Dr. Birx: The Ascendancy of Deep Stupid

 

Susan Quinn expressed surprise and despondency at the degree of the sheer incompetence of the COVID management team in the White House, especially Dr. Deborah Birx.  I had a similar reaction to Scott Atlas’s book.

We could review the litany of bad policy decisions (masks and lockdowns misused as general suppression strategies, absurd claims for the effects of vaccination, closing schools), and of course, we could revisit the changing saga of the actual origins of the virus.

There is a more fundamental criticism of that group (Birx, Fauci, Redfield, and later Wallensky) that needs to be made:  They were demonstrably, stunningly clueless about the epidemiology of respiratory viruses.  In particular, there is no indication they ever understood the nature of seasonality.  There was the almost superstitious belief that any drop in case numbers must be due to some policy intervention because otherwise, the pandemic would spread continuously as modeled by the execrable Neil “Clickbait” Ferguson of Imperial College who can always be counted on to generate absurd overestimates of any disease.

Seasonality  The behavior of respiratory viruses was detailed in the 1992 book The Transmission of Epidemic Influenza by R.E. Hope-Simpson.  He noticed that unlike bacterial infections or some other viral pathogens, respiratory pandemics erupt in an increased incidence of symptomatic infection simultaneously across large climactically similar regions.  This would not be the case if it were solely a matter of sick-healthy transmission with specific points of origin and pockets of infection.

Instead, it is if the bug is already widespread and some common variation in conditions triggers active infections.  This common variance in conditions is what he termed “seasonality” (not just some fixed time of year).

As for the dominant seasonality behavior, here is a chart of testing for existing other coronaviruses common in the US.  The seasonality is pronounced.  It is what these viruses do:

Here are the COVID case graphs of Italy, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Sweden in March and April 2020 with the Y-Axis values removed (guessing which is which jurisdiction is left as an exercise for the student):

Here is my home region with PA, DE, MD, and DC in seasonality lockstep:

Another strong indication that COVID was already everywhere and that external conditions dictated when and whether an outbreak will occur is that the entire southern tier of the US from GA and FL to southern CA did not get its first peak in case numbers until late July and early August, a full 3-4 months after the northeast USA.  It did not take the bug several months to reach Miami or LA.  And why could entire regions in the USA show a similar rise and fall if the Hope-Simpson seasonality/latency model were not correct?

So, with a minimum of competence, when evaluating the impact of a policy intervention, the test is not whether case numbers fall (they will do that on their own) but whether the intervention caused any departure from the applicable regional pattern.  Did that happen anywhere?  [Spoiler alert: No.]

Ignorance reigns. The White House COVID leadership team was either too lazy or too arrogant to achieve even a rudimentary grasp of the phenomenon the country expected them to have understood in detail.  Or maybe it was the fact that the real science would undercut their chosen role as architects of grand interventions and wielders of power.  Certainly, acknowledgment of the real science could have adversely impacted the frequency of Dr. Fauci’s TV appearances.  However, as much as I would like to attribute this catastrophic failure to venality and bad faith, the evidence strongly points to incompetence as the primary deficiency. 

Here, in this passage of Scott Atlas’ book he is trying to understand a rather typical Birx misapplication of data:

Just before I arrived in Washington, I received a July 20 email from the White House asking for my comment on what Birx was claiming about Arizona. She wrote, “We modeled masks, no large gatherings, closed bars and reduced indoor dining which Arizona did 3 weeks ago. They should have over 5198 cases daily and climbing and they have less than 2000/day and declining so it’s not just Europe—we now have evidence in the US and we left retail open, people working it’s just the bars and large indoor gatherings. But if we have masks in public everywhere including indoors then you really only have to close bars and limit indoor dining. This is working, it’s a translation of science into real life practice.” This write-up illustrated a fundamental flaw in models of the pandemic, one certainly not unique to Dr. Birx. Like many others, she thought proof of impact was that a smaller number of cases occurred than was predicted by her model—a model with its own built-in assumptions of how many cases would be found without certain interventions. It was bad enough that the example was accompanied by a printout of what looked like worldometer trends.

This conclusion was inherently nonscientific—modeling that something might occur, and then because it did not occur with a given intervention, concluding that the intervention was effective. That was not proof of anything at all; it was circular reasoning. Why couldn’t the explanation be that the model’s prediction was wrong? Indeed, modelers had concocted a scenario in which cases would keep spreading as if everyone was equally susceptible, without regard for increasing immunity or seasonal effects—all known to have occurred in every respiratory virus pandemic over the past 130 years. These models were grossly incorrect, as later proven by numerous publications showing the lack of impact of lockdowns.

Atlas, Scott W.. A Plague Upon Our House: My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop COVID from Destroying America (pp. 162-163). Bombardier Books. Kindle Edition.

