Where angels fear to tread…
Several times over the last half year, I’ve begun to draft a letter to the relatives who are in full Fauxvid Panic Mode, in order to tell them why I’m not. My motivation: my wife, alone out of her 11 siblings, is the one providing a home and care for their 83 year old mother. So – horror of horrors! – every day for several years now, their mom, who few of them care to do more for than maybe – maybe – call her on the phone once or twice a year, get ‘exposed’ to people who aren’t panicked over the Kung Flu, who encourage her to go on walks and take her to Mass every day, exposing her to (socially distanced, masked up) people who might have a deadly disease! Clearly, we’re trying to kill the poor old lady!
When vaccines became available, one son, a very good man and the one who does the most for his mom apart from my wife, made sure his mom got vaccinated, including driving her to and from the appointments he made. He’s trying to be an attentive and dutiful son, of which I totally approve. I want to be perfectly clear: given his premises, he behaved admirably.
Our only involvement was reminding them that we take Helen to the doctor regularly, and that she would want to do whatever her doctor recommends, and thus we would set up a telephone consultation with him for her. Her doctor, predictably, was all for the vaccine, and so she got it, both doses – under the impression that would mean no more masks or worry. Which of course it would mean, in a sane world.
I recognize the futility of presenting reason to terrified rabbits, to people who are very confident they have a completely rational bead on things such that anyone who disagrees is clearly evil or insane. They assume – I heard them assume this out loud – that anyone who disagrees with that nice doctor Fauci is merely doing it for political reasons. After years of very successful schooling, they lack the imagination to think anything else. They think they believe evidence and ‘the science’ when they do whatever the people with journalism degrees and remarkably straight teeth tell them to. The concept that it might take some skill, understanding, and effort to understand any evidence at all is completely foreign to them, as is the notion that to claim to accept claims as evidence prior to applying the required skill, understanding, and effort is nothing more than accepting dogma on authority.
The history of mass delusions suggests several outcomes here. As the evidence, or lack thereof, continues to point toward the entire panic/lockdown/masking reaction being, at best, wildly disproportionate to the actual risk and utterly ineffectual even according to its own goals, the True Believers have a few options:
- Keep doubling down. No, no, no! We did exactly the right things! Millions would have died if we had not done them. In other words, preserve your self-image at the expense of accepting reality. Sadly, we humans have a lot of experience doing this. Examples: the current treatment of the French Revolution by academic historians in France (so I hear), where the Revolution is treated as an essentially unalloyed good, where giving any credence to or even acknowledging the existence of opposing views is a career-ender. The Vendee (so I hear) is simply never discussed in elite French academic circles. Or the Russians who yearn for a return to Soviet rule, because they and theirs didn’t have it so bad, and all that bad stuff people keep talking about didn’t happen to them and so, effectively, didn’t happen. This course requires continual little lies, as the evidence keeps impinging – but we humans are good at that.
- Pretend it never happened. I am reminded of the accounts of some German Jewish professors, who were driven from their positions, impoverished, driven into hiding, fled for their lives, only to return after the war to find the remaining faculty, who gave at least their silent consent to all this, acting as if nothing had happened, greeting them as if they had merely been on sabbatical for a while. The political ploy of claiming anyone who brings up past crimes and disasters is refusing to ‘move on’ is a species of this.
- Ownings it. By our gullible faith in people who professionally lie and distort reality, and have for all the centuries their vocation has existed – the press and politicians – we are complicit in the destruction of the world’s economy, the seizure and destruction of property (small businesses) under the pretext of safety, and the ongoing starvation of millions of third-world peasants who our actions deprived of livelihood when we wantonly destroyed world trade, and the imposition of a police state world-wide.
So my vote is for #1 or #2. It seems Bohr’s quip about science advancing one funeral at a time will now apply to those who accept pseudo-science: this generation will go to their graves thinking – something. Only some future generation will (maybe – assuming civilization as we know it more or less continues), after their elders achieve room temperature, conclude that we collectively lost our minds.
