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Scott Atlas, Team Stanford, and their friends

A recent comment thread revealed the existence of an organization called Panda: “Pandemics ~ Data & Analytics.”

Its scientific advisory board includes Scott Atlas, the former U.S. government advisor described on the website as a “world renowned physician.” He’s now at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

Atlas most recently appeared on Fox News to say, “It is a sick, vicious lie for anyone to say or imply that I ever gave the president of the United States false information.”

The board also includes, among others, Stanford medical school professor Jay Bhattacharya, Stanford biology professor Michael Levitt, and Michael Yeadon, a retired pharmacologist and drug company executive who, according to the website, “believes the pandemic was over in the summer”?

Wha??? He believes the pandemic was over in the summer?

B-b-b-b-ut . . . I can’t even.

I mean, why didn’t he just go all-in and say he believes the pandemic was over last February? Or that it never existed at all?

Further background on this guy here. Now that he’s retired from pharma, maybe he can get a job as a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

There was also this, from the organization’s webpage entitled, “You asked, we answered,” under the heading, “Would you have the vaccine yourself?”:

As for any other medication, a vaccine must be shown to be safe and effective before it is introduced to the general public. Vaccines take 10 to 15 years on average to be developed. . . .

Currently, there is no one for whom the benefit would outweigh the risk of these vaccines—even the most vulnerable, elderly nursing home patients.

No one, huh? Funny how so many people want the vaccine, given that the risk outweighs the benefits.

I guess this statement was a bit of an embarrassment after one of the members of the Panda scientific advisory board publicly stated that he and his mother had received the vaccine. The above link is from 22 Jan 2021, courtesy of the Internet Archive. Go to that page now and that whole section has been removed.

OK, fine. But . . . also no acknowledgment of their earlier ridiculous statement.

As we’ve said in this space many times: We can learn from our mistakes, but only if we choose to learn from them.

Should we be disturbed by all this?

We live in a world full of political entertainers spreading medical disinformation.

A few months ago we pointed to this incoherent statement from Mike Pence in 2001:

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you. . . . news flash: smoking is not good for you.

And this from Rush Limbaugh in 2015:

Firsthand smoke takes 50 years to kill people, if it does. Not everybody that smokes gets cancer. Now, it’s true that everybody who smokes dies, but so does everyone who eats carrots. . . . If tobacco is so deadly, if it is so bad, why does our government permit it to be sold? . . . I’ve never seen Cause of death: Tobacco products. Not everybody who smokes gets cancer. . . .

My favorite there is, “If tobacco is so deadly, if it is so bad, why does our government permit it to be sold?” Funny to hear Limbaugh suddenly express so much faith in our regulatory state.

And Limbaugh from 2020:

Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. . . . Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks. . . . I’m telling you, the Chicoms are trying to weaponize this thing, . . . Well, every nation is working on things like this, and the Chicoms obviously in their lab are doing something here with the coronavirus — and it got out.

So it’s either nothing to worry about or a scary bioweapon. All righty, then.

And Limbaugh is warm tea compared to the newer group of conspiracy-theory entertainers, such as Alex Jones, who claimed that doctors at Walter Reed hospital “tried to kill Trump and failed” and was hawking fake cures.

So, in that environment, why are Scott Atlas and Team Stanford notable? It’s not the individuals: Scott Atlas is just some guy with connections. It’s the institutions. Atlas worked for the government (in a more important position than Brian Wansink ever had), and Stanford is . . . well, it’s Stanford, an institution that’s big enough to have lots of serious people and also a few complete idiots like that dude discussed here who famously estimated that the coronavirus death toll in this country would max out at 500, a number that he later updated to 5000, an estimate that could get you a job at Pandata.org or the Hoover Institution but not too many other places.

The challenge of explaining ineffective responses

OK, now it’s time for the social science. A challenge for coronavirus advocates, for the junk-science purveyors of Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the many serious scientists and policy analysts all around the world, is how to explain all the bad choices made by the leaders of so many countries.

The knaves or fools at Panda have to explain, if the pandemic was over in the summer, why it continues to kill people every day all over the United States. And they have to explain, if the vaccine is such a bad idea, more dangerous than the disease, why governments all over the world are scrambling to manufacture and buy these vaccines. I mean, whassup with that?

From the other direction, yeah, I expect that Atlas and his friends deserve some of the blame for the weaknesses in America’s coronavirus response. But, again, lots of countries who are not run by science deniers are having problems too.

I’m not trying to make a false equivalence here: I think these Hoover folks are buffoons at best and dangerous at worst—indeed, I think they are dangerous buffoons who seem to be engaged in some toxic mix of political mood affiliation and a quest for glory. I’m just saying that, even without them, responding to a pandemic has been a challenge.

P.S. More juicy nuggets here. For example:

Hoover Institution fellow Scott Atlas gives us a sobering view of where our nation is headed. Dr. Atlas warns that the media is permanently altering the American psyche with irrational thoughts about this virus in a way that we are not seeing even in Europe.

Hmmmmm . . . “irrational thoughts”? You mean like the claim that coronavirus would kill only 500 or 5000 Americans? Or the claim that the pandemic was over in the summer? Or the claim that no one should take the vaccine? I’d say that Hoover isn’t doing their political cause any favors by pushing junk science, but who knows, maybe they are? Or they just don’t know any better? It’s cool to be a world renowned physician or a Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.

Of course, we all make mistakes. But, again, we don’t get very far intellectually if we don’t admit our mistakes when we learn about them.

83 Comments

  1. Adede says:

    “Funny how so many people want the vaccine, given that the risk outweighs the benefits.”

    Not the best line of reasoning. Replace “vaccine” with “cigarettes” to see the fallacy.

    But I agree with the rest of the post.

    • Andrew says:

      Adede:

      But there are clear reasons why people want cigarettes even though they are so bad for you. Cigarette smoking is said to provide a calming effect, also nicotine is addictive, also drug-taking is something people do.

      • I think the point is people want stuff that’s bad for them for all sorts of reasons: junk food, cigarettes, tattoos directly into their eyeballs, whatever.

        A more coherent argument is: considering how we’ve already given 20M vaccines, and only a few isolated bad incidents amounting to a few tens of people have occurred, whereas with maybe 100M infected (25M confirmed) in the US over 500k have died, and perhaps millions more have severe illness with potentially permanent effects which is actually more dangerous?

        • Joshua says:

          > which is actually more dangerous?

          As you’ve probably seen, the argument has more generally been that for young people the fatality rate of the virus is very low. Of course that ignores that there’s a much greater risk of morbidity than mortality, that young people getting sick but not dying stresses our healthcare resources and negatively impacts the economy, and also that you can’t just draw a line between the risk for young people and the risk for older people.

          Perhaps for me the most concerning aspect of the anti-COVID vax rhetoric is the lack of recognition of how young people could consider the welfare of older people. I think of some cultures were the elderly are revered.

