What was also not-so-novel about the COVID crisis was its origin in scam or junk science. John Ionnnidis, one of the leading critics of weak scientific work, jumped right in to alert people and policymakers about the many problems with various predictive models but he was largely ignored despite being one of the most highly-cited scientists alive. That is actually not unusual. Even before the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, Americans have been inundated with alarmist “scientific” claims that have not held up to close scrutiny. The problem is, they always hear about false claims but almost never hear about the retractions and whispered mea culpas (Latin for “my bad”). The net effect is undue pessimism about the state of the world.
Most scientific scares are rooted in the extrapolation of current trends to the point of disaster or desolation with no thought given to the possibility of cyclicality, natural limits, or behavioral changes. Ridley jokes about the nineteenth century prediction that by 1950 the streets of London would be ten feet deep in horse manure. Unfortunately, real scam science is no laughing matter. Here is a partial list: …Robert E. Wright, “The Sordid History of Scam Science” at American Institute for Economic Research
It’s a list well worth perusing. Chances are, some of our neighbours are still screaming about a lot of stuff that no one takes seriously any more.