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When I was a kid, scientists in the movies were either good guys who used their knowledge and skills to solve the problem and kill the monster or the aliens or they were bad guys (“mad scientists”) whose ego caused them to misuse science in an attempt to rule the world. Those movies never had incompetent scientists trying to fake science and skill to gain power and influence; that would be the movie we are seeing now.
We could start working the script with a long look at the execrable Neil Ferguson who became famous by persuading British authorities that millions of Britons would die from Mad Cow Disease. He made equally stupid predictions about swine flu and bird flu. There is nothing in this man’s professional record that would suggest he has any credibility, but damn if the U.K. and the U.S. didn’t base their initial response on his preposterous COVID model which was followed by his even sillier prediction of mass deaths if any nation dared let up on lockdown or closure interventions.
The Real Science Was Available
There was a lot of existing real science to guide our understanding of SARS-COVID-19, starting with the indispensable R. Edgar Hope-Simpson (1908-2003). He began his medical practice in 1932-3, the year of a major influenza outbreak. That experience prompted painstaking lifelong research into epidemic diseases. He was one of the first to link chickenpox to shingles. The insight that viruses could remain dormant in the body for decades shaped his understanding of other viral diseases.
One of his key insights was that a transmission model of a sick person transferring the infection to an adjacent uninfected person was inadequate and incomplete. If it were that simple, it would be easy to identify and isolate the infected. The starting point would be more obvious. The patterns of outbreaks would be different. But flu outbreaks occur simultaneously across entire regions as if the virus was already widely present and was just waiting for the right conditions. (Studies from stored sewage samples in Milan and Red Cross blood donation samples found that COVID-19 was likely already present across Europe and the US as early as the autumn of 2019.) This introduces the notion of seasonality, a broad variance in conditions like temperature, sunlight exposure etc. that makes potential transmitters active and novel spread possible.
I recommend this article addressing the open questions posed by Hope-Simpson about the state of our knowledge about viral epidemics.
It’s the Seasonality, Stupid
The seasonality-driven behavior of flu epidemics also points to the likelihood of dormant agents awaiting the right conditions. COVID-19 exhibited exactly this kind of pattern. It does not mean that there is no personal transmission from symptomatic persons. It does mean that that is not the only or perhaps not even the primary means of transmission.
Western Europe, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts all peaked in reported cases number in the initial wave on almost the same day in mid-April 2020 with identical case curves. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia shared a slightly flatter, identical curve a week later. The entire southern tier of the US and Mexico shared an even flatter curve peaking at the end of July and early August. The interior states peaked sharply in late autumn and the whole country saw a rise in early winter. It is simply not possible that some lone travelers from China in early 2020 started a serial infection to cause these simultaneous regional outbreaks.
You could look at the changing slope of the case curve in any jurisdiction and predict within 48 hours when that number would peak (assuming consistent reporting). And yet the Director of the CDC spoke of “impending doom” at a time when US cases were clearly already on a downslope. Minnesota’s COVID czar and Biden advisor Dr. Michael Osterholm predicted “10-14 weeks” of “our darkest days” almost on the exact day Minnesota’s fall-winter outbreak began its downslope.
Being oblivious to the seasonality of COVID also caused bizarre, magical thinking among journalists and people who should know better. The mindset was to look at the time when cases were increasing, find some scapegoat or supposed cause then when the numbers declined, credit some policy intervention. Anthony Fauci had the audacity (or ignorance?) to tell the US Senate on July 7, 2020, that the decrease in cases in NY was due to Cuomo and DeBlasio following CDC guidance.
Mask mandates as the cause of decreases in case numbers was an especially popular misconception. One of the dumbest from the WSJ:
Below are the spring 2020 COVID case number graphs (Y-axis values removed) for NY, NJ, MA, Italy, and Sweden. As an exercise for the student, identify the jurisdictions and indicate which did or did not follow CDC guidance. Then explain to the class why Dr. Fauci’s assessment of NY case patterns was utter and complete BS.
Thanksgiving travel and the Sturgis bike rally were not “superspreader” events. There were no “superspreader” events. No governor brought COVID-19 “under control.” COVID did its thing in exactly the seasonality-governed pattern that would be expected. Nothing anybody did altered that pattern anywhere. Yet there was an astonishing volume of published garbage about policy impacts on COVID-19. And there is no sign that real scientific understanding is going to break through anytime soon given the enormous investments in bad journalism in support of bad policy.
