We have Holocaust deniers. We have climate change deniers. I’m wondering what we call the author of “Evidence over hysteria — COVID-19” (Medium deleted the heresy, but it remains available from ZeroHedge, along with a biologist’s rebuttal in disjointed Twitter form).
He marshals a lot of scientific-sounding evidence, as promised by the title. One thing that he does that we never see in our media is look at things on a per-capita basis rather than in absolute numbers:
On a per-capita basis, we shouldn’t be panicking
Every country has a different population size which skews aggregate and cumulative case comparisons. By controlling for population, you can properly weigh the number of cases in the context of the local population size. Viruses don’t acknowledge our human borders. The US population is 5.5X greater than Italy, 6X larger than South Korea, and 25% the size of China. Comparing the US total number of cases in absolute terms is rather silly.
Rank ordering based on the total number of cases shows that the US on a per-capita basis is significantly lower than the top six nations by case volume. On a 1 million citizen per-capita basis, the US moves to above mid-pack of all countries and rising, with similar case volume as Singapore (385 cases), Cyprus (75 cases), and United Kingdom(3,983 cases). This is data as of March 20th, 2020.
(Maybe he is wrong about the above because of the trajectory? The U.S. case volume is still growing exponentially, right? Or maybe it is actually close to constant, but we’re doing an exponentially increasing number of tests?)
He thinks our policymakers have it all wrong. Sample:
Closing schools is counterproductive. The economic cost for closing schools in the U.S. for four weeks could cost between $10 and $47 billion dollars (0.1–0.3% of GDP) and lead to a reduction of 6% to 19% in key health care personnel.
This is more or less in sync with the U.K., which decided to close its schools but leaves them open for the children of health care, grocery store, and similar essential adult workers.
Readers: Help me out here. Why is this COVID denier (or “coronavirus denier”) wrong? I desperately want this to be true:
Due to COVID-19’s sensitivity to UV light and heat (just like the normal influenza virus), it is very likely that it will “burn off” as humidity increases and temperatures rise.
Texas is running 1/30th the cases per capita compared to New York, so maybe this is true or maybe New York just had worse luck regarding early infectees.
His ideas at the end regarding expanding medical capacity don’t seem realistic.
COVID-19 is a significant medical threat that needs to be tackled by both finding a cure and limiting spread; however, some would argue that a country’s authoritarian response to COVID-19 helped stop the spread. Probably not. In South Korea and Taiwan, I can go to the gym and eat at a restaurant which is more than I can say about San Francisco and New York, despite a significantly lower caseload on a per-capita basis.
None of the countries the global health authorities admire for their approach issued “shelter-in-place” orders, rather they used data, measurement,and promoted common sense self-hygiene.
Does stopping air travel have a greater impact than closing all restaurants? Does closing schools reduce the infection rate by 10%? Not one policymaker has offered evidence of any of these approaches. Typically, the argument given is “out of an abundance of caution”. I didn’t know there was such a law. Let’s be frank, these acts are emotionally driven by fear, not evidence-based thinking in the process of destroying people’s lives overnight. While all of these decisions are made by elites isolated in their castles of power and ego, the shock is utterly devastating Main Street.
A friend who runs a gym will run out of cash in two weeks. A friend who is a pastor let go of half of his staff as donations fell by 60%. A waitress at my favorite breakfast place told me her family will have no income in a few days as they force the closure of restaurants. While political elites twiddle their thumbs with models and projections based on faulty assumptions, people’s lives are being destroyed with Marxian vigor. The best compromise elites can come up with is $2,000.
Does it make more sense for us to pay a tax to expand medical capacity quickly or pay the cost to our whole nation of a recession? Take the example of closing schools which will easily cost our economy $50 billion. For that single unanimous totalitarian act, we could have built 50 hospitals with 500+ beds per hospital.
If the U.S. government were to build hospitals starting right now, wouldn’t they be only half-finished by the time the Chinese, Koreans, and Taiwanese finish work on a good vaccine? And where would we find doctors and nurses to staff these new hospitals? Before the plague hit it could take three months to get an appointment with a doctor. (Example: expansion of Suburban Hospital in my old home town of Bethesda, Maryland. They started planning in 2008, broke ground around 2014, and the building was ready for use in March 2020 (just in time!).)
