A woman wears a mask as she commutes during rush hour on a subway, Tuesday, March 17, 2020 in New York. The subway is normally crowded but many people are staying home out of concern for the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Over the last month, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ have become patter in the catechism of American spiritual life.
A friend of mine was physically accosted in the post office the other day by an enraged patron for not wearing a face mask, as though he were a woman with his head uncovered on the streets of Tehran–with the difference that, in his particular canton, face masks while visiting businesses are voluntary, so far.
The pandemic has brought out an ugly, quasi-religious fundamentalism in some ordinary folks, not to mention a righteous self-certainty in politicians.
Those who question expert orthodoxy on the handling of the pandemic are branded ‘truthers’–as though doubting the prognostications and orders of the anointed techno-bureaucrat wizards smacks of nut-job conspiracy theorizing and denial of ‘facts’ (or ‘science’).
But many researchers have taken issue with the way our government has chosen to manage the Wuhan virus. Dr. Knut M. Wittkowski, the former chief biostatistician and epidemiologist at Rockefeller University Hospital, was quoted in the New York Post:
The veteran physician believes social distancing will only prolong the virus by preventing the natural development of “herd immunity.”
“All respiratory epidemics end when 80 percent of all people have become immune,” he said. “Then if a new person gets infected, the person doesn’t find anybody else to infect. The best strategy you can do is isolate the old and fragile people–make sure that nobody visits nursing homes–then let children go to school and let people work … They have a mild disease. Then they become immune, and after two or three weeks the epidemic is over.”
Wittkowski’s contention is accepted by many medical professionals, but has proved extremely controversial as a possible solution because medical facilities likely can’t handle the potential surge in cases.
Wittkowski and others who warn we are mishandling the crisis have been mostly ignored, or worse, treated to a gamut of abuse and sneering delegitimization.
The message from media opinion makers is clear: It’s not “controversial” to put a multi-trillion dollar economy in an induced coma and strip a free people of their civil liberties by emergency decree; but it IS “controversial” to express scientific dissent once credentialed folks we pick have settled on the ‘correct’ course of action.
PAGING A FALSIFIABLE HYPOTHESIS! IS THERE A FASIFIABLE HYPOTHESIS HERE?
Arguing over the absolute truth of particulars right now is bootless, since the decision has been made and enacted–though that doesn’t stop the commentariat from arguing anyway. The more interesting question: Will we EVER know whether the present course made matters better or worse?
If so, how?
A scientific hypothesis, to be worthy of the name, must be ‘falsifiable.’ In other words, a path must exist within the hypothesis for others to test the assertion, and if it doesn’t hold up, show how it’s wrong.
A hypothesis so vague or unquantifiable that it can’t possibly be proved wrong is garbage science. An unfalsifiable hypothesis is just ideology dressed in a lab coat–that, or advertising (“Tide is proven to be better!” Better? Better than what? Measured how?).
The claim presented to the American people smacks of ideology and advertising, something like: “Less death will unfold if we force citizens to stay home, wear masks at the store, and attack people in the post office who don’t comply!”
How can you possibly demonstrate this assertion to be wrong? Forget about whether it IS wrong–is there any conceivable path to demonstrating that it’s wrong? Can we infect the populace with another coronavirus; try herd immunity; then compare mortality rates and economic destruction after a year or three, after the economic destruction has really bit hard and driven some people to drug use, suicide, homelessness, fatal levels of stress, and crime?
Americans have been strapped into a truly controversial course of action based on authoritative opinion, all in the belief they are following a scientific hypothesis that is widely tested, robust, and has scientific consensus.
You might liken Americans to a blind man playing poker. They have gone all-in, tossing their civil liberties, jobs, and collective futures into the pot based on cards they cannot see, but hear are ‘very strong’ from expert players standing behind them.
WE HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE – RECENTLY
If this all seems oddly familiar, then you probably have been keeping up with the brouhaha around climate change. Must like the Wuhan Rona, expert-ideologues warn us that the world will effectively explode unless we swear off fossil fuels immediately and go super green.
The climate apocalypse is an unfalsifiable hypothesis that has reached ‘article of faith’ status among many segments of the population–the academy, entertainers, the legacy media, Silicon Valley, progressive political groups. The minority of experts and thinkers who disagree with the ‘certainty’ of climate apocalypse–an execrable group of heretics called ‘climate deniers’–are savaged in the public square.
The underlying assumption of ‘social distancing’ and ‘fossil-fuel distancing’ is the same: if we all don’t followed the prescribed course, then MASSIVE DEATH VERY SOON. There is no ‘Wait and see’, no ‘Play it safe.’ ACT NOW OR MASSIVE DEATH.
Returning to the poker analogy: Imagine that the poker experts tell the blind player: “A man standing behind you will kill you unless you win this hand outright.” If the player believes what he is told, folding and cutting his losses makes no sense. He might as well go all-in and hope the experts are also telling him the truth about the strength of his hand.
Conserving some of his money does him no good if he is dead.
But that’s a LOT of trust to put in the poker experts–particularly when those experts have a long and well-documented antipathy to a conservative style of betting, coupled with a history of misreading the direness of future risks.
It would be really heartbreaking if the blind player loses everything, only to be told: “Turns out we were wrong about the risk of that guy killing you. He’s just a waiter. We didn’t bother to verify his intentions, because we were so excited about seeing you play big and win big. But aren’t you glad you are alive?!”
If you want to watch Dr. Wittkowski explain himself, here’s an interview he did. He might be wrong. But if he is right, all we have bought with our trillions in economic destruction is more suffering.