The letter would go something like this:
You all don’t really know me very well, which is understandable as we have been scattered to the winds over the decades and don’t see each other all that much. One thing you don’t know about me is that I’ve been obsessed with science since 4th grade. I thought about pursuing a career as a science historian (I don’t seem to have much talent as an experimentalist), but delayed until I had gotten married and started a family, so I did the much more expedient and lucrative route of business while continuing to study science as a hobby. I’ve watched science programs, listened to the science news, read many articles and essays and dozens of books covering not just particular sciences but the history and philosophy of science and the scientific method. I read scientific studies for fun.
As we scientifically literate people have learned from experience to do, I of course ignore the claims made in the media and read the literature for myself. This is necessary, as journalists have repeatedly proven to have no grasp of science while being highly motivated to be as sensational as possible – “if it bleeds, it leads” being a motto bordering on an iron law in the news business. Thus, when I heard back in March of 2020 about some viral outbreak in China, I, along with thousands of other scientifically literate people, went to the publicly available data and reports and read them myself. Here’s what I, and thousands of other scientifically literate people, including Nobel Prize winners, PhDs in all sorts of analytic fields, and even thousands of non-scientists like, for example, doctors, concluded. The data all but screams the following:
- SARS 2 is a real disease that really kills some people.
- Its fatality and seriousness varies wildly based on the population affected, such as when you subdivide by age or health.
- There is one and only one easily identifiable group that is at extreme risk from COVID: those who are already dying of something else. Nursing home patients, for example.
- For those who are even moderately healthy, COVID is about as dangerous a typical flu.
That’s based on all the evidence available in March and April of 2020. No evidence has been developed since then to change these conclusions.
Please note that this is not just me saying this – thousands of scientifically literate people, including Nobel Prize winners and experts in data analysis, the kind of people who read studies and understand what they mean, have reached essentially the same conclusion.
BUT: you have heard otherwise! Not only does the news continually trot out horror stories, or invite you to imagine bodies piling up somewhere, “experts” keep telling you to panic hard, sometimes with tears in their eyes. So I, and thousands of other scientifically literate people, simply cannot be right – right?
A few things to consider:
- Confirmation bias + fear = a panic spiral. Confirmation bias – the tendency to accept and overvalue claims that confirm what we already believe, and reject and undervalue evidence that contradicts what we already believe – is well known and endemic. Even elite scientists suffer from confirmation bias, which is why studies that have not been subjected to vigorous criticism carry no weight. Add fear, and you reduce further the ability to rationally evaluate information. Scared people then embrace their panic, reject anything that might calm it, and vilify anyone who contradicts it.
- Mistaken expertise. Science means ignoring the experts and looking at the data. If we relied on experts, we’d still be having our blood let to treat consumption, and ringing church bells to disperse the noxious vapors that transmit the Black Death. Science advances when people defy the experts and look at the evidence. Yet we live in a culture that values expertise, because we’ve never learned how to evaluate data for ourselves.
- Participation Trophy Culture. We have all been trained from the cradle to conform with whatever we’re told to do. We get a trophy for just playing the game. The social costs of independent thought are high. Much easier to simply conform.
- Since at least WWII, it has been estimated that between 2% and 5% of the American people are clinical sociopaths. These are people who have no empathy, who not only don’t care about the pain they inflict on others, but positively get off on the raw exercises of power over others. What are called high functioning sociopaths are able to fake normal emotions well enough to pass as normal – you or I would stand almost no chance of picking up on their sociopathy without years of interactions with them. These high functioning sociopaths tend to do very well in business and politics, unencumbered by normal emotions and morality. It is reasonable to conclude that many of our political and business leaders are sociopaths who would get off on fanning the panic and have not the least compunction about destroying the careers of anyone who opposes them. Doctors and nurses who have reached the same conclusions I have get fired or censured; scientists who point out the absurdity of current practices get unpersoned. And you will never hear about it.
