Category Archives: Jenkins

The Slow Birth of Covid Realism

If the censorship doesn’t get totally out of control, it will be a fascinating tale of just what caused this event, this virus, to literally turn the political forces on their heads.  mrossol

WSJ 12/29/2020

Italy, last seen trying to prosecute government scientists for failing to forecast an earthquake, is now pioneering the use of criminal prosecutors to examine the country’s Covid-19 response. Italy as a country ranks low on every index of efficient, accountable governments and effective legal systems. Criminalizing policy disappointments and managerial errors is a symptom of this failure, not its cure.

Still, the particulars of the indictment being sought by relatives of early victims will ring bells for many Americans: the shipping of infected persons to nursing homes, failure to test patients who couldn’t be connected to China, failing to order lockdowns sooner, worrying about the potential impact on businesses.

The U.S. remains in a similar phase of denial, with every failure related to testing, mask promotion, etc., spun as a missed chance to extinguish Covid altogether. When the reality principle intrudes, here’s suspecting the greatest failure will be the one we are least willing to acknowledge or even understand: It began with our strange reticence to acknowledge the reality of mild (and, as it turned out, asymptomatic) Covid.

Any alert person knew from the get-go that, amid the exigencies of Wuhan, Chinese doctors were failing to detect mild cases, and that thousands of these cases were likely being exported to the world. Whatever the horrors in Wuhan’s hospitals, they happened not because Covid-19 is an extravagantly deadly respiratory infection. They happened because a flu-like disease had been allowed to spread unrecognized for months in an urban population unprotected by any prior immunity or vaccine.

Yet it instantly became a U.S. journalistic trope to accuse anyone mentioning the flu of “downplaying” the new disease—downplaying anything being the worst sin in journalism.

Inexplicably, authorities, including the World Health Organization, insisted on promoting a fatality rate they knew was exaggerated because of the failure to account for mild infections. To this day, U.S. officialdom and the media dwell on a nearly meaningless “confirmed” case count, knowing full well that doing so is innumerate and unstatistical. It’s a mystery and my only explanation is that they are afraid to stop because it portrays the disease as more deadly than it is (supporting the case for urgency) and also less prevalent than it is (supporting the case that it can somehow be contained).

A parade of conclusive contrary indicators is not so much unreported as simply unintegrated into the picture sold to the American public. To give the latest example, a Johns Hopkins study finds that in late spring in Maryland, when “confirmed” cases were less than 1% of the state’s population, 10% of autopsies showed evidence of Covid infection—a rate that applied equally to auto-accident victims and people who died of natural causes.

As the pandemic has unfolded, only deeper has become media revilement of anyone who pointed out that the death risk was being exaggerated, that the lockdowns were not sustainable due to the costs they imposed on people who were at low risk, that our efforts would be better invested in shielding those at high risk of a bad medical outcome.

The hostility is even greater now that these views have been adopted implicitly and unavowedly almost everywhere in obedience to the reality principle. The lockdowns were unsustainable. Low-risk people were unwilling to maintain energetic social distancing through the summer and fall. Vaccines are being rolled out now expressly to protect the most vulnerable first.

For all their talk that no cost is too great to save a life, the actual behavior of our elected officials has made clear that the one thing they believe their careers can’t tolerate is a breakdown in hospital care for Covid patients and others.

I’ve informally adopted Brown University’s Ashish Jha as my metric for realism’s gradual unfurling. In his latest media appearances, he invariably now stresses unseen spread, the impracticality of the lockdown solution, a role for herd immunity in supplementing vaccination to end the pandemic—even if he also occasionally utters imprecations against these opinion pages for making the same arguments months ago.

When it’s over, countries like Germany and Sweden, which have hardly been spared Covid’s ravages, I suspect will be seen as the least-bad models. And for reasons American leaders will be loath to admit: They treated their people like adults. They leveled with their citizens about Covid’s inevitable spread. They skimped on the baby talk, virtue signaling, or any resort (especially prevalent in the U.S.) to trying to mislead a supposedly infantile public for its own good.

