I and many others are not comfortable with the idea of bringing infected individuals into our midst when we can readily treat them elsewhere. We can happily receive them back once the infectious danger has passed. When one does a logical benefit-to-risk analysis, it is clear that the worst things that could happen by intentionally bringing this dangerous disease to America are far worse than the best things that could happen.

To claim that U.S. citizens should not be allowed to return to the U.S. for treatment of Ebola is ludicrous. Despite the problems with our health care system discussed in the previous entry of this series, the U.S. still has first class quality of care. And the risk of an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. is miniscule.

Statements like the following are especially irresponsible:

I have no desire to induce panic, but we must realize that some viruses are known to undergo mutations, which make them even more virulent. If the Ebola virus becomes even more pathologic, the ensuing panic and destruction of human life could go far beyond what is currently being acknowledged.

Evolutionary biologists who specialize in this very issue have studied Ebola and determined that it's very unlikely that Ebola will mutate into a "super-pathogen" (N.Y. Times - Scientists Rein In Fears of Ebola, a Virus Whose Mysteries Tend to Invite Speculation). The article paraphrased the biologist, Edward Holmes, on such a possibility.

But it would be a mistake, he warned, to imagine that with a single mutation Ebola might become an airborne pathogen. The change would require many mutations in many genes, and it might be nearly impossible for so many mutations to emerge during a single outbreak. The mutated viruses would survive only if they were superior to the ones spread by bodily fluids.

Holmes was quoted in another portion of the article, making a statement that I very much agree with, and that I think is particularly relevant to articles like this from Carson.

"I've been dismayed by some of the nonsense speculation out there," said Edward Holmes, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. "I understand why people get nervous about this, but as scientists we need to be very careful we don't scaremonger."

Carl Zimmer, the writer of that previously linked article, has another good article comparing Ebola with the flu, that helps put into perspective the dangers of this virus (As Ebola Spreads, So Have Several Fallacies). By way of comparison, the flu kills around 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, while this current Ebola outbreak had only three confirmed cases in the U.S. at the time Carson had written his article, and only one more since. I don't mean to trivialize the disease, but people's fear of it is way out of proportion to the risk it poses.

And just imagine if a plan like Carson's were to be implemented - it could have a chilling effect on volunteer efforts in Africa. How many volunteers would opt not to go to Africa to help if they knew their reward would be refusal back into the U.S.? And what would this decrease in volunteers do to treatment efforts in affected areas?

Carson's statements are especially troubling given that he is an M.D., and that many people in the general public won't pick up on the distinction of him being a surgeon vs. an epidemiologist. He should be more careful when speaking outside of his particular medical field.

This was an extremely irresponsible article on Carson's part. It just enhances the disproportionate paranoia in the public over this disease.

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: How To Keep Ebola Out Of America

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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