COVID-19 and the Protagaros Paradox

One of my friends forwarded me this message. It’s a really interesting argument. Read through this post and share your views on how things could pan out globally in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The text below is as received. I have no clue about the author, though I would love to acknowledge him/her if I knew.

Over 2000 years ago, in Greece, there was a lawyer named Protagoras. A young student, Euthalos, requested to apprentice under him, but was unable to pay the fees. The student struck a deal saying, “I will pay your fee the day I win my first case in the court”. Teacher agreed. When the training was complete and a few years had elapsed without the student paying up, the teacher decided to sue the student in the court of law.


The teacher thought to himself: ‘If I win the case, as per the law, the student will have to pay me, as the case is about non-payment of dues. And if lose the case, the student will still have to pay me, because he would have won his first case. Either way I will get paid’.


The student’s view was, ‘If I win the case, I won’t have to pay the teacher, as the case is about my non-payment of fees. And if I lose the case, I don’t have to pay him since I wouldn’t have won my first case yet. Either way I will not pay the teacher.’


This is known as Protagoras Paradox, which ever way you look both have equally convincing arguments, one can go either way in supporting the teacher or the student and would not be wrong.


Those of us in medical practice often come across such situations, either in making a diagnostic or therapeutic decision. One physician can recommend a course of treatment based on scientific evidence and another can recommend a diametrically opposite course again based on medical evidence. Right or wrong, but some merit would exist on both sides. Often the physician himself is having an internal struggle to make a decision about the most appropriate course of action, Protagoras & Euthalos are arguing in his mind, to do this or to do that. The horns of dilemma are tearing him apart.


But what prompted this essay was a tweet by Donald Trump, ‘hope the cure is not worse than the disease’. L & G, I hate to say, but I find some merit in this tweet. In our global attempt to flatten the COVID curve, I hope we do not flatten the global economy curve. The question is what’s the best way forward. One group recommends ‘total lockdown’ to break the transmission chain, based on evidence from China, they managed to control the spread of the virus by ruthless lock down and 3 months later they are showing that disease is controlled in Wuhan. On the other hand, the other school of thought is graded isolation & protection of elderly and very young and those with co-morbidities, let it spread amongst the young and healthy, after all the disease ultimately will be controlled when we achieve ‘herd immunity’. The medical community is divided in these two groups. To enforce complete lockdown or Graded isolation?


To complicate the issue the epidemiologists have joined the bandwagon with cacophony of statistical analysis. From Rosy to Dooms day predictions. If we don’t do a complete lockdown then a million people will die in 1 year. No say some more like 90 million will die in 1 year. Whose data analysis is correct. Some suggest do nothing, nature will take over in a few months and all will be well, they quote historical data to justify their recommendations. On whose inputs should we base our disaster management strategy.


Then come the economists with their doomsday predictions. If this continues till May our medical resources will be overwhelmed, Agriculture will suffer, food shortages will occur, production will come to a standstill. There will be an economic crisis of the proportions that world has not seen ever. So, break this lockdown nonsense and let’s get back to work as usual.


What will our political masters do? My guess is they will listen to medical experts, epidemiologists & economists. Then they will decide what course of action will ensure their survival, what will get them people’s votes and they will run with that. At present ‘Lockdown” finds favour with them. Boris in UK had to abandon the recommendations of the medical community about graded response, because the people’s perception became that our Government is not doing enough to protect us citizens. That means revolt against him. So, screw it, lets go with total lockdown if that’s what the people want. Gradually people will get tired of lockdown and demand- let life go on. Then with equally convincing arguments the governments will say the time has now come to lift the blockade, we have controlled the contagion, we have won.

Incidentally, the Protagoras Paradox has not be resolved till date. Students in Law school still hold mock trial and give arguments on both sides. With out any resolution of the dispute.

Three reliable sources to get all the information you need on the novel coronavirus

Three important and trusted sources that might suffice the needs of most researchers, doctors, government authorities, and the general public for information on the novel coronavirus.

With the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, the actual impact on economies, travel, businesses, education, and almost every sphere of life has begun to sink in globally. In such a situation, it is very important to seek reliable sources of information and avoid rumor mongering and sharing half-baked information.

Thankfully, there are a few sources that are doing a stellar job at this. In this post, I’d like to point out three important and trusted sources that might suffice the needs of most researchers, doctors, government authorities, and the general public.

The World Health Organization

Special section on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

The World Health Organization is an obvious source for some of the most reliable and definitive information from across the globe. WHO now has a special section on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. The page has a host of sources that provide information on the current situation worldwide, online training resources, videos, travel advice, and the latest updates from across the globe.

Interactive infographic by John Hopkins CSSE

Second, I’d like to point out to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard hosted by Johns Hopkins CSSE. At one glance, this dashboard gives a holistic picture of how the pandemic is spreading its wings globally. The mobile version of this dashboard is available here.

Global aggregator for research and news feed

Third, Atypon has done a brilliant job at aggregating information from across the globe on the coronavirus. Atypon has launched the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Special Edition feed that aggregates information from over 30,000 authoritative sources across the Internet. The real-time feed includes latest peer-reviewed research, preprints, and the latest news on the novel coronavirus outbreak.

I’m hoping this should help a lot of authorities and people get verified information on the global coronavirus pandemic. In case you know of any other verified sources that can be useful for specific audiences, do share details through the comments section.