Now more than ever:
Since World War II, America has suffered two respiratory pandemics comparable to COVID-19: the 1958 “Asian flu,” then the 1969 “Hong Kong flu.” In neither case did we shut down the economy—people were simply more careful. Not all that careful, of course—Jimi Hendrix was playing at Woodstock in the middle of the 1969 pandemic, and social distancing wasn’t really a thing in the “Summer of Love.”
And yet COVID-19 was very different thanks to a single “buggy mess” of a computer prediction from one Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist given to hysterical overestimates of deaths, from mad cow to bird flu to H1N1.
For COVID-19, Ferguson predicted 3 million deaths in America unless we basically shut down the economy. Panicked policymakers took his prediction as gospel, dressed as it was in the cloak of science.
Now, long after governments plunged half the world into a Great Depression, those panicked revisions are being quietly revised down by an order of magnitude, now suggesting a final tally comparable to 1958 and 1969.
COVID-19 would have been a deadly pandemic with or without Ferguson’s fantasies, but had we known the true scale and parameters of the threat we might have chosen better tailored means to both safeguard the elderly and at-risk, while sustaining the wider economy. After all, economists have long known that mass unemployment and widespread bankruptcies carry enormous health consequences that are very real to the victims suffering drained life savings, ruined businesses, broken families, widespread mental and physical health deterioration, even suicide. Decisions involve tradeoffs.
COVID-19 has illustrated the importance of free and robust inquiry…
Indeed, every major scientific advance challenged the “settled science” of its day, and was often denounced as pernicious and false, even dangerous. The modern blood transfusion, for example, was developed in the late 1600s, then banned for nearly a century by a hostile medical establishment, “canceling” tens of millions of lives at the altar of groupthink and hostility to skeptics.Peter St. Onge, “The COVID-19 Panic Shows Us Why Science Needs Skeptics” at Mises Wire
The thing is, it used to just be sympathizers of some unpopular viewpoint like ID getting deplatformed. Now, COVID-19 has raised the stakes, with so many official sources demanding obedience to conflicting and wrong ideas. And our neighbors can’t afford to ignore just how destructive the establishment line, unfettered and unhinged, can be.
It’s a good time to talk to them about the problems with Establishment Science today. Too much arrogance and politicking; not enough humility or integrity.