          • confused says:

            >>I think of some cultures were the elderly are revered.

            I fear this is a bad result of modern technology’s pace.

            In traditional cultures, the pace of change is slow, so that the experience of the elderly remains relevant.

            In the modern age, the pace of change is rapid, and experience rapidly loses value; so the elderly are seen as “hopelessly out of touch”.

  2. Carlos Ungil says:

    In that scientific advisory board we can also find Sunetra Gupta, the Oxford professor behind the “Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population” headline in the Financial Times in March last year.

  3. Michael Johnson says:

    I think a shout-out to Steven Novella belongs here. He had been fighting pseudoscience in medicine for a long time in his blog: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/author/steven-novella/

  4. gec says:

    I also find it amusing that these guys are allied to a political movement that is explicitly “anti-Elitism”, and yet they are banking on their “Elite” credentials! Just bog-standard hypocrisy, I suppose, but still kinda funny.

    I made me think of the odd way that expertise and media have jointly evolved in the US over the last 70ish years (since WW2, more or less). TV and radio were originally pitched as tools to bring enlightenment to all by making cultural and intellectual resources widely available regardless of geography. Think of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, great stuff (you can still find some on YouTube). So while there was an acknowledgement of “elites” and no small amount of condescension, there was a sense that it was for the common good. The elites would raise everybody up to their level.

    Of course, in those days, whether you had a national voice on TV or radio was dictated by whoever owned those networks. Now, anyone on the internet has access to millions, in principle. Shouldn’t this be more democratic than the network system? As we’re seeing, not really. If anything, it seems like people are just hitching onto their preferred elites, “I love Elon Musk” or whatever. People aren’t trying to become their own elites, they’re letting others do the work for them.

    The funny thing is that, despite all these changes, who gets to be “elite” hasn’t seemed to have changed much. Professor at an Ivy League? Elite. Really rich guy? Elite. Respectable-looking doctor? Elite. Famous mainstream actor/musician? Elite. Even the media by which someone is called “Elite” hasn’t really changed. A YouTuber or blogger or podcaster might be famous, but they’re not Elite until they publish a book or get an endowed position at a thinktank or get elected to congress.

  5. Dale Lehman says:

    I fear my post in the last thread may have been lost in the crowd – so I’ll repeat it here (and expand a bit). This week’s analysis from Pandata concerned analyzing the relative dangers of COVID – here is their summary results and conclusion:

    “Results In all 5 countries the proportion of young deceased (under 70 years of age) was lower among SARS-CoV2-positive deaths than the proportion of young deceased in all deaths in a reference year (2018 or 2019) for men and women. Compared to reference data, the proportion of SARS-CoV2-positive deaths who had reached the age of 80 years before they died was lower in French women and Italian men and women. But it was higher in German men and women, English men and women, French men and Spanish men.

    Conclusion SARS-CoV2 is not a “killer virus”.”

    If you look at their analysis, it is focused on the first wave of COVID. The notable exception of Italian men and women showing lower death rates in 2020 compared with 2018 and 2019 seemed very strange to me. When I looked further, they use data from mid-March as representing the first wave. But if you look at the Italian COVID death data, mid-March was approximately 1/3 of the way into the first wave. Given that it is now 10 months later, was is the justification for using mid-March to represent the first wave? I’d put this in the category of forked paths – no need to cook the analysis when you cherry-pick the data. Of course, it is possible that the same picture emerges if you used data from early May, but there analysis makes no attempt to explain their choice of dates nor does it indicate whether the results are sensitive to that choice.

    As I said, I think this is analytical malpractice. It will probably be punishable by a lifetime of TED talks.

    • Dale Lehman says:

      I also thought this bit about the author of that article is worth noting:

      About the author

      Eric Markhoff*

      The author is an infectious disease epidemiologist with 20 years of experience, a medical degree, a Masters degree in epidemiology and a Masters degree in medical statistics. He is currently looking for another job as critical assessment of Covid-19 policies seems not to be compatible with the “new normal” in Germany and the rest of the world.

      *Pseudonym

    • Andrew says:

      Dale:

      I don’t think these people will get Ted talks. Ted talks are supposed to be inoffensive, right? Or to offend some people, but not the wrong people. For example, I don’t think John Yoo will ever get a Ted talk; he’s too notorious, and not in a good way. No, I think these Panda guys will have to settle for Fox, Hoover, and the rest of the right-wing media circuit.

    • rm bloom says:

      Are the ERs and ICUs overburdened or are they not?

      • Navigator says:

        It’s regional, but yes, they are. However, there is never overabundance of ICU beds/staff to begin with. It’s not difficult to push it over the edge, because redundancy wasn’t built into it in the first place.

        There is very little downgrading from ICU (people die there). This disease is very weird. Your chance of death is very small overall, but once hospitalized, that figure changes at warp speed and not in your favor.

  6. Joshua says:

    Given what’s going on with variations – which may well necessarily be a function of the number of infections – the “let it rip” advocacy may turn out to be the among most ill-advised, irresponsible, and destructive ideas in history.

    There’s another person, also affiliated with Stanford, who is affiliated with members of that group – and who should probably be mentioned.

    Said individual published a meta-survey that found the IFR fro COVID to be 0.27% and stands by it. His finding was an outlier and the methodology problematic.

    If he were right, then given the # of deaths we have in the US, the population infection rate would have to be some 170 million or over 50%.

    Everyone makes mistakes when the data are so uncertain, but said person went on TV to insist that COVID is basically like the seasonal flu.

    The biggest problem here is that the “let it rip” advocacy is largely based on the notion that the IFR is basically similar to that of the seasonal flu. This isn’t your typical scientific mistake.

    In such a situation, influential scientists have an obligation to do their best to get out how uncertainty and subsequent evidence informs their previous, highly publicized policy advocacy. The clock is ticking.

    • anon says:

      Hmm. If you take from NYT current cases at 25.8M in the US, and deaths at 433000, you get a CFR of around 1.67%. Now, if you assume that about 1/5 of infections are being recorded, which is consistent with the (very noisy) evidence I’ve seen, you get IFR of 0.33%. At one in 4, you get 0.4% IFR. 0.27 seems low to me, but maybe by .1 or .15 points, which frankly is probably impossible to resolve with our current data. It’s super hard it to estimate actual infection counts.

      Following the author you are criticizing to compute case counts as 433K deaths/0.0027 gives 160M infected in the US. 4*current case counts gives 104M. 5x gives 130M. It’s a good chunk of the population, kind of no matter how you spin it.

      The meta-survey may indeed have lots of problems, but the output number isn’t wildly and obviously wrong and is the wrong basis for criticism.

      • Paul Fisher says:

        The problem with these types of arguments is that they go against the fact that county level population death rates are at or above .27 in hard-hit parts of the US. The only way to then justify CFRs of about .27 or less is to assume that these areas are wildly unrepresentative of population risk and/or infection rates are near 100%. This is a extremely suspect assumption to make. Its not just that these numbers are implausible on a national level, as Joshua says, it’s that they imply 200% of of people in parts of Arizona and North Dakota and that 130% of New Yorkers have had covid.

