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 Trial, Error and God Complex - I 

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It's the Second World War. A German prison camp. And this man, Archie Cochrane, is a prisoner of war and a doctor, and he has a problem. The problem is that the men under his care are suffering from an excruciating excruciating and debilitating debilitating condition that Archie doesn't really understand. The symptoms are this horrible horrible swelling swelling up of fluids under the skin. But he doesn't know whether it's an infection, whether it's to do with malnutrition. malnutrition. He doesn't know how to cure it. And he's operating in a hostile hostile environment. And people do terrible terrible things in wars. The German camp guards, they've got bored. They've taken to just firing into the prison camp at random random for fun. On one particular particular occasion, one of the guards threw a grenade into the prisoners' lavatory while it was full of prisoners. He said he heard suspicious suspicious laughter.And Archie Cochrane, as the camp doctor, was one of the first men in to clear up clear up the mess. And one more thing: Archie was suffering from this illness himself.

So the situation seemed seemed pretty desperate. desperate. But Archie Cochrane was a resourceful person. He'd already smuggled vitamin C into the camp, and now he managed to get hold of supplies of marmite on the black market. Now some of you will be wondering what marmite is. Marmite is a breakfast spread beloved beloved of the British. It looks like crude oil. It tastes ... zesty. zesty. And importantly, it's a rich source of vitamin B12. So Archie splits the men under his care as best he can into two equal groups. He gives half of them vitamin C. He gives half of them vitamin B12. He very carefully and meticulously meticulously notes his results in results in an exercise book. And after just a few days, it becomes clear that whatever is causing this illness, marmite is the cure.

So Cochrane then goes to the Germans who are running the prison camp. Now you've got to imagine at the moment forget this photo, imagine this guy with this long ginger beard and this shock of red hair.He hasn't been able able to shave a sort sort of Billy Connolly figure. Cochrane, he starts ranting ranting at these Germans in this Scottish accent in fluent German, by the way, but in a Scottish accent and explains to them how German culture was the culture that gave Schiller and Goethe to the world. And he can't understand how this barbarism barbarism can be tolerated, tolerated, and he vents his frustrations. And then he goes back goes back to his quarters, breaks down breaks down and weeps weeps because he's convinced that the situation is hopeless. But a young German doctor picks up Archie Cochrane's exercise book and says to his colleagues, "This evidence evidence is incontrovertible. If we don't supply vitamins to the prisoners, it's a war crime." And the next morning,supplies of vitamin B12 are delivered to the camp, and the prisoners begin to recover.

Now I'm not telling you this story because I think Archie Cochrane is a dude, although Archie Cochrane is a dude. I'm not even telling you the story because I think we should be running more carefully controlled randomized trials in all aspects of public policy, although I think that would also be completely awesome.I'm telling you this story because Archie Cochrane, all his life, fought against a terrible terrible affliction, affliction, and he realized realized it was debilitating debilitating to individuals and it was corrosive to societies. And he had a name for name for it. He called it the God complex. Now I can describe describe the symptoms of the God complex very, very easily. So the symptoms of the complex are, no matter how complicated complicated the problem, you have an absolutely absolutely overwhelming overwhelming belief that you are infallibly infallibly right in your solution.

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