The Superstition of ‘Science’
Robert Stacy McCain
by
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 19, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)

A virus is not magic, epidemiology is not voodoo, and the credentialed experts are not a priesthood. Yet the reporters, anchors, and commentators on cable TV news — most of whom have no more claim to expertise in such matters than you or me — exhibit a cult-like faith in the ability of the Pandemic Priesthood to predict the future. Previous failures by these experts to predict the course of the COVID-19 outbreak are ignored, as the television preachers of “science” encourage their viewers to regard the priesthood with religious reverence. Most amazing of all is how the media has conferred expert status on certain politicians, as if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were qualified to deliver scientific lectures on preventing the spread of contagious disease.

All of this, of course, has little or nothing to do with actual science, and very much to do with political bias. Considering it their sacred duty to prevent President Trump’s reelection, the liberal media have created a narrative of the coronavirus pandemic: Trump is the villain who supposedly ignored science in his response to this disease and thereby caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Now that the “surge” of new infections is past (it peaked on April 4, as Michael Fumento has observed), questions about how best to return to normal business are being confused by the media’s anti-Trump narrative. Anyone who supports easing the stay-at-home orders is accused of wanting people to die, whereas advocates of indefinite shutdown are praised as being on the side of science.

Unlike actual science, which proceeds by an experimental process of trial and error based on observation, the superstition promoted by the media is one in which truth is determined by whatever fits their preferred political narrative. From this emerges a neo-gnostic belief system, where salvation requires access to esoteric knowledge exclusively possessed by the Pandemic Priesthood. This media-created mysticism is exposed as nonsense, however, by asking a few simple questions: How many Americans have been infected by COVID-19? What is the mortality rate of this disease? What percentage of those infected are asymptomatic?

The correct answer to all those questions is, we don’t know.

Even the leading experts in epidemiology seemed surprised, for example, at recent test results that indicate a large number of Americans have already been infected by the coronavirus and never got sick. When a COVID-19 outbreak struck the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, the Navy ordered testing of the aircraft carrier’s entire crew and found that 60 percent of those who tested positive showed no symptoms. Similarly, large-scale testing in Santa Clara County, California, found that antibodies to the coronavirus were present in a substantial percentage of subjects with no symptoms, indicating that the county’s actual number of infections might be more than 80,000, even though only about 1,000 cases had been officially reported. In Boston, a coronavirus outbreak at a homeless shelter led officials to test everyone in the shelter, discovering 146 infected people who reported no symptoms of the disease. And a test of 200 people in a Boston suburb found that one-third of the study participants tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies but had no symptoms.

A common-sense conclusion from these results is that the mortality rate from the virus is far lower than the official case numbers suggest. If most people infected with COVID-19 never develop severe symptoms, they aren’t showing up in hospital emergency rooms and thus aren’t counted among the approximately 760,000 known U.S. cases of the disease. As of Sunday afternoon, there had been about 40,000 U.S. deaths attributed to the coronavirus outbreak. By simple arithmetic, this would mean a mortality rate slightly above 5 percent; but if a large number of those infected are asymptomatic, the actual mortality rate would be much lower.

In fact, the COVID-19 mortality rate (as calculated from reported cases and reported deaths) varies widely from state to state. In New York and Michigan, about 7 percent of confirmed cases have resulted in death, which is more than twice the mortality rate in California and Texas. Could climate explain these variations? Is it possible that coronavirus infection is less fatal in sunny Florida than in chilly Michigan? We don’t know, but test results indicating a substantial number of asymptomatic cases suggest that the pandemic is both larger than we know, in terms of the number of people infected, and less dangerous, in terms of the percentage of infected people who become seriously ill.

We know a lot more about COVID-19 now than we knew five weeks ago on March 16, when the president announced official “social distancing” guidelines to contain the virus, but there is still a lot we don’t know. How effective were state-by-state lockdown orders in reducing the spread of the infection? The talking heads on cable-TV news express almost unanimous certainty that these stay-at-home orders have saved many thousands of lives, but where is the proof of such claims? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t issue a statewide lockdown order until April 1, nearly two weeks later than Cuomo ordered a lockdown in New York. Yet the per-capita number of coronavirus cases in Florida is about 90 percent lower than in New York, and Florida’s death rate is 96 percent lower. If “mitigation” (to use one of the bits of epidemiological jargon popularized by the media’s COVID-19 coverage) cannot be directly correlated to the issuance of lockdown orders, why should we assume that the lifting of these orders will result in new outbreaks? This is the fear being promoted by the media in their effort to convince Americans that Trump’s plan to get the country back to business is irresponsible.

