Monday, July 19, 2021

Ginning Up a Moral Panic

It is, dare we say, a frightening story. It’s not about the coronavirus pandemic per se, but it’s about the moral panic that accompanied it. Government officials, academic researchers, media elites and social media tech titans conspired to produce a moral panic about the pandemic.

But, how much of what they were saying was true? How much of it was scientific fact? How much was an effort to gain political power? How much of it was an effort to impose certain dogmas on the nation, in the name of science?

John Tierney, formerly with the New York Times, now with the Manhattan Institute, reports the story for City Journal. (via Maggie’s Farm) Being as I have very limited knowledge of epidemiology I will limit myself to reporting his observations and conclusions.

If he is right, and all appearances point in that direction, we Americans and other peoples throughout the world were induced to panic, to throw reason to the winds and to throw facts out the window. As we are tallying up the damage the virus has done, we need a separate ledger for the damage the lockdowns have done.

At the very least, Tierney’s article feels authoritative on the subject. It will surely set the standard for later studies of the pandemic panic.

Tierney begins on this note:

Instead of keeping calm and carrying on, the American elite flouted the norms of governance, journalism, academic freedom—and, worst of all, science. They misled the public about the origins of the virus and the true risk that it posed. Ignoring their own carefully prepared plans for a pandemic, they claimed unprecedented powers to impose untested strategies, with terrible collateral damage. As evidence of their mistakes mounted, they stifled debate by vilifying dissenters, censoring criticism, and suppressing scientific research.

We know the cost of the pandemic-- or at least we think we do-- but we have not fully measured the cost of the lockdowns:

One in three people worldwide lost a job or a business during the lockdowns, and half saw their earnings drop, according to a Gallup poll. Children, never at risk from the virus, in many places essentially lost a year of school. The economic and health consequences were felt most acutely among the less affluent in America and in the rest of the world, where the World Bank estimates that more than 100 million have been pushed into extreme poverty.

Some leaders proposed that we adopt the traditional strategy for dealing for such health crises. Others, like Dr. Fauci, disagreed vehemently:

The traditional strategy for dealing with pandemics was to isolate the infected and protect the most vulnerable, just as Atlas and the Great Barrington scientists recommended. The CDC’s pre-pandemic planning scenarios didn’t recommend extended school closures or any shutdown of businesses even during a plague as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu. Yet Fauci dismissed the focused-protection strategy as “total nonsense” to “anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases,” and his verdict became “the science” to leaders in America and elsewhere.

Among those who ignored the Fauci prescriptions was Florida governor Ron DeSantis:

But DeSantis was skeptical of the hospital projections—for good reason, as no state actually ran out of beds—and more worried about the risk of Covid spreading in nursing homes. He forbade long-term-care centers to admit anyone infected with Covid and ordered frequent testing of the staff at senior-care centers. After locking down last spring, he reopened businesses, schools, and restaurants early, rejected mask mandates, and ignored protests from the press and the state’s Democratic leaders. Fauci warned that Florida was “asking for trouble,” but DeSantis went on seeking and heeding advice from Atlas and the Great Barrington scientists, who were astonished to speak with a politician already familiar with just about every study they mentioned to him.

What was the result in Florida?

Florida’s mortality rate from Covid is lower than the national average among those over 65 and also among younger people, so that the state’s age-adjusted Covid mortality rate is lower than that of all but ten other states. And by the most important measure, the overall rate of “excess mortality” (the number of deaths above normal), Florida has also done better than the national average. Its rate of excess mortality is significantly lower than that of the most restrictive state, California, particularly among younger adults, many of whom died not from Covid but from causes related to the lockdowns: cancer screenings and treatments were delayed, and there were sharp increases in deaths from drug overdoses and from heart attacks not treated promptly.

As for school closings, practice that was not adopted in Sweden or in numerous other countries, the outcomes belied the nonsense that the teachers’ unions were doling out in America:

A nationwide analysis in Sweden showed that keeping schools open throughout the pandemic, without masks or social distancing, had little effect on the spread of Covid, but school closures and mask mandates for students continued elsewhere. Another Swedish researcher, Jonas Ludvigsson, reported that not a single schoolchild in the country died from Covid in Sweden and that their teachers’ risk of serious illness was lower than for the rest of the workforce—but these findings provoked so many online attacks and threats that Ludvigsson decided to stop researching or discussing Covid.

Were mask mandates the solution? It was difficult to ascertain. One recalls that at a time when New York gyms were imposing a mask mandate, the World Health Organization was advising against exercising with a mask on.

Any scientist who argued that mask mandates were counterproductive was censored:

Social-media platforms continued censoring scientists and journalists who questioned lockdowns and mask mandates. YouTube removed a video discussion between DeSantis and the Great Barrington scientists, on the grounds that it “contradicts the consensus” on the efficacy of masks, and also took down the Hoover Institution’s interview with Atlas. Twitter locked out Atlas and Kulldorff for scientifically accurate challenges to mask orthodoxy. A peer-reviewed German study reporting harms to children from mask-wearing was suppressed on Facebook (which labeled my City Journal article “Partly False” because it cited the study) and also at ResearchGate, one of the most widely used websites for scientists to post their papers. ResearchGate refused to explain the censorship to the German scientists, telling them only that the paper was removed from the website in response to “reports from the community about the subject-matter.”

Why the panic? In part, Tierney suggests, it involved Donald Trump. But, it also involved changing the culture, to the point where people would be more easily persuaded to give up their freedoms and even their prosperity in order to save the world.

Why the elite panic? Why did so many go so wrong for so long? When journalists and scientists finally faced up to their mistake in ruling out the lab-leak theory, they blamed their favorite villain: Donald Trump. He had espoused the theory, so they assumed it must be wrong. And since he disagreed at times with Fauci about the danger of the virus and the need for lockdowns, then Fauci must be right, and this was such a deadly plague that the norms of journalism and science must be suspended. Millions would die unless Fauci was obeyed and dissenters were silenced.

