Special Notice 29

·       CAN WE TRUST THE COVID-19 SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY? 

By Willliam J. Dodwell  March 26, 2020

The Wall Street Journal and others reported that the main impetus for President Trump’s social-distancing and lockdown strategy was a report published by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London. Shockingly, he projected 2.2 million coronavirus deaths in the U.S. absent a rigorous containment and mitigation policy.  To date about 1,000 have died.  Does this study pass the smell test?  Apparently not for Trump anymore as he anticipates ending his lockdown by Easter. 

Scientists and business people fundamentally differ in how they perceive problems.  Scientists tend to seek clinical near-certainty according to rigid protocols to validate conclusions. Oftentimes risk-taking is tempered by a fear of failure because human life hangs in the balance.  Business people rely on a less empirical risk-reward calculus that may entail uncertain tradeoffs of human, economic and political variables.  Hence, the apparent divide between commercial-minded Trump and his COVID-19 health advisers regarding the resumption of normal business activity amid the still extant coronavirus.

Of course, politics by its nature inevitably pervades all aspects of life inasmuch as selfish motives always loom.  COVID-19 medical experts may honestly recommend action according to their clinical findings that ignore massive economic consequences.  But in view of the dubious outcome projected by the Imperial College London study, one might suspect an anti-Trump political agenda, even outside the U.S.  Prescribing a strategy that would destroy the U.S. economy and unseat Trump in November could be just what the (dishonest) doctor ordered.  Or not. Has the scientific community politicized the coronavirus against Trump?  

            This speculation about using the coronavirus as a tool to influence the 2020 presidential election has become as                     politically sensitive as questioning Obama’s birthplace.  In fact, even conservative Fox News suspended (fired?)                 host Trish Regan for passionately opining on it.  Indeed, the left has intimidated the right into shunning conspiracy             theories regardless of merit.

            A COVID-19 cabal would not be the first special interest to compromise the scientific community.  Recall bogus                 statistical extrapolations in the 1980s that projected AIDS would wipe out much of the American population.                         Propagandists democratized the disease by scaring the public into believing the general population was at risk,                     including children.  This was to hide the fact that, with scant exception, only gays and drug addicts contracted the                 disease, then and now.  What’s more, some health officials expanded the definition of AIDS to inflate reported                     infections to inspire more donations for research. 

And consider the climate-change Cassandras in media.  They pressure compliant scientists who fear losing their research money and jobs if they stray from green orthodoxy.  Predictions of widespread temperature extremes, receding Arctic ice and underwater cities never materialized.  Researchers manipulated data to skew results for political benefit as exposed in the University of East Anglia’s bombshell revelations in 2011.  How many scientists support the canard that we have only 12 years to save the planet?

I’m not ready to impugn the integrity of the COVID-19 scientists. But history shows that when the political stakes are sufficiently high , there are few saints, even in the laboratory. Is the intense, even worldwide, hatred for President Trump enough for science and media to join forces once again?

©William J. Dodwell 2020


UPDATE 1  3/27/20:

Several hours after posting this article, I saw reports that Ferguson had just radically revised his calculation because of a model error.  His changed U.S. death estimate does not appear to be reported.  But he lowered his UK death projection from 500,000 to 20,000, and possibly much lower, he said. This 96% reduction would translate proportionately to 88,000 U.S. deaths, instead of 2.2 million.  The current U.S. death toll is about 1,400. I don’t know if a strictly linear adjustment to the U.S. figure is valid, but clearly the revised projection is a small fraction of the original estimate, that I viewed as way out of line.


UPDATE 2  3/30/20:

UPDATE 2.  President Trump in his press conference 3/29/20 indicated what seems to be a return to his original reliance on Neil Ferguson’s 2.2 million projected U.S. deaths if no action were taken. That projection strongly influenced Trump’s decision to declare a 15 day social distancing period in mid-March.  But on 3/22, Trump seemed to lose faith in the number because of Ferguson’s model revision, and consequently decided to consider gradually lifting restrictions starting April 12th.   

Now Trump invokes the 2.2 million figure again (interestingly without reference to Ferguson anymore) as reason for an extended lockdown, also claiming it justifies his restrictions to date that have kept U.S. deaths to only about 2,000. Perhaps this means Ferguson’s model adjustment only applied to the UK death projection of 500,000, which he lowered to a maximum of 20,000, while leaving the U.S. projection unchanged. 

If so, the question becomes, How can estimated U.S. deaths of 2.2 million be more than 100 times UK deaths at 20,000, considering the U.S. has only 5 times the population of the UK?  Are the respective population dynamics that disparate? My skepticism of the 2.2 million projection continues, and as such, my original question as to whether the COVID-19 scientific community can be trusted.

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