        • anon says:

          I don’t find that line of argument very persuasive. Part of the reason is that it really does seem that we only are tracking 1/4 or 1/5 of cases, so one has to deal with that evidence too.

          Furthermore, it strikes me that it is much worse to get covid in a hard hit place than in a place that has plenty of resource slack, that it is much worse to get it early in the pandemic before we knew about steroid treatments, etc. That would be pretty much in line with everything else we know as well. I don’t want to need ICU care for covid, but if I do I REALLY don’t want it to be in NYC last spring.

          Obviously that gets into murky waters about what “the” IFR actually means. But, at a national population level it’s hard to make the case that the IFR is way higher than 0.3 or 0.4, and the real uncertainties here are quite large.

          Also, minor technical point about your post. CFR >= IFR. My note was about IFR.

          • Joshua says:

            anon –

            > But, at a national population level it’s hard to make the case that the IFR is way higher than 0.3 or 0.4, and the real uncertainties here are quite large.

            What is “way higher?”. The consensus is about 0.5%. Some say 0.5%-1%. His IFR is an outlier.

            In the one hand you could say a difference of 0.33% is pretty close. On the other hand is 200% higher than his estimate way higher?

          • Joshua says:

            anon –

            > Part of the reason is that it really does seem that we only are tracking 1/4 or 1/5 of cases, so one has to deal with that evidence too.

            The problem is that what it “seems” like to you isn’t consistent with what the people who are professionals at tracking this have to say.

            The other problem is that as you say, treatment has gotten better from when Ioannidis was making his estimate – which actually means that his estimate was even farther off.

            • anon says:

              > The problem is that what it “seems” like to you isn’t consistent with what the people who are professionals at tracking this have to say.

              Really? That is not a useful way to talk to people, and a terrible way to defend science. For the record, I have many (statistical) papers about in virology and immunology, and an active vaccine candidate for another critical viral infection. Go ahead and argue with my statements, but let’s argue about facts and logic instead of my credentials.

              The 4-5 range is actually 4-5.4 from the CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html . This is super hard to estimate, but is reasonable enough.

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                Anon said,
                “Go ahead and argue with my statements, but let’s argue about facts and logic instead of my credentials.”

                Agreed.

              • Joshua says:

                anon –

                > Really? That is not a useful way to talk to people, and a terrible way to defend science. For the record, I have many (statistical) papers about in virology and immunology, and an active vaccine candidate for another critical viral infection. Go ahead and argue with my statements, but let’s argue about facts and logic instead of my credentials.

                Sorry that what I said came across that way. I wasn’t intending to argue your credentials. I was responding to your mention of what it “seems like.” For one thing, you used the present tense when you said that we’re tracking as little as 1/5 of the cases. While obviously we were only tracking a relatively small % previously, 1/5 doesn’t seem consistent with what information I’ve seen as a cumulative figure. As in the article I linked, from what I see the number is rather smaller than that (88 million infected) – particularly when you consider that number represents the cumulative total and not the % of infections that testing is capturing currently.

                Further, I’m confused why, as was mentioned below, you aren’t (1) acknowledging that there are undoubtedly a non-trivial number of people who are currently infected but who haven’t died yet and (2) the IFR has obviously dropped to some degree since Ioannidis made his estimate (because of improvements in treatments).

                When I was referring to the number you were giving as “your number” it was because I haven’t seen those numbers presented anywhere else. Yes, you based your calculations on CDC information and basic math – but from where I sit, as someone who has zero credentials compared to your considerable credentials, some of your methodology seems questionable. Of course, I may well be wrong. On the other hand it seems to me that various choices one cam make when doing such calculations are subjective in nature.

              • Joshua says:

                Sorry – as was mentioned below and as I mentioned above more than once.

    • Joshua says:

      You have to add a good 20k or 30k deaths to the number we have already from the infections we already have.

      I’m going with Worldometers (at 346k deaths now, which is probably an undercount, but it is what it is), so let’s say 470k deaths. With a 0.27% IFR, that would mean almost 175 million infected.

      The CDC is estimating about 85 million, maybe up to 110 million.

      Ioannidis is way off. His numbers reflect his argument that COVID is basically like the seasonal flu. It’s what led him to suggest that we might only see 40k deaths and speculating about what would happen if 1% of the population got infected.

      The funniest aspect is that the same crowd that’s promulgating his low IFR is the one promoting the low “herd immunity threshold.” So they’re simultaneously arguing that rhe HIT is maybe 20% and that well over 50% of the population has been infected.

      Levitt has gone on and on about how COVID would “burnout” at < 20% population infection rate.

      • Joshua says:

        Sorry, 446k (at Worldometers).

      • Joshua says:

        I think that a single IFR has very limited utility. It’s almost like it’s different diseases among different age cohorts.

        And then there’s the variability across populations. Is the US representative? Poor baseline health, lots of comorbidities, etc. On the other hand, we have a much more robust medical technology than a lot of other countries.

        But my point is that our friend went on a right wing publicity campaign to say that he could extrapolate an IFR from his (actually, non-representative) sampling and the “Let ‘er rip” crowd has been running with that implausible IFR ever since – with horrendous consequences.

      • anon says:

        Not quite right on the CDC. They are reporting stale estimates (through December), so if using today’s dates for deaths, and a nearly 1 month old case estimate, you are going to bias your numbers well upward, especially given how rapidly infections are piling up right now.

        CDC estimates that for each infection reported there are 4.6 (4-5.4 UI) unreported cases. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html . Sticking just with CDC estimates of deaths and cases, and using the numbers above as multipliers, that gives an IFR of 0.31-0.42.

        There may be lots of reasons to be mad at Ioannidis, but the actual IFR number itself simply isn’t that wild.

        • Joshua says:

          I’ll take a look at link you gave but I just read an article where the CDC was uaopawdly saying probably 85 million up to possible 1/3 of the population.

          I’ll go with Worldometers, which is still probably an underestimate and I think I was being conservative about the number of deaths going forward from those already infected but not dead yet. So from that I was thinking in the range between @ 0.59% and @ 0.43%

          And again “isn’t that wild” is kind of hard to respond to.

          The latest best guess CDC IFR I remember seeing was on the order of 0.6% if I recall correctly. Other meta-surveys have been in the same ballpark. Is off by 300% “that wild”?

          > There may be lots of reasons to be mad at Ioannidis, but the actual IFR number itself simply isn’t that wild.

          It isn’t so much the number. It’s that he was out there promoting policy based on that estimate, and scoffing at others who were more concerned about the severity of the virus.

          • anon says:

            By “isn’t that wild”, I mean that when a reasonable calculation using CDC estimates shows a lower range of 0.31 with an uncertainty interval that spans more than 0.1, and certainly is not taking into account all sources of uncertainty, it’s hard to get worked up over an estimate that is 0.04 lower. Maybe there are other things to get worked up over, but that doesn’t make the list for me.

