The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong, So Why Do We Keep Listening to Them?

by Steve Golden

For many, Memorial Day weekend was a breath of fresh air. Beaches and lakes were open, and humans did what humans were made to do—we flocked to gatherings and enjoyed fellowship with other people. But in the age of COVID-19, a handshake or a hug is followed by furtive glances to make sure no one is calling the city’s 311 hotline to report you (see more examples here, here, and here), and gathering together with friends for a weekend celebration is something our government and media feel free to criticize, judge, and condemn.

CNN interviewed one woman at a holiday speedway event who stated, “We’re tired of being stuck in the house. I’m not afraid of this virus one bit.” Her words reflect the general sentiment of freedom-loving Americans who are tired of being told who they’re allowed to associate with and when they are allowed to make a living. But what really stings about government mishandling of the pandemic is that the American people have been lectured endlessly by so-called “experts”—such as Dr. Anthony Fauci—who have repeatedly been wrong. With each revelation that another model or another set of data was incorrect, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that small business owners and citizens who lost their livelihoods during the economic shutdown are losing interest in what they have to say.

Inflated Fatality Rates

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, made headlines recently when she stated she was “worried stats like the mortality rate and case count could be inflated by as much as 25 percent.” She reportedly said that “there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.” Specifically, Dr. Birx recommended that the CDC stopped counting “probable” COVID-19 deaths and deaths with COVID-19 (as opposed to from the virus) in the nation’s fatality totals. In New York’s COVID-19 fatality totals alone, the CDC reported that as of May 2, 21% of counted deaths were probable, meaning there was no laboratory test confirming the patient even had COVID-19. In other words, out of 32,107 counted deaths, 5,048 were probable but not laboratory-confirmed deaths.

If Dr. Birx is right about the COVID-19 death count being inflated by 25% (and she’s likely offering a conservative figure), the fatality rate of COVID-19 very likely is close to the fatality rate of the flu.

Consider also that fatality rates are based on confirmed cases and not the actual infection rate, due to a lack of widespread testing. Antibody testing in Los Angeles county revealed that the infection rate “may be as high as 55 times the current number of confirmed positive cases”—meaning the fatality rate is far, far lower than predicted. (See my post about the statistical problems with COVID-19 fatality predictions for more detailed information.)

Ever Changing Models and Predictions

Keep in mind also that the models our nation’s healthcare experts keep making decisions based on have proven to be fundamentally flawed. Neil Ferguson, who initially promoted widespread lockdowns (while simultaneously violating them himself), promoted his own model predicting over 2.2 million American deaths without strict quarantines. His and other models’ figures have been revised downward over and over again, and the predictions that hospitals would be overrun have never even come close to being realized.

Ineffective Lockdown Orders?

Despite media claims that “experts agree” on anything related to mass quarantines and lockdowns, plenty of experts disagree as well. While it’s been commonly accepted that isolating sick people from healthy people is an effective way to stop transmission of an illness, history and studies have shown that mass quarantines of both the healthy and the sick do very little to stop viral transmission. In an interview with FiveThirtyEight in February, Wendy Parmet, director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University Law School, noted that the mass quarantine protocols in Toronto during the SARS outbreak were followed by only 57% of those quarantined, missed numerous infected people, and left healthy people trapped with infected individuals.

None of the experts can say definitively that these sweeping lockdowns have been effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19, nor can anyone say they haven’t been effective. There’s just not enough evidence either way. But what is clear is that many of the predictions that reopening state economies in late April would lead to untold coronavirus deaths turned out to be wrong, as evidenced by Georgia’s successful reopening. (It’s also worth noting that Sweden opted for a more targeted approach, allowing herd immunity to develop in the population, which appears to have been effective.)

We Were Against Masks, Before We Were for Them

Early in the pandemic, experts told us not to wear masks, with our own Surgeon General stating, “What the World Health Organization [WHO] and the CDC [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks.” Not long after, the CDC did an about face and started recommending masks for the general public, which led to them being required on the job and even for customers in some stores.

But these mask recommendations are in spite of evidence that most masks, except for N95 respirators, are almost completely ineffective in preventing COVID-19 transmission. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota astutely observed that “sweeping mask recommendations—as many have proposed—will not reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as evidenced by the widespread practice of wearing such masks in Hubei province, China, before and during its mass COVID-19 transmission experience earlier this year.” They concluded in their research on every mask option, including cloth masks, that “Cloth masks are ineffective as source control and PPE . . . Masks may confuse that message and give people a false sense of security. If masks had been the solution in Asia, shouldn’t they have stopped the pandemic before it spread elsewhere?”

Cloth masks and even surgical masks simply lack the efficiency needed to trap viral particles, and may even be detrimental, as the wearers often stop covering when they sneeze/cough and do not wash the masks often enough to kill trapped microbes. Their only benefit appears to be psychological—so why do the experts keep insisting we wear them?  

We Are Not a Nation Run by Experts

I don’t write any of this to downplay the importance of scientific research or expertise. Experts play an important role in the creation of public policy. However, Americans should be alarmed by at least two developments as a result of this pandemic.

First, we should be alarmed by how easily dissenting opinions of experts equally qualified to speak out about pandemic health policies are dismissed by the media and government. More than that, the media castigates dissenters, social media platforms ban them, and their reputations are dragged through the mud as punishment for speaking out.

Second, we should be alarmed by how quickly the media and many government officials have insisted that a singular, unelected expert—namely, Dr. Fauci—be allowed to dictate policy and our lives based on his interpretation of the evidence. Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, noted recently that our Founders never intended our nation to be run by experts, but by duly elected representatives of the people, who may turn to experts for counsel but ultimately represent the American constituency in their choices. Quoting Winston Churchill, Arnn writes,

Here is Churchill again:

“I decline to admit there are any experts in democracy in [the House of Commons]. We are all elected on equal terms and have a right to equal credit and consideration. We are elected on the widest franchise obtaining in any country in the world, and it is our business to see that the people’s rights are not derogated from or prejudiced in any respect.”

We must of course listen to experts, just as Churchill did, but expertise cannot as a simple fact of principle tell us finally what is right to do.

Larry Arnn, “Thoughts on the Current Crisis,” Imprimis 49, no. 3/4.

It’s time for the American people to demand their representatives in government do more than bow to the experts. It’s time to call and write the governors, senators, and representatives and call them to action—to reopen the economy quickly, and to consider but not kowtow to the dictates of experts. The American people are more than numbers in a model, and we should be heard.

†Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks (public domain)

7 thoughts on “The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong, So Why Do We Keep Listening to Them?

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  1. Amen! and AMEN!!! Makes me wonder which camp most people are in: those “considering” or those “kowtowing” to the dictates of the “experts”. Are actions a good indicator?

    1. I think when you look at some of the more level-headed responses from leaders like Georgia’s governor, who looked at the experts’ calls to keep everything shut down for months to come, and weighed that against how damaging that would be (and had been) to the local economy, it’s pretty clear the “expert” is more of an advisor than a dictator in those cases. It’s likely some of those states’ leaders are looking at the dissenting opinions of other experts as well to formulate their plans–which is healthy! Consider opposing viewpoints–what a novel idea! (I’m looking at you, Michigan and California.) Even rural Kansas counties, once Gov. Kelly lifted her restrictions and turned it over to the counties, opted not to put any restrictions in place for the sake of their peoples’ livelihoods.

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