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Guglielmo Trovato

How cognitive biases have negative effects on precision medicine, bioinformatics & computer literacy in scientific and healthcare issues.

Social, economic and political implications. An overview from the previous EMA Workshops, introduced by its Director, Prof. Guglielmo Trovato, MD. The University of Catania, Italy. (2016-2020)

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The diffusion of an effective literacy and of robust expertise in computational life and medical sciences, namely in bioinformatics and computational biostatistics, is one of the most unmet need in European Academic teaching. Its value is even greater in industries, any organization committed for health or biological-pharmacological services and in Public health.

Digital knowledge and skills should integrate and overlap practical skills and clinical reasoning and actions. They must not counteract any of them in the naïve or ambitious aims and claims of being advancements or substitutes of the actual contact, not only relationship, between patients and health professionals. This is a relevant concern of patients and medical doctors.

           The wider use of digital technologies is contributing to the efficiency of healthcare delivery also in limited resources subsets. Actually, affordable and reliable information and communication are a valuable help for addressing the medical problems and challenges faced by people in health and disease, in public health and in the base of primary care, i.e. family and community medicine.

           Hardware and software solutions and services, including telemedicine, web-based analysis, email, mobile phones and applications, text messages, wearable devices, and clinic or remote monitoring sensors concur to the development of interconnected health systems.

           The use of computational technologies, smart devices, computational analysis techniques, and communication media to aid healthcare professionals and their clients manage illnesses and health risks, as well as promote health and wellbeing are facets of this multi-disciplinary scenario. The involvement and commitment of different stakeholders, including clinicians, researchers and scientists, engineers, industry and policy makers addressing public health, health economics and data management choices are the vital components of this process. Also gender and racial inequalities, including domestic violence, are topics under active development by digital health strategies.

The plague of fake-news

The protagonists who develop and disseminate fake news have different motivations, but they rely on psychological mechanisms, cognitive biases, whereby the interlocutors, single or group, are reached in conversations or through the media.

Our purpose is to define and recognize the mechanisms of acceptance, dissemination and amplification of fake news in the field of health and disease between doctors and in the general population. “Motivated reasoning,” the idea that we are motivated to believe whatever confirms our opinions, and “naïve realism,” the tendency to believe that our perception of reality is the only accurate view, and that people who disagree with us are necessarily uninformed, irrational. Lastly, biased are the main topics that will be discussed and why somebody is quick to label any report that challenges their worldview as fake.

This profile, endemic within policy and funding decisors, is actively wasting human beings, ideas, expertise and honesty. Such premise for the universal dissemination of fake news, even unintentional, spreads discriminatory messages and commands.

Impostors may drive pseudo-science.

“Imposter fear” at any career stage is a hot point today. The impostor is a person who practices deception under an assumed character, identity, claims, credits or name is, of course, a common, external, hostile and recurrent matter of concern for anybody. The imposter fear is, differently, a feeling of honest persons that are pushed to doubt their accomplishments or talents and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as "fraud" maker. This would delineate them not different from the actual impostors. The difference is that actual impostors are the true triggering and maintaining factors of such distress and social uncertainty, and may sometimes be the bullying person in the workplace. Bullying is reasonably one of the elements that triggers and maintain imposter fear. This situation is a barrier to a free development of innovation and research by independent thinking, and trigger the burnout of health professionals.

The overwhelming invasiveness of anti-scientific actions find strength also in the Dunning–Kruger effect. This is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability and, reciprocally, to acknowledge expertise and skills of other persons. This is also the premise for the universal dissemination of fake news, even unintentional, but also of discriminatory messages and commands. The consequences of the phenomenon of bullying in the quality of health care, and therefore in the diagnosis and treatment of the sick, are substantially unknown. In fact, EMA performed a preliminary study by an online survey with the aim of identifying the consequences of bullying, impostors, imposter fear and of Dunning–Kruger effect as perceived by our Members. The inappropriate use of computational approaches as if they be the gold standard of accuracy and reliability may masquerade the actual inconsistency of clinical approaches and recommendation if the clinical evidence lacks.


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