            Your article is right, but stale. CDC did report a central estimate of 83M infections . . . through December. It’s right there on the official CDC link I posted above. You can’t use present deaths and stale infections estimates. That’s super biased upward for IFR and CFR, especially given the current high rate of infection and death.

            • Joshua says:

              anon –

              > By “isn’t that wild”, I mean that when a reasonable calculation using CDC estimates shows a lower range of 0.31 with an uncertainty interval that spans more than 0.1, and certainly is not taking into account all sources of uncertainty, it’s hard to get worked up over an estimate that is 0.04 lower.

              But you’re taking his mean and comparing it to what you consider the low range. That doesnt quite work. You should. Compare mean to mean.

              And again, your 0.31 is certainly lower than the CDC’s actual latest estimate and those of the majority of estimates that have been conducted.

              Here’s the arcike I was referring to. No actual link to where they got the numbers.

              https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/28/health/covid-19-protection/index.html

              It could well be inaccurate.

              > Maybe there are other things to get worked up over, but that doesn’t make the list for me

              What does “worked up” mean?

              • anon says:

                I’ll take the official CDC page I linked above as the source of truth for the CDC’s estimate. It says clearly ~83M as of December, not the present.

                0.31 isn’t “my number”, it is a rough low estimate from dividing numbers from the official CDC page. My (reasonable) guess is that the “true” uncertainty about the IFR is quite large, larger than 0.1 I back-of-the-envelope calculated above. You can also get it another way. Current case fatality in the US is around 1.7%. Divide 1.7% by 5.4 (the upper end of the CDC multiplier) and you get 0.31 again as a very approximate low range. If you use the lower end of the CDC multiplier, you get 0.43 as a high end. That range is too narrow, almost for sure. If you want my “number”, it is the range 0.25-0.5 with 80% confidence.

              • confused says:

                Even if the IFR is low now, that doesn’t really justify the Ioannidis etc. estimates back in March or April or whenever – it seems pretty clearly to have been quite a bit higher in the spring Northeast surge (otherwise there would have been basically no one left to infect in the fall/winter in NYC, which had something on the order of 0.25% total fatality rate in the spring surge).

              • dhogaza says:

                So estimates are that there are about 90K deaths “baked in” even if new infections magically dropped to zero and stayed at zero starting tomorrow.

                That means infections thus far will be responsible for about 535K deaths (using Worldometers). Using the 4-5.4x multiplier for infections gives us a range for IFR of around 0.37-0.5%. That range does not include Ioannidis’s point value of 0.27%.

                However that CDC data suggests that from February to December for every reported covid-driven hospitalization there are 1.9 actual covid-driven hospitalizations. Is the gap really that large today? Same with symptomatic cases, and I would argue asymptomatic cases. There’s a good chance that the multipliers given on the CDC page are too high given the large percentage of cumulative cases that have happened in the last two months and the greater level of testing being done compared to the first few months of our covid adventure.

                It’s really not that hard to get to an IFR point estimate of 0.5%.

                Ioannidis has consistently lowballed the impact of this disease.

              • Joshua says:

                dhgogaza –

                >So estimates are that there are about 90K deaths “baked in” even if new infections magically dropped to zero and stayed at zero starting tomorrow.

                Yeah, I mentioned that a couple of times above but anon never acknowledged that issue. Although I went with a much more conservative number of only 30k. Which makes it all that much more confusing to me that someone with his credentials (since he mentioned them) would have just skipped over that. Maybe I’m missing something?

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                > Even if the IFR is low now, that doesn’t really justify the Ioannidis etc. estimates back in March or April or whenever – it seems pretty clearly to have been quite a bit higher in the spring Northeast surge (otherwise there would have been basically no one left to infect in the fall/winter in NYC, which had something on the order of 0.25% total fatality rate in the spring surge).

                Yes. I mentioned that above but anon never responded. Perhaps now that it’s been brought up again he will?

              • confused says:

                Sorry, I missed that you’d already said that.

                The other problem (kind of like what you were saying about herd immunity thresholds vs. low IFR above) is that in March, a low IFR would assume a ton of undetected cases, which would pretty strongly imply it was really contagious. Even 0.2% IFR could be very significant if say 50% of the US population were infected (that would be about 330,000 deaths – somewhat less than we have now but 10x worse than the average flu season and 5x worse than the exceptionally bad 2017-18 one).

                In March, you could I think plausibly assume a low IFR *or* a small final epidemic size, since data was poor – *but not both* as Ioannidis did.

            • dhogaza says:

              “You can’t use present deaths and stale infections estimates”

              Again, deaths lag infections by 3-4 weeks. To compute IFR you need to take that lag into account. For instance, using present deaths and infection numbers that are stale by 3-4 weeks.

              Using the current number of cumulative infections and the current cumulative number of deaths will underestimate IFR.

          • Martha (Smith) says:

            Joshua said, “I just read an article where the CDC was uaopawdly saying”

            I’m usually moderately decent at figuring out what was intended with a typo, but “uaopawdly” ( at 4:18 pm) has me baffled.

        • dhogaza says:

          “Not quite right on the CDC. They are reporting stale estimates (through December), so if using today’s dates for deaths, and a nearly 1 month old case estimate, you are going to bias your numbers well upward”

          Given that deaths lag infections by around a month, perhaps a bit less, that’s actually the perfect comparison to make.

  7. paul alper says:

    Just a couple of days ago, on the same topic, this blog had this contribution of mine:

    “Why is everyone fearful of mentioning his name, Michael Levitt?” because he was referred to throughout as “**”.

    Andrew’s reply was

    “Without commenting specifically on the identity of **, let me just say that sometimes I feel that these discussions can go in more interesting directions if we focus on the arguments and situations rather than on the specifics of who’s making the arguments. Not always—sometimes the person is the story—but in this case that’s where I was coming from.”

    Ergo, what has changed such that names are back in vogue?

  8. FabianB says:

    Re: Hoover Institution

    Id like your opinions on this, in retrospect, are these people wise shepherds, nudging us benignly with fakenews so that we are not tempted to demand from our politicians to command ultimately unwise policys or are these people dangerous inert dogmatists?

    Playing Politics With Coronavirus
    by Richard A. Epstein
    Monday, March 9, 2020

    https://www.hoover.org/research/playing-politics-coronavirus

    • Andrew says:

      Fabian:

      I expect that at some level they’re all sincere. I’d guess that even Ted Cruz and Al Sharpton are sincere in the sense that they feel they’re supporting lies for the public good as they see it. But people like Scott Atlas, Richard Epstein, etc.: I suspect they’re over their heads intellectually, just bullshitting and following the leads of their political allies, and then keeping themselves in enough of a mental fog so that they can’t ever get around to confronting any evidence that contradicts their worldview. And, every time they receive a paycheck, that feels like confirmation to them that they truly are the experts in the room. I don’t really know, though, it’s just my guess.