We do not need to get to a sophisticated assumption about modeling.  Atlas is being way too charitable by assuming that there was any “modeling” in the Birx method.  It is far more likely that she just looked at Worldomoter COVID numbers for Arizona and noticed that the case numbers were declining following the date of a mandate restricting bars & restaurants.  This was so simplistic and wrong it borders on magical thinking.

Below is a graph of interventions plotted against reported COVID cases in Arizona from Johns Hopkins.   (That JHU site conveniently shows the timing of every intervention in every state and illustrates the fact that NONE of them affected the expected regional case curve in each.)

The bar & restaurant restrictions went into effect on June 29 and Birx attributed the back end of the June-July curve to the policy.

But California imposed restaurant closures beginning in March and yet there was still a case surge at the same time as Arizona.  In fact, the near-identical curve at almost the exact time occurred across the entire southern tier of the USA regardless of policy:

This Arizona data debacle is only a sample of the deep stupid that determined American COVID policy.  How is it possible that the nation’s top federal health authorities could be that oblivious to the actual data of the pandemic?  Why didn’t the rank and file of all of the relevant professions express shock and embarrassment that Birx claimed to speak for The Science?

This nonsense with the Arizona data, this kind of brain-dead “confirmation” of utterly useless, costly policies instead of a course correction cost the American people billions of dollars and millions of lost life-years.  If a part-time COVID observer posting on Ricochet among others can find these basic patterns (no heavy math involved) how is it possible that Dr. Birx did not have access to the science or the assistance and guidance of those who did?

She was not alone in this professional malpractice.

On July 7, 2020 before the Senate, Dr. Fauci was asked by Sen. Rand Paul whether the drop in cases in New York by the end of April indicated something positive like the beginnings of herd immunity.  Fauci sneered and said “Only you would believe that 22% could result in herd immunity.”  [It is unclear where Fauci got 22% as an infection rate.  As of that hearing date, the reported infection rate was about 2.15% of the NY state population.  Did he just multiply by ten to account for asymptomatic cases?]  But then Fauci went on to claim that the drop was due to the Governor of NY and mayor of NYC assiduously following CDC guidelines, an utterly preposterous claim given that the entire NE United States and Western Europe experienced identical patterns despite very disparate policies (God bless Sweden!).  Fauci either never grasped (or conveniently lied about) the reality of seasonality.  Attributing the backside of that curve to any intervention was complete nonsense.

March 29, 2021, CDC Director Rachel Wallensky says that she has a sense of “impending doom” at a time when the larger case curve was on the downswing.  A full year into the pandemic with almost metronomic regional data patterns in place, Ms. Wallensky was clearly still operating under the Ferguson potential maximum doom model.  Imagine how much more public confidence the CDC could have inspired by using rather obvious seasonality patterns to predict regional peaks two weeks in advance which was entirely possible throughout the first year and half of the pandemic?  And how can it possibly serve the public interest to use the phrase “impending doom”?

September 2020.  Then CDC chief Robert Redfield:  “These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings,” Redfield said to the Senate committee. “I’ve said if we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control.”  The existing science and random controlled trials of mask use with past respiratory pandemics expressly refute Redfield’s claim.  Comparison of countries and states with radically different mask policies but near-identical results forever negates this theory.  Scott Atlas describes Redfield as contributing almost nothing in White House task force meetings, occasionally offering a Worldometer printout to make an irrelevant point.  Even the MSM could not cover for him when he claimed in a televised interview that masks would be better than vaccines at curbing the pandemic.  He also publicly missed the likely availability date for vaccines by six months when it was already known when they would be out.  And that guy was in charge of the CDC at a time when we desperately needed someone competent.

America had complete buffoons in charge of a vital mission.  Worse, an incentive structure to double down on stupid quickly emerged.  Scott Atlas and the Great Barrington Declaration signers were right about the likely failure of general suppressing strategies and about the need to shift protective focus to the vulnerable.  And yet they became the alleged science “deniers” and the ridiculous Fauci and Birx are still lauded when they deserve to be universally reviled. Deep Stupid is upon us.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    An excellent elaboration on the COVID debacle, OB. Looking at those graphs, side-by-side, is so powerful! I have permanently added “deep stupid” into my personal dictionary. And seasonality, too. Thanks.

    • #1
  2. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    This was Trump’s “Katrina” in the eyes of the democrat party and their willing whores of the media. This was all designed to get Trump out of office. Never let a crisis go to waste and all (Rahm Emanuel is one truly sick puppy).

    President Trump needed General Honore, instead of the bureaucrats he was left with.

     

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Columbo (View Comment):

    This was Trump’s “Katrina” in the eyes of the democrat party and their willing whores of the media. This was all designed to get Trump out of office. Never let a crisis go to waste and all (Rahm Emanuel is one truly sick puppy).