The three-phase plan the president announced Friday sets clear benchmarks to guide state and local governments toward returning to normal economic activity. The key metric is a “downward trajectory” of new cases sustained over a 14-day period. By this measure, Florida has already qualified for easing its restrictions, since its peak in new COVID-19 cases was April 3 (see “Florida Has Beaten the ‘Surge,’ ” April 15). The governor on Friday announced that local officials could make their own decisions when to reopen beaches, and Jacksonville’s mayor promptly did so. Internet busybodies denounced this measure, with the hashtag #FloridaMorons trending on Twitter, and left-wing celebrity Bette Midler mocking the beachgoers: “To try to get a little sun so you look healthy at your funeral.” The mayor’s beach reopening order required “social distancing” practices, and there is no reason to suppose that wading in the surf will mean certain death.

Partisan politics, and not science, is shaping perceptions. Florida’s governor is a Republican, and therefore a villain to liberals, despite the fact that his state’s coronavirus outbreak is 90 percent smaller than New York’s, where the Democrat Cuomo is celebrated as a hero. The anti-Trump agenda results in Democrats making flatly false claims, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the president’s plan to reopen the economy. Pelosi called the plan “vague and inconsistent,” accused the president of “failure to listen to the scientists” and declared that Trump’s “continued insistence on moving forward without testing, contact tracing, demographic data collection and a respect for science and the facts risks further death and economic disaster.” These sweeping claims are easily recognized as partisan rhetoric, but Pelosi and the Democrats are convinced they possess a monopoly on “science and the facts,” and the media reinforce that belief.

Consider the assertion that Trump has been guilty of a “failure to listen to the scientists.” Supposedly, the president ignored warnings about the seriousness of COVID-19 and therefore is responsible for the number of Americans who have died from the disease. Measured on a per-capita basis, however, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus outbreak (about 112 per million residents), is less than half that of France (287 per million) and far below the numbers for Italy, Spain, and Belgium. How is Trump uniquely guilty of ignoring science, when the impact of this disease has been so much worse in so many European countries? And as author Matt Margolis has pointed out, New York City and its suburbs have a shockingly disproportionate share of U.S. coronavirus cases. Why is Trump to blame for the catastrophe in Cuomo’s jurisdiction?

Here’s something the media want you to forget: On March 1, New York reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19, a 39-year-old woman who had just returned from Iran. In a CNN appearance the next day, Gov. Cuomo said “we have no reason for concern” that the woman had spread the disease to anyone else. Cuomo went on to say that, while he expected to “find community spread” of the disease in New York eventually, he did not wish to provoke unnecessary fear: “What I am concerned about, if anything, more than a health issue, is the perception issue and the fear issue. I understand diligence and I understand anxiety and let’s do everything we can. But you can’t allow the fear to outpace reality, right?”

Reality has since caught up. As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 20,000 New Yorkers had died from this disease about which Cuomo had “no reason for concern” on March 1. In fact, Cuomo’s state has accounted for 47 percent of all U.S. coronavirus deaths so far. Why is the media’s Greek chorus not heaping blame on Cuomo? You don’t need an advanced degree in epidemiology to know the answer to that question, but Cuomo claims to have been guided by science all along, and he insists that only with a massive testing program will it be possible to end the shutdown regime. “Any plan that is going to start to reopen the economy has to be based on data, and that means it has to be based on testing,” Cuomo said Sunday, adding, “You have all these scientists and experts who are basically trying to extrapolate from the data, but we don’t really know how many people were infected. How many people had coronavirus but self-resolved? We don’t really know, because we haven’t been able to do testing on that large a scale.”

As interesting as it will be to learn the results of the large-scale antibody testing New York plans, the rest of the country won’t wait for permission from Cuomo (or Nancy Pelosi) to begin their own step-by-step approach to resuming normal life. Floridians are back on the beach, and Texas has announced its own plan to reopen the economy. Maybe these plans are premature and will produce renewed outbreaks of COVID-19, but we won’t know for a few weeks. Real science, however, requires trial and error. The “experts” failed to predict the trajectory of this pandemic, because their computer models were all wrong. If the states are our country’s “laboratories of democracy,” as Justice Brandeis famously said, they may also act as laboratories for disease control. Let’s hope their ongoing experiments prove successful.

Robert Stacy McCain
Robert Stacy McCain
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