Science and “Science”

Politicians love to say that they are “following the science.” To hear them talk, you would think they spend hours poring over data and they go where the numbers drive them. If only.

The COVID epidemic has brought out politicians’ faux reliance on “science” in spades. As good an example as any is my state, Minnesota, where our governor, Tim Walz, has offered one tribute after another to “science” as he has driven our state off the road and into the ditch with an irrational shutdown that protected all but the vulnerable.

When Walz issued his harsh shutdown order, he attributed it to “science” in the form of an allegedly super-duper Minnesota Model that forecast doom from COVID in terms of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It later turned out that the model was created by a couple of graduate students over a weekend, but never mind. It was “science” and it was the basis for the governor’s assumption of dictatorial control over six million lives.

When Version 1 of the model turned out to be an embarrassment, woefully wrong by every metric, it was succeeded by a less pessimistic Version 2. Version 2 then fell to Version 3, which was issued on May 13, less than seven weeks ago. Version 3 was supposedly “science” informed by experience. How did it fare? My colleague John Phelan tells the sad story:

The model also forecast, with the measures in place, a peak ICU use of 3,397 beds on June 29th – yesterday.

In fact, Minnesota Department of Health data show that there were 278 Minnesotans hospitalized with Covid-19 yesterday, just 140 of whom needed ICU care. This was down from a peak of 263 on May 30th. As Figure 2 shows, this represents another complete failure for the model.

So the model was off by a factor of 24. This might be funny, except for the vast damage that our governor has inflicted on Minnesotans in reliance on politicized “science.” A dart board would have produced a far more accurate result than the much-touted “Minnesota Model.”

A cynic might suspect that Governor Walz knows the model is ridiculous, but simply enjoys exercising dictatorial powers under his own emergency decree–a decree that apparently continues in force in perpetuity. He also knows that he has the press on his side. If a Republican governor bungled an issue as badly as Walz has bungled COVID, in reliance on a pathetic arithmetic construct that is wrong by a factor of 24 times, it would be the the scandal of the age. But every reporter in Minnesota, with one exception (not counting Scott) runs interference for Governor Walz and his brutally failed policies. Why? Because they are loyal Democrats, and they went into journalism to serve their party.

Those are the facts, and “science” has nothing to do with it. This is a Minnesota story, but the same story has been replicated in many states around the country.

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