    President Trump needed General Honore, instead of the bureaucrats he was left with.

     

    Trump was in an impossible situation.  Birx, Fauci et al needed to go but if he dumped them, the MSM outcry about being “anti-science” and wanting Granny to die would have been deafening.  

    When Atlas finally got a panel of heavyweights in front of Trump (Birx, Redfield, and Fauci ducked the meeting) the media pounced.  by strange coincidence Rachel Maddow that night did a rant about how many millions of people would die from a “let’er rip” strategy (as opposed to the policies which, of course, were totally working to keep COVID in check).  This was vintage Washington infighting with media feeds and leaks.  Fauci is good at that–not at what we pay him to do but he is a Jedi when it comes to the bureaucratic infighting and funding battles.

    • #3
  4. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Old Bathos: America had complete buffoons in charge of a vital mission. 

    I am willing to attribute it to malice.   Steve Deace talks about the systematic destruction of control groups.   Sweden was black-holed until they asked to join NATO.  Vax test subjects where told if about getting placebo.   Records were conveniently lost.   To be that anti-scientific takes effort.     

    @oldbathos , this is a stellar post.  Thank you.

    • #4
  5. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Sounds like she and Kamala are buds.

    • #5
  6. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    OB, you keep referring to stupidity, superstition and buffoonery.  But it was not.  Where you see the ignoring of seasonality a clue to their behavior, I see the fact that the government medical professionals, government officials, and the Press didn’t wear masks when off-camera; and went to restaurants, and to the beauty parlor, or visiting relatives out of state, or going on vacations which violate their own regulations, as proof that they had no fear, they didn’t believe their own hype.  They were lying all the time.

    This wasn’t incompetence, this was malice.

    • #6
  7. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Outstanding post.  I really appreciate you putting all this together for us.

    • #7
  8. Headedwest Inactive
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Ian Miller was the first guy who figured out Covid’s strong seasonality.

    He has written a book about it.  He had me convinced a long time ago with this one graph; he produced dozens of similar graphics showing that seasonality, not masks or other magical interventions controlled how the virus grew and declined.

     

    • #8
  9. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Flicker (View Comment):

    OB, you keep referring to stupidity, superstition and buffoonery. But it was not. Where you see the ignoring of seasonality a clue to their behavior, I see the fact that the government medical professionals, government officials, and the Press didn’t wear masks when off-camera; and went to restaurants, and to the beauty parlor, or visiting relatives out of state, or going on vacations which violate their own regulations, as proof that they had no fear, they didn’t believe their own hype. They were lying all the time.

    This wasn’t incompetence, this was malice.

    I keep trying to convince my UK relatives that they got angry with Boris et al about the wrong thing. They are angry because of the supposed hypocrisy of he and his ilk not following their own rules.

    No. No. No. Boris and his cohorts were better informed than the UK citizens and they were unafraid. UK citizens should have been angry about fear mongering and lying. 

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Headedwest (View Comment):
    Ian Miller was the first guy who figured out Covid’s strong seasonality.

    He has written a book about it. He had me convinced a long time ago with this one graph; he produced dozens of similar graphics showing that seasonality, not masks or other magical interventions controlled how the virus grew and declined.

     

    Ian Miller is a hero. I have his book Unmasked which is exhaustive about the background and outcome of mask policies. His Twitter feed was a sanity lifeline during the pandemic. But was not the first to notice seasonality. The real scientists expected it. Ivor Cummins also did fantastic video work on seasonality. In any event, by September 2020 no one who was paying attention could fail to notice it.

    • #10
  11. KCVolunteer Lincoln
    KCVolunteer
    @KCVolunteer

    I think that by now the DemocRats have convinced many of us that we should not attribute to incompetence or stupidity what clearly is malice.

    I recall a world map published in the spring of 2020 that showed the areas with the largest outbreaks were all in the northern hemisphere in the same climate zone. It takes incompetence beyond believe that seasonality was not immediately considered when so many other known large international travel points (Sydney/Singapore/Miami/etc.) were not experiencing spikes at the same time.

    In my own state of Michigan, the restrictions, time and time again, were mandated within a week of the seasonal peaks. Followed by the state assigning credit for the resulting declines.

    • #11
  12. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Terrific post, OB.

    • #12
  13. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Flicker :OB, you keep referring to stupidity, superstition and buffoonery.  But it was not.  Where you see the ignoring of seasonality a clue to their behavior, I see the fact that the government medical professionals, government officials, and the Press didn’t wear masks when off-camera; and went to restaurants, and to the beauty parlor, or visiting relatives out of state, or going on vacations which violate their own regulations, as proof that they had no fear, they didn’t believe their own hype.  They were lying all the time.

    This wasn’t incompetence, this was malice.