These countries worked no public-health miracles nor any miracles of the self-isolating sort that appealed in the antipodes. Where they succeeded was in eliciting the intelligence of their peopletheir intelligent adaptations, to make the Covid trial as bearable as possible.


Why not real data on COVID?

I still don’t understand how many supposably intelligent human beings in the US (and elsewhere) cannot seem to understand this.  mrossol

WSJ 10/30/2020. By Holman W Jenkins, Jr.

There is no conspiracy of silence in India. Confirmed Covid cases are reported as they are in the West, but reporters enthusiastically stress seroprevalence surveys that show the real infection rate to be a multiple of confirmed tests. Example: On Thursday, the Hindustan Times noted in its headline a 40% positive antibody rate from the latest survey of the Srinagar district. Only far down in the story did it indicate this was 25 times the “confirmed” case count.

Why can’t our press do the same? In the U.S., the reality principle is not blacked out only if you look hard enough. A New Jersey survey in August found 14.7% of the population infected, seven times the confirmed cases. A New York survey in late March suggested two million infections; the official count was 76,000. An Orange County, Calif., survey in August found true infections seven times the official case count. A national survey of dialysis patients in July showed a similar ratio. I could go on.

Any single study might be flawed, but the findings are echoed in every country. Maybe our press imagines that our testing is so voluminous and efficient that it now is converging with the underlying infection rate. Wrong. Voluntary testing is inherently biased. Last month, a U.K. study should have put a stake in any delusions on this point. Relying on random, rather than patient-initiated, testing, the report estimated that daily new infections were running about nine times the official rate as of late September.

Nearly half of Covid infections are believed to be asymptomatic. From previous research, 80% of people with flu symptoms and 95% with cold symptoms don’t seek medical help. Though 150 million total tests given in the U.S. so far, and 1.2 million new tests a day, sounds like a lot, it’s not when 330 million Americans can be negative one day and infected the next.

Unfortunately, because our press wasn’t in Mr. Stuppy’s science class, it doesn’t understand that while confirmed cases might be data, they aren’t a sample in any meaningful scientific sense.

Not to be dramatic, but when I refer to a conspiracy of silence, I really mean a mosaic of misrepresentation required by a certain mood. Our press this week reported, with hair on fire, that confirmed cases exceeded nine million. Would its hair be more aflame or less if it acknowledged true cumulative infections are likely between 50 million and 100 million?

A realistic picture would suggest tens of millions of Americans have encountered the virus without fuss. It would suggest the death risk for any individual is flu-like—as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, and many other experts have been telling us since February.

The bigger numbers might suggest we are grappling with a natural phenomenon over which we exercise little control.

Let’s recap. Unlike the flu, 160 million of us of aren’t vaccinated against the new virus. None of us, school age and up, have resistance from previous encounters. Local hospitals face a Covid challenge two or three times bigger than their annual flu challenge simply because so many more of us are susceptible. Plus there’s the non-negligible risk of a severe reaction when our immune system encounters a virus it hasn’t encountered before.

All of us would rather not get the disease. All of us benefit from putting it off until hospitals learn how to treat it—even though the risk for each of us is flu-like.

But the reality principle doesn’t ignore us even if we ignore it. The test-and-trace silver bullet, which epidemiologists once promoted, Dr. Fauci now admits is impractical because of a large number of asymptomatic cases. Germany, once a role model, admits it has been able to trace only 25% of confirmed cases, which probably means 5% of true cases.

Our politicians have had to become realistic about withholding their interventions unless and until hospitals become overwhelmed. For many of us, especially the young, it makes no sense to impoverish our lives to suppress Covid.

When Joe Biden calls this running up the white flag, he’s prepping you to believe that Donald Trump could have stopped Covid and now a President Biden is stuck with a mess. Whoever is president next year will need to introduce more realism than this into the discussion as a vaccine rolls out.

Once again India is ahead of us: Its Business Standard newspaper jauntily warned its upscale readers that they can expect to be screened out because “the government does not wish to waste the precious vaccine shots” on millions who already have antibodies the natural way.