Ignoring Actual Science
A restatement of WHO guidance published by Johns Hopkins in September 2019 entitled Preparedness for a High-Impact Respiratory Pathogen Pandemic summarized the state of the art with respect to handling an influenza-like outbreak. The science cited indicated that (a) quarantines and border closings were a waste of time and resources precisely because of the manner and timing in which these kinds of viruses spread; (b) Lockdowns and closures may or may not provide a short-term reduction in infections (“flattening the curve”) but won’t work if attempted for a longer duration. Even if an extended lockdown provides further reduction, it would come at an unacceptably high cost, and (c) there is inconclusive data about the effectiveness of masks compounded by the likelihood of supply problems of high-end PPE in the event of sudden massive demand.
Sounds to me like WHO nailed it in Sept 2019. Too bad the “experts” did not read much less follow their own science when COVID-19 hit.
First, Do No Harm
Our genius leaders (under the guidance of our “experts”) gave us economically destructive, porous, utterly stupid, and completely ineffective closures and lockdowns at horrific cost along with the asinine “phased” re-openings with elements like absurd restaurant capacity percentages as if some idiot actually believed there was a magic control knob in the governor’s office. The science told us this would all be both ineffectual and needlessly costly. One cannot approve or forgive this line of interventions and claim to be following the science or sincerely acting out of an abundance of caution. Dozens of studies have confirmed that the lockdowns and closures had zero effect on COVID spread and that data began emerging over a year ago. This is no longer disputable.
The “experts” have almost all blown off the disastrous rise in mental health issues for kids, the effect of delayed medical treatments, increases in suicides, and drug overdoses all directly attributable to the consequences of the programmatic attempts to curtail COVID, attempts which all failed as the science told us they would and we still did a lousy job of protecting the elderly. I would argue that the evidence is clear that the NPIs killed more younger people than did COVID. Why were these costs (predictable and obvious from the beginning) never part of the policy equation? Voters getting tired of scare tactics, economic loss, and mask mandates weighed on the policy decisions but excess deaths among younger people (who were not at much risk from COVID) never seemed to be a factor.
The fact that kids rarely get COVID, very rarely experience symptoms, and are very, very poor transmitters is the science. However, that was never the basis for school-related policy. Kids were knowingly hurt for the benefit of others and that injury had nothing to do with spread containment.
Where is the Spirit of Inquiry? The Scientific Impulse?
There appears to be no curiosity about the obvious failure of the NPIs. In particular, why aren’t we exploring the reasons for the indisputable fact that mask mandates had no measurable effect on spread anywhere on the planet? The infuriating response that MDs and surgeons know what they’re doing so only an ignorant rube would question the utility of masks is yet another symptom of the failure to do science and point to framed diplomas instead. The actual numbers demand an explanation, not elitist snark. Cites of studies that people who work in professional medical settings get COVID less often is not an answer–surgeons don’t wear the same mask to the Safeway or Pizza Hut then back to the surgical suite. Seriously, though why didn’t mask mandates work at all, anywhere?
“I Am God”-Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin Malice (1993)
A good friend who is a world-class plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer once told me that an arrogant defendant was like money in the bank. If a doc is going to act like a god then the jury will require that he deliver godlike outcomes. That should go double for lawyers at blue-chip firms who overcharge and deliver nothing. Moreover, all professionals in public service have a duty of honesty, professionalism, and candor that should be a matter of sacred trust. Dr. Fauci is Exhibit A for the depressing proposition that our permanent government is run by self-promoting, accountability-free incompetent weasels. How did that happen?
Look up at the diplomas on the wall, shut up and trust me is the mantra for much of what currently ails much in our society. Mandatory reliance on very sketchy climate modeling, the complete fiasco of the world response to COVID-19, and the lightly credentialed new “scientific” understanding of race, sex, and society all reek of arrogance attached to political agendas that enshrine the “expertise” that claims to justify such agendas.
People think I’m kidding when I keep calling for show trials over the handling of COVID. I am not. There has to be an accounting somehow. Science was betrayed. Public trust was horrifically abused. The rich prospered while the rest suffered. The rule of law was bent to the breaking point. There should already be tumbrels headed for the guillotine. The bourreau should already be sharpening the blade.
How do we ensure that this never happens again if we don’t bring down those who failed, misled, and promoted their own importance at the expense of science, truth, and the welfare of the nation?
Thus endeth the rant.Published in