    Largely agree, but Birx and other’s behavior  was much more than malice.  Once the possibilities of extending government control utilizing the Pandemic were recognized by our elites, the Pandemic became a omnipresent vehicle for their own ends to gain power and enforce control over the populace.  

    What is really  upsetting is how all these  bureaucrats wildly abused their positions without any remorse to pursue  their own destructive political agendas without anyone in our Judicial System asserting that they broke the law.  The damage to individual Americans that these elites inflicted was beyond comprehension but these elites   so far are untouchable.     Our Constitution in large part was written to present the abuse of power by those in our government but our Judiciary has so thwarted the original aims of the Constitution now that is hardly recognizable. 

    • #13
  14. Ray Kujawa Coolidge
    Ray Kujawa
    @RayKujawa

    Unsk (View Comment):

    Flicker :OB, you keep referring to stupidity, superstition and buffoonery. But it was not. Where you see the ignoring of seasonality a clue to their behavior, I see the fact that the government medical professionals, government officials, and the Press didn’t wear masks when off-camera; and went to restaurants, and to the beauty parlor, or visiting relatives out of state, or going on vacations which violate their own regulations, as proof that they had no fear, they didn’t believe their own hype. They were lying all the time.

    This wasn’t incompetence, this was malice.

    Largely agree, but Birx and other’s behavior was much more than malice. Once the possibilities of extending government control utilizing the Pandemic were recognized by our elites, the Pandemic became a omnipresent vehicle for their own ends to gain power and enforce control over the populace.

    What is really upsetting is how all these bureaucrats wildly abused their positions without any remorse to pursue their own destructive political agendas without anyone in our Judicial System asserting that they broke the law. The damage to individual Americans that these elites inflicted was beyond comprehension but these elites so far are untouchable. Our Constitution in large part was written to present the abuse of power by those in our government but our Judiciary has so thwarted the original aims of the Constitution now that is hardly recognizable.

    You’re giving credit to US bureaucrats for realizing the possibilities of extending government control (bolded) but you don’t mention the very real possibility that our response so well mimicked other nations that it seems the responses were gamed in advance, by foreign non-governmental organizations with their own agendas, which don’t include getting better soon so controls can be lifted. Right from the beginning, it felt extremely odd to me the way people were talking and presuming to give advice for managing the epidemic which seems at odds with the way America — a nation which has helped pave the way for countless advances in medicine — usually deals with crises, i.e., by acting on sound biological science. Instead, it seemed like we were getting pep talks and advice that has not aged well since WWII era. I’ll quote Dr. McCoy from an episode of Star Trek (the original series): “Twentieth Century butchers!!!”

    • #14
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Ray Kujawa (View Comment):

    Unsk (View Comment):

    Flicker :OB, you keep referring to stupidity, superstition and buffoonery. But it was not. Where you see the ignoring of seasonality a clue to their behavior, I see the fact that the government medical professionals, government officials, and the Press didn’t wear masks when off-camera; and went to restaurants, and to the beauty parlor, or visiting relatives out of state, or going on vacations which violate their own regulations, as proof that they had no fear, they didn’t believe their own hype. They were lying all the time.

    This wasn’t incompetence, this was malice.

    Largely agree, but Birx and other’s behavior was much more than malice. Once the possibilities of extending government control utilizing the Pandemic were recognized by our elites, the Pandemic became a omnipresent vehicle for their own ends to gain power and enforce control over the populace.

    What is really upsetting is how all these bureaucrats wildly abused their positions without any remorse to pursue their own destructive political agendas without anyone in our Judicial System asserting that they broke the law. The damage to individual Americans that these elites inflicted was beyond comprehension but these elites so far are untouchable. Our Constitution in large part was written to present the abuse of power by those in our government but our Judiciary has so thwarted the original aims of the Constitution now that is hardly recognizable.

    You’re giving credit to US bureaucrats for realizing the possibilities of extending government control but you don’t mention the very real possibility that our response so well mimicked other nations that it seems the responses were gamed in advance, by foreign non-governmental organizations with their own agendas, which don’t include getting better soon so controls can be lifted. Right from the beginning, it felt extremely odd to me the way people were talking and presuming to give advice for managing the epidemic which seems at odds with the way America — a nation which has helped pave the way for countless advances in medicine — usually deals with crises, i.e., by acting on sound biological science. Instead, it seemed like we were getting pep talks and advice that has not aged well since WWII era. I’ll quote Dr. McCoy from an episode of Star Trek (the original series): “Twentieth Century butchers!!!”

    Yes, just look at the heads of English speaking nations (with Biden, not so much Trump).  South Asia and the Oriental mainland.  Everyone went on lockdowns and masks.  No science, just “cover your face, stay inside, and buy these vaccines.”  Of course the leaders of these countries didn’t do this, they just made everyone else do it.

    • #15
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