In the meantime, Americans respond to information. Masks will go back on. The barhopping is being curbed. Some herd immunity may kick in to help with the winter surge. We battle the virus, though, while being fed a colossally distorted picture of the epidemic and its progress by an incompetent and sociopathic press.


How about covid explained using all the data?

WSJ 10/6/2020.   By Holman W J

When the vice-presidential candidates meet in Wednesday night’s debate, Subject One will be the coronavirus. President Trump tested positive and was hospitalized. Vice President Mike Pence has, since Feb. 26, chaired an administration task force. Here’s my wish. Let this be an opportunity for the country to remove its blinders.

Some 7.4 million Americans have been infected with the virus. Or is it 74 million? According to Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the agency that the country relies on for such data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our testing as of late June was picking up perhaps 10% of cases. When we say 40,000 new infections are occurring daily, we might really mean 400,000 infections. When we imply that 2.2% of Americans have been infected, we may really mean 22%.

Astonishingly, the American people are inundated daily with a perspective on the virus that may be off by an order of magnitude. In January, when the Wuhan clampdown was just beginning, we could assert, without qualification or fear of contradiction, that the observed fatality rate was dramatically overstated. The Chinese were missing many mild cases; the disease is more widespread than we realize. Even then we recognized asymptomatic spread. It’s now believed that 40% of carriers are asymptomatic. This alone guarantees a large amount of undetected spread, which, if ignored, completely distorts our understanding of the challenge and how it should be faced.

The Economist magazine addressed exactly this question in a recent issue. Germany, a country celebrated for its testing regime, may be missing 82% of cases. The British, one of the first top-tier nations to face an outbreak, are identifying perhaps 1 infection in 12. Globally, the ratio of undetected to detected cases, says the Economist, may be around 20 to 1.

In my emails from readers, in Bob Woodward’s book, in the general perceptions of Americans, the effects are becoming bizarre from not leveling with ourselves about the disease’s true spread. When the president comes down with the virus, it is deeply concerning but not deeply shocking. We’re talking about a disease that has likely spread through 710 million people, nearly one-tenth of mankind, in nine months.

If we are missing 90% of cases in the U.S. and 95% in the world, this has obvious implications for the death risk from Covid—it is flu-like. And yet responsible news organizations and institutions like Johns Hopkins continue to invite their audiences to compare Covid’s death tally against a “confirmed” case count devoid of systematic meaning. This is the statistical equivalent of sampling subjects at the morgue and in kindergartens to estimate the fatality rate of people involved in car accidents. You will certainly find individuals who survived and didn’t survive car accidents, but your computed rate will be nonsense. I have news for Americans: All of our data about the prevalence and deadliness of the flu are estimates, except for pediatric deaths, which are actually counted. If, as we do with Covid, we relied on “confirmed” flu tests for how many are infected and what percentage die, we would be wildly and catastrophically misinformed about the flu’s real prevalence and its real deadliness.

Our country would have been better off if the reality principle had been drummed into its head from the start. An easily transmitted respiratory disease, with a longish incubation period and symptomless spread, is exceedingly likely to go world-wide before we even know it exists. That’s been the case with Covid. Of course politics makes it mandatory and unavoidable for politicians to be seen waving their arms to protect us from such a disease, but most of what they do will be ancillary in effect. The informed actions we take as individuals are the overwhelming factor in how rapidly the disease spreads, and whether the most vulnerable are shielded, buying time for vaccine makers and treatment developers.

At the same time—fasten your seat belts, media people, because we are introducing a second consideration—it would be irresponsible to subordinate all other human values and needs to avoiding Covid.

Dumping on Mr. Pence for a societal preference for denial and tomfoolery would not be fair. Still, I come back to a symbolically pivotal moment when, on March 27, he presented himself on CNBC, a news network where intelligent questions are asked. When the CDC was frankly but too quietly guiding the American people that most of us could expect to encounter the virus, when Angela Merkel was saying 70% of Germans could be infected, when New Jersey’s health commissioner was telling residents that she expected to be infected and so should they, Mr. Pence ducked a simple and straightforward question: Should most Americans expect to get the disease? That was a missed chance to start the country down the road to realism about the new coronavirus.


