Letter: Master of Disaster

Letter to the Editor

The extraordinary influence of supposedly expert modelers is the great COVID-19 scandal. In some cases, modelers completely misinformed government leaders, the news media and, ultimately, the public about the scale of the threat.

The most influential model was the one created by the Imperial College in London, which estimated more than 2.2 million Americans could die. The model projected that our hospitals, intensive care units and ventilators would be overwhelmed.

Faced with a projection that 2,200,00 Americans could die, President Trump had no choice but to close the country. Estimates of imminent death on this scale can make almost any radical response seem rational.

Unfortunately, too few people examined the assumptions behind the Imperial College model. First, it assumed an infection rate of over 80 percent of our population. By comparison, the deadliest pandemic in modern history was the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. It only infected 28 percent of the U.S. population.

Second, the Imperial College predictions were based on a model of taking zero precautions. Of course, this is an entirely irrational assumption based on basic human behavior. Just because the government is not forcing you to stay inside your house, limit contact with people and wash your hands doesn’t mean that human beings will not take the precautions. 

So, projections that were disconnected from common sense and reality were able to guide public policy. The truth is, we should have immediately expected these dire predictions to be complete bunk. It turns out the chief author, Neil Ferguson, has become famous for making wildly absurd predictions about public health issues. The British newspaper The Telegraph wrote: “Ferguson has been wrong so often that some of his fellow modelers call him ‘The Master of Disaster.’”

This scandal deserves a serious congressional investigation. We were being guided in national policy by people who had no realistic scientific basis for—or demonstrable faith in—their claims. In effect, much of our pandemic public policy was being driven by fake science which exists as a partner with the fake news that enthusiastically creates hysteria when and wherever it can.

Lawrence Weisdorn