JACKSON — The president’s medical experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, bet their credibility and the U.S. economy on a lot of deaths from the novel coronavirus. They first said 2.2 million would die. That was wrong. Then they said 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. Then 93,531. The latest prediction is lower than the one before. All their numbers are wrong. All their bets are bad.
Experts have an image problem. Ordinary people see that they are wrong. What to do? Take credit for being wrong. Take credit for fewer deaths. Say the sky hasn’t fallen because ordinary people have social-distanced like the experts said to do. Don’t mention that ordinary people have lost their jobs as a result. And that people at the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and other experts haven’t — yet.
Don’t mention that epidemics die out naturally without help from experts when enough of the population has natural or acquired immunity to stop the spread of the disease. This appears to be happening now. Don’t mention that it takes longer for the epidemic to die out if you “flatten the epidemic curve” to reserve unneeded hospital capacity because you overestimated the need by10 to 20 times.
Don’t mention that the number of cases and deaths is about the same with or without a flatter curve. Or that a flatter curve means longer lockdowns and other government interventions prescribed by experts that destroy lives and livelihoods without preventing more deaths.
Don’t mention that epidemic cases cluster predictably where there are populations vulnerable to the disease. High-density populations are one such vulnerability. Older populations are another. Diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and obesity are, too. Don’t mention that a one-size-fits-all expert remedy such as social distancing doesn’t fit all in a country as big and diverse as ours. The remedy is not enough for some populations. It’s more than needed for most.
Doctors and hospitals and ordinary people have put off elective surgeries and have put other health issues on hold to reserve capacity that experts said would be needed to treat COVID-19 cases. That capacity hasn’t been needed or used except in a few COVID-19 hot spots. And hospitals and doctors and nurses elsewhere who need patients haven’t had them and idle capacity there hasn’t been used. And patients that need treatment for other health issues haven’t been treated.
We have all surrendered our freedoms to assemble and to worship and to go about our lives. We have allowed governors to become agents for experts and local law officers to enforce their unneeded and unworkable remedies. And neighbors have become snitches who report failures to comply with experts’ edicts, as though they hope to become teacher’s pets.
The land of the free and home of the brave has become a pasture — compliant citizens are the sheep, and experts are the sheepdogs.
And what once were watchdogs of the press have become guard dogs of the sheepdogs and lapdogs that peddle their narratives. They yap incessantly that new cases show the sky is falling and that more cases will stress hospital capacity in some hot-spot clusters. But they won’t report or explain why there aren’t enough deaths to explain the doomsday theory.
Richard Feynman, the famous theoretical physicist, served on the commission to find the cause of the Challenger’s televised explosion at liftoff that killed all the astronauts, including the first female. He explained it with a simple experiment showing it was too cold at launch for the gaskets to seal the different stages of the rocket. So hot gases leaked and caused the explosion.
Feynman was known for saying, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is. If your experimental data don’t prove it, it’s wrong.”
The doomsday theory is wrong. The deaths don’t prove it. The experts’ advice based on the wrong theory is wrong. It’s not only not helpful. It’s destructive.
Feynman also said, “Science is belief in the ignorance of experts.” By that he meant that science advances knowledge by disproving conventional wisdom. Doctors used to apply leaches and bleed patients because that’s what experts did. It was once conventional medical wisdom. Most doctors don’t do it today.
We can and should excuse ignorance in experts — if they admit it. That’s how knowledge advances. But we can’t and shouldn’t excuse dishonesty. That’s unforgivable.
The Texas governor just announced that he’d had enough of the experts. Texas is going back to work. Would be nice if Mississippi were next. It would be helpful to have antibody test results to show who has immunity and is not infectious and can work without endangering others — especially those in vulnerable population clusters.
Some antibody tests are available and others are under development. I understand there’s an animal antibody test at Mississippi State’s veterinary school that can be adapted to test for COVID-19 antibodies in humans. It’s simple and cheap and based on ELISA technology that has been used in human pregnancy tests for years. I also understand it’s been delayed by what might be described as state agency inertia and turf fights.
Maybe the governor could help move it along and mitigate some of the damage caused by his well-intentioned, but damaging shutdown of much of Mississippi’s economy.
• Kelley Williams, a Greenwood native, is chairman of Bigger Pie Forum, a Jackson-based think tank promoting free markets and government efficiency.