About those models

The value of the Wuhan virus data supplied by the public health authorities appears to be variable and declining. What is to be said about the models that have produced the related panic and lockdowns? Michael Fumento provides an assessment in the Issues & Insights column “After Repeated Failures, It’s Time To Permanently Dump Epidemic Models.” Before turning to the present crisis Fumento looks back at crises past for historical perspective. Here is the heart of his column:

In the current crisis the most alarming model, nay probably the most influential in the implementation of the draconian quarantines worldwide, projected a maximum of 2.2 million American deaths and 550,000 United Kingdom deaths unless there were severe restrictions for 18 months or until a vaccine was developed. The primary author: Neil Ferguson. Right, Mad Cow/Avian Flu Fergie.

Then a funny thing happened. A mere nine days after announcing his model, Ferguson said a better number for the U.K. would be only 20,000. The equivalent would be fewer than 80,000 American deaths. Technically, that U.K. number was buried in a table in the report under what might be called “a fantastic case scenario.” But could that reduction possibly reflect a mere nine days of restrictions? No.

Soon all the numbers were tumbling. Yet as late as March 31, the New York Times declared: “White House Projects Grim Toll from Virus” citing White House Coronavirus Task Force head Deborah Birx and director of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, who in turn cited a model showing deaths up to 240,000. Still awful, but Birx explicitly backed off the Ferguson projection for which she had previously been the Grey Lady’s pompom girl.

Then suddenly Fauci announced a flat figure of “more like 60,000,” the same number the CDC says died of flu two years ago. Probably not coincidentally, until quite recently the agency said there were 80,000 flu victims that year, before lowering it to 61,000 – presumably because people were using that figure to compare to COVID-19 deaths. In any event, the 1968-1969 “Hong Kong flu” killed an estimated 100,000 Americans, or 165,000 adjusted to today’s population.

Moreover, as noted, the CDC now encourages coding a death of anyone “if the circumstances are compelling” even though they haven’t been tested at all. Yeah, wow; it’s not a “conservative myth.” During flu season, that means a lot of flu victims have magically become COVID-19 victims in addition to people who would have otherwise had cause of death listed as heart attack, diabetes, and other co-morbid conditions.

One reason Italy had so many “coronavirus deaths” seems to be coding, even though it’s still far more strict than the new CDC guidelines. Re-evaluation of death certificates by the country’s National Institute of Health showed only “12% with direct causality from coronavirus, while 88% of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three.”

Then Fauci finally said it. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything.” A few days later CDC Director Robert Redfield also turned on the computer crystal balls. “Models are only as good as their assumptions, obviously there are a lot of unknowns about the virus” he said. “A model should never be used to assume that we have a number.”

Which, of course, is exactly how both a number of public health officials and the media have used the them.

Only one significant model appears to have been correct. But wasn’t. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has actually been dramatically reduced and reduced.

Fumento describes himself as someone who “has been writing about epidemic hysterias for 35 years.” I vividly remember his contrarian work on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s. It culminated in The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS (1990). In one of his columns on the subject, notwithstanding the hysteria, Fumento made the point that a man was more likely to contract breast cancer than to contract AIDS from heterosexual sex. Fumento doesn’t brag about his own record, but I think it lends credibility to his present views.

Fumento’s column is full of links. Read the whole thing here.

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