    • Anonymous says:

      “are these people wise shepherds…or are these people dangerous inert dogmatists?

      Neither.

      We don’t need to look at this article in retrospect. Even at the time it was written it was clear that COVID was a very serious pandemic. While it was a remains reasonable to question whether the lockdowns could have been averted, it wasn’t even at that date reasonable to claim COVID was less severe than flu.

      Nonetheless people are entitled to speak what they believe, and while the claims Epstein presented about COVID in this piece were to my mind unreasonable even at the time, his claim of large economic impact was reasonable. And at this point it’s fair to say that later lockdowns could have been averted or their impacts made much less severe with better policy. Even Gavin Newsome has realized that lockdowns are an extreme measure to be removed as soon as hospital capacity allows.

      So, like a lot of claims that have been made over the last year, there are problems and benefits to Epstein’s claims in this piece. The good news is that no one believed the silly claims about COVID being a mild flu-like disease. The bad news is that no one acted on his claims about the indirect damage to people’s well being caused by the lock downs.

      • dhogaza says:

        “Even Gavin Newsom has realized that lockdowns are an extreme measure to be removed as soon as hospital capacity allows.”

        There’s not all that much difference between the SIP that was lifted last Monday and the Purple Tier restrictions that remain in place.

        Primarily outside dining is now allowed, hair salons and the like may reopen, and there’s no evening curfew.

        Even during the SIP the state allowed outside recreation businesses were allowed to stay open, i.e. kayak renters, whale watching and sports fishing boats, etc. Some counties closed those down, but not the state.

        Personally I don’t thing the SIP was strong enough (even though I am part-owner of an outdoor recreation company that was allowed to remain open), and it should’ve last until mid-February, minimum. Most people I know (a selective bunch, admittedly) were equally shocked and unhappy that it was raised so soon. It was only moderately more stringent than the Purple Tier restrictions, but where I live, at least, it seems that the message was taken to heart. There was a noticeable reduction in the numbers of people seen out and about. And Rt for my county is down to about 0.86 at the moment. We’ll see if it rises above 1 again.

        Those in California who oppose restrictions have been the most vocal. Along with those I know privately, there’s been a fair amount of public pushback against his raising the SIP order and I’m glad to see it.

        “The good news is that no one believed the silly claims about COVID being a mild flu-like disease.”

        You need to get out more. I know plenty of people who believed that for months, and some who still do. This has directly reinforced the attitude of various people I know that they will not wear masks, etc.

        “The bad news is that no one acted on his claims about the indirect damage to people’s well being caused by the lock downs.”

        No one acted on his claim that the cost of lockdowns would far exceed the cost of letting the disease run its course unimpeded, because, you know, “only 500 will die” or later “I meant 5,000, sorry about the typo” seriously underestimated the cost of the disease to society.

        Others weren’t ignoring the economic and emotional cost lockdowns and other mitigation measures would entail. They assigned a higher cost to the consequences of letting the disease run its course.

        Remember when those opposed to mitigation measures laughed at projections that between one and two million might die if there were no changes in social behavior (voluntary as well as mandated)? Har har har we think it’s more like 30,000-40,000 and should do nothing. Dudes with names like “Battacharya” and “Ioannidis”?

        Well, given that we’re going to pass 500,000 dead very soon, despite mitigation measures, and despite the fact that the South African strain that’s arrived is less vulnerable to antibodies generated by having had the disease which means that reinfection is now on the table as a potentially serious problem, I don’t think you can point to anything these folks have said that were even close to reasonable.

        I’ll give Ioannidis for being quiet these days, at least in public. Battacharya has yet to learn the first lesson to apply when you find yourself in a hole – quit digging.

        Even the notion that mitigation measures like lockdowns were more expensive economically than doing nothing at all seems quite dubious. This epidemic is serious and was going to disrupt the economy as a consequence. Welcome to the UK variant for which the herd immunity threshold, vaccination-induced or by natural infection, will be significantly higher than the original strain. And now the SA strain is here, threatening the possibility of widespread reinfection of those who have had the original strain.

        • confused says:

          Yeah. In April-May I thought that the measures themselves were driving public fear (and thus indirectly as well as directly impacting the economy, because people are afraid to do stuff even when it’s allowed), but now I don’t really think so.

          I mean, it is true that even very high disease rates don’t automatically cause a lot of disruption. Worse diseases than this used to be endemic, and the 1957 and 1968 pandemics had basically no social impact despite relatively high per-capita deaths (not quite as high as this in the US, but probably comparable worldwide*.)

          But I think the difference is largely because of the way modern media/social media radically changes how people react to events, and also because we are starting from a “safer” baseline – most people in 1957 remembered a time before antibiotics, polio was still a thing, etc.; this is scarier now because it is more unfamiliar.

          OTOH I am a bit more optimistic about the variants, sure they will probably increase herd immunity threshold but I think a lot of the talk about “herd immunity” has been misdirected from the beginning.

          What we need to get to is the pandemic -> endemic transition when this just becomes “another circulating respiratory virus” rather than a crisis – and that doesn’t necessarily require herd immunity.

          Immunity isn’t a binary 100%/0% thing – immunity that isn’t sufficient to protect against *reinfection* can still prevent it becoming a crisis again if it is sufficient to protect against *severe disease*. Some of the vaccines seem to have significantly better protection against severe disease than symptomatic-infection-in-general, including the recent South Africa trial where that variant was very prevalent.

          I mean, we don’t have herd immunity against common cold coronaviruses, influenza, RSV, parainfluenza or any of the other tons of circulating respiratory viruses — but they aren’t hitting an immunologically naive population. (Even if you don’t get the flu shot, very few people have never been exposed to flu in their lifetimes…)

          • confused says:

            Oops, I put an asterisk there but never followed up on it. That was supposed to be about the “comparable worldwide” thing for the 1957 pandemic – 1 to 4 million deaths estimated worldwide; but the world population was a bit under 3 billion then, vs. 7.6 billion plus now. So the same per-capita would be 2.5 million to 10 million (JHU tracker says we’re at 2.22 million now for COVID).

            Of course, COVID deaths haven’t stopped by any measure!

            A lot will depend IMO on what is really going on in the Old World tropical regions with much of the world’s population (sub-Saharan Africa/South and Southeast Asia), as these areas will probably take a long time to vaccinate a majority of the population.

            But so far per-capita death rates appear to be universally quite low in the Old World tropics. If that is really true, and not just a result of bad reporting, we may be well past halfway on overall COVID deaths. But if deaths are massively under-reported, it could be much worse.

