The Experts Who Cried Wolf

(AP Photo/Kathy Young)
AP featured image
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb listens during an interview with The Associated Press in New York on Monday, March 5, 2018. Gottlieb said Monday that he needs more staffers to intercept opioids that are being disguised as other drugs and supplements. (AP Photo/Kathy Young)

I’m a numbers and lists geek. Anyone who’s read some of my COVID-19 related articles in recent weeks has likely gleaned that. When things started to get crazy, long about mid-March, I started taking note of the daily totals (cases, deaths, tests, etc.) both from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Map and the Worldometers site. It wasn’t so much that I doubted those numbers were being tracked and historically logged by those sites (and many others) as it was for my own edification. It was a way to pass the time and track the trends (recognizing that the numbers were only as reliable as their sources and may not be accurate, but over time, they’d still tell a story.) Perhaps it was my own little illusion of maintaining a measure of control over the situation. (Hey, at least I didn’t slip into Karen-mode and start lecturing the world on proper mask and social-distancing etiquette.)

Early on in this, I recall being stunned — startled, even — when I saw that initial Imperial College study that had millions dying and the Zombie Apocalypse bearing down on us. Our Managing Editor, streiff, can attest to that — I think that was one of those early mornings when I awoke to see the articles and read the study and immediately pinged him with an “Uh…this doesn’t look so good…” message. (One thing I’ve learned, working with streiff these past years, is that he rarely loses his cool, and he’s the last person I’d ever expect to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, so when I’m venturing toward panic land (it happens occasionally), he’s a great unflappable resource.)


As you may recall, that initial study predicted upwards of 2 million deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone (and over 500,000 in the U.K.)  As you may also recall, that initial study was subsequently called into serious question — as was its author. (READ: The Imperial College Study That’s Formed the Basis of So Much Panic Just Got Revised Down Significantly; Unbelievable: Chief Founder of the World’s Lock Down Orders Broke Guidelines to Have an Affair.) Long about the time that was going on — and the prediction in the U.S. was then scaled back to 100,000 to 200,000 (before it was scaled back to 60,000, and then revised back up to 100,000 to 200,000) — I began making a mental note of headlines predicting specific numbers and dire consequences, usually based on what (some) “experts” were saying. I even made a point to keep track of some — just to see how close to accurate they’d end up being.

It will likely come as no surprise to you that many of these predictions and projections haven’t come to fruition. As I said, I started tracking the numbers daily in mid-March. So, by the time early May rolled around, I had a pretty good sense of the trends of the numbers — as well as a pretty good sense of how the language surrounding them was often being manipulated by media to propel a particular narrative.


Thus, when I saw this headline/notification pop up on my phone one morning, I made a point to screenshot it. Because I knew — based on what I was seeing — that in order for it to be accurate, things were going to have to take a fairly abrupt turn south. And that would be big  (and bad):

Right then, as of the morning of May 4th, the total deaths in the U.S. attributed to COVID-19 stood at 68,606 per Worldometers. Please make no mistake — that’s 68,606 too many; but, in order for that prediction to be correct, that would mean that by tomorrow, June 1st, we’d be looking at roughly 136,000 deaths from this wretched virus.

It wasn’t just the headline, though. Per the article, the CDC was forecasting 3,000 daily deaths, and 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month.


The Trump administration is privately projecting daily coronavirus deaths to nearly double by June 1, even as it presses states to reopen.
Monday, May 4, 2020 11:42 AM EST

The projections, based on modeling by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pulled together in chart form by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 3,000 daily deaths, and 200,000 new cases each day by the end of this month, up from about 25,000 cases now.

This would mean an eight-fold increase in the number of new cases per day by the end of May — i.e., today.


So, where exactly are we today, May 31st? Total U.S. deaths attributed to the virus as of this morning (per Worldometers): 105,611. Again, that’s 105,611 too many, but it’s a far cry from the predicted 136,000. In fact, it’s just over half as many as predicted. Rather than averaging 3,000 daily deaths, we’ve averaged 1,370. And rather than 200,000 new cases each day, we’ve averaged less than 23,000.

I paid particular attention to that prediction, as it came on the day that Missouri’s statewide stay-at-home order was lifted (and around the time that many other states were beginning to lift theirs.) It struck me as being aimed at scaring people of the dire consequences likely to follow from crawling out of our foxholes and attempting to put the pieces of our lives — and economy — back together again. (You can find my articles regarding Missouri’s numbers post-re-open here and here.)

But even if you attribute that particular misleading headline/story to the agenda of the New York Times, there have been bold predictions made by the “experts”  — the ones we are relying on to help shape our response to the virus — that simply missed the mark. Considerably.

I started following Scott Gottlieb on Twitter soon after coronavirus hit our shores. He’s a physician, the former FDA Commissioner, and currently a resident fellow at AEI, so not someone I’d assume necessarily shares the Times’ agenda. He’s testified before Congress regarding the pandemic. He’s a respected “expert.”


What was Gottlieb saying on May 1st?

I knew when I saw that tweet that it wasn’t consistent with the numbers I was seeing.

Look, I’m neither a physician nor an epidemiologist. (I’m just a simple unfrozen cavewoman lawyer.) And I don’t doubt Dr. Gottleib is an eminently qualified expert in his field. Further, he was discussing trends, not exact numbers. But they were wrong. With New York included in the mix, our new cases per day have (as noted above) averaged 23,000. (Now, that’s an average, not a trend, but it’s nowhere near a “plateau” of 30,000.) And, in fact, if you took New York out of the mix, as Gottlieb suggested, our average number of daily new cases would be approximately 21,000. (That’s calculated based on the number of new cases per day in New York between May 1 and May 29, as reported here.)  Further, instead of averaging 2,000 deaths a day, we’ve averaged 1,370, as noted above.

So, what’s my point? Much has been written here at RedState (and elsewhere) pointing out the flaws and fallacies of the various reporting and expert predictions regarding this virus. At a time when we most need our “experts” to step up and provide reliable information — and predictions — they’ve fallen short, in numerous ways. And what happens when, over time, people see that the experts got it wrong? They stop paying them much — if any — heed. Just like the proverbial boy who cried wolf.



Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on RedState Videos