Herd Immunity, Not Herd Mentality
Dr. Nathan Lents is a Darwinist biologist who has tangled with design science in the past. His response to the coronavirus pandemic is, believe it or not, to chastise ordinary people who question the competence of public health experts. On Twitter, Dr. Lents rants:
Something I have heard WAY TOO OFTEN from otherwise smart/thoughtful people: “What about all the harm to mental and physical health by saying home/alone this much?” Y’all need to STOP with the notion that #PublicHealth scientists at the CDC/NIH/WHO are just forgetting or ignoring the costs & dangers of all this sheltering-in-place. OF COURSE they know all that. The entire field of Public Health is about weighing multiple factors, balancing disparate health risks and benefits, calculating costs and dangers. THAT IS WHAT THE FIELD *IS*.
Actually, the “field of public health” is complicit in the worst episode of scientific malfeasance in the 21st century. WHO and the CDC have a major job — prevent pandemics. They not only failed to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. Worse, they failed to take appropriate action months ago when it was obvious that China was dealing with a highly contagious and deadly viral epidemic. The WHO dissembled about the seriousness of COVID-19, advised against closing borders, and basically did China’s bidding at the expense of the rest of the world. The CDC was months behind the curve as well. Experts like Dr. Fauci downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, and local experts like the New York City health commissioner actually told people to gather in large crowds even as the pandemic spread.
Had scientists done their job, Europe and the U.S. could have restricted travel from Wuhan earlier and dramatically reduced the transmission of the virus to their populations. Scientific incompetence has cost many lives and trillions of dollars. And Dr. Lents says “How dare you not trust us!”
Yes, public health scientists actively monitor competing risks and they understand those risks WAY BETTER than the rest of us, especially better than all the newly minted amateur epidemiologists among us.
Actually, public health scientists didn’t understand the risks of COVID-19. That’s one reason that we have this pandemic. That Lents would criticize people who question “public health scientists” in the wake of the most egregious failure of public health scientists in this century is remarkable.
Lents next tells us to trust the scientists’ models:
Those various risks & benefits are in the models that they are using. Don’t forget that CDC tracks depression, anxiety, suicide, obesity, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, malnutrition, and even domestic violence, just as actively as they track infectious disease. Those variables are in their calculations, and so is economic impact, because they understand that economic downturn brings harm to mental & physical health. I’m not saying we shouldn’t question scientists, but it is ignorant & insulting to suggest that they haven’t considered these extremely obvious concepts. Folks, this is Public Health 101.
Epidemiological models have been worse than useless: they have caused panic and enormous damage to our economy. They botched their most important job, which is to protect the public from pandemics. Public Health 101 is to prevent pandemics. Scientists knew (or should have known — that was their job) months ago what was brewing in Wuhan and they failed to act.
Lents continues his elitist rant:
Would you tell a carpenter that some kinds of wood are harder than others? Would you remind a soccer player that she can’t use her hands? Would you lecture your electrician about GFCI outlets and safety? Would you remind a chef not to use a dull knife?
Any carpenter or electrician who did his job as badly as public health scientists did theirs on the coronavirus pandemic would be fired on the spot, if he’s lucky. The analogue to public health scientists’ conduct in the coronavirus pandemic would be a carpenter who built a house that collapsed and killed its occupants, or an electrician who burned a house down with his incompetent work.
Lents Won’t Give Up
He goes on:
Yes, I’m ranting, but this is beyond frustrating. Imagine, if you can, someone with NO EXPERIENCE in your line of work asking you if you know something that you learned on your first day on the job. The utter contempt for expertise is not just annoying but DANGEROUS.
Questioning scientific opinions isn’t “dangerous.” Blindly trusting a scientific elite unworthy of trust is dangerous. It would be great if the situation were otherwise, but it isn’t, so we have to think for ourselves.
We can question [scientists] later, and believe me, we will.
Lents won’t be questioning scientists. He’s already running cover for them.
Covering Tracks, Making Excuses
Scientists will be studying the effectiveness of our countermeasures during this epidemic FOR YEARS. But for now, please LET THE EXPERTS DO THEIR JOBS. They are our best hope to minimize death and suffering.
Scientists will be covering their tracks and making excuses for years. We can’t just “let them do their jobs.” Our scientific establishment has already done enough damage. It would seem that the response of the scientific establishment to their worst failure in the 21st century would be “We scientists are really sorry about our countless errors that led to this pandemic that has disrupted the lives and economies of the West, perhaps permanently. Please forgive us and help us to humbly revamp our science.” Scientists at the WHO, the CDC, in the Chinese scientific establishment, and elsewhere permitted this pandemic. If the virus arose naturally (a big “if” in my view), it needed to be only a local outbreak in Wuhan. But the scientific community stood by as infected people flew out of Wuhan to the world, even as Chinese experts closed down flights out of Wuhan within China. Chinese scientists obviously knew the truth — why would China close its own airports to travelers from Wuhan if the virus was harmless?
Don’t say, “Oh, but they didn’t know!” It’s their job to know, and much of what was happening in China was public knowledge. Public health experts have known for decades that China is the source for serial outbreaks of SARS-like viral pandemics. It happens every few years. What recommendations were made by our science elites to protect us from this? Did they provide the obvious advice to prevent pandemics: “We must close our borders to potentially infected travelers”? Any middle school child knows that, but it was opaque to our experts.
Science experts left us open to a horrendous pandemic. Yet public health scientists remain fully employed, and now Lents scolds us for doubting advice from the same hacks who botched things up to begin with. Raw arrogance.
Controversy, Not “Consensus”
As this pandemic shows, we need to question scientific experts, constantly and rigorously. We need scientific controversy, not “consensus.” On a broad spectrum of issues — not only epidemiology, but evolution, neuroscience, climate science, among others — we need to say to the scientific establishment: “Show us. Prove what you claim, to our satisfaction, because we don’t believe you.”
Never forget what the scientific “consensus” did to us. Scientific “consensus” left us with overflowing morgues and wrecked economies. In a rational society, scientists responsible for this would lose their jobs and face legal investigation for negligence.
Herd immunity is good, but herd mentality is lethal. We need to be done with this scientific priesthood. We should assume that every pronouncement of the scientific “consensus” — “You must do as we order — all scientists agree!” — is dubious at best until shown to be otherwise.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash, via Unsplash.