            • Ken Schulz says:

              Covid-19 case- and death-rates in most of the Asia/Pacific region, and sub-Saharan Africa excepting RSA, are much lower than in Europe and the Americas. What the former have in common is earlier experience with deadlier infectious agents (SARS-Cov-1, Ebola, Marburg). In the Asia/Pacific countries, there were early and effective public-health measures – mask-wearing, testing and contact-tracing, mandated, enforced and compensated quarantine. Reporting from Africa is sparse, but I would not be surprised to learn that their public-health systems are rather good. They perhaps benefit also from limited numbers of international airports and seaports, making it easier to apply control measures to travelers. But this is speculation; it will be interesting to see the data when it becomes available.

              • confused says:

                Measures surely were/are strong in East Asia, and Africa probably did benefit from less travel… but I don’t think the latter would *still* matter, a year into this.

                At this point major under-reporting in much of Africa would seem likely… but even that can’t really account for e.g. India/Bangladesh/etc IMO. Even with strong measures, limited resources would almost certainly limit their actual success – and I can’t see India’s reporting being, say, an order of magnitude worse than Brazil, Peru, etc. (this might be arguable for some more totalitarian nations in Asia, but not India).

                I think it’s hard to avoid the need for some environmental factor.

              • Joshua says:

                Age is highly predictive of COVID outcomes, probably higher than any other factor, so it seems to me the first thing you should look at is mean age for a region.

                Of course, there would an inverse association between mean age and quality of/access to healthcare (unhealthy people die younger) and thus it may be counterintuitive that places with poorer healthcare have better COVID outcomes but when you think it through it might make more sense.

                Poor health outcomes surveillance would also go along with poor access to healthcare and younger mean age.

                > I think it’s hard to avoid the need for some environmental factor.

                At any rate “environmental factor” is a bit of a moving target. Seems that might be an association with better outcomes and eamee climate when you look at Africa and India vs. Western Europe. But then you have Finland and Germany and Iceland and Norway, and you have mixed signals about seasonality like in Manaus.

                I think it’s hard to avoid thinking that explanations are hard to avoid. 🤔

              • confused says:

                >>Age is highly predictive of COVID outcomes, probably higher than any other factor, so it seems to me the first thing you should look at is mean age for a region.

                This is why I mentioned Brazil and Peru — Brazil, Peru, and India all have almost exactly the same median age (28-29).

                >>thus it may be counterintuitive that places with poorer healthcare have better COVID outcomes but when you think it through it might make more sense.

                Oh, I’ve been expecting that effect all along — the odd bit is that it doesn’t seem to hold in the New World tropics, but does in the Old World tropics (even more strongly than we’d expect from median ages).

                >>At any rate “environmental factor” is a bit of a moving target.

                Oh sure.

                I am not claiming any one single explanation. IMO it’s likely measures, climate/seasonality, “luck of the draw”/geographical factors (how early virus was introduced vs. known about, being an island and thus able to control travel better, etc.) all play major roles.

                But none of these seem sufficient to explain lots of high death rates in New World tropics vs. universally low in the Old World tropics (South Africa is moderately high, but nearly all temperate).

                This broad pattern is IMO more convincing than most claims about specific places.

                >>and you have mixed signals about seasonality like in Manaus.

                Well, I’m not sure we can learn anything about seasonality from Manaus – there really aren’t “seasons” in the usual sense there!

                Europe and the northern US look a lot like a “normal” seasonal pattern, it’s mostly the southern US that is really odd (summer/winter peaks). But I’m not sure it would be *that* strange for the pattern to be notably different at different latitudes.

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                Are you a secret Hope-Simpson guy?

              • Ken Schulz says:

                confused – Do not ignore the contribution of public-health infrastructure. Remember that many of sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest and oldest health challenges are infectious diseases: malaria, dengue, HIV/AIDS, others. For the governments in the region, many of which have limited resources, public-health initiatives are highly cost-effective, and can be stood up and staffed more quickly than health-care facilities.
                Interesting information here: https://www.prb.org/sub-saharan-africas-demographic-and-health-characteristics-will-influence-the-course-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

              • confused says:

                @Joshua: I wasn’t actually familiar with that, but it seems to be an older hypothesis about influenza seasonality being solar-driven?

                Influenza doesn’t have summer peaks in the southern US though – that was what fooled me this summer/early fall into thinking there was effectively no seasonal effect.

                But at more northern latitudes there really seems to be…

                @Ken Schulz: A valid point, but it doesn’t seem like enough to explain why *none* of the Old World tropical countries show high mortality rates. It’s hard to see *not one* of 60+ separate governments (and really, more than that, given sub-national-level authorities) messing it up.

                It’s not just Sub-Saharan Africa, the same question applies to tropical Asia too (and I think the low mortality rates in e.g. India are actually more surprising, as median age is comparable to hard-hit Latin American nations).

                I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some difference in prior exposure to other pathogens that matters…

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                Not so much solar as vitamin D.

                https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-422X-5-29

                It’s pretty interesting. And it dovetails with the vitamin D believers AND fairly well with the lattitude the lattitude believers.

                It takes a fair amount for me to have much confidence in theories that come from the outskirts of conventional wisdom (extraordinary claims and all that) but it’s interesting.

              • Joshua says:

                Here’s the truly malignant Ivor Cummins giving the standard anti-“lockdown” pattern matching treatment of Hope-Simpson and Covid.

                Methinks he won’t be doing an update video to follow up. If you get my drift.

                https://twitter.com/FatEmperor/status/1275841060204396551?s=09

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                Did you see that link? I thought I have it to you before.

              • confused says:

                I can totally believe vitamin D plays a role.

                However even that still doesn’t seem to explain the New World tropics vs Old World tropics thing, though it could easily explain low vs high latitude having different seasonality.

        • Anonymous says:

          Atlas / Epstein: Lockdown is economically very bad and we don’t want it, therefore the disease isn’t as bad as people claim

          dhgogaza/Others: Disease is very bad and we don’t want it, therefore lockdown isn’t as bad as people claim.

          Your position is just the opposite strawman, and no more “scientific” in any way. Their claim about the virus is demonstrably false; your claim about the economic impact of lockdowns isn’t that false, but it is a bare assertion and certainly unsupported by fact.

          There is and have always been viable choices between the two which, amazingly, even now could be implemented but no one’s bothering to do. And though nothing has changed since summer regarding prevention, when the CDC / Fauci et al finally relented on masks, the CDC is now recommending that schools reopen because social distancing and mask wearing is sufficient to control infection rates.

          Last but not least, while Atlas/Epstein are clearly full of **** that the disease is no worse than the flu, Fauci and others in the scientific establishment did more than their share of – to put it mildly – misinforming the public, with Fauci early on repeatedly saying that there’s no cause for alarm and the Surgeon General tweeting we should all stop wearing masks – long before Epstein and Atlas weighed in. Granted, they didn’t say this in a peer-reviewed publication or in a web-page editorial. They only announced it to the public in press briefings. If Bhattacharya is responsible for what his name is tagged on to, then Fauci is surely responsible for what comes directly out of his mouth.