Sweeping Restrictions need Accountability

“Our country and our Constitution are finished, however, if the most sweeping, authoritarian and undemocratic restrictions on individual liberty ever contemplated are not subjected to legal challenge and accountability.”


WSJ  –  5/13/20  by. Holman W Jenkins, Jr.

A CEO has obligations to share-h olders, among them not to let anybody take anything of value from the company that the taker has no right to take.
That Elon Musk’s resistance of California’s pandemic shutdown may well be due to fear that his company cannot survive if it doesn’t continue pulling in cash from delivering cars merely gives him a material and compelling justification for his defiance. He should protect his company’s right to do business and survive against what he considers unlawful and unjustified prohibitions. He would be derelict not to do so.

From the start of the crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union has advertised on its website: “The ACLU will be watching closely to make sure the government’s response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.”

Its definition of scientifically justified appears to be about as rigorous as the media’s, which means anything the hive mind has somehow decided requires fashionable conformity. The irony is that the science has been speaking clearly and consistently, but the public and a virtue-signaling media haven’t wanted to hear it.

For weeks, a CDC web page, which remains widely quoted by other government and health-care websites, advised, “In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.”

When the lockdowns started, I could write without qualification: “Experts now agree the virus’s spread can be slowed but not contained. It will take its place among mostly seasonal respiratory infections.”  Our flatten-the-curve strategy, likewise, was premised scientifically on slowing the virus’s spread in line with local hospital capacity. Unthinkable would have been sweeping and indiscriminate bans on economic activity in places not yet touched or barely touched by the virus.

A writer in the Atlantic suggests conservatives favor opening the economy and want the old and ill to take one for the team. My own email indicates dissent from the lockdowns has nothing to do with being a conservative and a lot to do with being a physician or immunologist. By focusing protection on the elderly and vulnerable, we bring closer the day when the elderly and vulnerable won’t need protecting because the epidemic has run out of a critical mass of people to infect.

An unusually sensible writer in the New York Times points out that pandemics in the past have ended not with the virus going away—the 1918, 1957 and 1968 strains are still with us. They ended when people decided to accept and adapt to the virus’s existence.

Which brings us to Mr. Musk. He is not the only business operator, but perhaps the only one running a public company, who has decided to resist his livelihood being destroyed by infringements on the most basic rights of U.S. citizens: to leave their homes, to engage in trade, to work and receive pay.  We expect Mr. Musk to be grandiose: Let me be the first to be arrested, he tweeted, Patrick Henry-like.

We expect legal plaintiffs of every description to be self-interested—his defiance has clearly been accentuated by Michigan’s decision to let his competitors reopen their auto plants. These infringements, it is vaguely but confidently asserted by politicians and their press cheerleaders, are justified by the science. Well, let’s test this idea in court.

You will be hard-pressed to find a scientist anywhere who maintains we don’t need to learn to live with the virus. Our incoherent lockdowns plainly lacked a scientific rationale for how to reopen when most of the public remains uninfected. An MIT group calculates that the desired benefits in terms of hospitals and the elderly could have been achieved far more cheaply by isolating the vulnerable rather than everybody, and with far less damage to civil liberties.

For some families, sheltering in place now appears to have increased their risk rather than reduced it. For most individuals, the danger was flu-like, which never before led to them being stripped of basic rights. Banning outdoor activities appears to have been absurd overkill. The notion that a vast testing and contact-tracing scheme is plausible and could halt the epidemic, much less is a requisite condition to resume most of our economic freedoms, would likely fall to sixth-grade math. Start with the challenge of identifying millions of asymptomatic carriers among millions of others whose symptoms are due to the common cold or flu.

That politicians took steps out of panic is understandable. That these steps were unjustified by the science that existed then much less now doesn’t mean their motives were bad. We can accept, especially in a panic, that the media will eschew complexity in favor of a story of an enemy who must be vanquished.

Our country and our Constitution are finished, however, if the most sweeping, authoritarian and undemocratic restrictions on individual liberty ever contemplated are not subjected to legal challenge and accountability.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Source: The Wall Street Journal