Note that these consideration are before and outside of any political considerations. There are many other issues, involving new strains, supposed long-term effects, endless anecdotes and just-so stories, but I say: get your head around any of the issues above, and you’ll have made much progress towards a scientific understanding of the virus, and why I and thousands of others are not afraid of it.
By the by, if any of you have any EVIDENCE to contradict these and the following assertions, I’d be happy to look it over and interpret it for you, just send a link. Note that the naked assertions of scientists, let alone journalists, politicians, and doctors, are not evidence – they are assertions. If they don’t present evidence, they are gossip. Claims are only as strong as the evidence to support them. Evidence is presented in studies and reports.
As the evidence rolled in over the following months, we scientifically literate people noticed a few other things:
- About half of alleged infections result in no symptoms at all. This has been consistent across time and continents.
- The case fatality rate (CFR), a technical and basically useless number for laymen but constantly cited, kept going down. What you would want to know are the IFR (infection fatality rate) and population fatality rates for your specific population. If you are not already dying of something else, those rates will be orders of magnitude lower than the CFR.
- The definitions of what constitutes a COVID ‘case’ and ‘death’ are inconsistent and innovative – no other diseases had ever had their base metrics so constantly and irrationally varied across time and space. Yet all reporting assumes complete homogeneity of the data.
- 99.5%+ of all reported cases have no or minor (cold- or flu-like) symptoms.
- While vast numbers of deaths from COVID have been claimed, total deaths across populations have not significantly increased, at least not as much as the alleged deaths from COVID. This is what is to be expected if the virus mostly kills people who were already dying. Ex: The UN predicted in 2019, without taking the virus into account, that about 2.94 million Americans would die in 2020 in the usual course of things. The CDC says that the deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans “involving” COVID- their language, not mine – occurred in 2020. So, do we see 2.94 + 0.5 = 3.44 million deaths? Nope – just under 2.9 million, according to the CDC. The CDC’s own numbers and basic math do not support the claim that half a million Americans have died of COVID.
- Flu deaths disappeared worldwide in March of 2020 and have yet to reappear, as reported by the WHO and the CDC. This is unprecedented. The logical conclusion: all flu deaths are being assigned to COVID, since in virtually all cases the symptoms are identical.
- No evidence has yet been presented to support the notion of significant asymptomatic spread, meaning that if you don’t have symptoms, there’s no significant risk you will spread the disease. Wearing a mask when you aren’t sick around other people who aren’t sick protects no one.
- No evidence that lockdowns prevent more deaths than they cause has been presented. In fact, no all-in analyses, where benefits AND COSTS are considered and weighed against each other, have been allowed to surface.
- No evidence that social distancing as practiced in the real world slows the spread of COVID has been presented.
- No evidence that people under 50 who are even moderately healthy are at any significant additional risk from COVID has been presented. Children are at about the same risk from COVID as they are from being eaten by sharks or crushed by a meteorite.
And so on. Could I and the thousands of other scientifically literate people be wrong about some or all of the above? Of course! That’s the beauty of science – you can always be proved wrong by the next batch of evidence, rigorously produced and criticized. But one can’t be proved wrong by the naked assertions of ‘experts’ or the pernicious anti-science of the oxymoronic phrase ‘scientific consensus.’ Science is not a religion one ‘follows’ or in which one ‘believes.’ The scientist either produces and defends solid evidence, or he should shut up.
Unfortunately, learning how to evaluate evidence according the principles of science, math, and logic requires years of effort, like learning a language. It is not what is taught in schools under the heading ‘science,’ which tends toward mere technical competence. Doctors certainly don’t learn it in medical school, and history has shown that they are among the greatest disseminators of pseudoscience. I can explain it, but there’s no guarantee you will understand it without significant effort, and a vigorous challenge to your confirmation bias.
I repeat my offer: send me any studies or reports that defend the current COVID panic, and I will be happy to analyze them for you. NOTE: if you throw 70 studies at me that you, yourself, have not read, you need to own up to be a scientifically illiterate poser who is merely following orders.
Of course, I can’t send this – zero chance it will do anything but further alienate already panicked relatives.