Tierney continued:

But neither the plague nor Trump explains the panic. Yes, the virus was deadly, and Trump’s erratic pronouncements contributed to the confusion and partisanship, but the panic was due to two preexisting pathologies that afflicted other countries, too. The first is what I have called the Crisis Crisis, the incessant state of alarm fomented by journalists and politicians.

To keep audiences frightened around the clock, journalists seek out Cassandras with their own incentives for fearmongering: politicians, bureaucrats, activists, academics, and assorted experts who gain publicity, prestige, funding, and power during a crisis.

It was not the first time. In truth, the media had tried to induce a similar panic over AIDS in the 1980s. The perpetrators of this effort at ginning up mass hysteria did not suffer for their erroneous predictions:

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, the New York Times reported the terrifying possibility that the virus could spread to children through “routine close contact”—quoting from a study by Anthony Fauci. Life magazine wildly exaggerated the number of infections in a cover story, headlined “Now No One Is Safe from AIDS.” It cited a study by Robert Redfield, the future leader of the CDC during the Covid pandemic, predicting that AIDS would soon spread as rapidly among heterosexuals as among homosexuals. Both scientists were absolutely wrong, of course, but the false alarms didn’t harm their careers or their credibility.

Now, Democratic politicians, academic intellectuals and media moguls were simply trying to take over the country. According to Tierney they were a new class of high priests, aka philosopher kings who were not accountable to public or even private opinion:

Just as the progressives a century ago yearned for a nation directed by “expert social engineers”—scientific high priests unconstrained by voters and public opinion—today’s progressives want sweeping new powers for politicians and bureaucrats who “believe in science,” meaning that they use the Left’s version of science to justify their edicts. Now that so many elite institutions are political monocultures, progressives have more power than ever to enforce groupthink and suppress debate. Well before the pandemic, they had mastered the tactics for demonizing and silencing scientists whose findings challenged progressive orthodoxy on issues such as IQ, sex differences, race, family structure, transgenderism, and climate change.

Americans were so frightened that they surrendered their freedoms to work, study, worship, dine, play, socialize, or even leave their homes. Progressives celebrated this “paradigm shift,” calling it a “blueprint” for dealing with climate change.

Tierney summarizes the lessons:

This experience should be a lesson in what not to do, and whom not to trust. Do not assume that the media’s version of a crisis resembles reality. Do not count on mainstream journalists and their favorite doomsayers to put risks in perspective. Do not expect those who follow “the science” to know what they’re talking about. Science is a process of discovery and debate, not a faith to profess or a dogma to live by. It provides a description of the world, not a prescription for public policy, and specialists in one discipline do not have the knowledge or perspective to guide society. They’re biased by their own narrow focus and self-interest.

He concludes that the lockdowns did more harm than good:

They’re still portraying lockdowns as not just a success but also a precedent—proof that Americans can sacrifice for the common good when directed by wise scientists and benevolent autocrats. But the sacrifice did far more harm than good, and the burden was not shared equally. The brunt was borne by the most vulnerable in America and the poorest countries of the world. Students from disadvantaged families suffered the most from school closures, and children everywhere spent a year wearing masks solely to assuage the neurotic fears of adults. The less educated lost jobs so that professionals at minimal risk could feel safer as they kept working at home on their laptops. Silicon Valley (and its censors) prospered from lockdowns that bankrupted local businesses.


jmod46 said...

As it turns out, the only country in the world which came out stronger as a result of the pandemic is China. Democrats, bureaucrats, big tech, big media, and governments in general have likewise prospered. It's almost like a perfectly orchestrated storm...

Sam L. said...

As I keep saying, I despise, detest, and totally distrust the media. It/they lie to us.
As I also keep saying, I don't KNOW if the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democrat Party, or if it's the other way round, but it's OBVIOUS that they are in CAHOOTS. Cynical?? Moi????

"Some leaders proposed that we adopt the traditional strategy for dealing for such health crises. Others, like Dr. Fauci, disagreed vehemently:" Fauci is a falsi. His name is MUDD-adjacent.

"Good news" IST VERBOTYEN!!!!!

"Any scientist who argued that mask mandates were counterproductive was censored:" See
my first comment.

n.n said...

They claimed a droplet spread from asymptomatic individuals, but it only materialized in a minority of cases, and the majority, from the Diamond Princess on, were either immune or resistant to infection and disease progression. The masks have random effect at best, and increase infections, at worst, for aerosol and fecal transmission modes. Even people wearing N95 have to follow strict protocol and it does not provide source control. The lockdowns did not reduce transmission of a virus already widely distributed, and did increase collateral damage to adults, children, and economies. Now, they are normalizing vaccines for general distribution that are non-sterilizing, with increased risk to evolving mutations, and excessive side-effects including progressive morbidity and death. People need to weight the conditional risk of infection and disease progression to the absolute risk posed by the vaccines.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

The vagina is not a mouth is not a rectum (a black hole... whore h/t NAACP). The tragic irony of liberalized trans/homosexual male behavior and the situational AIDS pandemic that aborted hundreds of thousands for the sake of social progress, political congruence ("="), and, finally, exclusion. That said, the parade of lions, lionesses, and their [unPlanned] cubs played on in gay revelry.

markedup2 said...

Both scientists were absolutely wrong
Meh. It happens. In fact, that's how science works.

the false alarms didn’t harm their careers or their credibility.
This is the infuriating part. Should they be "disbarred"? Definitely not. However, they should be taken off the media circuit and forced to publish a retraction, which includes "lessons learned".