The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Prisoners of Two Ideas

Now that hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests are being conducted with many more to be available this week; now that personal protective equipment is being produced by the millions (albeit with spot shortages in heavily hit hot zones (e.g., NYC)); now that ventilators sit idle in warehouses waiting for the call and tens of thousands more will be produced over coming months, it appear that the latest stop on the media road to encourage fear and hysteria appears to be an either-or question: Do we maintain social distancing (and, according to the left-leaning media, care only about "lives)," OR Do we selectively re-open portions of the country to economic activity (and, according to left-leaning media, care only about "money.")

Those who pose the choice as binary have become the prisoners of two ideas. They argue that we can do one or the other, but not both, at least not for some indefinite time that they argue may be months away. They argue that we have to wait for COVID-19 cases to drop before it is safe to re-open even portions of the economy. After all, that's what all the scientists and medical experts are telling us. Ummm. No. That's what the scientists and medical experts the media has chosen as spokespeople keep telling us. But there's a large number of smart (eminent, even) scientists and medical experts who are questioning the efficacy (in fact, even the sanity) of an indefinite shut-down of our economy.

John P.A. Ionnidis (Professor of medicine, of epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University) has written a detailed paper on the importance of statistical analysis before potentially damaging economic and societal decisions are made by our current leadership at the local, state and federal levels. Robert Zimmerman contents that despite pressure points like NYC, COVID-19 will not overwhelm our healthcare system. Martin Meltzner et al discuss the use of ventilators in outbreaks like COVID_19. David Zaruk discusses the use and misuse of the precautionary principle. Aaron Ginn presented a lengthy analysis of the statistics of COVID-19 (subsequently pulled down by Medium for reasons that are unclear). To my knowledge, not one of these researchers or their counterparts) have been interviewed on network television—after all, their comments collide with the prevailing narrative. I posted on the ravages of H1N1 in 2009 when we didn't hear a peep from the media or the usual medical experts. In fact, H1N1 statistics and a discussion of why it was such a ho-hum story in 2009 seem to be verboten among the media's trained hamsters.

It seems to me that we should not be prisoners of two ideas. We can fight the COVID-19 virus and protect the most vulnerable among us, and at the same time, selectively re-open portions of the economy sooner rather than later. We should also be able to hear from scientific and medical voices who argue that re-opening the economy is not only smart, it's essential.

Viruses are all about suffering and COVID-19 has achieved its purpose regardless of the tack we take. The sickness and death associated with the virus has unquestionably increased human suffering. But here's the thing. Our collective response to COVID-19, if not modified fairly quickly, will induce still more human suffering that is not health-related. Tens of millions will go into debt, millions of businesses will fail, putting hundreds of thousands or millions more out of work. As things escalate, social unrest is a possible outcome—all in the name of reducing suffering.

Our goal should be to minimize suffering across the board. You can't do that if you're a prisoner of two ideas. You can do it if you have the courage to do two things at once.