          Summing up:

          There’s no defending ridiculous statements like “it’s not that bad” or “it’s only as bad as the flu”. But

          “Even the notion that mitigation measures like lockdowns were more expensive economically than doing nothing at all seems quite dubious”

          but no one reasonable has argued for “doing nothing at all”.

          • Ken Schulz says:

            The recommendations against mask-wearing were intended to preserve limited supplies of N95 and surgical masks for use by medical personnel, who were thought to be the most likely to be exposed to infection. The recommendations were based on the assumption that the general public could not be persuaded to avoid purchasing and likely hoarding masks, but instead to use alternative face coverings. As an engineering psychologist, whose work at times required writing _and_testing_and_re-writing_ instructions and information aids, I am convinced we can communicate better next time, if we spend time and effort understanding what communication strategies will achieve the desired result. There are more areas of application than just pandemics: achieving more-complete and more-orderly evacuations ahead of forecasted hurricanes, for example, depends in part on early and well-heeded warnings, and clear and specific instructions on routes and means of travel. Research into crisis communication of safe behavior will have measurable payoff.

          • Joshua says:

            Anon –

            >… but it is a bare assertion and certainly unsupported by fact

            Do tell.

            (I think there’s a good bit of uncertainty, but “certainly not supported by fact” is waaaay over-stated).

          • Ken Schulz says:

            Anonymous – There is another difference between your two paraphrased (parodied?) arguments: we cannot hold people harmless against COVID-19; some die or suffer persisting organ damage despite treatment. We can hold people harmless from the economic effects of lockdown or lesser restrictions. And we have done so, though inconsistently, through expanded and increased unemployment insurance, eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, student loan abeyance, etc. Other countries have done even more: universal paid sick leave, paid quarantine, and other measures. You might argue that there will be long-term economic harm from the high deficits that fund relief, but that is arguable theory, not established fact.

  9. jim says:

    Clearly this is out-and-out bullshit. The upside is that no one believes this trash.

    There were a lot of screw-ups by other people who should also have known better. But thankfully the cumbersome science bureaucracy is slowly converging on reality and amazingly the population seems to be going there with them. The Atlases of the world are getting left in the dust where they should be.

  10. Straight Shooter says:

    Strange. Because I just listened to an hour long podcast by some of the folks at the Hoover Institution, featuring Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (who sounds like an eminently reasonable fellow, I might add) saying the opposite of what you think they think about the vaccine.
    https://www.hoover.org/research/no-hugging-no-kissing

    Bhattacharya is very bullish about the vaccine and was discussing various ways to speed up the process.

    Lockdowns and lockdown denialism and skepticism about some of the tradeoffs are very different from COVID-‘denialism’.

    These are distinctions that one would have been obvious to most of us, in the pre-COVID world. But I suppose that in fashionable circles it has become customary to be less than careful, and to trash the Hoover Institution, and to mispresent what these debates are about. And tarnishing Richard Epstein (a brilliant legal theorist) with underestimating the virus in March is really not all its worked out to be, despite how good it makes some people feel.

    • Andrew says:

      Straight:

      I agree that it’s very strange. Did anyone in the podcast ask Bhattacharya why he’s listed as being on the advisory board of an organization that, just a few days ago, stated “there is no one for whom the benefit would outweigh the risk of these vaccines” and which has another board member who “believes the pandemic was over in the summer” and another one who publicly said, “Masks work? NO”? I guess maybe Bhattacharya feels that the larger goals of the organization are important enough that it’s worth teaming up with some politicos and cranks who don’t know what they’re talking about?

      The trouble is that reputation goes both ways. By joining this organization, Bhattacharya lends it his credibility. But, at the same time, he loses some credibility by being in the same group as someone who believes the pandemic was over in the summer and another who thinks there is no one for whom the benefit would outweigh the risk of these vaccines. By endorsing this organization, Bhattacharya is indeed endorsing covid denialism.

      Regarding Richard Epstein: I don’t really care if he’s a brilliant legal theorist. He’s the one who chose to write about public health policy, and for that he’s not brilliant, he’s an idiot. Suppose offered me some really bad advice on fixing my car, and he offered this advice with the backing of some respected institution, and it turned out the advice was really stupid. And then you told me that, hey, he’s a brilliant poet! Or maybe he makes really good pottery that’s been exhibited in the world’s finest museums! I’d say: hey, I wasn’t asking for a poem or a clay ashtray, I was trying to get my damn car fixed. I have no problem with a poet or a sculptor giving automotive advice. But when it’s really bad advice, then, yeah, I’d say the dude’s an idiot. Maybe the problem is that he’s had people telling him for a few decades how brilliant he is, and he’s started to believe his own hype.

      • BC says:

        “Did anyone in the podcast ask Bhattacharya why he’s listed as being on the advisory board of an organization that, just a few days ago, stated…”

        Sometimes people agree to be on advisory boards but never end up engaging much with that organization. Advisor is a very loose term and there is a lot of variation in how involved these advisors get. Also, since cancel culture is not a conservative thing, maybe Bhattacharya doesn’t feel the need to cancel his relationship with an organization whenever someone affiliated with that organization says something that he disagrees with. He might just feel that he’s responsible for what he says himself but not for what other people say. He might also think that the mere fact that someone says something he disagrees with, even something crazy and stupid, doesn’t mean that those people can’t still benefit from his advice.

        Finally, maybe some conservatives view Covid denialism the same way many liberals view Marxism — something they don’t necessarily agree with but not something that they necessarily feel the need to dis-affiliate from. Many liberal (and conservative) professors don’t resign from faculties simply because some of their colleagues are Marxists, and many non-Marxist progressive activists affiliate with organizations that have Marxist members and leaders, e.g., Black Lives Matter. Bhattacharya might view Panda as having both Covid non-denialists and denialists and disagree that he is “endorsing covid denialism”.

        • Andrew says:

          BC:

          When writing the above post, I had in fact reflected upon the issue you mention in your second paragraph, and I think there’s a big difference between working for a university and being on the advisory board of an advocacy organization. I teach at the same university as the notorious Dr. Oz. I knew people who taught at Cornell when Brian Wansink taught there. Etc. If someone were to ask me why I’m still working at an institution that employs Dr. Oz, I’d say that I’d prefer if he were not profiting from the name of my institution, but Columbia’s a big place, and Dr. Oz being there is not really my concern. But Columbia is not an advocacy organization. If I were on the board of an organization that, say, was advocating for the promotion of alternative medicine, and I learned that Dr. Oz was on the board, I’d be very troubled.

          Bhattacharya’s free to do what he wants and to make his own choices about what boards he’s on. But then the rest of us are free to exercise our own views regarding his judgment. If he and his Hoover colleagues think it’s cool to support an advocacy organization that’s been pushing the line that vaccines are more dangerous than doing nothing, and that the pandemic was over in the summer, then I think it’s fair to question their judgment about other covid-related topics. Or maybe the Hoover team has another take on this—but I’ll only know if they directly assess the question.