I am hoping that we will never figure out whether Aaron Ginn, COVID denier, was correct. If the epidemic is contained, the governors who ordered U.S. states to shut down can take credit for saving us. But Mr. Ginn might have been right and perhaps the virus died out of its own accord. Only if the epidemic is not contained can we say definitively that the coronavirus deniers were wrong. (But maybe if the virus keeps our hospitals full at a steady rate for the next 12-18 months we could also say that Mr. Ginn was wrong? Either way, let’s hope we can’t prove him wrong!)
[Update: How about the rebuttal linked to from ZeroHedge? The biologist, Bergstrom, starts by attacking Ginn for not being an epidemiologist (but the media is happy to give a platform to people without epidemiology background as long as they are suggesting additional hysteria and shutdowns (a physicist suggesting a five-week lockdown)!). Bergstrom says that the “drop in apparent growth rates” is due to a shift in testing strategy (I would expect the growth in testing capacity to move the needle in the other direction, actually). For 10, which I think is , “COVID-19 is spreading, but probably not accelerating”, Bergstrom responds with a personal attack:
I hate to ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence, but using this lie to sweep away the disaggregated data is such utter nonsense that I wonder how a silicon valley guy could make this claim by mistake.
Did he forget that it was folks in Silicon Valley who thought that Elizabeth Holmes knew more about blood testing than entire buildings full of chemistry Ph.D.s at Siemens and similar European vendors?
Bergstrom attacks Ginn for using a bell curve analogy. He ensures continued employment at his university by noting righteously that the authors of the Bell Curve book (which actually contains almost nothing related to the hateful alleged correlation between race and IQ) are to be condemned. Then he points out, that other formulae, such as log-normals and exponentials, are also found in nature. Now that Bergstrom raises this point, I don’t think that it makes a lot of sense to map a probability distribution onto a time series. But Wikipedia suggests that this observation goes back to a British epidemiologist. It does seem to be an established idea that the course of an epidemic will have a shape that is sort of like a bell curve.
(Bergstrom is a professor at University of Washington. So outrageously wrong was that one chapter about race v. IQ in the Bell Curve book that his university has decided to admit students in roughly the ratios that the book would suggest (and then the school is so interested in race that it publishes stats for 2019-2020!). African Americans are underrepresented and the Asians whom the IQ researchers say are smarter than whites are hugely overrepresented.)
I don’t think that anyone has enough information to say if Ginn is right or wrong. My gut feeling is that he is at least partially wrong due to the fact that no government anywhere in the world is doing exactly what he suggests (though the UK seems to be coming close!). But I think this rebuttal is weak and it shows that viruses, in addition to being smarter than the average human, are also smarter than the average tenured professor of biology!]
- Ironically, the key to testing for coronavirus is the PCR machine, invented by a denier of the connection between HIV and AIDS: Kary Mullis (he died in August 2019 and therefore did not live to see his machine save entire Asian countries). Note that he might not have been able to work as a scientist in the #MeToo age. The Washington Post noted in 1998 that he “enliven[ed] his scientific lectures with slides of naked women” and “At Cetus, Mullis was a legendary character, famous less for his scientific brilliance than for his prodigious womanizing and for engaging in fisticuffs with another scientist after drinking too many margaritas at a company retreat.”
- My favorite climate change denier, Nobel Physics laureate Ivar Giaever in a 2012 lecture
- “Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?” (CNN): turns out that coronavirus might be easy to contain if low- and mid-level government workers did the jobs for which they were hired to at least a basic level of competence
- “Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease?” (New York Times), is by an MD who seems to agree with Mr. Ginn; it is the NYT so the article also notes that our government is too small: “I fear our efforts will do little to contain the virus, because we have a resource-constrained, fragmented, perennially underfunded public health system.” (might be like our perennially underfunded public schools, whose budgets rise much faster than inflation… an article in the American Journal of Public Health: “Per-capita public health spending (inflation-adjusted) rose from $39 in 1960 to $281 in 2008”)