          I think you’re getting at something in your last paragraph: it could well be that the Hoovers feel that the covid denialists are useful allies in their fight, in the same way that a liberal who supports a $15 minimum wage etc. might like to have some flat-out communists on their left as part of a broader coalition. I guess it just depends how close the connections are. I would not, for example, think it necessary or even appropriate for the Hoovers to condemn covid denialists with whom they have no connection: it’s not their job to police the boundaries of discourse. Being part of an advocacy organization that’s promoting these ideas is, to me, another story, especially given Richard Epstein’s covid-minimizing from last year.

          • MikeG says:

            Bhattacharya was one of the leads on the ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’, which includes this:

            The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

            This may speak to his judgement, as does the rest of the declaration.

    • dhogaza says:

      “And tarnishing Richard Epstein (a brilliant legal theorist) with underestimating the virus in March”

      Epstein’s reputation was tarnished by his lying about his estimate, trying to claim first that he had never predicted only 500 deaths from the disease, that leaving off a zero was a “typo”, saying he had meant 5,000, and then later saying he had meant 50,000. I’m not sure if he’s now saying he had predicted 500,000 or not. He’s probably not, because that would not be consistent with claiming that covid is a nothingburger.

      And of course even if you grant him his original “typo”, predicting 5,000 deaths in March and using that to promote taking no mitigation action was laughable.

      Mentioning that he has “a brilliant legal mind” is an appeal to authority …

      As for the others:

      “Lockdowns and lockdown denialism and skepticism about some of the tradeoffs are very different from COVID-‘denialism’.”

      The denialism, of course, lies in the fact that their estimates of the seriousness of the disease was far, far off base, and that they trivialized it. They said lockdowns were unnecessary because the disease was no more fatal than the flu, and that if it weren’t for the media we wouldn’t even notice. They denied that the disease was dangerous at the very point in time when strong action and leadership from the top would’ve had the most effect.

    • Joshua says:

      Shooter –

      > Lockdowns and lockdown denialism and skepticism about some of the tradeoffs are very different from COVID-‘denialism’.

      Two issues there, IMO. The first is that, not as a defense of guilt-by-association, but Bhattacharya has been on a months-long publicity campaign on rightwing media, which specifically aligns him directly with people across that line you want to use as an inclusion/exclusion criterion. It seems like special pleading to me to first explicitly engage in that kind of messaging and then act all snowflake-like when criticism comes your way.

      The second is more basic – I don’t agree with your distinction as valid. Some of Bhattacharya’s academic contributions on this issue are, IMO, highly suspect, and not a basis on which to elevate his contributions as distinctly separate from what you call “COVID denialism.” I think that your distinctions are effectively arbitrary. Appealing to his authority doesn’t cut it for me as a distinguishing characteristic.

      If someone in an organization he supports puts up a statement on a website that he doesn’t agree with, I”m not sure that he should be painted with guilt by association. But on the other hand, there is an issue of accountability here.

    • Andrew says:

      P.S. to Straight: You write, “in fashionable circles it has become customary to be less than careful, and to trash the Hoover Institution, and to mispresent what these debates are about.”

      What does “fashion” have to do with it? If Hoover hires people who persistently say stupid things in public, and who join forces with other people who say stupid things in public, then that’s on Hoover. I don’t know their policies on tenure etc., but to the extent that Hoover and its prominent members continue to promote people who make ridiculous claims about coronavirus, that’s on them. This has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with responsible communication. And I can’t speak for others, but this doesn’t make me feel good at all. It makes me feel horrible that prominent institutions are promoting ridiculous claims.

  11. Chebyshev says:

    “ Funny how so many people want the vaccine, given that the risk outweighs the benefits.”

    How is that a proof of anything? Shall we say cigarette smoking is not harmful because millions smoke everyday?

    • Andrew says:

      Chebyshev,

      People do all sorts of things that are bad for their health. I ate a bacon sandwich just the other day! Vaccines are a little bit different, as they don’t taste good.

    • jim says:

      “How is that a proof of anything?”

      It’s proof that the overwhelming majority of people believe the risks outweigh the benefits.

      Smoking:
      “some” people participate in all kinds of stupid behaviors. The overwhelming majority of people don’t smoke.

      • Chebyshev says:

        Are those all voluntary, informed choices? Or influenced by social desirability bias, arm twisting at workplaces?

        I am not anti vaccine, but it is amusing to me that when we nitpick some statistical studies in irrelevant journals to death and let “acceptable stuff” to pass.

        PS:
        The fact that scholars like Andrew could get cancelled and his career ended for certain opinions makes everything on public forums suspect.

        • Andrew says:

          Chebyshev:

          Huh? No need to bring me into this one. Why not talk about scientists who’ve actually had their careers ended. Marc Hauser and Brian Wansink’s careers ended, but that wasn’t because of opinions, it was because of research misconduct. This indeed makes any of their data-based publications suspect, but I don’t see why it makes “everything on public forums” suspect. We can accept that some people lie without jumping to the extreme of not trusting anything.

          Regarding your comment about “nitpicking some statistical studies in irrelevant journals,” recall the Javert paradox. Instead of getting amused by “nitpickers,” I suggest you transfer your amusement, or anger, to the people who do the junk science and the people who promote the junk science. Junk in “irrelevant journals” goes into Ted talks by Matthew Walker etc. that millions of people watch. Junk science is the public face of science in many ways, and I think that critics of junk science are doing a service

          • Chebyshev says:

            Actually, I enjoy the nitpicking. Nitpicking that is uniformly brutal against all junk science – pro and anti whatever that is acceptable. Junk scientists ought to be ridiculed whether they are pro or anti whatever.

            Truth is some junk science will never make it to the stage because they say the “right” thing and taking them apart is severely career limiting to people.

            • anon e mouse says:

              This feels like a very unrealistic conception of science, to me. Science is a social undertaking by human beings, and so of course claims that piss people off are going to get more scrutiny than claims that don’t! If we properly incentivized taking down bad science, and doing quality work over publishing n articles a year, I believe we would get more scrutiny of all claims regardless of political valence, but since all of the incentives point the wrong way, this is the way it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Why would I waste my time going after a study that I don’t believe is harmful even if it’s wrong, given that there are no professional incentives for me to go after any study at all?

        • jim says:

          “Are those all voluntary, informed choices? “

          You’re saying that people are lining up in miles-long lines to get vaccinated because their bosses are telling them to or they’re experiencing social pressure from their coworkers? :) Preposterous! :)

    • Joshua L Brooks says:

      From Ezra Klein –

      -snip-

      Of the roughly 75,000 people who have received one of the five [vaccines] in a research trial, not a single person has died from Covid, and only a few people appear to have been hospitalized. None have remained hospitalized 28 days after receiving a shot”

      “To put that in perspective, it helps to think about what Covid has done so far to a representative group of 75,000 American adults: It has killed roughly 150 of them and sent several hundred more to the hospital.”

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